Republican Leaders Maintain Embarrassed Silence as Trump Attacks War Hero’s Father

By now, everyone knows that Khizr Khan spoke at the Democratic Convention and sorrowed for his son, who was killed in Iraq while defending the men under his command from a suicide bomber. He challenged Donald Trump to read the United States Constitution, a challenge that Mr. Trump is unlikely to take up. Donald Trump is not a reader who hasn’t even read the books he falsely claims to have written.

The logical way for a presidential candidate to respond to Mr. Khand would have been with sympathy by saying something such as, “I am sorry that you feel such bitterness toward me, but I want you to know that I am genuinely and deeply sorrow for the loss of your son.” That would have limited the damage to Trump’s campaign and shown that he has a human side after all. However, Donald Trump has no human side.

As anyone could have expected, Donald Trump, responded by narcissistically shooting himself in the foot. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Trump insisted that he is the one who has made sacrifices for his country. “I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve done― I’ve had― I’ve had tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot.” Even when the subject is the grieving parents of a soldier who sacrificed his life for the United States, according to Donald it’s all about Donald.

Paul Rieckoff, the founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American, responded to Trump’s comments with this rejoinder, “For ANYONE to compare their ‘sacrifice’ to Gold Star family member is insulting, foolish and ignorant. Especially someone who has never served himself and has no children serving. Our country has been at war for a decade and a half, and the truth is most Americans have sacrificed nothing. Most of them are smart and grounded enough to admit it.”

I keep reading remarks of Trump apologists in this forum claiming that Donald Trump is soon going to start listening to his advisers and stop uttering stupidities in public. When do they think his lack of stupidity will finally kick in? Also, where are the intelligent Republican leaders hiding? Why are they maintaining an embarrassed silence instead of speaking out against this goon?

Why do Self-Anointed Conservatives Support Trump?

For the life of me, I cannot understand why so many people who refer to themselves as conservatives support Donald Trump. Calling oneself a conservative and supporting Donald Trump strike me as being mutually exclusive. Of course I am not an ideologue, neither conservative or liberal, so I may not understand either side. What exactly is a conservative? Donald Trump gave his definition on “Face the Nation” in January,

Well, I think it’s a person that doesn’t want to take risks. I think that’s a good thing. A person that wants to in terms of government I’m talking about. Person that wants to conserve, a person that wants to in financial sense balance budgets. A person that feels strongly about the military and I feel very strongly about the military. And you have some of these people they don’t even want to focus on the military. Our military is falling apart I feel very — I have always felt very strongly about the military.

 Let’s ignored the fractured syntax and start with the “person that doesn’t want to take risks.” Donald Trump’s life story is full of risky behavior. How could it be otherwise when he is in the real-estate business? He has gambled large sums of money on the casino business, for example, and lost, bailed out only by the generosity of United States bankruptcy laws. A Trump defender might argue that yes, he has gambled, but his gambles were hardly risky, because he gambled with OPM, other people’s money, and left them holding the bag when his risky ventures failed.

His run for the White House is also a gamble that, so far at least, has paid off. However, his campaign style has been very risky. He has insulted Latinos, Blacks, and women. The first two groups can be counted on to vote 90 percent against him, and a majority of educated women are also going to vote against him. Trump gambled that his criticism of these groups would gain him more than enough voters among whites with no more than a high school diploma to make up for the loss of the votes of the people he insulted. It remains to be seen if this strategy will work.

 However, let’s move on to fiscal conservatism. Almost all economists agree that Donald Trump’s budget plan (yes, he has one, more or less) would balloon the national budget deficit. A study by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget cited by CBS News claims that Donald Trump’s budget plan would inflate the budget deficit to $10 billion in the next ten years, causing it to more than double to 127 percent of the size of the United States economy. Hillary Clinton’s budget proposals, on the other hand, would expand the debt by a comparatively modest $1.25 trillion, leaving the deficit at 86 percent of the economy, about where it is now. While I would prefer an economic policy more like Bill Clinton’s, which ran a budget surplus and thereby shrank the national debt, such a policy is not in the cards. However, Donald Trump’s budget plan is definitely the less conservative of the two.

Moving on to moral or social conservatism, which Donald Trump did not mention, social conservatives generally admire such qualities as respect for the law, good behavior toward others, respect for God, faithfulness to one’s spouse and family and empowerment of the individual instead of government to solve problems.

Donald Trump has shown no respect for the law. His Trump university defrauded “students” out of money that they had to borrow in many cases with the false promise of teaching them the secrets of financial success. In exchange for their money, they received nothing except for a large debt that many of them are having trouble paying. His misuse of the bankruptcy laws left many contractors and subcontractors of his construction projects in poor financial shape after Donald Trump managed to weasel out of paying them. He attempted to intimidate the judge hearing one of the fraud cases against him. USA Today found Donald Trump involved in about 3,500 lawsuits including 1,900 where he or his companies are the plaintiff and 1,300 in which Donald Trump is the defendant. No presidential candidate in the history of the United States has been involved in so many legal disputes.

Donald Trump indirectly bragged that his penis is “long and beautiful.” My socially conservative Republican grandmother would have been aghast to hear such a remark. Perhaps it is more in style in conservative circles today to brag about the size of one’s sexual organ, but I doubt it.

Then there are Donald Trump’s serial marriages and boasting that he made many sexual conquests in the pre-AIDS days. In The Art of the Comeback as quoted in the Washington Post, Donald Trump, or rather his ghostwriter, wrote, “If I told the real stories of my experiences with women, often seemingly very happily married and important women, this book would be a guaranteed best-seller (which it will be anyway!). I’d love to tell all, using names and places, but I just don’t think it’s right.” So much for conservative morality.

I could write a book about Donald Trump’s lack of conservative values, but I will have pity on the reader and cut the list short here.

Before you leave, I hope you’ll click at least one or more of the book cover images in the left sidebar and read a free sample of one of the books I have written and have for sale on Amazon. A Senior Citizen Walks the Camino de Santiago is an account of my 400-mile plus pilgrimage across northern Spain last summer, and Running for President is a novel about a Trump-like character who manages to get elected to the office. The bottom book contains selected chapters from Running for President and can be downloaded for free from Smashwords. The third book is not by me, of course, but I included it, because it is probably the best guide available in English for anyone considering doing the pilgrimage.

Is Donald Trump’s Mental Health Still in Decline?

Unsurprisingly, many people, especially among the educated classes, realize that Donald Trump is not in normal mental health. He seems to only display one emotion–anger. I have never heard of him crack a joke and never seen him smile. I have never heard him express empathy for another person. People with whom you or I might sympathize, Donald Trump calls “losers.” He said to Larry King, “Do you mind if I sit back a little? Because your breath is very bad. It really is. Has this been told to you before?”

He seems to have no sense of right and wrong. What is important to him is winning. He was quite willing to take money from people of limited means who had to go tens of thousands of dollars into debt to attend Trump university, and was quite willing to keep that money while giving nothing in return. He is extremely aggressive. He claims to have punched his second-grade music teacher in the eye, “because I didn’t think he knew anything about music.”

He has an exaggerated sense of self-importance. “When people see the beautiful marble in Trump Tower, they usually have no idea what I went through personally to achieve the end result. No one cares about the blood, sweat, and tears that art or beauty require.”  Of course, the architect may have had some influence on the building’s design, but according to Donald Trump, he did it himself.

Then there is the gem that I believe everybody has heard, “My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.” To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time a presidential candidate has implied that his sexual organ is “long and beautiful.”

A person with those symptoms has a mental condition called narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). If you would like to read more about why several psychologists have stated their belief that Donald Trump read the article “Donald Trump” by Dan P. McAdams in The Atlantic online by clicking here or the article “Less Than Artful Choices: Narcissistic Personality Disorder by Maria Konnikova on bigthink.com by clicking here.

 What exactly is NPD? According to the Mayo Clinic, the criteria are:

  • Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerating your achievements and talents
  • Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
  • Requiring constant admiration
  • Having a sense of entitlement
  • Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
  • Taking advantage of others to get what you want
  • Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Being envious of others and believing others envy you
  • Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner

As you look over the list of criteria above, can you think of even one that does not apply to Donald Trump?

In the August 2016 of Harpers, Martin Amis argues in an article entitled “Don the Realtor” that Donald Trump’s mental condition is getting worse. I will not go through Martin Amis’ article in detail, but you can read it online by clicking here. The title was obviously inspired by Joe the Plumber, whom you may remember from the 2008 presidential campaign.

Martin Amis bases his argument on two books allegedly authored by Donald Trump, The Art of the Deal published in 1987 and Crippled America published in 2015. Quoting from both books, Mr. Amis claims that remarks attributed to Donald Trump show a deteriorated mental state in the second book.

The problem I have with this analysis is that we now know that Donald Trump has never written a book. He pays ghost writers to write  books and has his own name placed on the cover as author. It is questionable if Donald Trump has even read either book or any book for that matter. How do we know that Donald Trump made the remarks attributed to him in the books.

We know that the ghost writers invented a fictitious Donald Trump, and it seems probable that the quotes are factitious, too. I am practically certain that the two books were written by different people who had two different writing styles and would therefore would have taken different approaches to making up quotes to attribute to Donald Trump.

I support this blog by the sale of my book, mainly on Amazon. The books are shown in the left sidebar of this blog. One of the books, Running for President is about a psychopath modeled on Donald Trump who not only runs for but is actually elected president. It has recently been marked down to $3.99 in Kindle format and is priced as low as $9.09 in paperback.

Another book is a first-hand account of my 400+-mile pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain last summer. Due to the fact that it contains hundreds of full-color pictures, it is available only in Kindle format and is best read using the Kindle app on a device with a color screen.

To read a free sample of either book, click on its cover image in the left sidebar.

US Democracy Under Attack!

The spread of liberal democracy seems to have reached its peak and now be in decline. We once assumed that as countries evolved, they would naturally adopt democratic forms of government. However, that is no longer happening.

Russia once seemed on its way to becoming modern democracy, but it has slipped back into authoritarianism under Vladamir Putin. Venezuela’s authoritarian government has brought that country to the verge of starvation. Of course, both of these countries are basket cases, but there are examples of countries that are successful despite their lack of democracy. China has a state-run economy with some capitalist participation, but it has a top-down government and can by no means be considered a democracy. Nevertheless, it has a growing economy and a ballooning middle class, causing many to believe that economic success and democracy do not necessarily go hand in hand.

But, one need not look to the emerging countries to see democracy in decline. It is threatened in many western countries as well. In France, Marie le Pen’s National Front looks likely to at least advance to the run-off elections in the presidential race. In Austria, the authoritarian right-wing Freedom Party came within a hair’s breath of electing its leader Norbert Hofer to the presidency. He won the first round and received 49.7 percent of the vote in the run-off election.

Here in the United States, democracy is also under threat. Our democratically elected Congress is mired in partisan politics with the result that it is able to accomplish very little. An authoritarian figure in the form of Donald Trump promises to take over decision making personally and stands a real chance of winning our presidency.

Normally, presidential candidates promise to work with Congress to get their programs passed. Donald Trump has no real programs. His popularity is based on the promise that he will single-handedly  get things done. He will personally order a wall built on the Mexican border, and he will personally force Mexico to pay for it. “I am the only one who can fix our southern border.” He will personally set the United States back on the right course. “I am the only one who can make America great again.” Notice that there is no mention of Congress or any other elected government officials. He personally will take charge.

I doubt that Donald Trump will be able to upset our democratic system of government, but if you listen to his words, that is essentially what he promises to do. If he is elected (God forbid), he will give orders to have things done, and there will be no response. That will cause him to appeal to the populace for more power of Congress and the courts, the other two branches of government.

Our US system of government is so designed that no one individual and no one branch of government can get much accomplished without the cooperation of the other two. Even the judicial branch depends on the executive to enforce its orders, and despite the criticism of Barack Obama for issuing executive orders, he has been willing to submit to the Supreme Court’s decisions when the Court has ruled against him.

Imagine a hypothetical situation in which Donald Trump orders our treaty with the World Trade Organization to be abolished, and Congress refuses to go along with it. He issues an executive order to scrap the treaty, Congress sues him in the courts, and the Supreme Court decides that Trump has no power to do what he is doing. Donald Trump is capable of ignoring the Supreme Court decision, provoking a government crisis. He could then appeal to his followers to take to the streets in massive, nation-wide protests.

Imagine that the resulting disorder causes Donald Trump to declare a state of emergency and begin ruling by decree. His massive group of fanatical followers, at his urging, storm the Capital and the Supreme Court building, driving its occupants into the streets.

Does that sound farfetched? Similar things have happened in other former democratic countries. In formerly democratic and secular Turkey, president Erdogan has declared a state of emergency, ordered the closing of thousands of private schools, charities, and other institutions and ordered the arrest of thousands of people. He has essentially metamorphosed from a president to a dictator. Are you sure it couldn’t happen here?

Donald Trump’s large number of supporters have little interest in the democratic process. When he struts on stage and promises to personally run the country, his fans go wild with glee. That is an ominous sign for a country whose democracy is in trouble.

Incidentally, the sale of my books on Amazon make this blog possible. Please take the time to click on one of the book cover images in the left sidebar to check them out. The novel Running for President is about a Trump-like figure who manages to win the presidency. A Senior Citizen Walks the Camino de Santiago is the day-by-day account of my 400+-mile pilgrimage last summer to Santiago de Compostela and is chock full of pictures taken along the route.

Donald Trump’s Fake Books

Donald Trump’s reputation as a businessman rests in part on his 1987 memoir, The Art of the Deal. It turns out that not only did Donald Trump not write the book, it is questionable if he has even read it. The Trump character in the book is the fictional creation of ghostwriter Tony Schwartz, whom Donald Trump contracted to write the book. Mr. Schwarz is listed as the secondary author on the book’s cover, but in reality he was the only author, and he claims that the image of Donald Trump that he created in the book is pure fiction.

I first heard of Tony Schwartz and his story of writing “Trump’s book” in an interview with him on National Public Radio. He kept quiet about the fact that he was the book’s real author until Donald Trump declared himself to be a candidate for president. Tony Schwartz relates that he was watching a video of Donald Trump’s declaration when he heard Donald Trump say the words, “We need a leader that wrote Art of the Deal.” Mr. Schwartz is convinced that Donald Trump had become convinced that he and not Tony Schwartz had written the book.

Beginning in 1985, Tony Schwartz spent 18 months with Donald Trump, going where he did including spending weekends in Trump’s Manhattan apartment and Florida estate. In the NPR interview, he stated “I helped to paint Trump as a vastly more appealing human being than he actually is. And I have no pride about that. … I did it for the money. It’s certainly weighed on me over the years.”

He added, “One of the chief things I’m concerned about is the limits of his attention span, which are as severe as any person I think I’ve ever met. No matter what question I asked, he would become impatient with it pretty quickly, and literally, from the very first time I sat down to start interviewing him, after about 10 or 15 minutes, he said, ‘You know, I don’t really wanna talk about this stuff, I’m not interested in it, I mean it’s over, it’s the past, I’m done with it, what else have you got?'”

In a New Yorker article Schwartz expresses remorse about his contribution to creating a false public image of Donald Trump. “I put lipstick on a pig,” he said. “I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is.” He went on, “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.” He said if he were writing the book today, he would write it quite differently and entitle it The Sociopath.

In an interview with BBC radio, Mr. Schwartz says he is “terrified” of Donald Trump’s becoming president. (sorry no link; I’m listening to the interview on the radio as I write, and I don’t think the interview has been posted online yet). He said that Donald Trump is only interested in one thing–winning and having everyone else lose. Once he wins, he loses interest in the matter and passes on to a new conflict.

Tony Schwartz said that as far as the book is concerned, Donald Trump was only interested in the publicity and otherwise did not care what Mr. Schwartz wrote, so Schwartz painted a fawning verbal portrait of Donald Trump as a tough guy. He admits that he had pangs of conscience about writing the book but finally agreed to do it for the money. He demanded half of the advance and half of the book’s royalties. Donald Trump agreed to the terms.

After the article about Mr. Schwartz’s deal with Donald Trump appeared in the New Yorker, Mr. Schwartz received a cease-and-detest letter from one of Mr. Trump’s attorneys for revealing that the book is full of falsehoods and demanding that Mr. Schwartz relinquish his share of the book’s royalties. The New York Times obtained a copy of the letter, which insisted that Mr. Schwartz send “a certified check made payable to Mr. Trump” and make “written assurances that you will not generate or disseminate any misleading or inaccurate information or make any baseless accusations with respect to Mr. Trump.”

Tony Schwartz said in the BBC interview that he has not kept any royalties from the book since Donald Trump announced his presidential run but instead has donated them to a variety of charitable institutions including one that aids the very immigrants that Donald Trump so disparages. In a sense, he is atoning for his share of the blame for helping Donald Trump achieve the position he enjoys today.

On a personal note, I once received a threatening letter from the lawyer of a psychopathic former neighbor, who also hired a private investigator to investigate me and five other persons. Fortunately, the psychopath that I and my friends and neighbors had to deal with  was not as rich as Donald Trump, her harassment crossed the limits of the law, and cities of Phoenix and Scottsdale both opened criminal investigations against her. By the time they had assembled enough information to file criminal charges, she had escaped to Nicaragua, a country that has no extradition treaty with the United States. I am writing a book about her. In my research, I have learned that such bizarre behavior is typical of psychopaths.

I also wrote a novel about a psychopathic car dealer who in my novel actually is elected president of the United States. I patterned the character partly on Donald Trump, partly on an ex-governor of Arizona named Evan Mecham, and partly on Maricopa County Arizona’s psychopathic sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is also facing the possibility of having criminal charges filed against him. For more information, click on the cover image of Running for President in the left sidebar of this blog.

Phoenix, Arizona — July 21, 2016

 I made it back yesterday, minus my checked luggage, but this time it was my fault that my luggage didn’t arrive with me. From Madrid I flew to Washington Dulles Airport. From there, I was scheduled to take two planes, one to Chicago and a second plane from Chicago to Phoenix. However, I talked the gate agent in Washington into re-booking me onto a direct flight to Phoenix. He warned me that it was too late to reroute my luggage, but I didn’t care if my suitcase made it with me or not. I was dead tired and glad to get to Phoenix two and a half hours earlier than I otherwise would have. This morning I went to the airport and picked up my suitcase, which had arrived during the night.

The bad experience was Washington-Dulles Airport itself. I was using the Mobile Passport app on my Android phone, which was supposed to shorten time at immigration. Indeed there were signs in the airport pointing to a “special” Mobile Passport lane, but the signs pointed to the same lane to which all other US and Canadian citizens were directed. The app saved me no time whatsoever. The “special” Mobile Passport Lane was the just the regular immigration lane.

At customs I again showed my Mobile Passport App, which the customs agents seemed unfamiliar with. I was asked for my customs declaration slip. Then one of them remembered that with the Mobile Passport App, everything was done electronically, and there was no declaration slip, so they let me through.

After Customs Control came the TSA Security check. At least I would get through this faster. I had TSA Precheck status, which is supposed to give one access to a special lane plus special privileges such as not having to remove shoes and belt and going through a metal detector instead of a body scan. I was quite clearly told “We don’t honor TSA Precheck!” So, I went through a very through security check including a pat-down and body scan while the TSA agent let about another dozen people pass rapidly one after another through the metal detector. For some reason, the TSA agent picked me for special screening, even though I am 73 years old and had TSA Precheck status. I suspect that I had been pre-screened for security was what caused him to give me an extra time-consuming security check.

I know it sounds as if I am whining, (and I am, of course), but I was dead tired even by the time I reached Washington and not dealing well with the fact that immigration and security agents were making the process more difficult than it was supposed to be.

By the time I arrived at Phoenix, I was groggy from lack of sleep and probably acting drunk. However, after six hours sleep, I do feel better today. I must also say that the United Airlines luggage people in Phoenix were very helpful about holding my suitcase for me. When I woke up this morning, I found a voicemail left at 12:25 this morning telling me that my suitcase had arrived and that I could pick it up at my convenience. When I arrived to pick it up this morning, there was even a note attached to it explaining to the other agents that I had made arrangements to pick up the suitcase.

Sorry, no pictures today.

July 19 — Madrid, Spain. Last Day

This is my last post from Europe until I fly to Portugal in mid-November. Early tomorrow morning I head to the airport for the long journey home. It will be an extra-long trip, because I’ll have to change planes twice, once in Washington DC and again in Chicago.

As always in my blog, if you want to see any of the photos in more detail, click on it to enlarge it. Then use your web browser’s back button to return to the blog.

I left my hotel room this morning to go exploring, and as soon as I turned the corner at the end of the street, I was confronted with a large number of police officers, most of whom were carrying what appeared to be military-style assault rifles. It took me a few moments to figure out what was going on. Then I noticed an empty temporary stage and some protestors carrying signs. Apparently some sort of political speech was going to be held there.

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In the picture above, the red signs are being held by pro-life demonstrators, and the white banner behind them is for the Spanish Workers’ Party. I have no idea what sort of speech was to be held there, and I didn’t hang around to find out. Later, when I returned to my hotel, I walked down a different street to avoid the site. I don’t think it’s wise to be among large crowds of people in these days of terrorism.

Whatever was going to happen, it was apparently important enough for all of the TV networks to cover it. All of the trucks in the picture below plus the car to the right of center had satellite dishes on their roofs, apparently in preparation for a live news broadcast.  I haven’t turned on the TV in my room yet today, so I’ve seen no local newscasts. After I finish this post, it will be TV time, but I intend to watch today’s Tour de France stage, not the news. Oh, wait! Today is a rest day. The exciting stage will take place tomorrow while I’m on the plane.

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Speaking of police, here is a picture of some of them preparing to be helpful. The word “police” is written on the back of the van in a number of languages including a few whose script I cannot read. Not all police are that helpful, however. This afternoon, I sat on a stone step to rest my ancient legs  for a few moments, only to hear a voice shouting “¡Caballero!” (sir). It took me a few seconds of looking around to figure out where the voice was coming from. Finally I looked up, and there was a police officer standing behind me at the top of the steps leaning over me. “You can’t sit there,” he explained. So, off I went.

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The following building looks fit to be a cathedral, but it’s one of the many churches in Madrid. This one is called The Church of the Geronimos (la Igesia de los Jerónimos). The outside looked very bright as if the church had just been constructed. I assume it was recently sandblasted to remove centuries of grime and restore the stone’s natural color. It was a beautiful sight.

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Right across from the church is the Prado Museum, which is one of the best art museums in the world. I did spend a day inside it on an earlier trip to Madrid. If you’re serious about viewing the many famous works of art inside, you need to dedicate most of a day to the visit.  The following picture is a side view of the museum. There were many tourist buses parked in the surrounding streets and hordes of people heading toward the museum. I suppose it is a must-see on any guided bus tour.20160719_094531Out in the center of a traffic circle a few blocks from the Prado is the Puerta de Acalá. It is an old city gate through which traffic from the east of Spain used to enter the city.  There was constant traffic around the circle, but I tried to snap a picture of it when no trucks were blocking the view. As you can see, that didn’t quite work out as I had planned.

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I didn’t take the time to find out which building the bright tower in the following picture belongs to. I found the view so striking that I had to snap a picture. It looked more spectacular in person than in the photo.

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I am a cyclist, and I’d like to point out that cyclists get much more respect on the street in Madrid than they do in my hometown of Phoenix, Arizona. You’ll notice in the following picture that the painted signs on the street indicate that cyclists have the right to take over the entire traffic lane. Of course, in Phoenix cyclists have almost the same rights as motorists under the law, but many drivers don’t know or care about cyclists’ right to use the road.

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Well, good-bye from Europe. This is the last post to the blog for a few days at which time I expect this will turn from a travel blog back into a political blog. I’ve been reading about the Republican convention now in progress, and it seems that this year it is even more of a circus than it normally is.

In the meantime, most of the books whose covers images are located in the left sidebar are books that I have written. For more information about any of them, click on the cover image to go to Amazon’s website.

Madrid, Spain — July 18, 2016

Today is my next-to-last full day in Europe until I visit Portugal in November. The day after tomorrow I fly back to Phoenix.

I’m still feeling a bit ill, but I did get out and walk through part of the center of Madrid this morning. I have been in Madrid many times, but to the best of my recollection, today was the first time I entered the Cathedral of the Almudena, which is located right next to the Royal Palace and used to serve Spain’s royalty.

Before we get to the cathedral, here is a photo of one of the main streets in Madrid’s downtown area. This photo was taken right around the corner from the hotel where I am staying. This section of the city is very old, so naturally the streets are quite narrow. Some are so narrow that they have been closed off to motor traffic and have become pedestrian malls. Others are single lane in one direction only.

The street shown in the picture is the Calle de St. Jerónimo (yes, they spell Geronimo with a J instead of a G in Spain these days). The red bus you see approaching is one of the double-decker tourist buses that infest the streets of the downtown area.

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If you continue down the Calle de St. Jerónimo in the direction the camera is pointing, you pass through the Puerta del Sol and then enter the Calle Mayor or Main Street, which isn’t much wider. At the end of the Calle Mayor you arrive at the Cathedral of the Almudena, which is shown in the following picture.

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Unlike many of the other cathedrals in Spain, this one doesn’t charge tourists for admission, but there is a collection box at the entrance with a sign suggesting a donation of one euro.

Below is the view of the altar looking from the back of the church. I am not used to seeing altars with steps leading up to a higher level. I suppose that the inferior priests conducted mass from the lower level and only the bishop himself could hold mass on the upper level. Don’t quote me on that. I am allowing my imagination to run wild.

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Below is a closer view of the altar. I suppose it is no secret that the Catholic Church in Spain had immense wealth at its disposal during the time that the Church and the Spanish government were working hand in glove to pillage Spain’s colonies in America. The Church used much of that wealth in elaborate constructions and decorations.

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Below is the view looking toward the pipes of the pipe organ. They are not as impressive as those that I have seen in other Spanish cathedrals. I did not hear the organ play. During the time I was inside, recorded choir music was playing through an audio system.

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If you are Catholic, you may remember the custom of lighting a candle in a Catholic church in memory of a departed loved one or as a symbol of a special prayer to God. I suppose the expense of replacing those candles got too great, or perhaps they were a fire hazard. In any case, you no longer light a candle in many Spanish churches. Instead you put your money into a slot, and an LED at the tip of a fake candle lights up and stays illuminated for a programmed period of time.

I suppose God takes just as much notice of LED lights as he used to take of candles, but it occurred to me that I could spare the donation by holding up my cell phone so that God could see the red LED that indicates that it is turned on. Are not all LEDs equal in God’s eyes?

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From an enclosed balcony at the rear of the cathedral, one can look across to the Royal Palace. It was once the digs of the royal family, but now the king and queen live in a more modest pad on the outskirts of Madrid, and the Royal Palace is a museum. It does resume its duties as a palace to receive the occasional foreign dignitary. If Barack Obama were to show up, I imagine that the government would kick out the tourists and have the king receive him in the Palace. If Donald Trump were to show up? My guess is that he would have to stand in line and pay admission like anyone else.

I toured the Royal Palace last summer, and believe me, you need a good set of legs to survive tourist route through it. You could easily spend a day touring it if you stopped to contemplate everything of interest. I made it through about three-fourths of the route taking note of everything with occasional rests on a convenient chair or bench. Then my legs could take no more, and I rushed through the final part of the tour without reading a single sign.

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Not far from the cathedral and the palace there is a glass-covered area looking down on some sort of ruins. I searched for a sign to tell me what the ruins were, but I found none. There was this interesting bronze statue of a man contemplating the ruins. Judging from the statutes shiny parts, many people must take selfies while hanging onto his right shoulder or with an arm across his back. However, why are his buttocks so shiny? I don’t even want to speculate about that.

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Now you’ll have to excuse me. Today’s Tour de France stage is on TV live.

Madrid, Spain — July 17, 2016

I don’t have much more to write about Zaragoza, because I spent half my time there in bed. I became sick in the stomach the day before yesterday, and I had the sniffles, as I believe I wrote in the last entry. Yesterday I spent all morning in bed sleeping. Although my stomach ache was over, I felt very tired. Today in Madrid, my stomach feels fine, but I still have the sniffles. My energy is back to normal.

One good thing about feeling ill in Zaragoza is that I spent several hours writing the novel that I am supposed to be working on every day. I’m approaching the point where the protagonist has to kill off her aged husband to get his money. Naturally, it has to look like a natural death, a stroke or heart attack. Does anybody have any good ideas as to how she can finish off the poor old geezer?

I tried to check into the hostel where I was booked to stay, but the WiFi was really flaky, and I couldn’t log in. The place was using some service that requires logging in through Facebook and allowing the site to post information to your Facebook page. I was reluctantly willing to do that, but the system kept telling me that my Facebook login was wrong. I could, however, log onto my Facebook page itself.

The clerk at the reservation offered to allow me to log on using her Facebook account, but the system also rejected her credentials. Then the manager was telephoned, and I was asked to talk to him. He went into a long, unconvincing explanation as to why they were using this system and how I might be able to get around the problem by establishing a new Facebook account. I finally told him that they were making things far too complicated. I was on vacation and didn’t want to spend hours trying to do workarounds to get a defective system to work. I walked down the street and checked into a hotel.

Before I left, the person on the phone told me he would charge the first night’s lodging to my credit card. It was a bit of an empty threat, as I had never given the hostel my credit card number.

OK, I’m paying more my last three days in Europe than I had planned, but I have my own room with shower and all the little things a hotel supplies such as smelly shampoo and soap. Oh, and there’s a widescreen TV on which I’m watching today’s stage of the Tour de France out of the corner of my eye as I write. I hope you’ll excuse this long, boring account of my problems to get a bed to sleep in, but keep reading. There may (or may not) be something more interesting farther down the page.

There is something strange hanging on the wall of this hotel room. I can understand the hat, but why three brooms? If I decide to go out tonight, I’ll only need to ride one of them. Maybe the other two are in case I pick up a couple of flying girlfriends while out there gliding over the city. At any rate, whoever set up this room correctly pegged me as an abnormal guest.

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I had my first ride on the an AVE today, the Spanish high-speed rail network. There are faster trains in China, but I believe the AVE is the fastest nationwide train system in operation in Europe. There was a speed indicator in my coach, so I could keep an eye on how rapidly we moving. When our train got up to cruising speed, it ran between 290 and 300 kilometers per hour (180 to 186 miles per hour). The fastest speed I saw was 301 kilometers per hour. Just so you don’t think I’m making this up, here’s a photo of the speed indicator.

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Incidentally, when we were approaching a station, the display would show the next station alternating between Spanish and English (next stop).

I was glad to cover the long distance between Zaragoza and Madrid so quickly, but I can’t say the ride was comfortable. There was a constant slight shaking, which would have made it uncomfortable for me to read. It felt a bit like riding in an airplane through very mild turbulence. I have read that the Chinese have invented an even faster, vibration-free train. Some sort of vibration cancellation would definitely make the AVE more comfortable.

I’m staying near the Puerta del Sol, or door where the sun enters the City of Madrid, which is also the figurative and once the literal center of Spain. I’ve visited it before, and I have to admit that it has nothing special to offer the tourist. I remember visiting it in the 1960s, and there were old people hanging around in the evening exchanging gossip.

There is nothing casual about the Puerta del Sol today. Most people walking through it are in a hurry. If some old person, older than I am that is, were to hobble into the plaza today, that person would probably be mowed down by a large group of tourists blindly following a guide holding a sign to keep the group together.

The roofed structure in the center of the plaza is the entrance to the very large subterranean subway station.

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I also photographed the Puerta del Sol in my book about hiking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela last summer. I took the train to Madrid after the pilgrimage. More information about the book is available by clicking on the cover image in the left sidebar or by clicking here.

All of the streets that radiated out from Madrid started here when Spain was still a young country. There is an exact spot called Kilometer Zero (Kilómetro Cero) from which all of roads theoretically radiate, and from which their kilometer posts start counting. Not many foreign tourists know about it, because it is not well marked. You have to know where it is to find it. Here it is. I couldn’t get a picture of it without a few Spanish feet in it, as more Spanish parents kept approaching it to show it to their kids. The shadow of a person wearing a big hat and holding a camera belongs to me.

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Because it has so much foot traffic, the Puerta del Sol is the favorite gathering spot for African street vendors. They spread their wares on a blanket whose four corners are attached to cords that the seller holds in his hands (they are all men). If the seller sees the police approach, he yanks the cords, thereby folding the blanket into a sack that he throws over is back as he walks or runs away.

In the following image, the contrast is not good thanks to my simple cell-phone camera, but you’ll notice that all of the street vendors except one are looking in the same direction with their blankets already partially folded. The exception has his bag on his back already and is already starting to leave. All of them did leave up one of the side streets a few seconds later.

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Below I have zoomed in on just what it is that spooked the sellers. A squad car had pulled up onto the sidewalk, and two police officers were preparing to walk toward the vendors. The police don’t really try to catch the vendors. If they caught one, what would they do with him? The police are satisfied to intimidate the sellers into temporarily abandoning the location. A few minutes later, after the police have left, the vendors will have resumed their positions. Both parties to the game know the rules. Make a show of running away when the police approach, and nothing will happen to you.

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This hotel cost me much more than a hostel would have, but I will enjoy sleeping in a room by myself tonight and being able to read in complete privacy. The only gripe I have is that just before the Tour de France stage ended, the TV channel switched to some dumb golf tournament. What kind of people watch golf on TV anyway? Probably the same boring people who play it.

Watching a golf tournament about as exciting as watching grass grow. However, I have read that some scientists put a live video of a field of grass on the Internet, and millions of people worldwide visited the site and stared at the screen for hours. (Before you fact check that statement, I should add that I am sometimes prone to exaggeration.)

Zaragoza, Spain — July 16, 2016

I’m afraid I don’t have any exciting travel experiences to report today. I am sick in the stomach. When I tell anyone that, the person wants to know what it was that made me sick, assuming that it was something I ate. I have no answer. I ate the same breakfast as everyone else in the hostel yesterday, but as far as I know, I am the only person who became ill, so I don’t think I can blame it on food. I also have a runny nose, which I doubt was caused by anything I ate.

I sat around yesterday morning, and by noon I was feeling bad enough that I spent the afternoon in bed. I am somewhat better this morning, but after a sparse breakfast of toast, coffee, and juice, I think I’m headed back to bed again. I hope I feel better by morning, when I take the 9 am train to Madrid.