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It’s Always Complicated Times

It’s Always Complicated Times

I’ve been traveling in my way-back machine lately, visiting various eras and speaking to the locals. I needed a vacation from our crazy times, and wanted to meet people with different points of view.

Unfortunately, where and when ever I went I heard the same sad story.

In Renaissance Italy Leonardo told the tale, in revolutionary France Marat shrugged it wistfully, Nigel in Victorian England and Fred in Ike’s 50’s America sighed the same sour song. “We live in complicated times, my friend. You should have been here yesterday; things were so much simpler.”

This turned out to be a universal expression of the human condition. Yesterday was always simpler, sunshine, roses and lollipops. Before the internet, before jammed airports, before reckless driving kids in their horseless carriages, before science challenged the received word, the world was simple, uncomplicated and pure.

But only in hindsight. In all my time travels I couldn’t find a single soul who thought his or her times were simple, stable or grand. Those emotions were reserved for yesterday. If a complicated present is universal, so is a nostalgic past.

Waking up again in Trump-disrupted America, I’ve been assured that these are the most complicated times, ever, ever, ever. Had I not just been surfing the ages I’d probably agree.

But now I think we’ve been looking at it the wrong way. If all times seem complicated to those doomed to live in them, I think life is trying to tell us something.

All times are complicated, and all yesterdays are simpler, because the past knows something the present never can. How it all turns out.

The most convoluted, twisted mystery novel ever written is boringly simple if you flip to the last page. When the present becomes the past.

Chaos is always now. We’re always confused, blinded by the light of the present. We recognize this in our everyday speech. When will we know what happened? At the end of the day. When all is said and done. When the dust settles. When the fog of war clears. When we cash in our chips and see where we stand.

I think the problem isn’t complexity, I think it’s suspense. Suspense can be unbearable in a two-hour movie or a four-hour baseball game. But at least you know, barring power failures or rain outs, that you’ll know how it all turned out that day.

Now imagine suspense that plays out at the speed of life. Agony, right? Too much to bear, no?

Well, actually, we deal with it pretty well. We’re human, we cope. Which basically means we rationalize, construct a narrative, and stop worrying about it.

The story we tell ourselves, at all times, is that these are complicated times, and yesterday was simple, but gone forever.

But it’s only a story. I hate to bust your bubble, especially if it keeps you afloat over the stinking swamp of the present, but it’s just an illusion. These times are no more or less complicated than any others. The only difference is we’re living this one and we have no idea how it turns out.

Which is why the past is so much simpler and sweeter. The past has no secrets that amount to much. Oh, the historians will argue about this point or that, but we all pretty much know who won the 2014 World Series.

Yesterday is never dire. It was, but that’s when yesterday was today. Once it’s past, it’s in the books. Some of those books were tragedies. Wars, plagues, floods and pestilence. They were very bad times and complicated beyond imagining to those who lived through them, or didn’t.

But to us? Nothing we can’t comprehend, nothing that can’t fit between commercials in a two-hour History channel doc.

Perhaps that’s the lesson here. Our terribly twisted, complicated times will be tomorrow’s entertainment.

It’s been complicated since Homo Erectus struggled to flake that damned rock the right way to make a hand axe.

Life is complicated; death is simple. When you’re gone, all your complexity goes away. It collapses down to your name and a pair of dates, maybe a nice slogan and RIP. Do not crave simplicity.

May you live in complicated times for a long, long time. And may your chosen afterlife be blissful. The best thing about heaven is that you get to see how it all turned out. And laugh indulgently at the foolish mortals, living their little lives in what they think are complicated times.

D-Day for Trump

D-Day for Trump

Disclaimer: If you are among the 40% of Americans who are enraptured by Donald Trump you will not like what you read here. You should probably turn the page.

I’m not here to debate the issues. I will not argue about Trump’s tax cut, his bluster with our allies, his sycophantic posturing towards our adversaries, his policy towards Israel, his hands-off approach to Syria. You can make a case, if not always a good case, for any of those policies. It’s what Trump is doing to the norms and practices of American democracy that is unforgivable.

The ills of this presidency are more profound than his (admittedly incoherent) policies. The problem is himself; Trump thinks he’s immune to truth and above the constitution. He believes in the rule of one man, Donald Trump, and not the rule of law.

That is a dangerous idea, no matter who the man is. It’s even worse when the man is corrupt, self-absorbed, erratic and vengeful. The rule of law can lead to absurdities; the rule of man will lead to atrocities.

We’re already seeing atrocities on the Mexican border, with children ripped away from parents. Cruelty is in this man’s blood.

I cannot stand having that playground bully representing me, I loathe his being the face America presents to the world.

You may feel differently and that is your right. This is still, technically, a free country. But I will not debate about it. The time for debate is past. I am not here to change minds. I’m here to change a regime.

If the FBI is an out-of-control pack of lying feds, then who will protect us from criminals? If every CIA director is a politically-motivated fool, who will protect us from those, like the Russians, who would do us harm? If “loyalty to the supreme leader” is the ultimate test for government officials, what becomes of the oath to protect and defend the constitution of the United States?

Trump said he’d drain the swamp. That’s a promise he kept. He drained the swamp and made a sewer. His closest aides, cabinet appointees and campaign officers are now convicted felons, dismissed, disgraced, under indictment or cloaked by immunity for their crimes.

Bad laws can be changed; a bad man must be defeated. We won’t get there with impeachment, that can’t work with the Senate we have now, or even the best one we can get in November. The best an impeachment strategy can produce is a moral victory. But a moral victory won’t save us.

Maybe you hope that Trump’s next outrage, tweet, lie, fight, firing or failure will be the one. The one that finally makes his supporters turn against him, fleeing his sinking ship. Sadly, that is not going to happen. They’re going right down with him.

We cannot persuade the 40% of Americans who are dazzled by his cult. They are our fellow Americans but they are lost to us for now.

All that matters is that they are only 40%. The rest of America—from the few conservatives trying to save their movement from a demagogue, to the many moderates disgusted by the stench of evil emanating from the White House, to the liberals, progressives, sane and crazy leftists who’ve opposed Trump from the day he ghouled down that escalator—constitutes a solid majority.

Some people are so heartsick with outrage they compare Trump to Hitler. That is an exaggeration. Trump is nowhere near as good at being evil as Hitler.

But let’s accept the point for a moment. Was Hitler stopped by resignations of his Nazi flunkies? Did we get through to the moral consciences of the Good Germans? Did we wait for the Nuremberg trials to topple Hitler, like some are hoping Mueller does Trump?

No, we defeated him. The struggle we’re in now must be fought with ballots, never violence. But Trump must be defeated as comprehensively as that other threat.

D-Day for Trump is coming. There is an election this November, the most consequential in our lifetimes. Together, we can stop this disaster. We can freeze it in its tracks, make Trump a lame duck for two years, and lance the boil in 2020.

But only if we get past our delusions and ready for the political fight for our lives. We have two elections to decide our fate. The first to break his stranglehold on power, the second to send him home to New York and that RICO prosecution he so richly deserves.

Disclaimer: If you are among the 40% of Americans who are enraptured by Donald Trump you will not like what you read here. You should probably turn the page.

I’m not here to debate the issues. I will not argue about Trump’s tax cut, his bluster with our allies, his sycophantic posturing towards our adversaries, his policy towards Israel, his hands-off approach to Syria. You can make a case, if not always a good case, for any of those policies. It’s what Trump is doing to the norms and practices of American democracy that is unforgivable.

The ills of this presidency are more profound than his (admittedly incoherent) policies. The problem is himself; Trump thinks he’s immune to truth and above the constitution. He believes in the rule of one man, Donald Trump, and not the rule of law.

That is a dangerous idea, no matter who the man is. It’s even worse when the man is corrupt, self-absorbed, erratic and vengeful. The rule of law can lead to absurdities; the rule of man will lead to atrocities.

We’re already seeing atrocities on the Mexican border, with children ripped away from parents. Cruelty is in this man’s blood.

I cannot stand having that playground bully representing me, I loathe his being the face America presents to the world.

You may feel differently and that is your right. This is still, technically, a free country. But I will not debate about it. The time for debate is past. I am not here to change minds. I’m here to change a regime.

If the FBI is an out-of-control pack of lying feds, then who will protect us from criminals? If every CIA director is a politically-motivated fool, who will protect us from those, like the Russians, who would do us harm? If “loyalty to the supreme leader” is the ultimate test for government officials, what becomes of the oath to protect and defend the constitution of the United States?

Trump said he’d drain the swamp. That’s a promise he kept. He drained the swamp and made a sewer. His closest aides, cabinet appointees and campaign officers are now convicted felons, dismissed, disgraced, under indictment or cloaked by immunity for their crimes.

Bad laws can be changed; a bad man must be defeated. We won’t get there with impeachment, that can’t work with the Senate we have now, or even the best one we can get in November. The best an impeachment strategy can produce is a moral victory. But a moral victory won’t save us.

Maybe you hope that Trump’s next outrage, tweet, lie, fight, firing or failure will be the one. The one that finally makes his supporters turn against him, fleeing his sinking ship. Sadly, that is not going to happen. They’re going right down with him.

We cannot persuade the 40% of Americans who are dazzled by his cult. They are our fellow Americans but they are lost to us for now.

All that matters is that they are only 40%. The rest of America—from the few conservatives trying to save their movement from a demagogue, to the many moderates disgusted by the stench of evil emanating from the White House, to the liberals, progressives, sane and crazy leftists who’ve opposed Trump from the day he ghouled down that escalator—constitutes a solid majority.

Some people are so heartsick with outrage they compare Trump to Hitler. That is an exaggeration. Trump is nowhere near as good at being evil as Hitler.

But let’s accept the point for a moment. Was Hitler stopped by resignations of his Nazi flunkies? Did we get through to the moral consciences of the Good Germans? Did we wait for the Nuremberg trials to topple Hitler, like some are hoping Mueller does Trump?

No, we defeated him. The struggle we’re in now must be fought with ballots, never violence. But Trump must be defeated as comprehensively as that other threat.

D-Day for Trump is coming. There is an election this November, the most consequential in our lifetimes. Together, we can stop this disaster. We can freeze it in its tracks, make Trump a lame duck for two years, and lance the boil in 2020.

But only if we get past our delusions and ready for the political fight for our lives. We have two elections to decide our fate. The first to break his stranglehold on power, the second to send him home to New York and that RICO prosecution he so richly deserves.

A Truly Universal Designated Hitter

A Truly Universal Designated Hitter

There has been much talk lately about adopting a “universal designated hitter” in Major League baseball. The problem is that pitchers can’t hit, and fans deserve a professional hitter in every at bat in today’s time-challenged game.

As a baseball traditionalist I’ve always been against the designated hitter. I thought it diminished strategy, made life too easy for managers, and robbed pitchers of the joys of swinging a bat.

That’s the big fun in playing baseball—swinging a bat. But what’s fun got to do with anything these days? We’re all much too busy for fun; life isn’t a game for amateurs.

No, I’m afraid the universal designated hitter is an idea whose time has come. But why stop at baseball? There are countless tasks in life that we do as well as a pitcher hits.

Let’s face it, folks. Most of us are good at one thing—the thing they pay us for. When it comes to most other tasks, we muddle through, at best.

We absolutely rule stocking shelves at Pottery Barn, 8 to 5 daily. We’re the beloved tech support guy at the office, saving the know nothings from digital disasters. But we fall apart when the cat drags a rat into the house. We humiliate ourselves stumbling over French words on the menu. Our socks don’t match. We need help.

Maybe your social media game is weak. Your Instagrams are blurry, your Facebooks aren’t liked, your Tweets are trite. Maybe, like me, you’re barely there. Do not despair. Hire a designated social media pro and watch him knock it out of the park. Who knows, with professional help you might get that cutie to swipe right.

We already have designated drivers, but why should only drunks have that privilege? Half the cars I see on the streets could use a designated driver, and that doesn’t even count the Uber hordes.

The designated driver is a wonderful thing. But what if you use a designated driver too often and wind up a blackout drunk? What if your friends stage an intervention and cart you off to rehab? Nobody has time for that in our hypercompetitive world. You can’t spare three months from your job; those human resources compliance reports aren’t going to file themselves.

And if you went to rehab, you’d probably fail. Most people do, the first few times. But most people aren’t professionals. You need a designated rehab specialist.

He or she will come out looking great, with a fine tan, hell, they might even lose you a few pounds. And you can keep on doing do what you do best—drink.

The universal designated hitter can save our threatened American democracy. Each election, fewer and fewer citizens can be bothered to vote. And who can blame them? Voting is a bother. The ballot is overstuffed with propositions, school board candidates, mayors, supervisors, judges, representatives, you name it. Who can keep track of it all?

Not nearly enough voters, that’s who. So we stay home, which allows a few fanatics to elect some unspeakable idiot to office, and we are where we are now.

Certified designated voter professionals will be good citizens for us. They’d know every candidate for every office in the land. And they wouldn’t dare cast our votes for an idiot, charlatan or con man. They’d be disbarred.

The relief a universal designated hitter program would bring to us all is incalculable. Do I even need to mention jury duty? Jury duty is such a heinous obligation that most people move heaven and earth to avoid it. As a result, our “presumed innocent” defendants are judged by a jury of their peers who aren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty.

The designated juror program can end this farce. Who wouldn’t want to be judged by eager, informed, conscientious jurors? The guilty?

The universal DH would be great for the economy. If you’re a tech zillionaire, you probably stink at most other life tasks. Why not put your money to good use? Get a designated friend to handle those awkward “face to face” personal encounters. A designated bon vivant will make you a hit at any dinner party. Plus, the designated professional will spare you the social opprobrium of hiring underpaid task rabbits to do your dirty work. Say goodbye to liberal guilt. Hire a pro!

Let’s make the universal DH truly universal. No more swing and a miss in the game of life. Designated batter up!

 

Ideology has had its day

Ring down the curtains, pack up the props and shutter the theater. Ideology, that grand stage upon which the great and bloody dramas of the last century were played, is played out.

Ideology was just another fad, a mostly 20th century diversion in the flow of history. We still talk about communism, fascism, socialism, capitalism but that’s all it is, talk. Some form of market economics—and those forms are far too diverse to constitute a cohesive ideology—prevails nearly everywhere.

But that doesn’t mean that history is over. What we have now isn’t the end of history, but rather a return of history. The history of the world since Mesopotamia, the endless struggles between and among states and empires, and now global networks and corporations, for conquest, in their neighborhood, their continent, and the world.

We can’t shake the habit of calling states by their putative ideologies, but that’s antiquated thinking. In what sense is Communist China communistic anymore? Newly crowned dictator for life, Xi Jinping, leads a party that has “communist” in its name, but China is state capitalism and personal power personified. China has no more ideology than the Mafia and less socialism than Denmark. If Marx were alive he’d sue them for slander.

Fortunately for the rest of the world, China has never been a wildly expansionist empire. Historically they’ve seen themselves as the center of the world, the so-called “middle kingdom” and they’ve expected tribute from nations in their neighborhood, but they’ve produced no Caesars. When Zheng He’s Grand Fleet raided the South Pacific and Indian oceans eighty years before Columbus floated across the Atlantic in three dinghies, the Ming Emperors took the treasure, burned the fleet and stayed home.

Russia doesn’t even pretend to be communist anymore, but their history is nothing but Caesars, all the way back to Grand Duchy of Moscow. Even their word for leader, Tsar, is nothing but Caesar with a lisp. That tiny Duchy expanded until it covered a continent and a half, from Murmansk to Vladivostok. The communist interlude in Russian history saw the Russian Empire at its greatest extent, but communism didn’t cause it. Russian expansionism did. And now they have a Tsar again.

A couple of decades ago we were supposed to be entering an ideological clash of civilizations, between the Islamic and non-Islamic world. Well, that obsolescent idea is still around, but it’s Muslim bombs pounding Muslims in Syria, Yemen and beyond. It’s about power, not the Prophet.

Between the Kurds and the Turks, the Iranians and the Saudis, the Chinese and the Japanese, there’s not enough ideological conflict to fill a postcard. It’s all about power.

It always has been. We just got distracted with ideology for a while.

Ideologies arose, mostly in the last century, when a dizzying rate of scientific and technological progress made anything seem possible.

Why, we could even remake human nature! We can turn people into socialist heroes! Fascist supermen! Objectivist demi-gods!

A hundred years and a couple hundred million deaths later, we found out what happens when we act on those impulses. Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot: Ideology is an express lane to genocide and national self-immolation.

Power is the real game. The struggle of the nation state against the homogenization of globalization, the spheres of interest of the Great Powers, that’s where the action is. That’s where the action always was.

They just slapped some tail fins on it, called it ideology, and got the peons to go to their deaths with a gun in their hands and a slogan on their lips.

In the good old USA we’ve never done ideology very well. Oh, we fight like roosters over minor political differences but that’s more about party branding then any deeply rooted philosophical ideals.

My conservative and liberal friends won’t buy that, but if the poor can switch from the Democrats to the Republicans in a single generation, while, at the same time, the rich and privileged make the exact opposite move, how important is ideology in politics? It’s all about who’s up, who’s down, and who’s out for the count.

The fight of good against evil, and raw power against raw power will never end. I’m not saying there isn’t a wrong side and a right side in some, even most, human conflicts.

I’m just saying ideology isn’t the way to find it. Never was, never will be. Ideology had its day. I think we’re all better off that its day was yesterday.

 

The “Joys” of Aging

If you’re fortunate, you will live to be old. Yet old age brings thoughts of dread to the young; the best they can say about it is that it beats the alternative.

How little they know. But that’s the defining characteristic of youth: How little they know.

In truth, the “golden years,” are the most liberated, blessed and privileged time of your life.

To appreciate a joyous old age you must accept one inevitable truth: You cannot save your life. You can only spend it.

Know that, and out the window with so-called life-extending diets, which not only are a misery to follow, but change every three months. Fats were suicide a few years ago, now a couple ounces of cheese daily is good for you. Emaciation was the key to longevity just the other day, now carrying a few extra pounds means a few extra years.

Keto diets, paleo diets, the fads never end. The smartest diet is a diet from diets. But try not to get too fat.

The best reason not to gain weight as you age is your wardrobe. If you’re lucky, it, like you, is old. But if you get fat and have to buy new, you’re going to become more stylish. There is nothing more ridiculous than an old person being trying to be stylish.

When you’re young, you’re always struggling with one existential question: “What’s wrong with me?” The answer is “nothing” but you’ll still delve deep into your youth-addled unconscious for a reason, usually wrong. When you’re old you’ll figure that out. End of angst.

When you’re old, people will disregard you. You might think this would be a liability. You’d be mistaken.

Plus, you get to be a grump. I’d tell you about the extreme bliss getting license to be a grump provides, but you’ll have to find out for yourself. So maybe you should do that keto diet after all.

You will gain altitude as you age. Eventually you’ll crash and burn, but until the accidents of living murder you, you’ll gain perspective, every day, with every new, or, more to the point, repeated experience.

Even politics is easier to take when you’re old. Donald Trump came as a shock to the system to most young people. They didn’t see him coming and when he came they didn’t know what they were seeing.

Donald Trump surprised most of us ancient mariners too. But we know exactly what we’re seeing. We’ve seen it before.

Youth lacks humility because youth is an ass. We’re all asses but the young haven’t been alive long enough to know it. Along with age comes humility and a healthy skepticism of everything, especially oneself. That gift is invaluable.

I remember, must have been around 1964, a new food stand near the beach at Ocean City Maryland. It had a big sign saying, “Will the taco replace the hot dog?”

I got a good laugh about that for the next decade or so. Then again, their tacos stunk, so it wasn’t all my fault.

When you turn 65 the government should swap your Social Security card for an Old Folks License. “The bearer of this card shall be entitled to the best seats on public transit, shall be able to cut the line at any theater, entertainment venue and restaurant, and park in any designated handicap parking place, so long as another is open for authorized placard holders.

“His or her use of antiquated racial, sexual or ethnic terms is a part of his or her cultural heritage and shall be excused.

“In addition, the bearer of this card is allowed to call wait staff and other service providers “honey or doll” without said employee taking offense. In bearer’s time, such terms were expressions of endearment, not harassment or disrespect.”

These are great times to be an old person. We may not be able to tweet or blog or snapchat, but we’re vintage. And nothing is hipper than retro.

There is joy to be had between Depends and dementia. You’ve earned the right to ignore the fashions of the day, to laugh at the follies of the present, to live both in the moment and in all the moments you’ve lived.

Old age is all you have to look forward to, children. So take good care of yourself, but not too good. Enjoy the present. There could be an idiot Uber with your name on it barreling down Market Street. You never know.