Cathedral de Notre Dame – Bayeux!

Entrance to the Cathedral

Dear Commons Community,

After a long day of touring and the trip to the Normandy World War II memorials yesterday, Elaine and I stayed in town and had a late breakfast/early lunch.  We did manage to visit the Cathedral of Notre Dame also known as the Cathedral of Bayeux.  The present cathedral was consecrated on July 14th, 1077 in the presence of William (the Conqueror), Duke of Normandy and King of England.  The cathedral is the spiritual center of the town and its spires can be seen from anyplace in the old sections. Originally Romanesque/Norman and later added Gothic veneer, the church is a typical medieval structure as imposing inside as its exterior.  The inside consists of white marble, buttress ceilings, and a beautiful altar, all of which complement each other.

In a few hours, we leave for a day-tour of Mont St-Michel, an island and abbey with historical, religious, and architectural  significance dating back to the 8th century.  It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.



Main Aisle

Rear View

Side View

Steeple Overlooking the Street

The Cathedral’s Steeples as Seen in the Distance from the River Aure

Omaha Beach, Normandy D-Day Memorial!

Ever Forward

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday, we spent the day touring the American D-Day Memorial sites in Normandy.  Anybody who had anyone connected to the war in Europe will be moved by what they see.  Utah Beach, Point du Hoc and of course Omaha Beach where there were an estimated 10,000 American casualties.  Estimated because those missing in action are still being found.  In 2009, Sgt. John Simonetti from Queens, New York was the last MIA to be found.  Ten percent of the American casualties at Omaha Beach were from New York.  Another ten percent were from Pennsylvania.

Ever Forward, the bronze statue above sits at the entrance of Omaha Beach.  It depicts well the story of an American infantryman trying to save a fallen comrade.

The Obelisk at Point du Hoc is in memory of the American Rangers who made up the first advance unit and who were to scale the cliffs between Utah and Omaha Beaches.  225 rangers landed, of which there were 135 casualties.

The Memorial Cemetery is a place of serenity.  The thousands of crosses in neat rows and on a finely-kept lawn bring tears to one’s eyes.  At 5:00 pm every evening, taps are played as the American flags are lowered.  Everybody is quiet, hats come off, people stand and watch and honor those buried here.  A most appropriate way to spend our Memorial Day Weekend as I thought about two of my uncles John and Anthony DeMichele, both of whom were in Normandy in World War II.


Obelisk at Point du Hoc

Ruins of a German Battery between Utah and Omaha Beaches

German Bunker

Cliffs at Point du Hoc

Omaha Beach from Above

Elaine on Omaha Beach

Normandy Memorial Cemetery

Arrived at Bayeux, Normandy!

Hotel Le Clos de la Chappelle, Bayeux, Normandy

Dear Commons Community,

We arrived last evening at 6:00 pm at our hotel, Le Clos de la Chapelle that is located in the old part of Bayeux, Normandy.  It was an eighteen-hour trip by plane, train and automobile.  Our hotel dates back to the Middle Ages and was a chapel hence the name.  In our room there are ceiling timbers from the original structure. 

After unpacking and settling in, we took a brief walk through  the old town of Bayeux and had dinner at a small restaurant, La Table du Terroir.  Bayeux has an incredible history that includes connections to Roman times, William the Conqueror (1066), and especially World War II.  Bayeux was briefly the capital of Free France and General Charles de Gaulle gave two important speeches here.  It was spared any bombing or serious damage and was occupied by German forces during much of the war.  It was the first town in France liberated by the Allies after D-Day.  

Walking the narrow cobblestone streets, one sees an old mill, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, quaint houses and shops. Claire, our hotel proprietor, told us that any of the buildings that have a V-shaped roof probably date from the Middle Ages.

To sit down for dinner at La Table was welcome after a long day.


   Hotel Le Clos de la Chappelle Backyard

River Aure

 Bayeux Street in the Old Town

Old Grist Mill

La Table du Terroir


Traveling to Normandy Today!

Dear Commons Community,

Elaine and I are traveling to Paris today on our way to Bayeux, Normandy where we will stay for six days.  We are looking forward to taking in the sights of this beautiful small town as well as the memorials of D-Day that are not very far away.

Assuming I have a good Internet connection, I will post photos of our trip in the days ahead.


New York Daily News Cover Blasts Donald Trump: The ‘Snit Hits The Fan’!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Daily News commented on  Donald Trump’s wild Wednesday when the President stomped out of a meeting with Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats and did an impromptu press conference moaning about how he would no longer conduct any business with them. 

The Daily News has a penchant for repeatedly going after the President with a series of blistering front pages and today was no different when it used a photograph of Trump during his Rose Garden press conference with the headline: “The Snit Hits the Fan.”

Trump held the unscheduled briefing, complete with a podium bearing the statements “No Collusion” and “No Obstruction,” after he walked out of a three-minute meeting on infrastructure with Congressional Democrats. He again railed against talk of impeachment and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible Trump campaign collusion.

The Daily News likes to take aim at Trump.  Possibly the best was his disappointment of not getting funding to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border (see below).


The College of New Rochelle Holds Its Final Commencement!

Dear Commons Community,

Speakers this time of the year are fond of saying that graduations are a commencement — a start, not a finish — but yesterday’s 112th commencement was the end of the College of New Rochelle.

Founded in 1904 as New York’s first Catholic college for women — before women won the right to vote — the college held its final graduation at Riverside Church in Manhattan, bestowing nearly 1,000 bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Done in by financial mismanagement and a crippling $30 million debt it had no way to repay, CNR this spring announced plans to send its students to Mercy College and cease operations.

President Dr. William Latimer said: “The spirit and the mission of CNR, which has graduated so many strong women and men over the years, will live on through our graduates.”  You can listen to President Latimer’s comments at the 43:00 minute mark in the above video.

Sad day for a great institution!


Economics Professor Strips Naked to Gain the Attention of Her Male Peers!


Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a an article on Victoria Bateman, an economics historian at the University of Cambridge, who strips naked at various professional events to gain the attention of her male peers.  An inch shy of five feet, with a gentle  smile, she favors prim dresses and business jackets when she wears clothes.  As reported.

“Sometimes, to highlight economists’ obliviousness to women, she doesn’t, as at a March 2018 meeting of the Royal Economic Society. There she strode in to a gala reception “wearing,” as she puts it, “nothing but shoes, gloves, a necklace — and, of course, a smile.” She was “removed” after about 20 minutes, during drinks but before dinner. But on that night, among those economists, at least one woman was visible. And that was Bateman’s point.

“I didn’t choose,” she recalls, “to appear naked at such an event because it was unseasonably warm (it certainly wasn’t), nor due to a lack of suitable outfits in my wardrobe (I have a sizable collection at home), but because economics has a sex problem. If economists were going to stand up and listen, I knew it would require something more than a short conference speech of the kind I was scheduled to deliver the following day.”

She has also disrobed at recent appearances protesting Brexit  (video) in a lecture at a Cambridge theater (“Brexit leaves Britain naked” written in magic marker across her exposed front) and in a BBC interview. She appears au naturel, she says, to celebrate freedom and show solidarity with women — their minds, their bodies, and their vast unacknowledged contributions to prosperity.

Bateman, sometimes referred to as the Naked Don, has just come out with a book on these themes: The Sex Factor: How Women Made the West Rich (Polity Press). “Just because the written and spoken word is the usual means of academic communication, it doesn’t mean that we should restrict ourselves to them at all times,” she writes. “When I think about what has most powerfully affected my own thinking as an economist, on everything from poverty and prosperity to capitalism and the state, it is something else entirely: It is art.” 

“If economists were going to stand up and listen, I knew it would require something more than a short conference speech.”

And art, or naked protest, is what she calls her unclad appearances, not just in person but in commissioned portraits by the painter Anthony Connolly at the prestigious Mall Galleries. The first of these caused a mild ruckus in 2014. Bateman explained in a Guardian op-ed that the painting was intended “to raise questions about the depiction of women and to challenge the blinkered association between the body and sex; to show that the female figure is something that a woman walks around with every moment in her life — that it is not, therefore, purely sexual.” 

The second Connolly portrait (like the first, part of an annual exhibit by the Royal Society of Portrait Painters) was unveiled this month and features the 39-year-old Bateman seated, nude, reading a book. In the background is one repeated phrase: “Women who monetize their brains are denying other women the ability to monetize their bodies.” 

That points to a second theme in Bateman’s work: the right of sex workers to make use of what the British sociologist Catherine Hakim calls “erotic capital” in the same way other women use their intellectual capital. This argument arose from the shaming Bateman has received for her nude activism. She was suddenly thrown into direct alliance with other women who dare to publicly and proudly acknowledge their physical selves. As Bateman explains, “my body, my choice” shouldn’t be the mantra only of certain ostensibly enlightened women with regard to birth control and abortion. “If a woman wants to make money from using her body,” she says, “why shouldn’t she?” If she wants to cover it with a burqa, that is her prerogative, as is revealing it in a short skirt or no clothing at all.”

Lady Godiva would be proud of Victoria.



New York Legislature Takes Aim At Potential Trump Pardons!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York State Legislature is taking aim at restricting President Trump’s presidential pardon powers.  Yesterday it passed legislation tightening a “double-jeopardy loophole” that could undermine potential pardons by President Donald Trump.

The state Assembly passed a measure that would permit authorities to bring state charges against individuals who have received presidential pardons for similar federal crimes.

“Our democracy survives because we have checks and balances,” Assemblyman Tom Abinanti (D) said during Tuesday’s vote, according to Courthouse News’ Adam Klasfeld.

The bill heads now to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for a signature.

Proponents of the bill say it’s necessary to ensure that state investigations into Trump, his family and associates aren’t derailed by potential presidential pardons.

“Right now the president’s threatened use of the pardon power is very troubling. It would be done to undermine an investigation to help out friends and family members,” state Sen. Todd Kaminsky, who sponsored the bill, told NPR on Tuesday.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who spearheaded the effort to change the loophole, applauded the bill’s passage on Tuesday.

“Double jeopardy exists to prevent someone from being charged twice for the same crime, not to allow them to evade justice altogether,” James wrote.

Last summer, Cuomo pledged to sign legislation closing the double jeopardy loophole “the same day” lawmakers passed it.

“New York must have the ability to stand up against the abuse of power,” Cuomo wrote in August.

The governor referenced Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, who was indicted for tax and bank fraud as well as conspiracy. The president has hinted at a potential pardon for Manafort for the federal charges. The bill passed by New York’s Assembly on Tuesday would essentially ensure Manafort could still be prosecuted for the state charges.

The state legislature is poised to pass another bill Cuomo supports on Wednesday that would authorize state officials to release Trump’s state tax returns to Congress.

These are interesting developments that portend of lots of legal challenges if and when they are enforced.  Regardless, they subject Trump and others to a whole other level of scrutiny.


Robert Caro’s New Book: “Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing” a Gem!

Dear Commons Community,

For those of us who are fans of Robert Caro biographies, his new book, Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing, is a gem.  In it, he gives us  more than a look at his research techniques and his writing process but a glimpse into Caro the man himself.  I became a fan of Caro with The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York,  which in my mind is the best book about New York politics in the 20th century ever written.  His multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson is comparable with respect to Texas and Washington, D.C.  I highly recommend Working… to anyone who is interested in the effort that one puts into research and writing.  I will be adding it to my reading list in my graduate research methods courses.

Below is an excerpt from the New York Times Book Review.



Avid readers of Robert A. Caro may greet his new book, “Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing,” with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. On the one hand: Another Caro book, and it’s not a biography! On the other hand: Another Caro book — and it’s not a biography?

Considering that the 83-year-old averages a book a decade, his fans might wonder whether “Working” will reset the clock that started in 2012, when the fourth book of his multivolume magnum opus, “The Years of Lyndon Johnson,” was published.

No need to worry, though this assemblage of personal reflections and interviews may give the true Caro completist a creeping sense of déjà vu. Much of the material was either published before or distilled from stories Caro has recounted elsewhere, and the book reads as if it were designed to divert as little of his time as possible. (Caro says he has a “full-scale memoir” planned, to be completed after the next Johnson volume, though at his age, he says, he can also “do the math.”) Small and charming at about 200 pages, a quick spritz instead of a deep dive, “Working” is like the antithesis of Caro’s labor-intensive oeuvre, making it strangely reassuring proof that he is, well, working.

The next Johnson book will be “the fifth of a projected three volumes,” he writes, declining to get into specifics (“My writing seems never to come out well if I’ve talked about it beforehand”) while promising that it will be the final installment. That means it will have to cover, among other things, the presidential election of 1964; Johnson’s Great Society programs and his continuing feud with Bobby Kennedy; the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act; the decision not to run for re-election in 1968; Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination; Bobby Kennedy’s assassination; and Johnson’s post-presidency life until his death in 1973.

Not to mention the escalation of the war in Vietnam, a subject about which “the L.B.J. Library is opening up new files all the time.” It sounds like biography writing as Zeno’s paradox — getting infinitesimally closer to the end without ever reaching it.

Caro, though, wouldn’t have it any other way. His research methods are deservedly legendary. He and his wife, Ina, pore through archival documents with a determination to “turn every page.” He tracks down as many people to talk to as he can, counting 522 interviews for “The Power Broker,” his landmark biography of Robert Moses, and “thousands” for the Johnson books.

But these standard techniques are just a start. He and Ina moved from their home in New York to the Texas Hill Country in 1978, living there for three years to better understand Johnson’s childhood. (To get the local women to warm to her and open up about what their lives were like before Johnson brought electricity to the region in the ’30s and ’40s, Ina taught herself how to make fig preserves.) Caro has said he wants to spend time in Vietnam to get a sense of what it felt like “to fight in the jungle.” ll of this painstaking work takes time. The writing itself comes quickly and easily — so much so that the critic R.P. Blackmur, who taught Caro at Princeton, admonished him to “stop thinking with your fingers.” The prose in Caro’s biographies is a mesmerizing combination of fine-grained, meticulous detail recounted in lush, incantatory sentences; he is, as he says repeatedly in “Working,” always trying to accumulate enough material to “show” rather than to tell — “to make readers not only see but understand and feel” the consequences of power.

Because power, Caro says, is his real subject. He doesn’t think of his books as biographies in the conventional sense. “From the very start,” he writes, “I thought of writing biographies as a means of illuminating the times of the men I was writing about and the great forces that molded those times.” Robert Moses was an unelected bureaucrat whose public works projects transformed the skyline and shorelines of New York City; Lyndon Johnson was a ruthless opportunist and an astonishingly effective legislator who transformed the country’s social landscape. These were men who channeled power, wielded it, embodied it.

Caro talks a lot about power in “Working.” It can corrupt, yes, but not always. “Once you get enough power, once you’re there, where you wanted to be all along, then you can see what the protagonist wanted to do all along, because now he’s doing it,” he says. “What power always does is reveal.”

It’s a memorable line, from an interview Caro gave to The Paris Review in 2016. It appears not only in “Working” but also in “Master of the Senate,” the third of the Johnson books, published in 2002. There are a number of anecdotes in “Working” that Caro has shared before — after all, his books are so comprehensive that it only makes sense for, say, “Means of Ascent,” the second book in the Johnson series, to include a section on how Caro tracked down Luis Salas, a former voting official who confessed to helping Johnson steal the 1948 Senate election.

The version of the Salas story that Caro includes in “Working” is presented as an example of what Caro calls “something in my nature” — “the part of me that, now that I was writing books, kept leading me, after I had gotten every question answered, to suddenly think, despite myself, of new questions that, in the instant of thinking them, I felt must be answered for my book to be complete.”

This is awfully windy — where is Prof. Blackmur when you need him? Caro makes the same point more succinctly when writing about “The Power Broker,” recalling how he was swept away by the scandalous material he was discovering and an accompanying sense of duty. “I just couldn’t write the book about the great highway builder — couldn’t outline it, even — without showing the human cost of what he had done,” he writes. “There really was no choice involved.”

For someone so interested in the power of others, Caro seems coy about his own power to shape legacies. The writer who emerges from these pages is so humble as to be self-effacing — a quality that makes his halting bids at introspection, for all their genial appeal, seem mostly denuded of the drama that normally fuels Caro’s work.

But then the stubborn willingness to keep digging, to rescue secrets from oblivion, is a form of power, too. Recalling why Moses finally relented and agreed to talk to him, Caro writes: “At last someone had come along who was going to write the book whether he cooperated or not.”


Maureen Dowd Compares Donald Trump and George W. Bush on Iran and Iraq!

Dear Commons Community,

This past week we heard a lot of saber-rattling among White House staffers and especially from National Security Adviser John Bolton.  Maureen Dowd in her New York Times column yesterday takes aim at Trump and makes comparisons to George W. Bush’s disastrous decision to go to war in Iraq.  Here are a couple of excerpts.

“Only one person can save us from the dangerous belligerent [John Bolton] in the White House.

And that person is Donald Trump.

How screwed up is that?

Will the president let himself be pushed into a parlous war by John Bolton, who once buoyed the phony case on W.M.D.s in Iraq? Or will Trump drag back his national security adviser and the other uber hawks from the precipice of their fondest, bloodiest desire — to attack Iran?

Can Cadet Bone Spurs, as Illinois senator and Iraq war vet Tammy Duckworth called Trump, set Tom Cotton straight that winning a war with Iran would not merely entail “two strikes, the first strike and the last strike”? Holy cakewalk….

Once, we counted on Trump’s advisers to pump the brakes on an out-of-control president. Now, we count on the president to pump the brakes on out-of-control advisers.

The 70-year-old with the Yeti mustache [Bolton] is an insatiable interventionist with an abiding faith in unilateralism and pre-emptive war. (The cost of our attenuated post-9/11 wars is now calculated at $5.9 trillion.)

W. and Trump are similar in some ways but also very different. As Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio notes: W. was interested in clarity. Trump wants chaos. W. wanted to trust his domineering advisers. Trump is always imagining betrayal. W. wanted to be a war hero, like his dad. Trump does not want to be trapped in an interminable war that will consume his presidency.”

Read the entire column, Dowd paints a scary situation.