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Friday, July 22, 2016

Fear and Uncertainty

The circus of the Republican National Convention is now over; not a picture perfect example for the man that purports to know how to manage things and that says confidently “I’m, like, a really smart person.”
It is perplexing that America is in pretty good shape relative to the rest of the world; yet there is so much angst. Many explanations are out there: globalization, income inequality, lack of mobility, family breakdown, terrorism, moral relativism; the list goes on. This blog is not meant to get into this very important “why.” Rather it is to look to the future with a large degree of fear and uncertainty.

I have written in an earlier blog about “Dangerous Times.” All over the world, inexperienced populists with illiberal inclinations have been elected as “saviors” against some villainous “other.” But in the United States, we seem have taken things one step further. I am distressed for our future.

So using more of Mr. Trump’s words: “Let me dumb this down for you so much that it no longer makes sense.”  Two big perils have been occupying my mind.

First, there is possibility that for the first time since 1825, no candidate will receive the now needed 270 electoral votes to become president. Both Hillary and Donald are not well liked. Pew’s latest poll has only 43% of Democrats “very or fairly happy” with their candidate; the Republican number is lower at 40%. The majority of Republicans, 50%, are voting for Trump “as a vote against” Clinton; the Democratic number “as a vote against” Trump is 55%. The last time these numbers were in this range was in 1992; think Ross Perot getting 19% of the popular vote.
The Libertarian Party is fielding credible candidates in Gary Johnson and Bill Weld. With the Green Party, these alternates are already polling as high as 15%. If Johnson manages to get into the televised debates, this number may go up further. Remember that Ralph Nader most likely lost the election for Gore in 2000 with just 3% of the popular vote.
If we have no winner in the electoral college; the House votes among the top three candidates; each state getting one vote. But since many sparsely populated states in the West are conservative and Republican, it is likely that a close election would go to Trump. This might happen even if Hillary Clinton got the highest popular vote by some nontrivial margin. How would this play out with a disgruntled Democratic plurality? What would our streets look like on Inauguration Day 2017? We might look back to the turmoil of Bush-Gore “hanging chads” with nostalgia.

Second, Trump may win and what kind of government transition might we see. In “the Donald” we have a toxic mix of ego and amateur. Trump has never held a public office, has never been a serious student of public governance, has shown an astounding ignorance of public policy detail, jokes about his lack of knowledge of foreign affairs and has probably insulted more heads of state than Boris Johnson. Many experienced public figures have already rebuffed his advances; just look at how far down the roster he had to go to field a vice-presidential running mate. Many of the brightest will not participate in his administration.

Brexit has given us a taste of unintended consequences; and its current honeymoon period is a calm before the storm. The “Economist” has published a slightly tongue in cheek fictional account of Trump’s “First Hundred Days." 
Here is a link to this piece: http://www.economist.com/node/21701933

I urge you to take the time and read it.


As with the United Kingdom, we have enough problems without self-inflicted wounds. I hope America can come to its senses and pick the less damaging, less risky candidate, Hillary Clinton. But I am saddened that this is the dearth of our choice. For me, Hillary is at worst lacking authenticity and a deeply ingrained moral compass; and at best, fails by not being able to exhibit them to the voters.

Fear and uncertainty lie ahead of us, which in and of itself will make things worse.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Wörthersee & Lake Bled

From our base in Budapest we took another short three-day trip; this one taking us first to Austria’s Carinthia region and Töschling, a small village 20 kilometers west of Klagenfurt. It’s a
Hotel Schloss Seefels
pleasant five hours drive; we took the southern route on the M7 along the Balaton shore and through Slovenia. Our lodgings, the Hotel Schloss Seefels, sits on the northern shore of Wörthersee, the warmest lake in Austria. It is a peaceful Relais and Chateaux property, we visited here in May 2014.
View from Bar "Porto Bello"
We had a relaxing afternoon lakeside, swimming and lounging in this bucolic setting. Dinner was at the gourmet restaurant, “La Terrasse.” There is a beautiful view of the lake and the imposing backdrop of the Karawanken Alps; the food and service were not as good as we remembered.

On Wednesday July 13 weather turned against us; colder and rain threatening cloud. We made the best of things by two worthwhile excursions.
St. Primus - Maria Wörth
Cemetery View
The first was to the small town of Maria Wörth on the southern shore of the lake. It sits on a promontory jutting into Wörthsee, a church standing here since 875. The current parish of St. Primus is a small but stunning 12th century Romanesque building featuring some wonderful frescos; adjacent is a peaceful cemetery.
Altar of "Madonna"
Then we were off to the second, Maria Saal, about ten kilometers north of the lake. This village also has had a house of worship since the 8th century; the
Maria Saal Church
present one is a pilgrimage church dating to 1450 and a delight to the eye. Inside there are fine ceiling frescos, a baroque high altar with a cast stone Madonna, an exquisitely carved pulpit as well as side chapels so well done as to deserve their own chancels. On the exterior there are two well restored Roman reliefs. Opposite the church is a late gothic octagonal
Maria Saal - Pulpit
mortuary, a 15th century vault and a Saxon chapel dedicated to St. Modestus, founder of the church.
We had a rather hardy (too hardy actually) lunch at the nearby Gasthof Sandwirt; the proprietor juggling roles of host, waiter and chef.

We returned to the hotel late afternoon and rewarded ourselves with a glass of wine at the lakeside bar. Dinner was at the hotel’s casual restaurant, the “Porto Bello,” a nice tart flambé as starter and sea bass to share as a main – more Austrian Riesling flowed. The evening finished with a very strong and long lasting thunderstorm.  

We were due to leave on the 14th but decided to stay another day and tackle another sight that had long been on our list, Lake Bled in Slovenia. Just over the border and through the 8 kilometer Predor Karavanke (tunnel) it is less than an hour south of the Wörthersee.
Lake Bled - Church
Lake Bled is circular, two kilometers in diameter, and fills a hollow gouged out by the retreating glaciers of the last Ice Age. With its aquamarine placid water, fairy tale island church and imposing hilltop castle; Bled has all the boxes checked for a tourist paradise. Unfortunately, the town itself, sitting on the eastern bank, is a bit tacky and overbuilt. This does not, however, impose itself on the natural beauty of the rest of the spot. We found parking and took a slowly rowed skiff to the island and visited the church. The vistas were more impressive than the structures, including a small museum. Afterward, we were
Bled Castle
back to the car for a climb to Bled Castle, an 11th century fortress, one of the oldest in Slovenia.
Finally, we stopped at Vila Bled, originally an aristocratic country house built in 1883. In the 1920s the original building was torn down for a new design, but this was a casualty of the world wars and not completed until 1947, a summer residence for President Josip Tito. In 1984 it was converted into a hotel. We had a light snack at the Belvedere Pavilion that sits precariously on stilts and clings to the cliff face – magnificent views!
Lake Bled Panorama

We were back to the hotel late afternoon, dinner was at the lakeside and very pleasant, but a bit cool. A nightcap in the bar and it was off to sleep. Up early on Friday, we checked out and drove back to Budapest, taking the northern route past Graz and then the M1. In all, a very nice little break.