Reflections

I published my first blog piece in December 2007 – an endorsement of Barack Obama. I wasn’t yet entirely sold on Obama – he was young and inexperienced and had suffered some early stumbles.

It is the closing argument of that piece that stands out now: “I believe Obama is in this race more for the country than himself.”

In retrospect, it was something of a throwaway line – while most all of our Presidents up to then had been men of huge egos and drive, they had also generally and genuinely shared a desire to use their time in office for the betterment of the nation (even while they disagreed fiercely about what, specifically, might make it better).

The Gross Orange Prevaricator (“GOP”) put an end to that, of course. By the time he was run out of town, the office of the presidency had been thoroughly corrupted into a wholly-owned subsidiary of Trump, Inc. – one that experienced its (attempted) crowning achievement in the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

The emergence last year of a deadly global pandemic, combined with the willful incompetence of an administration concerned only with appearances, made our collective suffering exponentially graver, at a cost of more than half a million lives.

Along the way, my blogs touched on everything from physics (a reflection of my own personal fondness for matters of space and time) to parenting; reviews of books, hotels, restaurants and movies intermixed with explorations of history, economics, and the subject of perhaps my greatest fascination: human nature.

Rest assured, I still have more to say. But I now intend to be more selective. Much like the country itself, my life is entering a new phase. I retired from my role as CEO of the family business at the end of 2020 and celebrated my 90th birthday in February.

I am filled with hope and optimism, for myself and the nation, about what lies ahead. And I intend to enjoy whatever awaits us more than I’ve been able to enjoy the last five years (and especially the last twelve months!).

I expect, as I undertake the work of defining the rest of my life, that my blogs will be fewer. But I also hope they will be richer and deeper, more reflective of the meaning of events rather than reactions to the moment of them.

Whatever the future holds, I hope you will continue to share your thoughts, ideas and encouragements – and even your criticisms!

People who have done radio interviews or recorded podcasts know that the hardest part of it is “speaking into the void” – the medium offers no opportunity for feedback.

I’ve always cherished the willingness of quite a number of my readers to share something of themselves in response to something I’ve written.

We are, in the end, social creatures. If my blog wasn’t a two-way street, I would obtain less enjoyment from it.

So, thanks to those of you who have given me the motivation to carry on.

Weather

Or Not.

Why do we care?

Because we must plan ahead.

Rain on a wedding day brings tears, costs — even divorces.

Endless sun after crops are planted leads to drought and starvation.

Why aren’t we able to harness the weather into a more predictable process?

Of course, that might get boring — and deprive billions of a fallback subject for conversations that have dwindled to awkward silence.

After that, it might get contentious with political parties fighting and defending different forms of weather to make their constituents happy. (In a way, of course, this is already happening, with climate-change deniers favoring a hellscape of perpetual severe weather extremes.)

Finally, people would invent – then immediately start fiddling with – personal weather dials.  Unpredictable conflicts would begin to emerge when one person’s tropical paradise confronted another’s winter wonderland, wreaking havoc on morning commutes, dinner plans and the planet itself.

The weather is a way for nature to keep us humans in line. So, there will never be direct choices in weather – no “sunny day” on order. Given our predilection for extinction, that is almost certainly for the best.

My Friend in Space

Keeps me posted.

Not surprisingly my friend in space, jasdlk (the closest translation I can muster), is just as curious about me as I am about – well, we haven’t discussed gender, so I’ll use “they/them.” I know they are curious because the questions from my interstellar correspondent include how we have babies here. It turns out that, in that world, the old story parents here used to tell their kids about being brought to them by storks is TRUE!

jasdlk appears to be a space scientist whose goal is to transmit information at greater than the speed of light. They think that would close a lot of gaps in our knowledge about the universe. jasdlk also claims their world is close to achieving light-speed travel by hitching rides on photons. But that information is so sensitive that they cannot go into details. Interesting hmmmmm?

When I press jasdlk about what came before the big bang, I get some tantalizing gobbledygook about how there was never “a” big bang; rather, there have been endless bangs forever as one black hole after another gobbles up chunks of the universe and then spits it out into the multiverse.

I have asked my friend jasdlk how many others there are on their planet. The answer always comes back – ‘it depends.’ I struggle to find what it depends on and the answers are all over the place: the time, the temperature, neighborhood happenings – even the outcome of sporting events there seem to influence the matter somehow.

I have tried to explain the subject of language. But jasdlk doesn’t get it. They simply say you ‘look into the rear eye and see/hear everything in the other brain.’ Huh?

I have tried to share these ideas with astronomers and astrologists – they have doubted my reports and questioned my sanity (surprise, surprise) – though they accept the idea that there must be something out there.

I have tried to get them on my wavelength. But their ability to stay on always seems to be distracted by a new flash of radio signals.

I tell them that they need more curiosity AND imagination.

I invite those curious souls, from whatever galaxy they call home, to join me in imagining the lives of our interstellar neighbors.

Manifestations of Racism

What To Do?

The scene of a white cop physically killing a subdued black man is validly and rapidly becoming the icon of racism in American.

And then there’s Dr. Seuss.

Suess’s children’s’ books have been educating and amusing generations of well- brought up kids.

Now, some self-appointed geniuses noticed that a few of his drawings contained figures of Asian people, which they then labeled RACIST.

To my knowledge nothing of substance in any Seuss books ever approached overt intentional racism. Nevertheless, the author’s estate has decided to permanently remove six books from the market. Five you’ve likely never heard of, with one of his first — “And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street”, from 1937 — rounding out the list.

Is it a good idea in battling racism to exaggerate and oversell?

It seems to me that trying to tag a dead writer as racist weakens the credentials of accusers and potentially does harm to the cause.

Suess worked in a time when there was not a wide awareness of racism as we know it well today. And, his writing (and perspective) shifted over the years, much as the country itself did. Later works like “Horton Hears a Who” (1954), “The Lorax” (1971) and “The Butter Battle Book” took on “otherness”, environmental protection and war and peace.

That, of course, is not an excuse—particularly if, in fact, Suess did harbor those feelings and thoughts. There is, though, no evidence of that.

While racism in all its forms must be challenged, there’s a world of difference between ill-considered illustrations in an 80-year-old book and the publicly funded tributes to treasonous racists dotting public squares that we’re only now beginning to rethink.  Both contribute to a culture of systemic racism that makes the deaths of people like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor possible.

The real issue, though, is that we cannot simply wash away our history. Indeed, denying it is famously said to ensure we will repeat it.  Our struggle against racism has not yet found the right balance between erasing our past and using it to illuminate a better, more progressive future.

Imagine a pre-school reading program that took “Mulberry Street” and other children’s books to trace the nation’s evolution on racial matters. That, it seems to me, would be a far better approach to making real progress than the Orwellian “it doesn’t exist, it never existed” decision of the Seuss estate.

Early Childhood Education

Needs to be Rethought

Civics education has been sorely remiss in the US for decades. Only half of Americans can, for example, name all three branches of government! That is so basic a premise of our democracy that it speaks volumes about the depth and breadth of the problems we’re facing today.

There are excellent calls for revival—including an important initiative from Educating for American Democracy (EAD) offering a roadmap for effective civics education. Thank goodness.

There are limits on what average young minds can or want to absorb. The litany of names and dates that have constituted civics education for decades do little to help young learners understand the events and movements that have shaped our country, let alone instill in them a lifelong sense of civic responsibility. Therefore, offering too much, too soon – or simply more of the same — might just be counterproductive.

That said, if their curriculum starts in kindergarten, and they encounter fun, interesting human-size cases from history illuminating aspects of our democratic system, that might pique their interest and lead them to want more!

People, stories and ideas are what open a lot of minds.

Let us try giving them less BUT more interesting and exciting materiel.

For example—why are there 50 States? The answer, properly considered, entails another question: why aren’t there more or less? Working through that basic sort of issue starting with their daily lives might help start drawing them into the larger real world.

We too frequently start by having kids memorize lists of names, places and random facts.

If instead, we focused more on a few exciting people and events, the likelihood of capturing their interest and attention would rise sharply and carry kids deeper into subjects that could inspire their interests in knowing even more.  

Of course, we are all different BUT we all love a good story, and the American experience is full of stories that shaped the past and influence, even now, the challenges and opportunities before us.

If we could get kids’ curiosity aroused even before 2nd grade, I believe the world ahead for that generation would be richly rewarded.

Past vs. Present

Is THAT what stands between us?

I am desperately searching for insights into how we came to where we are today with the country pretty much split down the middle.

The big question is not unity for its own sake, which by itself is not really a goal. Unity as an abstraction takes us nowhere because people rarely care about abstractions.

So, what does/will it take to get most of us back on perhaps a few pages we can all pretty much appreciate and reunite around?

When thinking about with the causes of our de-unification, we have run through a lot of empty ideas. Deplorables was one — though it was only an excuse. Education or lack thereof explains some others. Money and/or lack of it –perhaps. Interest in the greater world beyond one’s own street is important.

I hope you can see where I was headed, because I have begun to run out of realistic ideas that, even IF IMPORTANT, just might help explain the basic sources of our de-unification.

The time has come to look at TIME.

Past versus Future.

“The good old days” have always been quite appealing because memory has an amazing way of filtering out “the bad old days.”

The future, on the other hand, holds promises, which may be where disunification originates. My future is more important to ME than your future. Many people assume that if the other guy’s futures are going to be good, it must be at their own expense. So, they BOTH must promote themselves and put brakes on the other guy.

And, though we often forget, we are always living on the cutting edge of past vs. present.

If my analysis is anywhere near right, the combination of past vs. present and the differences we inevitably have as a diversified social system are what have made reunifying, just like in the good old days, so difficult.

Therefore, we need to weave the time perspective together with our inevitable differences to find new ways of coming back together as in THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!

Protecting Democracy

Requires INDEPENDENCE of the judges.

The founders of our country did not – could not – foresee the biggest threat to democracy. Tyrants, enemies foreign and domestic, and more were addressed, if imperfectly, through the carefully crafted system of checks and balances that are the hallmark of our Constitution.

They never saw the parties coming. The factionalism of the day warned of the dangers of divide, but few if any could have imagined that, 250 years on, two OFFICIAL parties would ensure that partisan advantage would be the determining factor in any matter of public import. Accordingly, when the Constitution called for a majority of the House to ‘impeach’ and 2/3rds of the Senate to ‘convict’ an errant President, those framers saw bodies of men (then) who they expected would judge the questions on the merits. That might have worked, EXCEPT it turned out that the people who were judges changed fundamentally from what the framers expected because they had congealed into partisan divides.

When the political parties shortly thereafter come into existence, the concept of partisanship came with it and introduced a MAJOR new element of thinking about and judging Presidents who were seen as misbehaving.

As history since has amply demonstrated, the “judges” in impeachment turned out to be anything but impartial. Mitt Romney in 2019 was the FIRST U.S. Senator to vote to convict a President of his own party. 

Accordingly, we have been unable to impeach and convict even a President who was further off base than any previous incumbent.

THUS, it seems to me obvious that we need to create, or recreate, a sense of independence among the judges of Presidential abuse.

That can only be done one of two ways.

Way ONE: break up the existing parties into at least three, if not four or more — in effect partially reversing the process of partisanship so that multiple parties would have to trade around to get consensus and majorities.

Way TWO: amend the Constitution to create a new NONPARTISAN and suitable group of judges – perhaps a pool of actual judges, whose sound rejection of baseless claims of election fraud may make them the last vestige of independent thought in our system of government. That would not be easy but I am confidant a way could be found.

Partisanship has had a good run – more than 200 years.

But the time has come to deal with its serious problems.

Honey Moon?

Funny Moon!

Recently I overheard a middle-aged man say to a woman who appeared to be his partner that he wished their life today could be more like their honeymoon. His partner quickly replied: “Some honeymoon, honey –more like a funny moon!”

Would that life should be a perpetual honeymoon for people of all ages! Housebound for a year now, we have all kinds of time for honeymoon shenanigans; unfortunately, threats to democracy and human health have robbed many of inspiration and desire.

It would appear that whoever planned these cycles of the human condition was not paying enough attention to the details.

If the struggles of democracy and pandemics had been dealt with separately at different times and in different ways, perhaps everyone might have learned more and better.  Instead, we’ve been confronted for much of the past year by both crises. When they get stirred together like a martini, though, they threaten our very existence, because we are not recreating, advancing, or retaliating against enemies. Instead, we’re consumed by anxiety – for loved ones, for ourselves, for our country.

It is helpful –as long as we are talking about moons –to remember that the ‘new’ moon phase is followed by inspiring partial moons, each advancing inexorably toward the full moon.

As we are waiting to hear from our cousins from somewhere in our galaxy, we need to remind ourselves that we are not in this alone and that we need to keep on expanding our population!

Honey, move over – you’ve got all the covers!

Our Rhythm of Democracy

Is Not New

For a relatively young country, we’ve had at least our share of strife.

In the late 1700s we had a lot of conflict first with the British and then ourselves. In the early 1800s we had a shaky period under President Andrew Jackson that led to a genuine civil war between North and South.

We then had a rough stretch with the industrial revolution and robber barons. The first world war took an unfathomable toll, and the relative peace and prosperity that followed quickly gave way to the Great Depression. Which after a decade of suffering ushered in World War II.

Since then, we’ve been riven by internal conflicts, interspersed by overseas battles (Vietnam, terrorism) that one side or the other suspected of being more about domestic politics than war and peace.

Aren’t you beginning to sense a rhythm of sorts?

Our democratic system and society was never planned — or even expected — to be either smooth or static. The Framers gave the world a nation in which its people would determine its fate. It always was going to be a roller coaster – the push of ideals against the pull of tradition, the emboldened against the entrenched — mixing excitement and opportunity with change, fear and joy.

If we did not experience periods of craziness like today, we would likely not appreciate and enjoy the smoother periods in the normal rhythms of democracy.

This is NOT an excuse for Trumpism in any of its forms. They are miserable, and justifiably condemned. But those moments inevitably come with the democracy we treasure and, measured against previous divisive moments in our young history, I suspect they will dissipate pretty quickly, if only into the woodwork to lie in wait for another day and another despot.

If we look at our democracy this way, we are less likely to ‘give up’ and move to Canada.

And, we are more likely to be looking for the next swing of the process that inevitably will restore our confidence in our fantastic democracy!

If we can beat the tendency to despair!

Now What?

Who can we kick around?

For what?

For fun!

You gotta be kidding?!

If the former president were not such a crazy idiot, the last four years might have been even more intolerable – and ruinous. At least he gave us an easy target for ridicule, and although it gathered us into two warring camps, it has become an inspiration—of sorts.

Wouldn’t it have been nice to kick Hillary around some more? She certainly deserved it for delivering a nightmare onto our nation.

But that did not happen.

Now, we have a decent, smart, experienced and worthy man at the helm. He will not be easy to complain about, even if we wanted to.

But we do need a target for complaints because we have become used to getting stuff off our chests.

Perhaps we should turn against Bernie Sanders, so that Joe Biden won’t have to.

Bernie is a dyed in the wool panderer who could make Biden’s job tougher by pushing his supporters on the left to complain about merely left-of-center proposals.

On the other hand, if we start kicking Bernie around he’ll get tangled up protecting himself from middle of the road Democrats. That might enable Biden to get his program through a narrowly controlled Congress more swiftly and easily.

Yup, that is THE answer. Bernie is the guy to kick around!

Some of you may think this idea isn’t funny.

And you may be right.

But, you should also know that this convoluted thinking is how many good (and bad) ideas arise.

We have to be careful in life NOT to take ourselves too seriously.

When we want to get somewhere, the route frequently is through places we don’t want to be.

So, we have to be very careful not to confuse ourselves and our friends.

Sorry, Bernie: you are a waypoint to nowhere!