Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Musings

We're in Argéles-sur-mer for Christmas, which is where we most like to be. It's peaceful, as there are relatively few people here through the winter, mostly locals, yet enough to be festive and cheerful.

The village has really outdone itself this year with a Christmas village, street decorations, parades, an evening soirée at our favorite café ... and the best part is that it's not at all commercial. There's not a shopping mall for miles. Just local merchants, whom we patronize as much as we can, and itinerant sellers of inexpensive goods who make the rounds of the marchés in the region. There are seasonal foods such as vin chaud, roast chestnuts, foie gras, mince pies from our English baker friend, and of course the bouche noel.

We have a Christmas/Solstice tree that's one step up from a Charlie Brown model. There are no lights to untangle or find the burnt-out bulb, just hand-painted wooden memory ornaments by my stepdaughter when she was three years old. She made the needlepoint stockings in the photo as well, when she was somewhat older. We'll open the presents in the stockings tonight on Christmas Eve while watching the classic White Christmas movie and save the gifts under the tree for Christmas Morning. We don't exchange anything expensive; we have everything we could need or want (and no storage left). But the gifts have great value simply from the affection that each package represents.

Our bed is adorned with a beautiful Christmas quilt made by my mother. Another, just arrived, blankets the snore room bed. Both are cherished heirlooms. D-L calls my mother "an artist in cloth." A local retoucher is repairing a treasured family quilt made by D-L's grandmother, completed after she had lost her sight; we bought cloth for the replacement squares at the country store in the States where my mother gets her supplies -- a perfect marriage of family traditions and American and European artisans.

We think of friends who are off in the mountains, those on an island, others back in Geneva, the UK, Denmark, Austria, around France, and elsewhere, family and family of choice in the States, and of those who are no longer physically with us but live on in our spirit.

A year ago, so very different. D-L did not have the strength to travel, so we remained in Geneva as she prepared for the final rounds of chemotherapy, including a quadruple dose which almost completely sapped her energy. Yet we did take a short journey on Christmas Eve, along the lake to Hermance, which has a peninsula park extending into the water. There too, in the solitude of a Swiss winter sky, we experienced a calm and peace that together we could and were dealing with a temporary adversity.

As we arrived at our door after touring the Saturday marché, the church bell tower, just a few steps down the street, chimed 12 times. We could still hear the brass street band quintet, its members dressed as a duck, a giraffe, and who knows what else. There's snow on the distant peaks of Canigou, but not down here on the plain, which is just the way I prefer it.

There's no place like being with your life partner and best friend for the holiday.

We hope you too have a peaceful and cheerful Christmas with someone you love.  

Friday, December 9, 2016

I'm Stubborn

Okay, make that obstinate.

I don't take no for an answer easily, and I only give up on something when all options are exhausted. Especially when I sense someone trying to put obstacles in my path.

I wanted to open a bank account in Switzerland, where I am a legal resident. I knew - as an American citizen - it would be difficult at best. The FATCA law passed in 2010 and enforced beginning in 2014 has made all but the richest Americans totally toxic to banks outside the US. The threat of draconian penalties by the US government (the government that is supposed to care about my well being no matter where I choose to live - after all, they tax me no matter where I earn my money) has led banks to dump basic banking accounts of Americans and refuse to open new accounts.

I was told La Poste was perhaps the easiest Swiss bank for Americans to do business with.

If they are easy, I'd hate to experience hard.

At first, it seemed a breeze. Walked into the main La Poste office in downtown Geneva, filled out the paperwork with a nice young man, and walked away thinking I would receive my account info in the mail. (I thought it a bit odd that he wouldn't allow me to make an initial deposit.)

A few days later, I started to get a sequence of letters from the bank office that handled "foreigners." One thing they insisted on was a copy of my Swiss Permis B, my legal license for living and working in the country. When I provided it, they said there wasn't sufficient time before the expiration - I had about 5 months remaining before renewal, and they curiously required at least 6.

When my Permis B renewal came through, this time good for two years, the bank required additional documentation.

After I had furnished all that I thought was necessary, they came back with another one - I needed a Certificate of Residence, ie proof that I actually live in Switzerland, and it had to be dated within one month of sending it to them. (The certificate I had from a year ago apparently not good enough.)

One day last week I walked up to the mairie for our commune. They couldn't provide me such a certificate, unless I was Swiss. Foreigners (etrangers) had to go through the Geneva office in Onex on the other side of town. (I could have applied online, after paying a fee at a bank machine, and received the certificate in the mail, but it would not arrive in time to meet the bank's deadline.)

So today, I walked up the hill to the bus stop, took a bus and two trams to get to the communal office in Onex, got a number for the queue, waited three hours for the 60 or so people in front of me (for various services), and secured my certificate. Then another 90 minutes working my way home on the buses/trams. About 6 hours total for one lousy piece of paper.

I could have blown off the certificate and the account. After all, in the meantime, another Swiss bank had kindly opened an account for me. But I was not going to let La Poste beat me down with their flurry of obstacles. Obstinate, remember?

Let's see what happens when I send in the residence certificate.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Getting Around

I am normally a good travel planner, but I made some rookie mistakes on this short sojourn to Paris. These were compounded by some unusual issues.

No problem getting from Geneva to Gare de Lyon, where we expected to pick up Line 1 of the Metro to La Defense, a short bus ride or walk from the friends' home where we are staying. Except Line 1 had a problem, and they weren't allowing people to board. Two hour delay they said.

My first mistake was not having a Metro/RER map with me, or having checked alternates online when we were still in Geneva. I would have realized we could have taken the A train. But we were also somewhat concerned the Line 1 shutdown may have signaled a more serious problem, ie the recent terror attacks on Paris. So we went back upstairs to grab a cab for the journey across town.

Less than halfway there, the taxi developed an engine problem, and the driver said we'd need to get out and take another cab. We happened to be near Stalingrad, which is one of the more troubled areas of the city, and I had visions of walking the dark streets, dragging two suitcases, looking for an unoccupied taxi to get us out of there.

Fortunately, the 1st driver was very professional and actually called for the backup cab, who pulled up right behind us on the street. Within a minute we had transferred the luggage, paid the 1st driver, and were on our way again. The 2nd driver was very pleasant; D-L chatted with him the whole rest of the way. We saw a few sights: L'Arc de Triomphe, la Tour Eiffel, and the Pigalle sex district.

Only took us an hour and 45 minutes for a trip that should have been perhaps half that or less by metro and bus. Not to mention rather expensive.

The next day, I was heading to see a client in a suburb northwest of Paris. I thought I had mapped out the train route to Cergy, requiring two different lines and buses on each end. Our host commented that the lines I was looking for did not go from La Defense, so I re-looked online and discovered I needed only one direct train on the A line. Instead of more than an hour, it should take less than 30 minutes.

At the train station, I rushed into a store to buy a bottle of water, only to learn later it was lemon water. Okay, but not great with the pain au chocolate I bought as breakfast.

In Cergy, the client had said to take the 44 or 60 bus, which I could not find (and if I had, I had neglected to print out the name of the bus stop nearest the client's office). So I got a taxi instead, and fortunately he knew where to drop me off.

At Cergy train station for the return trip, I learned my 2nd ticket, which I had bought at La Defense, did not work in the opposite direction. Had to buy another ticket. Skipping the entrance turnstills which only worked with electronic passes, I stuck my ticket in the 1st machine slot available. After it was stamped, I looked up to see that that particular turnstile was closed and sealed off with construction tape. The ticket clerk kindly let me through a side gate.

Probably a sign that we've been traveling too much. Road weary. 

Did I mention I forgot my gloves?

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Addiction?

A friend recently announced that they were "leaving Facebook," calling it an addiction.

Certainly it can be. Scrolling through posts from friends, friends of friends, and sites we chose to like once upon a time can be time-consuming.

I find, whether it's good or not, that I get much of my "news" via FB, whether news of some major event in the world such as an earthquake or political shitslinging, or news from family members, friends, and a few business colleagues who are also friends. I also regularly check news aggregators such as Drudge, and Twitter is pretty much confined to professional aviation connections.

The best thing about FB is that I can keep up with what my grandkids are doing. It fills in the gaps between visits and skype calls.

I also love the wide-ranging diversity of views from people I know, some very right-wing tea-partyish, others radical liberal. I may not share their views, but I like that they voice their opinion, and I think it's good to keep an open mind, not listen just to people you tend to agree with.

When I post or share something potentially controversial (which is almost everything these days), I sometimes pause to think which of my family/friends/colleagues will be offended, and will it sour or kill a longstanding relationship. (Doesn't seem to stop me from posting, though.)

I love the intelligence of many of my friends, especially the ones who will push back and challenge something I post. Maybe I didn't explain myself thoroughly enough. Oftentimes, I am spurred to go do my homework to better understand and define where I stand on an issue.

In general, I avoid posting responses to people with huge followings, simply because my email will then fill up with replies from people with contrarian opinions. However, from time to time I will post on a fringe site such as DailyKos just to be provocative and stir things up. After a few predictable nasty replies, usually name-calling with no substance, I will take down my original post to shut off the stream.

I especially love to challenge statements which appear to be unsupported, for example, people pushing the theme that the Russkies are behind the DNC hack and Wikileaks posts when not a single person has offered any proof. That's one of those "big lies" - tell it often enough, and some sheep will believe it.

My brother claims that I post photos of everything I have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and perhaps at one time I was, almost. I do get some good recipe ideas from other people, though.

Most of all, I like videos of kittens. Call me addicted.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Pressure

Having been in five different countries in the past couple of months, and three more coming up, staying in a dozen homes and hotels, we've experienced a lot of variation in shower water pressure.

My favorite is Geneva where the pressure is strong and the temperature fairly consistent.

My least favorite is Argèles-sur-mer in July and August when the village is flooded with tourists and the pressure can at times drop to a trickle. However, the touristas do bring money into the village, which enables the local merchants to survive year-round, for which we are grateful. Like yesterday when I needed mozzarella to make a pizza and could dash about 50 metres down the street to the green grocer and be back in less than five minutes.

Now that the tourists are gone, not only does the village have a very different dynamic of mostly locals, the water pressure is more than adequate. I can stand in the shower long enough to get some serious thinking done.

Just, please, don't turn on the dishwasher while I'm in there.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

I have a French disease (Ménière’s)

You don't have to grow old to be preoccupied with aches and pains, but experience does foster the angst.

Donna-Lane, having survived two bouts with cancer in the past five years, tends to become concerned with every new twitch and bump she feels. Has the cancer returned? Quite a legitimate fear. But so far so good, her checkups have all been clean since the chemo and radio treatments ended in March.

Since she and I have been together the past three-plus years, I have almost never been ill. Maybe one mild cold for a few days.

Yesterday was different. Severe nausea, which worked itself out, and dizziness, which is the concerning part. I don't have any heart issues, etc., but I do have an inner ear issue known as Ménière’s. It was first discovered in the early 1800s by a French doctor, Prosper Ménière. (Why would someone want to have a disease named after them?) https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/menieres-disease. More than 600,000 people suffer from it in the US.

Is it hereditary? Experts are unsure whether it's genetic or environmental or a combination of both. However, my older brother also has it. And my mother, though not diagnosed as such, has been having dizziness issues. Then again, she's 93 and otherwise going strong.

A potential problem with Ménière’s is vertigo to the point of suddenly falling down, even though remaining conscious.

No, the world is not spinning. It just feels like you've had a little too much to drink.

But think of the ramifications. How long would I be able to sit at the computer to research and write? If walking through the apartment was a concern, what about walking around the village? Driving a car? And worst, could I keep my balance swinging a golf club?

Giving up the car and driving would not be tragic. It would be somewhat limiting for reaching off-the-train-and-bus-route places. But we could survive. There are always friends with cars for really important short trips. D-L managed without having a car for years. And at some point, assuming we grow old(er), they'll probably take away our licences anyway.

I start asking myself, do I really feel dizzy? Really feel nauseous? Or am I imagining feeling those things because I'm overly concerned about those symptoms and the possible progression?

The mind is a mystery when it comes to physical aches and pains.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Where is the discussion of REAL ISSUES?

Thus far, the media coverage of the US Presidential campaign has focused almost entirely on character flaws. Hillary's corrupt pay-for-play style of governance, whether pandering to Wall Street or accumulating personal wealth through the guise of a charitable foundation. Her lies and evasion on why she used a personal email server for classified government business. And now the dodgy tactics of hiding possibly serious health issues. Trump, well, he's as off-the-wall and over-the-top as they come, mostly bombast, but potentially a dangerous wild-card if he gains the reigns of true power. Let's hope there would be cooler heads around a President The Donald to tie him up and gag him whenever critical decisions are to be made.

The mainstream media, which has foregone all pretense of objectivity, only stokes the fire of name-calling, much the same way CNN and Wolf Blitzer seem to love a plane crash. It brings in viewers, eager for the gory details. Facts are irrelevant. Cue the talking-heads gossip.

The real casualty of the campaign is serious discussion of serious issues: 

- Jobs in an economy that the government pretends is recovering but uses flawed formulas and has left the middle class and poor way behind as the 1% hoards all the wealth; 
- An education system which has abandoned the teaching of critical thinking in favor of standardized test-taking and whose undisciplined students are falling further behind the rest of the world ; 
- A health care system, also rigged for the benefit of the elite, in which hospital costs and drug prices are way out of line with other developed countries;
- An increasingly surveillance-driven police state in which all emails, social media, vehicle movements, and especially dissent are monitored, guilt is assumed rather than innocence, and too many cops shoot first and cover-up later;
- Continual undeclared war around the world, dropping US bombs indiscriminately on supposed combatants based on sketchy information and any civilians who happen to be in the blast radius (Clinton and Trump will both continue the warmongering - in fact, they will likely ramp it up to the threat of WWIII with Russia and China);

There's much more, of course: the environment; the TPP treaty which cedes more control to multinational corporations (the same ones who avoid paying taxes); bankers who should be in jail for fraud and manipulation; the preservation of Social Security and the threatened theft of the elderly's lifeline; etcetera ...

I understand the anger of many of America's citizens; the regular folks have been ravaged by the corrupt politicians and corporate charlatans for decades. I understand the fear of many of America's citizens; in Europe, we have suffered several heinous terrorist attacks close to home.

Anger and fear can be and are often destructive. They don't have to be. They can be channeled to start to fix things and build a society founded on mutual interests and a measure of trust.

But first we have to openly, calmly and rationally discuss real issues. Not orange hair and blue pantsuits.
     

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Numerology

One of the things I like about Europe is use of metrics on roadways. The conversion is relatively simple in the kilometres to miles direction. 100 km equals 60 miles.

If we're traveling a long distance, it's easy to determine how long it will take us to get there. Averaging 100 km per hour (60 miles per hour), a distance of 350 km will take us about 3.5 hours.

Also, calculating with kilometres makes it seem like you're covering more ground in a shorter time.

On the golf course, I'm less enamored with the use of metrics. I've played for 50+ years and therefore memorized how far I hit each club ... in yards. When confronted with a distance to the green in metres, I have to do the mental calculation -- not that hard, roughly a 10 percent difference. 100 yards is about 90 metres, etc. But I'm never quite sure because my golf clubs, too, are used to dealing in yards.

Also, it's deflating. Seems like I'm not hitting the shots as far as I used to. About 10% less far. Not good for the ego.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

My Life in a Backpack

We were checking in at Carcassone airport for our Ryanair flight to London. I had paid for one checked back of 20 kilograms; as it turned out, I could have gotten away with a smaller charge for a 15kg bag, but with Ryanair (and other low-fare airlines) having an overweight bag could cost you even more, so pay a little upfront to eliminate the risk of paying later. (Ryanair's CEO once proposed to charge passengers to use the toilet on the plane during a flight!)

The queue was quite long and only two agents to handle the 40-50 people checking bags. For a good 30 minutes, I got to observe the people snaking through the stanchions with me, and could probably write an interesting short story with them as characters. D-L sat over yonder and waited, and of course struck up a conversation with the woman seated next to her.

As he was tagging my suitcase, the young man asked if he could check my carry-on luggage -- my backpack -- gratuit ... for free! My initial reaction was near-shock that Ryanair would offer anything without charge. Even the drinks and snacks on board are cash or credit card.

But then I realized something even more important. I simply did not want to be separated from the things in the backpack: my computer (and power cord), iPad (and power cord), camera (and power cord), tape recorder (and power cord), papers I had brought to work on, notebook, pens.

With the exception of Donna-Lane, my day-to-day life is contained in that computer. All my work files, financial records, thousands of photos, my connection to family and friends all over the world.

That's why those electronic devices are in the backpack. That's why they don't leave my possession, except when I have to place them in the tray to go through security (and then I don't go through the scanner until they do). The idea of risking them getting lost enroute to and from the luggage hold of an airplane is anathema.

Oh, I know all about backups. Yes, I could replace the computer, iPad, etc. within a day or two and be back in business. But what of the instant "fix" I might need from scrolling through emails and Facebook if I am without an iPad for hours and hours? What of scanning the news of the world headlines on Drudge? How could I survive without cute kitten videos?

No, thank you, young man. Keep your hands off my backpack.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Do I Need to Think About Open Carry?

I am, by nature, a trusting soul.

I am becoming less so.

I don't yet see terrorists and drug dealers under the bed, but I am aware of them in the shadows of the streets.

Today, I was walking along a road in our usually quiet village, on my way to where Donna-Lane had a doctor follow-up visit.

A dark car swung off the road, and I assumed they were going to park. Instead, the driver, a woman in her late 20s perhaps, stopped alongside me and was asking me something.

In my trusting soul mode, I moved closer to the car to try to understand what she was saying. She seemed to be looking for a location, a street or a business. But with my limited hearing and limited French, I couldn't pick up her rapid-fire French. I probably had no idea of the location she sought even if I could understand her. It was pointless to have even listened to her question, except to try to be polite, rather than ignoring her and keep on walking.

Seated next to her was a young man, perhaps 15 or 16, dark complected, possibly of Arabic heritage, wearing a hooded sweatshirt. He didn't look sullen but he didn't look friendly either.

After I'd told them I didn't know of the place they were seeking, and they drove off, I thought about what might have happened in view of recent events like the murders by truck in Nice or the random street shootings in Phoenix. The woman or teen might have had a gun and shot me. Or since guns are much harder to obtain in France, they might have jumped out of the car and slashed me with a knife. (There was no one else on the street that I had noticed.) Or they might have had an accomplice stuff me in the trunk to kidnap me for ransom -- good luck with that, given my bank account -- or just to kill me because I'm a Western white guy and automatically the enemy.

It probably would not have mattered to them that we buy our meat from the two Halal butchers in town. Or that we are friends with a wonderful artist from Morocco. And with a former Ambassador to the US from a Middle Eastern country. Or that one of our dearest "family of choice" is a couple from Syria.

I don't like the feelings of suspicion. I prefer to take people at face value until they prove otherwise.

I don't like to think about maybe carrying a knife as self-defence when walking around the streets (Swiss Army, of course). In London, I stuck a metal nail file in my pocket as we headed to the theatre district after dark.

I have never been inclined to own a gun -- too dangerous with children or grandchildren around. Though I wouldn't mind have a taser handy. My best defence is probably a golf club -- that I know how to use, and it could do serious damage to a kneecap!

Wonder what people would think if I "openly carried" a sand wedge on the streets?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Future Fear

I fear for the future of my grandchildren.

And I am frustrated by my inability to influence the type of changes that would put the world on a more positive trajectory.

Everywhere you look there is an amplification of intimidation, terror, violence, senseless killing.

The root of the problems, in my view, is the lust for money. The symptoms may include racial and religious hatred, inconsistent application of justice, armed conflict between and within nations. But look closer and at the core of every divisive issue is money or lack thereof.

When the US and its puppet states drop bombs from drones on wedding parties in the Middle East, it begets radicalized jihadists who shoot up Paris or Orlando and drive lorries through holiday crowds in Nice. And then nearly ever non-Muslim in the Western world looks with mistrust on nearly every Muslim in their neighborhood or on the trains and undergrounds. And vice versa.

Why the drone bombs? Well, it started with oil, didn't it? And then kinda got out of hand? But consider, too, that someone -- mostly US defence contractors -- have been making bucketfuls of money from war and the constant spectre of war. Not to mention so-called nation-building reconstruction projects. Follow the money.

I have seen, up close, so-called Christian preachers who rail against the alleged sins of others as a blatant fundraising tool, then personally pocket much of the donations. And maybe spend some of it on their own sins. (To be fair, I have also known good, self-sacrificing preachers who are truly interested in the spiritual and physical well-being of others.) The same sort of self-aggrandizing rhetoric is true of some imams who spew and spread hate while enjoying supposedly off-limits pleasures. Follow the money.

A presidential candidate is given a pass for gross and most likely criminal negligence by political appointees, while a young person is incarcerated in a for-profit prison for a very minor offense (often a trumped-up charge). Are we surprised at the anger? Couldn't be because Wall Street wants their corrupt friend and congenital deciever Hillary pulling the strings for the wealthy, could it?

How is it that, despite the increasing terror incidents, immigration crises, civil wars, and superpower tensions that the Dow Jones -- the faux barometer of economic health -- is racing to new records?

When I was growing up, there was a sense that the next generation would build on their parents' generation and thereby enjoy a somewhat better life. And the next generation, and the next ...

I fear we have lost that sense of an ever-improving society. I fear that we have shifted into a state of endless attack and counterattack with the innocents caught in the middle. I fear that when my grandchildren are ready to inherit the world ... there may not be much a world left to inherit.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

I Was Born Under a Wandering Star

In another life, I think I would have been an explorer. Say, 600 years ago, if I came to the edge of the sea, instead of concluding the land I knew was all there was I think I would have said, "Let's jump in a boat and see what's beyond the horizon."

I love to wander and discover new things, at least new to me.

When I moved to the Dallas, Texas area years ago and we were house-hunting, I rarely used the same route from the apartment more than once. I like to see where this road goes, where that one goes, what they connect to. (Came in handy when there were traffic jams; I knew which alternate routes would get me someplace.)

In the past three 700-1000km trips between Geneva and Argèles-sur-mer, we've taken a different autoroute each time. We've pretty much covered the breadth and depth of France, and been rewarded with some spectacular scenery.

Today, a typical lazy Sunday with no social commitments, we headed north along the coast, destined for a couple of vide greniers (flea markets). Never mind that we had just found the premier purchase we had been looking for right in our backyard (D-L will probably tell about it in http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/). I was feeling the need to get away from the computer, away from the apartment, and "get the stink out of me," as an earlier generation used to say.

We never found the vide grenier in Saint-Cyprien, perhaps because we bypassed the port area. We ended up in a couple of detours in Canet Rouissillon,  blocked by a marche (street food market).

We kept on to our furthest destination, Saint Marie de la Mer, another of the dozens of villages along this stretch of the Med and someplace neither of us had been before. After cruising the streets in the plage (beach) area for a bit, we decided to park and get a croissant. I'd had no breakfast before we left Argèles.

To our pleasant surprise, their vide grenier was going on right in front of us in the parking lot. We managed to find a wonderful multi-colored blanket for our picnics, and I nearly bought a WWI-era sword, but at 200 euros it was more than I wanted to pay for something I didn't need nor want that badly.

Perhaps I should have bought the sword. It might have come in handy against pirates on the high seas when I set off exploring.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Punches in Paradise

Dramatization, not a photo of the event described below
Sitting at a sidewalk café with friends on an otherwise perfect late Spring morning in the normally placid little village of Argèles-sur-mer, France, we witnessed a sequential altercation among several young men that could have become very ugly.

It started a few feet from our table, at the bottom of the steps up to the church. Pushing and shoving and angry words. The combatants then drifted down the street, where they resumed the skirmish in front of the artwork framing shop owned by a friend of ours (scaring her to tears). The fracas broke up, the young men drifted in different directions, then recongregated in front of the shop where punches seem to have been thrown and shirts ripped.

In the midst of this was an unwise young mother and her two-year-old daughter; I think she was trying to calm the situation. 

As the event unfolded, there were also a couple of school group field trips visiting the church and the local history museum around the corner - the teachers did their best to steer the students away from the action, but certainly the kids received more of an education than was planned.

A few minutes later, as some of the belligerents were walking away toward the river, a police municipale car, siren blaring, came racing up the street and screeched to a stop adjacent to the church. They were told the young men they sought were on foot, and they zoomed to the crest of the hill and intercepted the largest of the young men. Not hard to spot with his ripped shirt and barbed wire tattoo circling his forearm.

Soon, another police municipale squad car and one from the gendarmerie (the federal police) showed up as well. Bit of a surprise as we had heard the police were on strike this week.

Other than too much testosterone, a key problem for French youth is lack of work. More than 25% of young people are unemployed. Often their lack of education or technical skills makes it very difficult to find and hold what low-end jobs may be available. According to The Economist, "Countries with the lowest youth jobless rates have a close relationship between education and work. Germany has a long tradition of high-quality vocational education and apprenticeships, which in recent years have helped it reduce youth unemployment despite only modest growth. Countries with high youth unemployment are short of such links. In France few high-school leavers have any real experience of work."

Hopefully one of the outcomes of the morning is that the elementary school students who inadvertently witnessed the "rumble on rue de la Republique" will make the connection that staying in school is better than skirmishing on the streets. Though I doubt they are old enough to bridge that concept.

I wonder, too, if open-carry guns were allowed in France as they are in the US, might one or more of the volatile young men opened fire, wounding or killing their adversaries ... and perhaps innocent bystanders nearby ... such as a group of friends sitting at a sidewalk café?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Alligators, Boars, and Birdies

There were no alligators, but I was warned there might be a wild boar. Apparently they like to root around the soft turf on the edges of the greens.

Some of the balls dispensed at the practice range look like they were dredged from a pond, but not until they'd had a good two- or three-year soak. The distance markers on the range are hand painted and probably not accurate. But it doesn't much matter because the sodden balls don't fly normally anyway.

I'm playing golf again.

After a nearly year-long hiatus, I'm back in the swing thanks to a group of 20-odd Brit and Scot expats who stage weekly outings over the border in Catalonian Spain.

Mostly they play pitch-and-putt courses, aka par-3 courses. But these are no powderpuff layouts. The one we played this morning, Mas Pages, is set into a hillside near Girona, and some of the holes stretch to more than 170 yards plus uphill. The longest club I brought, a 7 iron, simply wasn't enough on a couple of holes. (Note to self: bring longer clubs next time.)

There are legitimate bunkers (managed to miss all of those) and some crazy terrain bounces. And the greens are rather tiny targets, most barely 10 or 12 paces across. If you manage to land (and keep) your tee shot on the green, you've got a decent chance at birdie. Plenty of tilt to the greens as well; even short putts can be tricky.

On one of the shorter holes (about 70 metres, or 80 yards), the key obstacle was a large tree smack in front of the green.
At the top of the course, the view of the Pyrenees was spectacular. Amazing that I can play golf in Spain in the morning and be home in France for lunch.
I'm one of those rare lucky guys whose wife actually encourages to play golf. She knows how much I love it and she indulges me. On top of that, to soothe my aching muscles from all those pressure-filled shots, she booked a massage session for me. Amazing woman!

Monday, June 6, 2016

America and Europe - what's the difference?

I've lived in Europe for a little more than three years now. Last night at a dinner party in the south of France with friends from Denmark, Sweden, Scotland, I was asked what I saw as the differences between Europe and the United States (where I am originally from and still file a tax return).

The topic is too broad to do it justice, but after pausing a bit to coalesce my thoughts I made an attempt.

Foremost, one of my observations is that Europeans have more of a world view than Americans. In America, it seems many people know next to nothing about the rest of the world unless there's a tsunami in Asia that kills thousands, and then it's only a story for a couple of days before the news reverts to the latest political kerfuffle in Washington. Perhaps it's because Europeans are closer to places such as the Middle East, Africa, Russia that they are more conscious of the ongoing wars in Syria and Iraq, the millions of refugees trying to escape by sea and land, the belligerence on the Ukraine border, the poverty and desolation and terrorist breeding grounds in Somalia. These rarely make it on CNN and almost never on the myopic Fox News. Certainly in the time I have lived here and become sensitized to issues of immigration, austerity, currency fluctuations, and so forth, and by being exposed to the diverse viewpoints from British and French television, as well as Russia Today and Al Jazeera, I think my own view has taken on a more global (and more tolerant) context.

Next, I think Europeans have a much deeper appreciation of culture and history. You cannot go through the smallest of villages without passing centuries-old churches and chateaus. The US is a relatively young 200-odd years old compared to Europe which goes back more than a couple of millenia.

Of a more pedestrian nature, Europe is far ahead in public transportation. It is relatively easy (when there isn't a strike) to travel around Europe by train or super-cheap airfares. In the cities where we live, the bus and tram systems are excellent. It would be very easy to live without owning a car, whereas in Texas, where I most recently lived in the States, you could not go anywhere without jumping in the SUV or pickup. (The cars in Europe tend to be smaller and more fuel efficient as well.)

Finally, I told our group of Euro friends, in the past couple of decades, America has become far more polarized between liberal and conservative. People in one camp have come to view people in the other as evil incarnate and will not even speak with someone with a viewpoint that doesn't align with their own. Sadly, our friends related, a similar trend is happening in many countries in Europe, which only fuels suspicion, distrust, racism, hatred.

They asked me if I planned to vote for Trump or Hillary. Frankly, I cannot stand and do not trust either, and would like to see a viable third-party candidate, but I don't think things will change much regardless of who is elected. The President is merely a figurehead with little real power: the money people run things and are always behind the scenes pulling the puppets' strings.

This is true, too, in Europe. We have our share of liars and charlatans, some currently in power, others sniping from the wings. Most Americans probably don't know their names: Merkel, Cameron, Le Pen, Johnson, Hollande, Erdogan. (There will be a quiz.) Unfortunately, these so-called leaders have a way of mucking up our lives through their actions or inactions, so it's helpful to keep track of them.

America is not perfect. Neither is Europe. I did not move to Europe as a choice between political systems or lifestyle. I fell in love with someone who happened to live in Europe, and that's the sole reason I now live here. But in the brief time I've been here, I have fallen in love with the place and, generally, the people.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Man's Inclination to Invade

Left: Norman ships sailing to England
Right: depiction of fallen D-Day soldiers on the beach at Normandy
Within a space of a few hours, we visited two historic sites which coincidentally focused on the same theme - invasion. One the invasion of England, the other an invasion launched from England.

The Bayeux tapestry is an incredible depiction - in embroidery - of the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and events leading up to it. William the Conqueror sailed from France to defeat the usurper Harold and become the first Norman king of England. http://www.bayeuxmuseum.com/en/la_tapisserie_de_bayeux_en.html

The other site was the American cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach, one of the landing locations of the 1944 D-Day invasion of the Normandy coast. During the battle for the foothold on continental Europe an estimated 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded, or went missing. For all of World War II, as many as 25 million soldiers and 55 million civilians died.

Growing up, I saw a lot of movies and television which sanitized WWII. But when you visit, in person, sites like the Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor or you touch the names etched into the wall of the Vietnam memorial - and you recognize names of people you knew when they were alive - the sense of sadness is overwhelming.

What a waste that so many die and suffer because of the greed of a few.

And ultimately the root of war is greed. For power. For wealth.

It may be fueled by hatred, revenge, racism, fear. The elite stoking pseudo-nationalism so the serfs willingly throw their bodies into battle. And ultimately the elite control more land, more tax revenue, more oil, more personal perks. The world's so-called leaders are all too willing to send other people's sons and daughters into battle so the realm of designer-dress galas and offshore bank accounts can be preserved.

The soldiers who do not fall on the battlefield are then ignored when they return home, left to struggle with their wounds and inner demons.

Ever hear of a President or Prime Minister suffering from PTSD?

In the past thousand years, from the mace-wielding William to the drone-bombing Bush and Obama, we don't seem to have learned much.

Monday, May 9, 2016

To Russia With Respect

Yesterday, May 8, was the anniversary of Victory in Europe Day for World War II. 1945. 71 years ago. In my Facebook stream, a video appeared showing this elderly former Russian soldier, and it struck me that, to a certain extent, I and other Americans and Europeans owe my freedom to this man and his colleagues.

They would have been young men when Nazi Germany attacked Moscow in 1941 in a battle that cost a million Russian lives. But the stubborn Soviets eventually prevailed, Hitler's first defeat.

The Germans also laid siege to Leningrad, now St. Petersburg. For 872 days, almost 2 1/2 years, Hitler & Co. tried to starve the people into submission. There was no food nor water. Temperatures dropped as low as 40 degrees below zero. Over 1.5 million died, only about 45,000 of those from the constant bombing, the rest from starvation and disease.

Overall, about 33 million Allied soldiers died in WW II - 26 million of them Russian, or nearly 80 percent.

What an incredible sacrifice for the free people of the world. Without it, we might still be under the heel of Hitler's successors. Certainly there are dictators and wannabes in parts of the world who are following his oppressive example.

I know some of you will ask, what about Stalin? Putin? Are they not the devil incarnate? What of the repression of dissidents such as Aleksandr Sozhenitsyn? I would point you to the parallel of Edward Snowden by US authorities. The Gulags? Have you heard of the Homan Square "black site" in Chicago where prisoners are detained without charge and no one knows they are there?

I will not defend the atrocities of any government. I'm not here today to debate the merits of capitalism or socialism, or the ways in which both have been corrupted in practice.

I am simply expressing my thanks to the men and women of all nations who have fought against Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito, Franco, Pol Pot, and other despots - some sacrificing everything so that others might live in some form of freedom.

We were fortunate not long ago to visit St. Petersburg, a beautiful city with incredible museums. The people we met were, for the most part, friendly and accommodating. Their lives are not without the kind of economic hardship that is prevalent throughout Europe and North America as the elite suck up the wealth and ignore the middle class and poor. But they are resilient, defiant (at least in spirit), and adaptive to changing circumstances.

For most of my life, growing up and living in America during the Cold War, Russia was portrayed as the boogeyman. Then they were regarded as "friends," or more accurately as a market for Western goods. Now they are depicted again as the enemy whenever politicians need a nemesis and there have been no recent terrorist attacks. Living in Europe with Russia much closer physically, I have a different view than the one spun by the US media machine. And yes, I sometimes watch Russia Today TV, which is their politically tethered media just as the Washington Post and CNN are to the American corporate-political cabal. It's good to hear different viewpoints ... then decide for yourself.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Brit Envy

Sometimes I envy our Brit friends whom we mingle with in the south of France. Or our Danish friends. Swedish, etc.

They can go back to the UK in a couple of hours to see family and friends. Pop back and forth across the Channel every few days if they like. Super-cheap airfares.

Not so easy when people you'd like to see more are across an ocean. Not so inexpensive. Three days, basically, of travel just to get there and back - same day going over, leave Europe in the morning, arrive in the States in the afternoon, but better part of two days coming back, red eye, long layover in London, another flight, maybe a 3-4 hour taxi and train ride.

The time passes easily. Get some work done on the flight over. Sleep on the way back. (The most recent trip was wonderful - three empty seats, three blankets, three pillows, fully reclined for several hours and woke up fresh and with my body clock in sync.)

Now that the year of cancer is over and Donna-Lane is stronger, we'll ease back into traveling, perhaps even across the pond a time or two in the coming months. We talk often about people we want to see in Boston, in New York, in Texas, Arizona, Oregon.

Curious, at least to me, we don't think in terms of "things" we might be interested in seeing. Maybe it's because I think I've seen pretty much everything I ever wanted to see in the States. Grand Canyon, check - via helicopter, check. Rockies, check. Mount Rushmore - probably awesome, but it's so out of the way, is it really worth it?

There are a few golf courses I would still like to play. Pebble, of course. Maybe I can catch Bandon Dunes when we're in Oregon. I might sell my soul to take a few divots at Augusta. Might like to play the IBM course I grew up on one more time. But the top of that bucket list is The Old Course at Saint Andrews. What used to seem like a major excursion is now more or less in my new backyard.

And much as we like living in a little village in the south of France (with one of the biggest, best beaches in the world five minutes away that we almost never get to) and in the internationalist city of Geneva where peace elsewhere is argued over, what makes both of our places special is the eclectic mix of people we are fortunate to spend time with.

We often schedule our back and forth around who is in which place. And even though we get to spend more time with our Euro friends, sometimes the occasional visiting Yank, it's never quite enough before they have to move on or we do.

So maybe it's not so much the distance or the ocean. It's that we're blessed with an abundance of friends, family, and family of choice. Look forward to seeing each of you as soon as we can.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Back to School

Impressive lycee in Perpignan named for Aristide Joseph Bonaventure Maillol,
French sculptor and painter who was born in Banyuls-sur-mer and lived from 1861-1944
      
D-L and I went back to school Tuesday.

As practice partners for French high school students who are preparing for their English language exams next week. With about 25-30 other adult volunteers.

Interesting experience.

We worked one-on-one with about 6-8 students each; the students rotated about every 15 minutes to try their skills on a different Anglophone adult.

The older students I spoke with had a pretty good command of English, both reading their prepared compositions on Myths & Heroes as well as conversing, which required them to understand what I was saying then mentally and verbally compose an appropriate response. One young lady wanted to become an obstetrictian. A young man want to study psychology and behavioral sciences.

The younger students, ages 15-16, were much less sure of their English skills and often struggled to find the right vocabulary word. Sometimes they would tell me the word in French and ask me for the equivalent word in English - on occasion, I actually knew it.

Not surprising that they struggle with another language. They only spend 3-4 hours a week on English in class, and once outside the school walls they have no opportunity to use what they have learned. From my attempts at learning French, surrounded most of the time by Anglo colleagues and friends, I empathize with their challenge.

One thing that surprised me is that most of the teenagers had not traveled very far from their homes in the south of France, and consequently they knew very little about other countries or cultures. This is not unlike American kids who have not had opportunity to travel, so to them their own backyard in Texas or California or Wisconsin seems like the center of the universe.

I really admired one young lady whose parents are from Morocco. For the first 15 years of her life, she grew up in Spain, before they moved a couple years ago to France. She knew no French, yet was dropped into a francophone high school and culture, and seems to be doing very well. Her English was exceptional with a couple minor pronunciation issues. She also speaks Arabic at home. As a multi-lingual, I expect she'll succeed in her career.

Every young person in every country should learn a second and even a third language. As the world grows smaller, the ability to speak and think in another person's native tongue is of immense value in business and personal relationships.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Conundrum of Social Media

I should probably stay out of Turkey in the foreseeable future. The president-cum-dictator Erdogan has a penchant for throwing people in jail for making derogatory statements about him, and I'm certain I've posted prison-worthy comments on Facebook about what an arse he seems to be. Credit to the mayor of Geneva, Switzerland for not kowtowing to Turkish pressure to remove a poster about a young boy killed by Erdogan's storm troopers. Shame on Germany's Merkel and other European leaders for sucking up to Turkish demands and even giving them billions of blackmail euros over the refugee crisis.

I should probably avoid Saudi Arabia as well, as I have glibly commented about their barbaric practice of beheading dissidents.

Social media has become a bit of a minefield. Posts on Facebook, Twitter, etc. are being hoovered up by the NSA and GCHQ to interpret whether you are a terrorist, probably by the IRS etc. to calculate whether you are an oversees account-holding tax cheat, and by prospective employers to ascertain whether you might embarrass them as a future employee.

Even Facebook is in the information control game, choosing via its algorithms which messages you see from friends ... and especially from disguised advertisers. There have been suspicions that FB has been manipulating political posts to skew the US presidential election.

All of which leads to self-censorship. A recently released study showed a significant drop in searches for terms which could be interpreted as showing terrorist interest - terms such as jihadist and ISIS. (Damn, I just triggered the NSA's dongle-bell.)

I self-censor potential posts, we all do. Aware that my grandchildren may read my FB page, I am circumspect in the photos and language I use. On Twitter, which I use primarily for business, I am careful not to offend clients. And I have learned never to post to social media contacts with large followings (such as Robert Reich) - it only results in a rash of flaming, vile responses from total strangers who disagree with my viewpoint.

Social media has its benefits. It's a good way to keep up with distant friends and relatives, and to show them what we have been doing (and eating, eh Larry?). To a certain extent, you can keep up with the news of the world without having to go to a news website or turn on the television.

And then, of course, there are cat photos.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Traumatique? No, Dramatique.


If I hadn't taken that helicopter trip into the heart of the Grand Canyon three years ago, I might have been jealous of Donna-Lane's helicopter "ride" from Argèles-sur-mer to Perpignan. But since she was lying on a stretcher in the back of the bird, enroute to the hospital, unable, I thought, to see Canigou or the Med coast from the air, I could hardly be envious.

The emergency flight was probably more dramatic than necessary. But since it was approaching rush hour, and they thought her possible condition was a heart problem, I'm sure the SAMU (Service d'Aide Médicale Urgente) paramedics preferred to wisk her the 20 kilometres by air rather than chance a wheeled ambulance getting stuck in traffic in one of the half-dozen roundabouts enroute.

A couple more episodes like this and we'll be able to write the scripts for a whole season of Grey's Anatomy (or Anatomie de Gris, if you prefer). We have been in hospitals in Geneva, Bern, and now the south of France in the past year. Actually, this was a return visit to Clinique Saint-Pierre; D-L had an esophagus attack last April as I was transiting home from a conference in the States. Fortunately, we have many friends in ASM, and they made sure she was well cared for. (Perhaps with the exception of a local doctor whose main concern was that he get paid on the spot.)

This episode, too, was more a digestive issue than cardio. Problem is, the location and severity of her pain suggests it might be either. So best to get it checked out by professionals. They even did a pulmonary scan, an EKG, and a cardio scan to rule out lung and heart issues.

It will be interesting to learn the cost of the helicopter flight - a relative of mine was charged $41,000 for a 9-minute EMS helo flight in the States, and I have seen recent news questioning the high costs of such situations. Donna-Lane was attended to by two pilots, a doctor and nurse (who arrived on the helicopter), five paramedics, three ASM gendarmerie who wandered down the street from their headquarters to check out the commotion, three different doctors at the Urgence, at least three nurses, and of course the payments secretary.

The Eurocopter (Airbus) EC145 helicopter had to land in the centre of the rugby stadium (stade), one of the few places in Argèles with enough open space to accommodate a rotorcraft. Most of the streets are too narrow even for a van-sized ambulance; the one that transported Donna-Lane from the house to the stade had to park at the end of our street in front of the cafe. 

Ironic that I have been preparing for a helicopter training conference in a few days. (Perhaps I'll use D-L's event in my presentation.)

Yes, she's fine. (The word "fine" seems to be required, at least once and preferably several times, in every episode of Grey's.) No heart problems. No lung problems. It all started in mid-afternoon, and we got home a few minutes before midnight.

Just another routine day. 

(Oh, she told me she did have a view of the mountains and the sea, even lying prone in the back of the helicopter. Still not jealous.)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

It's French. It's British.

In my French language classes, I like to understand the derivation of the words. I think it helps to reinforce in my mind how a word is constructed.

For some words, it may simply be a matter of a different spelling: acteur, automatique, descendre, photographie.

For other words, there may be a connection with a related but little used term in American English: arbre (arbor) for tree, cuisine for kitchen.

A few words in French are a straight borrow from English: le weekend.

But, not infrequently, even my trés knowledgeable professeur has no explanation for why some words or phrases are used. Her explanation - "It's French."

I recently came across a similar dilemma in British English. While proofreading a client document, I noticed they seemed inconsistent in the spelling of the word licensing (American) / licencing (UK).

The explanation they provided is that, "In British English, when used as a noun, the correct spelling is 'licence'... when you add the 'ing' to 'licence', it becomes 'licensing'."
 
That's a new one to me. Certainly looks awkward to have licence and licensing mixed on the same page. I guess "It's British."

Same goes for commas and periods outside the quotation marks.

Please don't get me started on Canadian English.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

A Stealth Campaign for a Stealth Candidate



Although her name was on the Texas Republican primary ballot as a candidate for US President, there was no evidence of a campaign for Elizabeth Gray.

So, as a little social media experiment, I decided to launch a campaign for her. How much interest could I generate in voting for this mystery woman? 

First, I wrote a blog - In Search of Elizabeth Gray, Candidate for US President  - http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.ch/2016/02/in-search-of-elizabeth-gray-candidate.html. I've written over 300 blogs in the past three years. I write it pretty much for my own pleasure, and if anyone else reads it and likes it that's a bonus. I post sporadically and I've never tried to promote it. Most of my blog posts get fewer than 10 page views. A couple have passed 100 views. The original Elizabeth Gray blog is up to 3,376 views at last count. 

Part of that curiosity was probably sparked by another blogger – Ballot Access News - who wrote about me searching for information about Elizabeth Gray: Texas Blogger Rick Adams Goes in Search of Elizabeth Gray, the Most Obscure Candidate on the Republican Texas Primary Ballot. http://ballot-access.org/2016/02/15/texas-blogger-rick-adams-goes-in-search-of-elizabeth-gray-the-most-obscure-candidate-on-the-republican-texas-primary-ballot/.

Later, another blogger in the Big Bend area (which I’ve always wanted to visit) picked up the thread. “It seems that Gray is a total mystery. Rick Adams, who writes a blog called ‘lovinglifeineurope’ and describes himself as ‘mildly obsessed’ with learning about her, says that neither the editor of the Taylor Press or the Republican chairman of Williamson County knows anything about her except that she apparently had the $5,000 needed to pay the filing fee. She is evidently a phantom candidate.

http://bigbendnow.com/2016/02/the-rambling-boy-102/

I was getting more media coverage than the candidate!

I even received 17 comments on my blog, which almost never happens.

Someone calling themselves “Sbird” wrote, “I voted today and Ms. Gray's name on the ballot was the only one that didn't repulse me (because I know nothing of her.) So I voted for her. Yay for the underdog.”

“Unknown” said: “I like the sound of her name, and that's as good as any other criterion for picking people in this crazy election cycle.”

On election day, there was a kerfuffle at one of the voting sites: “I voted for a man for President on my automatic voting machine, and then I did a ‘review’ of my ballot. There were two people that were checked, and one was Elizabeth Gray, that I did NOT check. I had to have the ‘judge’ help me undo my votes, and start over.” (For the record, I had nothing to do with the voting machine malfunction.)

The most interesting was from “Interestedaswell”:  “My mother's name was Elizabeth Gray and I was as surprised as anyone to see ‘her’ name on the ballot! She passed away 5 years ago, but was a college professor … and was a wonderful Woman! Thanks for those who liked her name enough to vote for her (-: One odd thing is, she had family long ago in Taylor, Texas.”

A couple of comments, one quite vulgar, took the ad hominem approach of calling Ms. Gray’s supporters fools who were “wasting” their votes. Guess they didn’t read my later blog: http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.ch/2016/02/do-you-know-who-you-are-voting-for.html. 

I wrote a couple more election blogs:

You, Too, Can Run for President
http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.ch/2016/02/you-too-can-run-for-president.html

In Search of Elisabeth Gray - the Most 'Obscure' Candidate for US President 
http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.ch/2016/02/in-search-of-elisabeth-gray-most.html

The Unsolved Mystery of Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Gray 
http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.ch/2016/03/the-unsolved-mystery-of-presidential.html

But then I went further. I created a Facebook page: Elizabeth Gray 4 President 2016. (Carefully noted as an unofficial fan page - I was not presuming to speak on behalf of the candidate as I did not know her positions.) https://www.facebook.com/Elisabeth-Gray-4-President-2016-1064352646965515/

I also created a Twitter page: #ElisabethGray16. (ElizabethGray16 was taken).  

https://twitter.com/ElisabethGray16.

And since I had no photos of Ms. Gray, I used a clever little program called Bitmoji (https://bitmoji.com/) to create an avatar image of what she might look like - blue hair for the spry septuagenarian, a 'grayish' skin tone, and a sassy red dress.

The Facebook results were rather disappointing. There were 636 page views but only 8 people who "liked" Elizabeth's page. You can't very well get a message across to the masses with only 8 regular followers. 

Twitter, on the other hand, was much more responsive. Over the course of the brief campaign, #ElisabethGray16 "followed" over 600 other Twitter accounts. Many of them appeared to be folks who were politically engaged - fans of Trump, Cruz, Hillary, etc. I followed numerous Texas and national Republican accounts, RealDonaldTrump, even Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Wolf Blitzer. I sent direct messages from #ElisabethGray16 to Wolf and CNN, lobbying them to include her in the February 27 debate - after all, she was the only female candidate on the ballot who was still apparently in the running. I encouraged people to vote and tried to stimulate concerns about NSA surveillance, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal, Social Security, etc. - issues I would hope that RealElizabethGray would be concerned about. Overall, I posted about 50 Tweets on Elizabeth's behalf over several days.

More surprising, 206 Twitter accounts followed #ElisabethGray16. Many of them were not accounts I had followed on her behalf but came from folks who had stumbled across her. A few of her Tweets received likes, re-Tweets, and responses.

Many of Liz's followers were legitimate: NYC 4 Trump, Conservatives 4 Bernie, a candidate for Congress in Vermont, the Oregon Republican League, a nano technology executive, AngryAmerican97 (of 300 million), CorporatePigs29 (apparently a billionaire), Patriot Mash, Just-a-Texan, StatesPoll.com, Texas Newz, and Davy Jones in the UK.

There were a few businesses trying to pitch products by piggy-backing on my candidate's “popularity.” And then there were the sex-kitten trolls. #ElisabethGray16 chose not to follow them back.

All this with a few hours of effort. What effect might it have had if I launched the campaign sooner, maybe created a website, maybe some opinion polls on issues?

People are clearly hungry for an outside, non-traditional candidate this year, and Elizabeth Gray is as outside the Washington Beltway as you can get (or so I assume, since I really don't know anything about her).

So now Elizabeth Gray's Presidential candidacy has come to an end. A footnote in history. The first known non-campaign.

I've been thinking, though. What about Elizabeth Gray for Supreme Court Justice?