Friday, October 23, 2020

A Nation at Peril

A Nation at Peril

 

Several Republican friends have told me that Trump is better for Israel than Biden.  I find this trope hard to believe, since Democratic presidents and Republican presidents have supported Israel since its creation, in 1947, and dating back to Franklin Roosevelt who, in 1933, during a period of rampant American Anti-Semitism, expressed a desire for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.  Harry Truman was the first to recognize the newly born state within a day of its creation, despite objections from the brazenly Anti-Semitic State Department which had done its level best to suppress Jewish immigration to the United States before and during World War II.  The specious logic they presented was that it would inflame the Arab world.

Stalin himself did not veto the partition, under the presumption that Israel would be a socialist-Marxist state.  It is, of course, not.

 

The premise that disagreeing with the Netanyahu government a priori means that support for Israel has evaporated under the leadership of Democrats is a red herring non-pariel. Israel is and has been our durable ally.  It shares intelligence, coordinates American interests with their own, facts recognized by all Americans on the left and on the right.  Of course, policy differences exist here in and in Israel, but those differences are at worst marginal.  These differences are over settlements and security and will eventually be solved by an Israel that must worry about its own demographic threats as a Jewish state. 

 

When I was a child, we hid under wooden desks in school because we were facing vaporization by Soviet missiles.  It took a while, but the Soviet Union collapsed when none of us ever thought it would.  It was to be an eternal enemy.  Now Putin struggles to maintain his power in what has become a third world economy.  His goal is to destabilize NATO, the EU and the United States.  He will fail.

 

The Middle East now entertains a new geopolitical power alignment:  Sunnis and Israelis against Hezbollah and Shiite Iran.  This dispute over who is the rightful heir to Mohammad has endured for 1,400 years, countless wars and crusades, bloodletting beyond the scale of human indignity and the baser instincts of tribal effrontery.  Now Israeli technology has enticed the scrutiny of the Emirates and Saudi Arabia.   El Al flights now soar over Saudi Arabia with MBS permission to land in Abu Dhabi. The Arab world now seeks to share Israeli science, technology, and agricultural innovation; MBS has placed Palestinians a priority lower than beheadings.  Palestinians had their chance and blew it, they think in Riyadh, which is also contemplating their end of finite oil supplies and the exponential transformation to renewables.  And Putin?  He has the same problem a failing Russian economy and an increasing number of potential opponents who must be fed polonium or novochuk.  

 

It does not really matter in the realpolitik sense to Middle Eastern leaders who chop up dissident Journalists as long as their governments can derive economic benefit from the hook up with Israel.  It belies the aphorism of the scorpion requesting that the frog transmit him over the Jordan River, and the frog responding, "if I do, you will sting me and I will die."  The scorpion replies "do not worry, I do not want to drown."  Half way across the river the scorpion stings the frog, who says "why did you break your word, now we both will drown."  The scorpion replies, "this is the middle east."   Rather, the enemy of my enemy is my friend is the theme of the day.  Credit to Trump for recognizing this reality.  But no credit to him for the evolving geopolitical situation that now favors Israeli business with the Sunni Arab world.

 

The United States under its current leadership, torn by a looming election defeat, a pandemic and possible criminal indictment is moving in a parallel universe with Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who currently is under criminal indictment, and Trump, both of whom rail against the tide of history.

 

American Jews and Evangelists who magically think that Trump is a sincere supporter of Israel are grievously mistaken.  Trump wishes only his own aggrandizement; the fate of his country is to suffer the indignities of global ridicule and the loss of its preeminence as a world leader.   Pax Americana is on the path of Pax Britannia, though for different reasons.  Britain lost its empire because of emerging decolonisation.  India, Burma. Austrailia, Hong Kong, Canada left the empire for their own reasons, supported by the United States.  Throughout the war, Roosevelt opposed Churchill's imperialism, to the chagrin of the great British leader and defender of the Empire.

 

America, on the other hand, is losing its influence in the West and in the world because of decay from within, as did the Roman Empire.  A complacent public, a melding of social media and propaganda, a technological revolution, a failing system of public education and transport and the loss of a national unity and will, as it had propelled us during World War II.  A national effort, war bonds, self-sacrifice, Rosie the riveter, food rationing, no new cars and a host of other sacrificial measures.  No one complained. Now the national will is fractured by social media, mediated by Fox News and an unparalleled mercantilism that has shrunk the middle class and dashed the dreams of the young as it did in the gilded age, but eventually reined in by Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican trustbuster.  "The malefactors of great wealth," he intoned.

 

This election will determine as Churchill said in his 1940 speech to parliament, "Whether we will move into the broad sunlit uplands" or descend into the darkness." (of climate change, ecological and geopolitical disaster or an awakening once again of an American sleeping giant that defeated Fascism, Japanese militarism, and rebuilt Europe. )

 

Firstly, we have to face an election that the President has already questioned as illegitimate in advance and that he says will be rigged if he loses.  This is the first time in American History that an incumbent President has predicted such a foundational threat.  

 

Benjamin Franklin famously said, "we give you a republic, if you can keep it."

 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Captain of the Ship

 

The Captain should go down with the ship,  The ship should not go down because of the Captain.

 

I wake up late morning and wonder what the day will be like.

Actually, it is like every other day since March, a feeling of isolation and a never-ending wonder of what the winds of time will bring.

Albert Camus wrote that men were essentially searching for meaning in a world visiting evil upon individuals through no fault of their own, a random plague not differentiating between the virtuous or the sinner.

Men have continually searched for meaning when, perhaps there is none.  Melville talked about the white whale as a metaphor for death, and as Ahab pursued his nemesis, found his own.   Ishmael talked about finding meaning in every day life, a calming way toward the small pleasures, the sea, the air, the bracing wind. When Ishmael began his tale as narrator, ".... having little or no money in my purse and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world...with a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship..." Melville continues..."and still deeper that meaning of the story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned."

Ishmael, drawn into a vortex that will eventually kill all on board his ship, he being in search of adventure to distract him from a perception of a life of ennui.    And by his adventurous soul, his life devolves into a catastrophe not of his own making, barely escaping with his life.

Captain Ahab, a madman, projects onto his crew his obsession; rendering an oath in blood for all his crew to pursue the whale to the ends of the earth.   Ahab does not give a fig for his crew's welfare, only the mad pursuit of a white ghost that eventually slays him, together with the entire crew, save Ishmael, who lives to spin his awe-inspiring tale of narcissism, obsession and sociopathy.

I have not left my house since March, gone to a restaurant, seen friends, children, grandchildren, and crave to get on with life.   Finding the little pleasurable things as Melville spoke; bits of humanity aside from the political insanity of watching a destructive Narcissus, blaming his incompetence and hubris on everyone else, taking no responsibility for five million cases of Covid 19 in the Untied States with almost 200,000 deaths and climbing.  We speak not here of all the other malefactions; we have been listening to them for almost four years. 

My personal relationships with Trump supporters have fled down a drain of frustration and futility, attempting to persuade people living in some other universe.  Quantum mechanics physicists say that that alternate universes do exist as proven by obtuse mathematical equations, but we have just not seen the physical evidence.  But wait! maybe we have.  It exists in Laura Ingraham's and Sean Hannity's ability to generate advertising revenue for Rupert Murdoch, who placed an evil genius Roger Ailes, in charge of how Americans get their information.   Brian Stelter's new book  "Hoax," details the culture of Fox news and its climate of deception.  It is a frightening tale of avarice and self-dealing, the mouthpiece for Donald Trump and his minions. 

One particular friend says that the Democrats are "Marxists, Communists and constitute a mob that will ravage our cities.  I cannot fathom the depths of such hatred.   The recent events in Kenosha and other cities do have many complicated reasons.  Black frustration with policing, white anger about looting, ginned up fears of being disarmed.  Clearly if there is a mob outside, calling 911 is not the answer.

From all the crises faced by America, this is a big one, but we have seen much worse.  But we all need to responsibly act to preserve our institutions, our civil discourse and our understanding.  Our forbearance.

The president is squirming within an inferno of his own creation--his own voyage on the Pequod.  Those who think that the best quality of a president is character are seeing more vindication for their opinions.  A president, this Captain Ahab, need not be an intellectual giant.  He or she must have the emotional intelligence to understand the problems of his people, not whether his hair will suffer from a trip to a cemetery on a rainy French day to visit the World War I fallen, because he fancies them as "losers and suckers" or "what was in it for them?"

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

"It was the best of times. it was the worst of times....."

"It was the best of times.

it was the worst of times....."

 

Charles Dickens.

 

 

 

Discerning what it is that comprises a Trump voter at this stage of the game befuddles me.

Supposedly, we are to let the other side voice their opinions, to let them explain their puzzling positions.

 

I for one, cannot understand the continued support for Trump from any quarter.

As an American, I am thrown into a tree chipper of conundrums: the racism, the white supremacy, the paranoia against blacks and other minorities, the trashing of our allies and support for our adversaries, the virulently hidden financial black holes, the insults, the divisiveness, the disrespect for the Constitution and the rule of law, the misogynism,  the loutishness, the lies, the false claims of conspiracies and birtherism, the destruction of the American image of morality and generosity are among those inexplicable rendering me powerless, incompetent, bewitched, bothered, and bewildered.  Pax Americana?   It has been in the 75 years since the end of that colossal global tragedy, 50 million people killed.  Our alliances with our allies have kept the world together, maintained the peace.

 

When we and our allies won World War II, we did not seek to expand our colonial empire unlike the English who wished to do so; Churchill, an 19th century imperialist, wished to retain India and the other colonies,  and despite his courage and defiance of the Nazi tyranny, despite his holding on whilst German bombers blitzed London, he was forced to recognize the American peace would not include the maintenance of the British Empire.   After VE day, the Empire was on its way to dissolution.   No Army in the history of the world, except ours, sought just to come home without owning the territory it conquered.   Stalin did not agree.  He sought to expand its tyranny throughout Eastern Europe.  "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste on the Adriatic, an Iron curtain has descended across the continent," Churchill said in his famous 1947 speech in Fulton, Missouri at the invitation of Harry Truman.

 

The United States, instead, instituted the Marshall plan to rebuild a war-ravaged, starving, communist-threatened Europe.  If Trump instead of Truman had been in charge, he would handed over Western Europe in exchange for Notre Dame cathedral with a gold "Trump" slapped over the entrance and that the Bois de Boulogne fashioned into a Trump golf course, and announced his deal with great fanfare, that he alone saved democracy.

 

I have friends who are Trumpist Republicans and whose beliefs diverge from mine.  I struggle to talk to them; they evince a selfishness and lack of empathy.  Can they really be so self-serving?   Can the economic perception of the preservation of their wealth through Trump be real?   Are they all racists?   Are they afraid of a minority-majority electorate?  Do they think that entrenched minority rule will not eventually degrade democracy? Do they really fear poor immigrants fleeing from oppression or worse?

 

I reminded one plutocratic friend who rails against demonstrators, that social movements generate change in societies.  The American Revolution, the Civil War, the Civil rights movement, the protests against the Viet Nam war all were the genesis of structural change.   The French Revolution, a violent undertaking, shook the foundations of European society, not to mention the following Napoleonic wars that changed the character of all of Europe.  Although bloody and horrific, Revolution resulted from the oppression of the lower castes, about whom royalty cared not a fig, "Let them eat cake" or as the GOP says, "raise your self up by the bootstraps," does not work for a vast number of unemployed who are in dire straits because of establishment indifference to transformational change and a raging, mishandled plague.   Many revolutions have begun with street demonstrations, called riots and suppressed by military and political forces...

 

No, violence is not good, and therein lies the reason why America must change structurally through socially peaceful means, almost like England did in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Sending Trump and Ivanka, "let them find something else to do," to the guillotine is not the solution, although it seems appealing in a gallows sort of way.  I dreamt of Trump being rolled through the streets of Washington standing on a tumbrel, wearing an18th century white night shirt, his arms tied before him, his balding orange hair having turned white as the horses clop down Pennsylvania Avenue on the way to his fate awaited by Madame la Guillotine posted by the Washington monument, trailing behind is Mitch McConnell, Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan, wrestling coach extraordinaire and defender of the crown, not to mention feigned pedophilia ignorance among  his colleagues at whatever high school or college that was.

 

Ivanka, her plastic face and sagging silicon implants, disheveled by her imprisonment and worry about her husband Jarad, who had been denounced by committee of Public Safety awaiting his turn the next day in the DC Jail (unfortunately no elegant Conciergerie in Washington, even though the town had been designed by a Frenchman).

 

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Coronavirus Blues II



July in Miami Beach, the tropical unrelenting sun, the afternoon violent downpours testing the roof, the humidity climbing each day and the thoughts of  August and September daunting, intimidating, and just plain hot.   Some mornings, the palms do not sway, other mornings they bend to the tropical breezes plowing through the lush, rain-soaked vegetation.  The celosia bushes, their heavy leafs dropping into the yard and swimming pool, turn brown and are easily thrown, like little Frisbees, even against the wind.

Now in the fourth month of isolation,  a phlebotomist came by  to take blood samples from me and my wife, Catherine, because our doctor, herself isolated, said we were overdue. In addition to the normal markers, we requested Covid 19 serology tests, as we were sick in February and perhaps we bear antibodies.  That would be cool, perhaps we could go to a non-existent sporting event.  Turns out the lab forgot the test.

Hurricane season is here, always a fright for Floridians, bearing warnings from the National Hurricane Center, my iPhone hurricane tracker "whooshing" when a new storm forms, even if off the distant coast of Africa, posting maps of locations of dragons on the march, fire-breathing T-Rexes arriving to eat our air conditioning, lighting, spoil our food, and potentially evacuate us from our havens of safety into a more dangerous environment; coronavirus exposure, possible close encounters with germ-infested humanity, a reminder of impending mortality, of funeral cortèges taking the route to a soon to be climate change underwater, forgotten Atlantis of soggy corpses and gravestones.  Davey Jones cemeteries where descendants cannot even visit.   Inland mountaintop graveyards beckon.

Sleeping is difficult, requiring medication, despite a diligent dose of daily exercise.  Face time does not do the trick with teenage grandsons, who, through monosyllabic answers, clearly prefer their video screens than chat with fossilized grandparents who are not as entertaining as "Grand theft Auto."  Seems fair, though, as I did the same with my grandmother, a miserable woman, who never left her room in the house of my uncle to whom she did not speak for 30 years.

Politics, books, streaming video, zoom calls with friends, providing contact with inherent physical distancing.  I stare at the computer screen or the little phone and wonder if the family and friends feel the same, the hunger for a return to real life, this nightmare promising to end when a vaccine appears on the scene.   A grim tableaux of time running out stealing a few of our remaining years, a unmerciful heist of our most precious commodity--time.

Yet, in all this, hope shines anew.  The opportunity of the United States to pass into a renewal of national unity. Polling promises a defeat for the pestilential president. Perhaps the virus, the commonalty of the experience, the diminution of polarization, the recognition of common values despite the racist disunion posed by some politicians and their sycophants will submerge into a new experiment.  Our history, filled with such events, strengthens us.  After all, Revolution, enslavement, Civil War, two World Wars, a cold war has not yet done us in.

Perhaps the toleration of systemic racism that has inhabited this nation will recede a bit further.  Leadership does matter; compassion does matter; character does matter; honesty does matter, and as Dr. King has reminded us the arc of history bends toward justice. 

But nature does not care.

The coronavirus, nature, and our little speck in the boundless universe responds to the care we give it, the dedication of scientists and abilities that are unbound by the whims of politicians, who, pathologically deceiving their countrymen, deny the world around them; nature has no bent, it is unsparing of species which ignore it.   Viruses only wish to propagate; they are unthinking, uncompassionate and heartless children of mankind's disrespect, and perhaps the natural selector of who does and does not survive, humans included.

Only about 300,000 years have passed since the first fossilized evidence of our species appeared in Africa, and no more than 2 million years since homo erectus, our distant ancestor, appeared.  The earth is about 4.5 billion years old.  We are a millisecond, a firefly, a clap of thunder.  We mean nothing as a species, a fleeting wave of life, just like the dinosaurs.  If the world warms a few degrees, we are vanished.

Scientists predict that the sun is midway through its life cycle, created 4.5 billion years ago and probably remaining stable for another 5 billion years.  Then the Earth will be toasted, as the sun becomes a red giant, encasing the Earth.

Our civilization has much to figure out, and we have a long time to do it.  But one wonders if we will.

Many species have passed on and we may very likely will be next, whether we be white, black or yellow.  Nature does not care.



Friday, April 3, 2020

Coronavirus Blues


Coronavirus blues.

The sky over Biscayne Bay, a deep blue paradigm of Florida in late March is an illusion.  Sea gulls and other birds wing by while I swim; nothing seems amiss.  The silky waters of the bay create soft waves brushing against the seawalls. Walking around my island, joggers run by me, impelled by their youth, evoking memories of when I ran 5 miles in the morning and played tennis in the afternoons.  The ease of their steps evinces a bygone fantasy, a reminder of my growing fragility.  Yet being outside is transformative, refreshing, imparting a calm that is only superficial.
Still, being inside most hours of these forlorn days ominously imply an impending doom exacerbating despair.   We know not when the pandemic will end, if our economy will survive, if our destinies will transform into a new malady or possible dystopic public health landscape, lasting for years.

Wet markets in China could produce some other source of plague.   Avian flu, I am told, has a 60% death rate.

Home confinement often does not seem to be a great chore, my wife and I vacuum, cook, clean floors and toilets.  We are paying our cleaning woman not to come, and think that she might have been infected a month ago, when she had an incessant cough.   After that, Catherine got a sore throat and a cold that lasted about 8 days, bestowing its gifts on me for another 8 days.  We had no fever, but I thought that we might have suffered infection.  Now recovered, isolated anyway, and following all the rules, Catherine insists that it was only a cold, but if not, I wonder if I could donate some plasma for antibodies to someone else who was stricken worse than me.

But without testing, who knows what we had?  Not being prepared for this crisis proves that we need government.  People hate lawyers until they need one. People hate going to the dentist until they need a root canal.  So fans of limited government, this is your come to Jesus moment.

Each day blends into another and since we are in the most vulnerable group, we do not venture out, get groceries delivered, avoid all people and frantically disinfect letters, paper boxes arriving from Amazon, vegetables, lettuce, fruit, and canned goods.  We wash our hands countless times each day and agonize over the tiny virus creeping up our noses possibly killing us, our lungs filling with fluid and gasping for an elusive breath.  Someone said that if you think someone may have infected you, use a hair dryer quickly to blow hot air up your nose to kill the virus, which does not survive above 77 degrees Fahrenheit.  Better check that one out.

Across America, deliveries are multiplying exponentially. Just like the virus. There is a newly involuntary languid pace to life now and that is not entirely bad.  No running to meet friends for dinner, no lateness for appointments, almost a pastoral interlude.  Yet it seems unnatural, forced, like house arrest. A perversion of one's freedom.  How long will people comply?

We cannot see our children and our friends except on video but have each other to dispel some of the loneliness and anxiety. We drink more. The uncertainty is daunting; each day the stock market careens on a dispiriting roller coaster.  But more than that, I think of the people in the undeveloped world dying and suffering in droves, clinging together in their huts in Delhi, in West Africa, in Indonesia, with no escape, no air-conditioned house, no swimming pool, no Netflix or even electricity or running water.  A few months ago, I watched a documentary of Bill Gates funding a new type of toilet for the third world that uses fecal matter for energy.  In 2015, he presciently spoke of the lack of preparedness for this very type of pandemic.  He did charts and computer modeling of the spread and the danger. Our government turned a deaf ear.  I wish Bill Gates were president.

The country is floundering like a harpooned whale, a gigantic leviathan of the 19th century unable to meet the challenges of a 21st century monster run wild, staring into the face of a Captain Ahab, abetted by a soulless senate majority leader enabling his president's malfeasance and proven mendacity.  The president uses his 5 pm briefings to campaign for re-election, considering his polling above the public health, contradicting his experts, blowing hot air filled with misinformation, boasting about the "great job" he is doing.  No one could handle this better, he says, and the fearful reptilian brains of his base are right in his wheelhouse.   Really, does anyone believe him?  A man who has squandered his credibility on mean-spirited vindictive tweets and name-calling for three years?

Refrigerator trucks are lined up outside overwhelmed hospitals in Manhattan, hauling away corpses.  Health care workers are on the front lines.  Why is not the army there to help them in this war?

Donald Trump uniting the country or recognizing the truth is like asking a bank robber to give back the money after he has fled to Monte Carlo. “I don’t take any responsibility.   We are just a backup for the states.  It’s their fault.” A coronavirus of lies surrounds his handling of a crisis not of his making but certainly beyond his ability to tweet away.


Sunday, March 15, 2020

Coronavirus déjà vu


Coronavirus déjà vu

In 1946, a year after VE day, my parents lived in Jamaica, N.Y, my father managing a hotel in Long Beach, on the south shore of Long Island, a short drive from Jamaica.  Dad liked to stop at "Roadside Rest" a hot dog stand on the road near what was then called Idlewild (now JFK) airport; Dad loved taking us there.  It was cheap and delicious; I loved the juicy, plump frankfurters, the best New York had to offer.    I was four years old and they had some monkey bars outside to play on.

That summer we spent July and August in Long Beach; Dad ran a hotel called the Adelon, a beige brick building of about 100 rooms with a front porch overlooking the beach. Seagulls flittered about; their white feathers a contrast against the crisply blue sky.  Old people congregated the porch, rocking slowly in the metal chairs. I ran around, freely and childishly.   One evening, though, a huge lighting storm appeared and a blinding flash followed by the loudest thunderclap sounded just outside my window, the sky then returning inky black.  Mom was working; I ran screaming to my nanny.  One of my most frightful childhood memories--for years I suffered nightmares and shook myself to sleep, humming a repetitive moan-like sound.

We stayed at aunt Gussie’s nearby house some evenings in those summer days.  Aunt Gussie was dark haired woman with streaks of grey and a cigarette dangling perpetually out of her mouth.  Gussie and Mom played a continuous game of gin rummy, turning the room hazy with smoke.  One evening I spiked a fever of 103 and Mom panicked.  She called the doctor who, after examining me, assured her it was not polio and gave me a huge shot of a white liquid--penicillin. In my eyes, the needle looked like a pitchfork. Mom's fear pierced me. Mom, just as was everyone, terrified of polio, the genesis of which was a virus. FDR's courageous journey through paralysis ennobled his persona as a compassionate, great president, and more importantly an empathetic human being, one who understood, despite his patrician roots, the trials of the ordinary American stricken with polio.  His institute in Warm Springs, Georgia still provides hope for the afflicted.

Horrifying visions of Iron Lungs, children's heads peering out and with no prospect of emerging from the fearsome prison that kept their paralyzed lungs breathing still haunt me.  The fear was palpable, terrifying. I had dreams of being inside one an never getting out, struggling to scratch my nose and not able to run free.

In 1948 we moved to Miami Beach, polio fears still abiding.  In second grade, we were stewarded to the school library at North Beach Elementary and given little paper cups of pink vaccine to drink.  In 1952, we did not understand the benefits of the vaccine, but soon our parents learned that it was a medical miracle. The poliovirus had been banished.

In 1954 came the Soviet nuclear menace, the prospect of instant vaporization by a Russian hydrogen bomb.  Terror gripped us; hiding under a wooden school desk would protect us though, our schoolteachers informed us during numerous air raid drills.  It was another virus to fear.

When I got to Junior High around that time, Some of the kids in school joined the Ground Observer corps where, stationed on the 73d street beach, diagrams of Russian bombers had been distributed so we could identify Russian aircraft before they soared over Miami Beach to destroy Flagler Street, which then had only two old office buildings and a segregated Walgreens with a soda fountain.

In those days, they let us to listen to smuggled into school transistor radios for the  daytime broadcast World Series.   Those early autumn games were a respite from thinking the world was ending  in either nuclear holocaust or Communist enslavement.

Later, in the1980s, my generation thought we would all die of AIDS, prematurely forcing us to ponder our mortality.  There was no cure, and when heterosexuals became threatened, many ran for tests under assumed names.  Some friends died and I saw one of mine die a horrible, painful death, tubes coming out of every orifice of his body, his grey countenance laying comatose in his hospital bed, bags of dark fluid oozing from his body.   He had shuffled into my office before that to do his will and put his affairs in order for his wife and two children.  I still visualize how he looked, grey and fragile.  I became nauseated with fright.  It all now seems so remotely past. People say things are never as bad or as good as they seem at the time.

Now, a new crisis, the coronavirus.  My wife and I had planned for a cruise to Italy this May and we would rather have root canal then get on a floating Petri dish.  Even flying in a plane risks exposure to coughs, sneezes and wheezing passengers.  Mortal threats, all. Not to mention the inability be treated by overwhelmed hospitals and physicians, if the spread is too rapid.  CNN now chooses to cover more of virus  than of Trump.  Do not ask me which is the more frightening.  So now we are under household arrest, like white collar criminals waiting for trial.  The only difference is that we do not have ankle bracelets.

Doctors may be making battlefield triage decisions as to whom to treat, old or young, frail or otherwise healthy.  If the choice were between us and someone young, we would not get the ventilator. 

America has not seen this since the influenza of 1918 that killed 50-100 million people throughout the world.

The other night dining with close friends, we avoided customary hugs, handshakes and kisses--expressions of humanity and love.   My generation, it seems, must overcome another fear since the elderly are the ones most vulnerable.   I wondered about the waiters and cooks sneezing in the food, contaminating flatware and dishes. 

Even worse, we face times without human contact.

This week I watched a documentary of World War II flyers negotiating a bombing run over Germany, the navigator saying that he thought he was a duck in a shooting gallery as flack burst near his airplane. "You just lower your head and fly through." A large percentage of his friends in the B-17s went down in flames.  


Sunday, February 9, 2020

A house divided against itself cannot stand.


"A house divided against itself, cannot stand..."
Abraham Lincoln

From California to New York, from Oregon to Florida, a frightening division has descended upon our country.    From rural to urban America, people wonder whether the nation and its institutions can survive this polarity.

There have been times in American history that the nation was divided, never more so than in 1860.  Throughout that history, there had been bitter partisanship and division.   From the heat of the constitutional convention in steamy 1787 Philadelphia, the founders fought bitterly to a compromise that actually welded two nations into one in a constitution which just ninety years later devolved into a insanely bloody civil war, brother against brother, father against son, family against family.

A partisan press with countless newspapers and pamphleteers spewed hatred and vituperative allegations against their countrymen both at the founding and throughout the years leading to the Civil War.  Twitter has nothing on them.

A rural south, an industrializing north, both parts of which employed slavery, regarded Negroes as inferior, abetted involuntary servitude and a racist ethos, challenging even the most enlightened of our citizenry.  During the time between the founding and the Civil War forged compromises kept the Union together.  The Missouri compromise (1820) and the Kansas-Nebraska act (1854) failed as attempts to reconcile admission to the Union of new states as either slave or free.  The Constitution itself had slavery baked in to its original ratification (Article 4 sec. 2.3) imposing that,

" No person held to Service or Labor in one State under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any Law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or Labor, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labor may be due,"

Later, the Fugitive Slave act of 1850 imposed the duty on citizens and officials of the individual states themselves to return slaves to their owners or face civil fines, and that persons harboring slaves to criminal penalties.  Slave catchers roamed the North, collecting bonuses for bringing slaves in; captured slaves were not permitted a jury trial.

Sound like a rickety Constitution? 

Of course, the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments cured some of that, but still, it took the bloodiest war in the history of the Republic, 700,000 dead and wounded to get the amendments passed and only in the last few years was the Confederate battle flag removed from South Carolina government buildings. The Civil Rights act of 1964, race riots in Los Angeles, freedom riders, political assassinations of civil rights leaders, and a frothing George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door shouting "segregation forever!" interceded in the 1960s, almost 100 years after the end of the war and ten years after the landmark Brown v. the Board of Education outlawed segregation in the public schools.

Well, that same Constitution has given us the Electoral College, a Federalist exercise in balancing the interests of the various states, and which now presents us with
a highly undemocratic underrepresentation of large populations, California for instance, with its 40,000,000 people and North Dakota with its 500,000 each carrying two senators.  Do the math on fair representation.  Yes, I know the House is supposed to do that, but with present gerrymandering, the Democrats are obliged to win by much bigger majorities than Republicans.    With Republicans dedicated to disenfranchising voters in Florida, for example, contrary to the will of the voters, Democrats must win votes in far greater numbers than Republicans to achieve a working majority.  We now have entrenched minority government.

With an unleashed president, sociopathically bound to his vindictive agenda, extreme anxiety pervades the Democratic Party, fearing that this president will be re-elected, boasting that "he alone" is claiming responsibility for the booming economy, acquitted from his misdeeds by a kangaroo court, comprised of quaking GOP senators afraid of tribal banishment to an ignominious gulag of GOP opprobrium, losing their congressional health plans, positions, prestige and power andthe ultimate loss of the dignity  which they inartfully tried to preserve.  Instead, they have lost it anyway by their surrender to political expediency.

We need either a constitutional convention or a huge movement among voters to recognize that the divisions among us are not the result of a political agenda, but instead, tribal cultism.  Many of the policy agendas result from identity politics, rural against urban, wealthy against poor, a displaced working class losing out in the battle against inevitable technological displacement, climate change and nuclear proliferation, the greatest threats to the world.  A leader who can heal these divisions and create forbearance and a spirit of compromise is what we need more than ever.    A president of either party who can understand reality, not phantasmagorical narcissism.

It is said that great crises manufacture an FDR, a Winston Churchill, an Abraham Lincoln.   Where may he or she be?