Dec 31, 2016

December 31, 2016: Life is Made of Patterns, A National Obscenity, No Worse than the Rest


And the pattern still remains
On the wall where darkness fell,
And it's fitting that it should,
For in darkness I must dwell.
Like the color of my skin,
Or the day that I grow old,
My life is made of patterns
That can scarcely be controlled
. “   --Paul Simon

As the election approached, the nation was presented with two grotesque spectacles: the first being the Chicago Cubs in the World Series; the second another, and hopefully the last, presidential contest featuring two bona fide “Boomers” in what became a national embarrassment, a national obscenity, a borderline pornographic contest for the presidency of the United States. 

Much has been written in these columns about the Chicago Cubs (2), a franchise that has, over the decades, made a complete mockery of excellence, indeed an ethic of mediocrity.  That baseball should affront us with the spectacle of the Cubs in the World Series was bad enough, but coinciding as it did with the national obscenity that was, hopefully, the last such contest featuring two legendary members of the “Generation of Swine”, one could clearly sense that the universe had come unhinged; that the natural order has been stood upon it’s head; that, indeed, the last had finished first. 

I began to suspect that something was amiss when the Cubs got off to a great start and held their position atop the National League Central Division.  This anomaly coinciding with the rise of a common carnival barker to the Republican nomination for president of the United States had, by midsummer, cast an ominous pall over the cultural and political landscape.  One began to fear for the worst.  One found oneself beating back the demons by reasoning that the Cubs had, after all, made it as far as the division playoffs, indeed the National League Championship Series, and the Republic survived; and, of course, the nation survived Nixon.  Still fear and loathing swept across the land as we went to the polls in trepidation.

After a series of bruising “debates” during which issues were substituted with what became a series of mud-slinging contests and in which the Republican nominee serially stalked the Democrat on stage, and paraded out a line of women her husband had allegedly abused in effect telling the nation “look, they're no better than I am”.  In the hands of the “Boomers”, the election had degenerated to the point that “Why Not the Best”(3) became replaced with “I am no worse than the rest”.  Both candidates, appealing to identity politics and serial accusations, had lowered the bar to such a level that, in the end, nearly half the voters stayed home.

Not all was quite lost, however.  Trump was demonstrating himself much more adept at alienating voters, doing his level best to lose this election.  As the election approached the polling numbers began to narrow but it was thought that Hillary would, in the end, tough it out.

So as Major League Baseball presented us with the obscenity of the Chicago Cubs in the World Series for the first time since the entire world waged war (and the best players were in the service), and the poll numbers began to narrow, the nation went to the polls and held its collective breath.  As Cleveland took a commanding 3 to 1 lead in the series it had seemed that the country was going to narrowly miss a national catastrophe.

Indeed Nate Silver, the legendary political prognosticator, declared in a headline a week before the election  with Cleveland leading three games to one that Trump had as great a chance of winning the presidency as the Cubs had of winning the world series, roughly one in four.  We all took a deep breath and then exhaled. It was a short-lived relief.

The Cubs then went on a winning streak.  I told my family that this was a serious omen, and that coming with the observable shifts in the planetary magnetic poles and the fact that this economic recovery has reached its historic limits, a Cubs’ victory would certainly mean Donald J. Trump would enter the White House.  I was, of course, dismissed as an alarmist; my audiences failing to see the connections, although historiographer Ken Burns would, I believe, immediately see the obvious.  And, indeed just as the Cubs ‘ran the table’ and won the series, Trump on election night took that very narrow path still afforded him, after he had twitted his way into near oblivion, and ‘ran the table’ by taking enough states to win the election, while decisively losing the popular vote. 

I had seen it coming.  The broader outlines were certainly there for anyone to see.  All Trump had to do, I would, on Facebook, incessantly remind my Democratic friends, was go to the old ‘rustbelt’, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and promise to tear up those trade agreements.  Actually following through is another matter, but by simply promising to do so any candidate could communicate to the afflicted at least a recognition of their plight. This area of the country had been longing for someone in the political elite to at least see and recognize what is before their very eyes. Whatever the ‘solution’, both Bernie Sanders and Trump in separate ways addressed the savaging of the Middle West by this headlong ideological neoliberal movement to globalize the economy.  The Democrats, in acts of inspired stupidity, worked to defeat Sanders and in so doing closed off any viable Democratic alternative by nominating a candidate who, being ‘present at creation’ so to speak, and, in effect, promising more of the same. 

So, as we gathered before our televisions on election night the commentators, fully convinced of the inevitability of the Clinton Restoration, began the night by demonstrating what a long shot this was for Trump and prognosticating how or even if the Republican Party would survive in the aftermath.  Then, one by one, in a near repeat of 2000, the nation watched as Trump and his Republicans ran the table. 

And so with the Cubs now champions of the world, the magnetic polls in uneasy flux, the economy slowing, the global agreements on climate change now in limbo, and Trump and his crypto-fascist, knuckle-dragging minions about to enter the White House, the foundations of the republic can be heard to crack. I suspected as much when the Cubs rose above their natural station.  I could see the reaction in those about me, as if it was some kind of tin-hat conspiracy theory.  However, I earnestly retorted, “go ask Ken Burns what is the relationship between baseball and America, he did a series on it”.  In any case it isn’t any crazier than most of the ‘documentaries’ one encounters these days on Hulu or Netflix.

Some things are bigger than any of us; some things are bigger than all of us.  There are patterns we must follow. 

_________
(2) See
http://wandererandshadow.blogspot.com/2008/05/may-4-2008-celebrating-century-lessons.html  for discussions on the influence of baseball, and the Cubs.


(3). “Why Not the Best” was the title of the campaign biography of Jimmy Carter published in 1976.  

Nov 29, 2016

November 29, 2016: Failed our Institutions, Circling the Bowl, Trumped the American Dream


 
Many people are now saying that our institutions, our political system, our media, our schools, have failed us.  I disagree.  I think that we have failed our institutions.  It was the “Boomers” who have made a pig’s breakfast of governance, who have set the tone.  It is we the people, led the “Generation of Swine”, that has opened the nominating process and then failed to show up to vote leaving the field to the knuckle-dragging ideologues be they Neo-Cons, Neo-Liberals, or the unwashed Teabaggers to seize control.  It was we the people, led by the “Generation of Swine”, who have stopped READING—newspapers, books, magazines—in favor of catching the latest meme now swirling through the “Internets” like so many turds circling the bowl.  It was we the people, led by the “Generation of Swine”, who have failed our educational institutions first by defunding them in favor of vouchers in order to finance the equivalent of the “American Madrasa” in the form of parochial and “on-line” education and thereby electing ourselves out of a well-rounded education.  It was we the people, led by the “Generation of Swine” who have been about the business of transforming our universities into glorified voc-ed centers thereby sacrificing the well-rounded citizen in the singular pursuit of money.  It is we the people, led by the “Generation of Swine”, that have failed our political system by supporting candidates who universally denigrate the very institutions they seek to join.  It is we the people, led by the “Generation of Swine, who have compounded the error by imposing term limits on public service thereby sacrificing experience to the lobbyists and the special interests they represent, and by imposing limits on the ability government to tax.  It is we the people, led by the “Generation of Swine” that having made an ethic of the individual we now compound the error by genuflecting before the altar of ignorant innocence. 

Our institutions are what we make of them and our ancestors bequeathed to us solid institutions that by and large performed the task of providing the greatest good for the greatest number.  Yes, there always has been and continues to be need for improvement, and the history of this country has been a history of struggle to achieve the ideal enshrined in our constitution to “create a more perfect union” in part by “providing for the general welfare”. 

But this generation, the “Generation of Swine”, have gone about the business of vandalizing our institutions by making continual war upon governance.  The mendacity of the swine has now Trumped the American Dream.  We are about to pay a heavy price and we have no one to blame but ourselves. 

 

 

Oct 8, 2016

October 8, 2016: Time It Was, Preserve Your Memory, All That’s Left Me


Katherine Camfield  b. December 11, 1959  d. October 8, 2015

“Time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you.”


                        “Bookends” –Paul Simon

Oct 2, 2016

October 2, 2016: Chasing Rabbits, Logic and Proportion, Fallen Sloppy Dead


One lie makes you larger
And one lie makes you small.
And the ones that mother tells you
Don’t do anything at all.
Go ask ‘The Donald’
When he’s ten feet tall

“And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you’re going to fall
Tell ‘em a hookah-smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call
Call ‘The Donald’
When he was just as small

“When the men on the chessboard
Get up and tell you where to go
And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving low
Go ask ‘The Donald’
I think he’ll know

“When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen’s off with her head
Remember what the dormouse said
Feed your head
Feed your head” (1)  

Clearly, we are now staring into the “Looking Glass” where logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead. It is not enough that “The Donald” stands four square against the scientific community on the issue of climate change, or that he has held—until recently—to various conspiracy theories, or that he is in deep denial concerning the condition of the economy.  It is not enough that his campaign has consisted of offering the country nothing but a series of insults directed at women and just about every group in America save for white men while advocating nothing of substance by way of policy proposals or strategies for effective governance.  It is not enough that he has undermined confidence among our allies by questioning the efficacy and need for our alliances, or for the nuclear umbrella.  It is not enough that this is not only the most vacuous candidacy for the presidency in memory but has in the bargain coarsened political discourse to levels not seen in well over a century.   Now instead of debating the woman who is the Democratic nominee for President of the United States, “The Donald”, like offal circling the soil pipe, could not control himself and went down the proverbial “Rabbit Hole”.  At three in the morning, always insisting on the last word, he is found twitting insults at the former Miss Universe.  As he should have learned from Sarah Palin, only an idiot twits and only a birdbrain tweets.
       
------
(1). A parody of the song “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane.


Sep 30, 2016

September 30, 2016: ‘The Donald’ at the Bat, The ‘Babe Ruth’ Of Debating, Madame Secretary I Presume.



“But McCain preceded the Donald, as did also our man Mitt,
And the former was a hoodoo, while the later was a twit;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of ‘The Donald’ getting to the bat.

But McCain let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Mitt, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and men saw what had occurred,
There was Romney safe at second and Johnny a-hugging third.

From five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
it pounded on the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
for 'The Donald', 'The Mighty Donald', was advancing to the bat"
 
On Sunday, 25 September, the outlook was beginning to look very grim indeed for the Democratic nine.  According to Nate Silver, the most trusted name in polling and electoral predictions, the Donald had narrowed Clinton’s lead to the point that he now had a 45.2% chance of winning the election, the best numbers his campaign had been able to post since just before the party conventions.  Moreover, he was closing fast.  Emails were being sent out by various progressive and Democratic (not the same thing) organizations in full panic mode.  Florida was going Rescumlican, Ohio is lost, what’s next: Pennsylvania? Michigan?

Word came from the Trump campaign that the Donald, being the ‘Babe Ruth of debating’, would summarily dispatch the woman, citing how he had easily dominated the primary debates.  Accordingly, it was thought, Clinton having to walk the high wire between being forceful and being a scold, would be hamstrung, defensive, seen as aloof, condescending, judgmental, a nerd and a bore cast in the lot with Mike Dukkakis and Al Gore.  Indeed one wag postulated that the challenge for Hillary was to square quantum physics with the theory of relativity while the Donald simply had to show up and not vomit all over the stage.  Apparently, the Donald believed it as well, swallowing whole his own press releases as he pranced about the country telling adoring audiences that Clinton didn’t have a chance. 

“There was ease in ’The Donald’s’ manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in ‘The Donald’s’ bearing and a smile lit the ‘The Donald’s’ face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ‘The Babe Ruth of Debating’ ‘twas at the bat.

Two hundred million eyes were upon him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Ten million tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt;
Then while the smiling Hillary ground the ball into her hip,
Defiance flashed in the ‘The Donald’s’ eye, a sneer curled the ’The Donald’s’ lip.”


Smiling, she led off by questioning his business acumen given his half dozen or more bankruptcies, chided him for stiffing contractors and employees that worked for him, suggested that the reason he isn’t releasing his tax returns is that perhaps he isn’t as wealthy or charitable as he claims, and that perhaps he owes money to foreign banks and governments creating huge conflicts of interest. 

“And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And ‘The Donald’ stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped-
“That ain’t my style,” said ‘The Donald’, “Strike One!” the moderator said.

“From back-benches, filled with teabags, came up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves upon a stern and distant shore;
“Kill him, Kill the umpire!” shouted someone in the stands;
And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not ‘The Donald’ raised his hand.”


“Madame Secretary, May I call you Secretary?” he then asked condescendingly, at which time he pivoted to a rambling critique of her performance as Secretary of State.  Clinton, composed as an old schoolmarm dealing with a recalcitrant delinquent, simply rattled off her experience questioning in the end ‘The Donald’s” knowledge of the world about us, and his fitness for command.

“With a sneer of heathen charity the great “Donald’s” visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the lady, and once more the dun sphere flew;
But ‘The Donald’ still ignored it and the moderator called “strike two”.

“Fraud!” cried the maddened teabaggers, and echo answered “Fraud!”
But one scornful look from ‘The Donald” and the great unwashed were awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that ‘The Donald’ wouldn’t let that ball go by again.”


And then, turning and facing him, Hillary reminded ‘The Donald’ of his treatment and remarks to a former Miss Universe when he owned and ran the pageant widening the criticism by reminding the audience of his disparaging remarks about women and, in particular, his treatment of comedian Rosie O’Donnell. 

“The sneer is gone from ‘The Donald’s” lip, his teeth are clenched in hate,
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate;
An now the lady holds the ball, and now she lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of ‘The Donald’s’ blow”

“Well, she deserved it” replied “The Donald” in a tone of righteous indignation. 

Strike three.

“Oh, somewhere in this promised land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—‘The Donald’ has struck out.” (1)

-------
(1). My thanks to Ernest Lawrence Thayer for one of the favorite poems of my youth and the inspiration it has given me here.  https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/casey-bat

Aug 9, 2016

August 9, 2016: That Little Girl, Dreams are Torn, Youth and Innocence.


“I met her on the strip three years ago
In a Camaro with this dude from L.A.
I blew that Camero off my back
And drove that little girl away.
But now there’s wrinkles around my baby’s eyes
And she cries herself to sleep at night
When I come home the house is dark
She  sighs, ‘baby did you make it all right’
She sits on the porch of her daddy’s house
But all her pretty dreams are torn
She stares off alone into the night
With the eyes of one who hates for just being born.
For all the shut down strangers and hot rod angels
Rumbling through this promised land
Tonight my baby and me, we’re gonna ride to the sea
And wash these sins off our hands.

Tonight, tonight, the highway’s bright
Out of our way mister you best keep
‘cause summer’s here and the time is right
For racing in the street.”  

                                     ---“Racing in the Street” Bruce Springsteen.

Today is an anniversary of sorts.  Today is my grandson’s birthday.  Happy birthday son. Today also marks the 17th anniversary of my first meeting Katie in Indianapolis, Indiana..It seems like so long ago, and yet like almost yesterday.  Today, for what it is worth, also marks the 42nd anniversary of the resignation of Richard Nixon. 

While here I pine for love’s labor lost, the nation pines for Nixon.  Only my grandson, insulated by youth and innocence, remains unscathed.  

-------

Springsteen, Bruce.  "Racing in the Street" from the album "Darkness at the Edge of Town"
1978 Columbia Records. 

Jul 25, 2016

July 1, 2016: The Flower of England, Military Mind, Veritable Monument.




“Young men, soldiers, Nineteen Fourteen
Marching through countries, they’d never seen
Virgins with rifles, a game of charades
All for a Children’s Crusade” (1)

On this date, at the break of dawn precisely one hundred years ago, they went over the top in what became known as the Battle of the Somme. (2)  It was the bloodiest day in the history of the British army.  As the sun rose, the whistles blew and the men went, in the parlance of the time, “Over the Top”.  By sundown, the British had lost 57,470 men, an estimated 20,000 dead, mostly by noon that day.  It was a killing field.  The army advanced at a cost of 3 men for every foot of ground gained. 
  
It is remembered today largely as the leitmotif of a struggle characterized by what historian Max Hastings has termed the “Blackadder” interpretation of the First World War, after the British Sitcom of that name, which pilloried the struggle, especially the military leadership that led it.  Hastings takes umbrage with the critics, among them Siegfried Sassoon, claiming that they didn’t understand either its necessity nor its tactics. I must take issue with Hastings on both counts.

I don’t think that either Atkinson (“Blackadder”) or Sassoon the poet were critics of the struggle.  I don’t think either one of them, or many of the host of other critics of General Haig and the military chiefs, hold the view that the battle was unnecessary.  Where they take issue is with the strategy and the tactics used, and the continued order of repeated attacks for the next 141 days until the battle subsided due to the onset of winter having achieved not even the first day’s military objectives.  When it ended both sides suffered casualties each estimated at over half million men.

“The Children of England would never be slaves
They’re trapped on the wire and dying in waves
The flower of England face down in the mud
And stained in the blood of a whole generation.” (3)

The battle occurred because the French were being decimated at Verdun and to alleviate the pressure and to save the French army, the British were called upon to begin a major offensive.  Its necessity is, therefore, not in dispute.  What is in dispute are the tactics.  

I’ve made the point in previous posts concerning this conflict that I hold the military brass responsible because they had learned nothing from studying war.  One questions the purpose of military academies where lessons from previous conflicts seemingly are at best forgotten and at worst ignored.  All the European powers had observers on both sides during the American Civil War, a war that introduced the devastation of the modern rifle as well as the stalemate of trench warfare.  Nothing had improved since then, the introduction of the Gatling gun, followed in turn by the machine gun, could not auger well for any military offensive.  Nevertheless the military mind, being what it is, refused to come to terms with the evolving technology.  Indeed the French military approached the conflict with a training manual that insisted that the army would do nothing but attack.  Such tactics, given the technology at the time, were breathtakingly uninspired.

Corpulent generals safe behind lines
History’s lesson drowned in red wine
Poppies for young men, death’s bitter trade
All for a Children’s Crusade” (4)

The bombardment started a week or so before they went over the top.  The British fired an estimated 3 million shells at the German lines but, due to lack of quality control, a third of them were duds.  The purpose was, of course to destroy the enemy’s earthworks; but also to cut the barbed wire to ease the advance.  Ignoring front-line reconnaissance reports back to headquarters that the barbed wire was still in tact; and arming the men with wire cutters that couldn’t cut the much thicker German barbed wire, the men were led ‘over the top’.

The artillery were largely anti-personnel shells (similar to Civil War era grape shot) and, therefore, useless at destroying either trenches or wire, and the enemy was dug in with bunkers 30 to 40 feet underground. The British Infantry, loaded with up to 60 pounds of kit and told to walk across ‘no man’s land’ because the enemy will have been destroyed, went up—‘over the top’ into a perfect killing field.   

Like Viet Nam decades later, a conflict in which American forces would be brought to the battlefield by helicopter and the enemy simply counting the rotors and quickly determining if he would stand and fight or blend back into the jungle, so the Allies would announce the advance by the cessation of the artillery barrage.  A quick silence followed by the blowing of whistles signaling the men to climb out of their trenches and advance on no-man’s land—but also signaling to the enemy to come out of his bunkers and take up position, a strategy that effectively eliminated any purpose or advantage the bombardment was supposed to produce.  With the element of surprise gone, with the relative strength of each army generally understood, it was left to the infantry to slog it out in what quickly became a hell on earth. 

All of this was foreseeable.  As in the American Civil War, one had only to look to Fredericksburg or Antietam for lessons on what not to do at Gettysburg or Kennesaw Mountain; one had look no further than what was going on at Verdun to draw similar simple conclusions.  However, no, the military mind has trouble with universally observable empiricism.

The historian struggles to justify.  Many point to the Battle of the Somme as the first use of tanks and the use of aircraft as offensive weapons in an effort to demonstrate the military’s willingness to embrace new technologies and strategies but, unfortunately, these apologies are not supported by the historical record.  The fact is that tanks, here introduced to warfare, were not the brainchild of the Army’s brass.  Instead, the modern tank is the brainchild of one Winston Churchill who, in a rare moment of prescience and wisdom, insisted as Lord of the Admiralty, to build the tank.  It was the British Navy not the army that developed the modern tank; the army having been presented with the idea quickly dismissed tanks, deriding them as ‘land yachts”.  While taking part in the battle, tanks were, nevertheless ineffective both because they were not present in large enough numbers and because the Army hadn’t developed the tactics for their use.    Indeed the same criticism has been leveled at Haig and the brass concerning the use of flamethrowers, mortars, and other weapons that civilian authorities were to impose upon the military command in an effort to break the stalemate.   Indeed, it was the Canadians, later in the war that introduced the ‘rolling’ artillery”, a strategy of using it during the assault and calibrating their fire to lay down a barrage just ahead of the advancing troops. This to prevent the enemy from taking position—a strategy that more than any other would finally break the stalemate near the end of the war. 

Hastings, unlike Sassoon, did not fight this battle, nor any other in this war.  He is the grandson of one who did, but he wasn’t there.  Sassoon was and, on balance, I’ll take his version of it.

Let us take a moment and pay our respects to the ones who fought and died there, to the ones who fought and were wounded and dismembered in body and soul, to the ones who carried the memories well into my lifetime for while it surely wasn’t in vain it was, however, altogether too great a sacrifice.  The battle remains, however, a veritable monument to the stupidity of leadership and the madness of man.

“Pawns in the game are not victims of chance
Strewn on the fields of Belgium and France
Poppies for young men, death’s bitter trade
All of those young lives betrayed” (5)

____

(3)   Op. cit.
(4)   Ibid.
(5)   Ibid.