Tuesday, January 28, 2020



Way back in  1800, (according to Monday’s Los Angeles Times), Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, both running for president, were tied—amazingly--in Electoral College votes.  One house of Congress was forced to decide between them.

As it developed, the political party making the decision did not feel either man represented their beliefs, but decided that Aaron Burr would be much easier to control, that he would bend to their wishes. Ready to cast their votes for Burr, they were stopped by an incensed Alexander Hamilton, who stepped in to dissuade them.  Noting that Burr was a man he knew well from New York political and legal circles, he said Burr was “deficient in honesty”  and “one of the most unprincipled men in the UStates.” 

Hamilton also said, “When a man unprincipled in private life, desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper; possessed of considerable talents” . . . “having the advantage of military habits—despotic in his ordinary demeanor—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobbyhorse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government and bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the nonsense of the zealots of the day—it may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.’”    

Still, the deciding party had already observed that Jefferson’s principles, as Secretary of State, did not please them.  Yet Alexander Hamilton persisted in his arguments. If Burr was made president, Hamilton said, “he will disturb our institutions,” and “disgrace our Country abroad.”  He would “listen to no monitor but his ambition,”  and further, he was (to quote the Times) governed by a singular position—“to get power by any means and keep it by all means.”

Though Hamilton knew Jefferson did not please the deciding party, he would not give up his clamor against Aaron Burr.  At least, he said in one of his dozen letters to Congress, Jefferson was a man devoted to the Constitution. 

In today’s impeachment conflicts, Adam Schiff has become our Alexander Hamilton, quoting this astute distant scholar for the benefit of the American public—noting how much Burr and Trump have in common. 

But it was the Los Angeles Times that made this point: “In a striking echo to the impeachment charges against Trump, Hamilton further noted that if Burr ever reached the White House, there was a risk that, for the purpose of self-benefit, he would undertake  “a bargain and sale with some foreign power, or combinations  with public agents in projects of gain by means of the public monies.” 

The dismissal of Burr’s candidacy did not come easily: It took 36 ballots to achieve the presidency in Thomas Jefferson’s favor.  As we look back at Aaron Burr—this earlier version of Donald Trump—some of us wonder whether our country and our constitution would have survived under the dishonesty and political ambitions of Aaron Burr.  Would he, too, have lied to the public some 4000 times? 

How often has Trump bragged that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in  New York City and “my voters would still support me.” 

Well, the irony is, years ago, that exact scenario occurred: In a duel that should have been stopped, Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton.  And ever since, everyone who has read a history book has come to despise the name of Aaron Burr. 

Friday, January 10, 2020




It all began in Amsterdam.  Our granddaughter and her husband, in Holland, needed a larger house.  As in California, homes are expensive, so they were barely able to afford an older, two-story,  owned for years by a woman who was born and, in her old age, died there.  But after the late-year deal was closed, they made an astonishing discovery: their two-story home was actually three stories, with a never-revealed full basement.

And how did they know?  As a contractor began renovations,  he discovered a trap door, leading to a ladder.  Of all places, the trap door was in the bathroom, hidden UNDER the linoleum. Meaning the house was now a third more valuable than anyone had suspected. Even the ladder was a mystery, descending into a basement filled to the brim with sand.  

But what was the purpose of the mysterious trap door?  And since when were trap doors located in bathrooms? 

Nobody knows, but speculations are rampant. Perhaps during WW II, the basement was used to sequester and protect a family of Jews.  Or perhaps the sand is hiding a treasure of Dutch art work from marauding Nazis in 1940,  such as paintings or statuary.  Until the sand is removed, the house and its secrets will not be revealed.  Extensive renovation permissions in Holland are slow.  Until then, the larger family holds its breath. 

Soon after, our daughter’s two children and their significant others spent Christmas in Tracy’s Tustin home.  On Christmas Eve, grandson Dane was awakened by a one a.m. alarm on his phone:  Since he runs a video business, he was able to see a man running through his company, with computers under his arms . . . and also that a glass door was shattered.  Dane woke Tracy’s Paul, and together the two arrived at two a.m., called the police, and found that three computers had been stolen.  And there was blood on the floor.  The police offered no reasonable solutions.

Two nights later it happened again.  Same thief. Two more computers gone, including Tracy’s. And a photo of the thief on house video.  Now Tracy got involved. After the police said they had more important jobs than solving property crimes, Tracy called an old friend, the mayor of Santa Ana.  (As a once four-year mayor herself, she had a good relationship with Miguel Polido.)  Polido was eager to help.

Not one to let thieves disrupt a family business,  Tracy scouted the neighborhood and nearby found a homeless tent encampment—and possibly a view of the oft-filmed crook. A few days later, three pickle ball friends gave themselves a new title, Crime Fighters, and joined Tracy in secretly scouting the tents.  What they found were three bums in a raging argument with a Uber driver. After they all drove away, Tracy’s posse followed them in a jeep—a long drive through the streets of Santa Ana, with Tracy continuously on the phone to Police Dispatch,  keeping them informed of their location.  When the Uber stopped in front of a bank, so did the police.

Within minutes all three men, including the video burglar, were handcuffed.  Two had outstanding warrants. Later that day, Santa Ana police sent Dane an email message.  “We just want to thank you for your friends, who so determinedly ran down two crooks.”  Tracy told us with a laugh, “They never knew that one of the “friends” was his mother.” 

Last, in celebration of Rob’s and my 71st anniversary, January 3,  we were invited to our son Chris and Betty-Jo’s Tustin home for dinner.  Of course significant family members had celebrated the year before, including our son Ken and his wife from Virginia.  So we knew this year only the locals would be there.  Still, when Rob and I were directed to Betty-Jo’s living room couch and handed a drink,  after a couple of minutes we heard a distinctive voice, somewhere behind us, say, “Can’t a guy get a decent meal around here?”  Instantly, I recognized the voice as our son, Ken . . . and I thought, Where did they get this audio tape? Unlike me, Rob knew it wasn’t a tape.  The voice was practically in his ear.    

Suddenly, Ken jumped out from behind the couch—easily one of the greatest surprises I’ve had in decades. Once again, Rob and I reveled in our family’s recognition of our long marriage.  And the family’s determination to make Ken’s visit a huge moment.

Except for the house in Amsterdam,  we expect the craziness of this year’s Christmas season is now over.

Sunday, December 22, 2019



That was my first thought this morning.  Even as I emerged from the bedroom, half-drugged from a long sleep, I had this feeling, made worse as I looked down our silent, back-bedroom hall.  “Where are they now?  How can I make it through the day—knowing they won’t be waiting for me up in the World Cafe?  Starboard Side, of course.” That Rob and I will have breakfast without them—and nearly as bad, Whatever we eat, I will have to make most of it. Darn. 

“Yeah, it’s a shame,” said Rob. “The place does seem kind of empty, doesn’t it?”  And then, “When are you going to start our egg and toast, Babe?”  Which brought me up short, along with yesterday’s early evening statement, “My suitcase is empty.” 

Well, unlike prior trips, mine wasn’t.  

And thus came the Day-After-The-Trip.  A cruise.  But no ordinary trip, you see, because there were twelve of us aboard the Viking Sea, cruising the distant Caribbean. Eight of whom were grandchildren and their various spice . . . (what else works as the plural of “spouse?”)  

What to do except start calling their various households—bent on telling them how much I missed them.  Nine a.m., should be safe enough.  Well, it certainly was. Turns out they’d all been texting each other since four this morning.  “Can’t believe I’m doing laundry at 4:30 a.m. ”  “Went to the grocery store—I was the only one there.”  “The car wash was empty.”  “Too bad you don’t text, Grandma,”  said Christy.  “We had quite the chain going.”  As she read me their comments, I couldn’t have agreed more. As a texter, I’m the world’s slowest, and even worse, my quietly-beeping phone is never where I am, so it’s no use being on anyone’s chain.

As to the trip, it had dozens of great moments: all of us at dinner together in a small, twelve-person private dining room, joined by the ship’s four-stripe, chief Engineer from Bulgaria, put together because Zhanina, Dane’s fiancĂ©, is also from Bulgaria.  Thanks to his heavy accent, Rob and I couldn’t understand a word he said, but he kept everyone else laughing.

The moments when we got to know various spice a lot better. There’s Matt, the computer whiz who, the day before the trip, finished a project for Oracle.  I knew Matt mostly as the guy who performed miracles whizzing his distant mouse across my rebelling computer screen—but never as the quiet listener who reveled in the ship’s classical violin duo performances. Rob and I spent hours with Kelly and Matt in after-dinner hours of rapt, pleasurable silence.  We’ve agreed he’ll now attend some of the local classical music events (as members of a music support group), that take place in homes blocks from ours.  

Then there was Mike, whose vacation hair across the breakfast table at first made me yearn for a comb. But eventually I came to appreciate the hair—and all because of the smart, funny, intense guy who was under it. We spent hours with Mike in lively conversation.

Then Dan, who’s always been noteworthy as unusually kind—but not as our gang’s resident  best-dresser, second only to Tracy’s Paul—who himself is notable, with Rob and me, as the family’s clothes horse and “man we can’t do without.”   

Throughout the trip there were grandkids and spice who jumped up to bring Rob and me various servings from the cafeteria—and at other times to help us with luggage or merely our own faltering feet . . . on and off tour buses, in and out of taxis, or simply on and off the ship itself.  However, I must add there was no help possible for the dozens of trips the two of us made the length of the ship—from our stateroom in the bow to the dining rooms in the stern. We kept repeating the same mantra: “God, this hall is damn well endless. Down there at the end, I can’t even see our room. I can hardly believe it.”  And then, “I’m glad this walk is so good for us.”      

Though Rob, as always, made instant friends with all the waiters, discussing their countries of origin and learning to say ‘thank you’ in their language. . . because of our larger crowd we made no friends, beyond passing Hellos, with any of the other guests. However, there was one such moment that stands out: Near the end of the trip a steel band performed out near the pool deck. Thanks to the music’s lively beat (and no doubt helped by the rum drinks). . . our family, sitting as a unified group, kept jumping up to dance.

Our daughter, Tracy, quickly helped form a Congo group which rounded the deck. Then, one by one, the grandkids forced Rob and me to our feet.  Bob did a “cane dance,” jumping about as he twirled his cane, while two young males took each of my arms and forced me to dance with them.  Several times.  Each occasion I kept going until I ran out of breath. Those moments were both fun and exhausting—understandable to anyone in his or her ninth decade. 

Later that day Mike was stopped by a spectator who’d been leaning over a balcony, observing. The woman said to Mike:  “I was watching your family.  What a bunch. They made me cry.”  I, for one, had never heard a more touching comment.           

Wednesday, December 4, 2019



This critique for my book,  “The Tail on my Mother’s Kite,” came as one
of those wonderful surprises you can only hope for as you’re writing the book. 

Here are the words from the judge for the 27th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. 

It’s long.  My penance is, I’ve got to type it all—or leave out some wonderful stuff.  Well, here goes: 

“Lovely sense of setting at the start, with the narrative leading us right up to the aforementioned fire that the author used so successfully as a grab for the reader’s connection. Very well done.  We can see that the author knows her way around descriptions, and as such, we’re present in the scene and eager for all of the action to come. Very well done. 

“Beautiful phrasing and sense of movement throughout. “stood there alone, poking at the sky,” stands out for its imagery and we also get a sense of movement in her actions. This is where the author flexes mighty narrative muscles, going beyond simple physical description to what makes an action or observation come alive: multi-layered details in the sensory realm. Excellent choices here.

“The author spent time on every sentence, crafting without the effort showing. “I wanted to peel off my skin to get cooler” is another of the sensory details that grabs the reader. My heart dropped at, “I need a father.”  We’re getting very deep into emotions. Pace is stellar, with no bumps on the path, engaging transitions between chapters, dialogue is fully fleshed-out, with differentiated voices for each of the characters, and I loved that the author cared about sentence structure in each character’s voice. Impressive.

“’The harm that came to him was mostly because our mother stopped being a mother” stands out as a dramatic wallop at the end of a chapter, one of the finest cliffhanger insights I’ve seen in this competition. The stomach sinks when the truth is put out so plainly, and brutally.  All through the middle third of the book, we’re immersed in dysfunctional scenes, and now we see that the flame has turned up gradually, so that we might not even have noticed, but the laser-focused truth in the author’s voice shows that she has been changed by the progression getting this far along.  Subtle tone intensity has led us expertly here, and we’re at the point where we are changed as well.  “Even our mother was not able, ultimately, to ruin a basically sound son.” Nice!  A statement of strength, realization, and a Glass Castles-like overcoming story.  Very well done.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019



Here is a word-for-word blurb from THE WEEK  Magazine, November 15 issue:   Page 8. 


Barr backlash:  British officials were taken aback by the Trump Administration’s request that they help it investigate American intelligence agencies, British media reported last week.  Attorney General William Barr is overseeing a criminal investigation into the origins of the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. U.S. intelligence concluded unequivocally that Russian hacks and covert social media campaigns were aimed at helping President Trump win the election; some commentators have speculated that Barr wants to discredit that conclusion. “They are basically asking, in quite robust terms, for help in doing a hatchet job on their own intelligence services,” one diplomat told Independent.co.uk. Barr has also asked Italy and Australia to investigate. 

Attorney General for the United States—or personal servant of President Trump?           

Monday, October 28, 2019




 Robert V. Wills

Unless the Democratic party can accomplish impeachment or come up with a more appealing candidate next year, we run the risk of repeating the ugly scenario of the 1930’s Third Reich.     

No one under 90 personally remembers how a charismatic house painter hypnotized a great country by slogans, racism, doublespeak, and war on the press, the courts, and the intelligentsia. But I do, and I am astounded that this America is as vulnerable to an  unhinged, unprincipled, demagogue as it has proven to be. And very worried, because as evil as Trump is, he is also a clever showman and charlatan when dealing with uneducated and worried segments of the United States.  

It’s no coincidence that Trump admires only dictators and hates the press.  He is truly a dictator-in-training.

Rick Steves of PBS Travel has seen the ugly trend and produced a DVD titled, “The Story of Fascism in Europe,” describing the rise of the Third Reich from start to finish. I recommend that sooner or later every reader of this blog see that DVD.  It plays often on KCET and lasts only one hour.    


Monday, October 7, 2019



Trump is nothing if not cagey. 

When he fights, he does it with a pugilist’s knowledge of what he can get away with, how far he can go with no consequences.

This was evident years ago when, as a builder of massive hotels, he hired construction crews who were never paid what they were owed.  When the bills came due, Trump “shook down” the contractors, offering them some lesser fraction of what he owed, knowing most of them couldn’t afford to sue him.  And he was right.  A protracted and expensive undertaking in court would ultimately cost the contractors more than they’d get by simply accepting Trump’s offer of a sharply reduced final payment. 

Lots of people knew what he’d been doing—but apparently he never suffered any reprisals.

He’s conducted his whole life that way. 

We Democrats imagined we had him when he was caught secretly asking Ukraine for a favor—that they, as a foreign government, assist him by “digging up dirt” on his political rival, Joe Biden.  It took an unrevealed whistle-blower to catch him. His moves all appeared underhanded, covert, and at last worthy of a long-overdue impeachment.  He broke laws established as presidential limits way back . . . well, centuries ago.   

And then Trump did the wholly unexpected.  In full view of reporters with cameras, he  asked China to investigate the sins of the Bidens.

Some of us caught on immediately.  O.M.G.  By repeating his formerly sneaky act in full view of everyone, he’s making it appear normal. No big deal.  With that he also revised his motivation . . . “I’m just going after corruption everywhere. As a president, I can do that. I don’t care about the politics.”  Another of his several thousand lies.

All but a few Republicans were ecstatic; they bought Trump’s surprising and clever public re-enactment of a sin.  For most he made the “sinfulness” all but go away.  I hear Republicans on numerous TV shows depicting his latest crimes as not “worthy” of impeachment. I’m beginning to think Trump’s wildest declaration might have a grain of truth: “I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.”   

Still, I’m convinced of my own private truth: most intelligent Republicans find our president personally repugnant; they stick with him only because he’s managed to give them what they want--tax-reduced incomes, right-wing judges, and less government.   

Sadly, the opposing party doesn’t see what the rest of us see—that massive immorality at the top will ultimately filter down and doom the country that allows it. It happened in Germany, and in certain ways, like political denigration of the press, it’s already happening here.