I had just come back from a couple of weeks in Israel. It was work, not vacation. I was in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem, so there was no sense that this was a vacation. I also made the dreadful mistake of drinking local water without worrying about it because, after all, I had lived there a decade without a problem. Times changed. So did my gut. What I did in the past didn’t stop me from getting one of those ugly waterborne diseases.
Which is why I was at home on 9/11. I was in no shape to go anywhere where I couldn’t get to a bathroom in less than a nanosecond.
The phone rang. My son was working at one of the “backbone” services that handled the Internet.
“Turn on the TV,” he said.
“What channel?” I asked.
“Any channel,” he replied.
Any channel? That sounded serious. I turned it on in time to watch the first tower fall and was still standing there with my mouth open, in total shock when the second tower fell.
Everything changed after that. We were not invulnerable. Not that we had ever been invulnerable. Pearl Harbor should have reminded us of that, but that was before I was born. And it was on “some other island.” It wasn’t “home.”
Not that I currently live in New York, but I was born and raised there, as was Garry. New York wasn’t “just a place.” It was home and even though we lived in Massachusetts, New York was where we began, where we became ourselves.
Everything changed and we thought, for a while, it was better. But it wasn’t. I wonder if it will ever change back again to the place I remember. I know growing up, the world was very far from perfect, but it was home.
Now, I don’t know what this place is. It doesn’t feel like home anymore.
OK, this is becoming a series. I’ve been having a problem coming up with posts lately because every time I want to write a post about what’s going on in the news I realize I already wrote about it a year ago. Or two years ago. It happened again today.
Bob Woodward’s book “Fear” is coming out. It’s about the Trump White House.
It documents how the staff literally took documents off his desk so he wouldn’t sign them and do things like START WORLD WAR III!!!!
When they did, the prez forgot they had been on his desk at all. Basically, if they could distract him for five minutes, he’d forget what he was talking about or doing. What does this have to do with me?
I wrote a JOKE BLOG about this over a year ago!!! Here it is.
M.A.D, MADMEN, AND THE FIVE MINUTE RULE
By Tom Curley
The talk this week is that our “So-called President” is insane has ramped up to 11 out of 10.
It’s all anyone in the news can talk about. The biggest worry, of course, is that this nut-job has access to the nuclear codes and could start a war in under five minutes. During the cold war, the US and Russia and China operated under the idea of M.A.D., aka “Mutually Assured Destruction.”
Nobody considered what would happen if an actual Madman was President.
Everybody says nobody can stop him. That’s not quite true.
During the Nixon administration, towards the end, with Nixon drinking a lot and freaking out over Watergate, the Chief of Staff quietly put out an order. If the President ordered a nuclear strike or for that matter, any military strike check with him or the Secretary of Defense first. It was illegal, but they did it anyway.
They were right.
Maybe the current Chief of Staff (right now, it’s John Kelly, but hell, that could change next week) might be doing the same thing. We don’t know.
But I have a couple of other ideas that might also work, a couple of options to get around the “I’m bored and in a bad mood. Let’s start a nuclear war” scenario.
In order to start a nuclear war, he has to get the nuclear codes. They are in a briefcase called “The Nuclear Football”. An aide, whose sole job is to carry “The Football” around, has to bring it to him.
Here’s how it would go.
SCROTUS: I’m in a bad mood! I want to start a nuclear war! Bring me the nuclear football.
AIDE: Here you go, sir.
SCROTUS: Hey, it’s locked!
AIDE: Yes sir. You have to unlock it.
SCROTUS: I do? What’s the combination?
AIDE: I don’t know sir. You were supposed to reset it when you took office. President Obama was supposed to tell you that when he left office.
SCROTUS: I knew it! This is Obama’s fault!
AIDE: Well I guess we can’t start a nuclear war today sir.
SCROTUS: No wait! Try 123!
AIDE: Nope, doesn’t work.
AIDE: Uhh …. Nope.
Now the reason that his can work is because of “The Five Minute Rule.” He only has an attention span of about five minutes. After that, he gets bored or forgets what he was talking about and moves on to something else. Usually watching Fox News.
Five minutes later.
SCROTUS: I’m bored. What were we talking about?
AIDE: We were talking about how much “Fox and Friends” loves you, sir.
SCROTUS: Yea! Let’s watch TV!
When he wants to start a nuclear war, we bring him an actual football.
SCROTUS: I’m bored! Let’s start a nuclear war! I want to bomb Rosie O’Donnell! Bring me the nuclear football!
AIDE: Here you go, sir.
SCROTUS: What’s this?
AIDE: It’s “The Nuclear Football” sir.
SCROTUS: It is? It looks like a real football.
AIDE: It is a real football, sir. Just nuclear.
SCROTUS: How do I use it?
AIDE: You just go outside and shout out the name of the country or person you want to bomb and then you just throw that football as hard as you can.
SCROTUS: It’s that easy?
SCROTUS goes outside, yells “Fuck Rosie O’Donnell and throws the football. A secret service agent catches it and runs away shouting “Rosie O’Donnell sucks!” and returns the football to the Chief of Staff’s office and puts it in the bin with all the other footballs — and the actual combination to the real “football.”
By now, about five minutes has gone by and the aide turns on Fox News.
Crazy you say? I agree. But when you’re dealing with crazy, you have to think crazy.
This first one is the Unicorn captured. To capture a unicorn, you needed a woman. A virgin. Because that was the only thing that could make a Unicorn tame.
This is one of the myths of the Unicorn — but there are many others.
Once upon a time in a kingdom far-far-away in the lands of the never-ending spring, a king sat in his golden throne and ruled his kingdom in perfect harmony. A person can feel nothing but exuberance at the sight of the magnificent castle in which the king and his daughter lived, the majestic atmosphere of the woods spread all around the castle, and last but not least – the overwhelming beauty of the princess.
It was pure Heaven-on-Earth; there was nothing that could even possibly attain the perfection of this place. The beauty of the forest made it amazing, yet another thing made it imposing. In those woods lived creatures of time unknown and one of them was the most precious of them all… and was hunted for centuries for its magical horn – the beast known as a unicorn.
One day a rumor started spreading. Someone saw a white creature with the looks of a horse, yet having a beautiful horn… and suddenly all men grabbed their knives and spears, their blood lust and fierceness. The hunt had begun.
While the king’s men were all setting torches on fire and sharpening their tools, the young princess was at her chamber, brushing her beautiful silky blond hair. She was the purest maiden in the whole kingdom with a heart as tender as a rose and a soul as clean as the water from the Fountain of Youth in the woods. She had an adventurous spirit and that day she decided to take a walk in the surrounding forests. Pushed by the desire to pick some fresh flowers, she left the castle and headed towards the woods.
With all beauty of the trees and flowers and the crystal cleanness of the mineral springs she lost track of time and wandered around for hours and hours and suddenly, she was very deep into the woods.
She started realizing that the woods were getting darker and darker and the trees were losing their beauty, the grass was dead and there were no animals around. She started getting scared and remembered a story heard long ago from her nanny, a story about the Dark Forest, deep inside the beautiful surrounding woods. Everyone believed it was just a legend, that it wasn’t a real place, but right at that moment, she was thinking it over. “Could it be trouble …” she couldn’t even finish her thought when tree branches started grabbing her legs and arms and taking her deeper and deeper into the forest …
The creature was stepping lightly onto the grass, slowly moving between the trees, heading towards the little glade where she was lying unconsciously. As approaching, it saw the purity of the girl in front of him and slowly began to trust that innocent maid.
When the unicorn got to her, he bent his neck down and looked at her beautiful face and slowly lied down next to her. After a while, she woke up and firstly got a little scared, yet after looking at its harmless black eyes, she felt safe. Then the white beast stood up and let her get on its back and they both headed towards the castle. The princess was charmed by that creature’s innocence and nobility, by its graceful movements between the trees and its gentle steps on the grass – pure harmony.
When they reached the castle and went inside the stone walls all of a sudden, a lot of armed people surrounded them and the unicorn started neighing and moving abruptly. The princess got down on the ground and started screaming and telling the men that this creature saved her life and brought her back to the castle. When the king came, she explained to him everything that happened and he, while crying, told her that everyone had gotten worried about her. He hugged his precious daughter and looked at the terrified beast. Not until then he did realize that the unicorn is the purest and the most innocent creatures of them all.
During the feast that night, it was pronounced that the unicorn is a sacred animal and it was forbidden hunting it. After saving the young princess, the beast left the castle and never got back. No one ever saw it again, but now all men knew the truth about the unicorn.
It is said that the king’s daughter met the unicorn again, yet that is a different story….
In the upper area of Manhattan island, one of the five boroughs of New York, there is a relatively small museum called “The Cloisters.” It was brought to New York, stone by stone, from Europe and reconstructed on a hill overlooking the Hudson River.
I was a devotee of the Cloisters. When I could cut school, which as the years went on, I did often, I was never nabbed for cutting classes or being out of school on a school day because I didn’t go to the mall or a bowling alley. I went to the Cloisters. Sometimes, I went to one of the other museums, especially if they had a new exhibit, but the Cloisters was always my favorite.
I would sit on the ramparts overlooking the river and pretend the little boats were medieval ships carrying British wool across the channel to the continent or whatever those ships did. Imagination is wonderful and requires no binding to reality.
The Metropolitan Cloisters is located on four acres overlooking the Hudson River in northern Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park. It is the branch of the Museum dedicated to the art, architecture, and gardens of medieval Europe.
Deriving its name from the medieval cloisters that form the core of the building, it presents a harmonious and evocative setting for more than 2,000 exceptional artworks and architectural elements from the medieval West.
On Sundays, they would have “monks” roaming around the building chanting. There were stone caskets with sculptures of the kings, queens, and other nobles who were the original inhabitants of them. And on the walls, hung a reproduced set of the Unicorn Tapestries.
There were four of them in total and I believe there are variations of these tapestries throughout Europe.
In those years, I could walk museums and their grounds from dawn to dark until they finally threw us out. I had the energy of youth and was discovering my passion for medievalism. It never wore off, either. I could still happily wander those rooms forever.
Who knows why we develop a passion for a particular period of time in history? It had nothing to do with my particular ancestors, but I had a picture of myself, wimple wrapped around my face walking slowly and gracefully through the gardens and spying the perfect face of the unicorn watching me from amidst the trees.
You can buy copies of the tapestries. Beautiful copies of them, suitable for hanging in your home. But we have no room for anything more in our house. Not one picture, statue, or collectible. We are full up, so I will dream on of the tapestries and the unicorn and spending an entire day on my feet, walking slowly through the gardens and softly darkened chambers of that museum.
Of the many things I wish I could do, museum wandering is one of those I miss most.
The stones stood as they had stood for a millennium. Perhaps longer. No one knew. There were stories. Rumors. Legends.
Despite the disastrous ending of the Druids, the worshippers lived on. Quietly, softly. Sometimes hidden in the folds of Christianity and always deep in moss and woodland, they found their way to the tiny circle to greet the dark and full of the moon, and the sun rising on an equinox.
The stones wore down through wind and weather, yet they stood and we came to stand with them. We came though times changed. Finally, we could be ourselves and worship in our way.
Time, wind, and weather will have their way. Times will change and we will become what we must to worship as we should. As long as the stones stand, as long as the woods enclose us, we endure.
We will always find our way to the circle — this or any circle — and be true to our ourselves and our truths.
This is a moment. Well, really, the last year and a half (is it longer? shorter? interminable?) has been a “moment.”
For me, it has been a long and painful moment of realization. This catastrophe in which we have been engulfed didn’t just “sort of show up” in 2016. It isn’t something that dropped in from the outer limits. As Americans, we’ve been building towards this monumental, momentous calamity for our entire history.
We have done great things. We have also done horrendous and unspeakable things. We have — as all countries do — glossed over the unspeakable and put a lot of our energy focusing on the greatness. We have ignored our failures and failed to grow up, nationally speaking.
One of the many important things Obama said in his recent lecture was that we had made progress and so we assumed that this progress meant that we had left “the bad stuff” behind and moved on.
But that isn’t what happened at all. Briefly, our better selves dominated politically, but all the rest of it was still right where it had been before. Our Civil War is more than 150 year in our past, yet for many people, it is still going on. Despite the obvious that this entire country — unless you are a Native American — is built on immigration, we have forgotten who we are and where we come from and that it is the energy and willingness to “go the distance” that gave the United States its vitality.
We also forgot that we got our big bang of industrial power from the decimation of Europe following two devastating wars. Yes, we fought in them, but they took place elsewhere. Not on our shores and if we want to pause briefly and ponder Pearl Harbor and 9/11, we can only imagine how different this country would be if the wars fought had been fought here.
Not “over there.” Not on some foreign shore, but in our backyard. We never had to rebuild our entire infrastructure. We have been political fools. Not only now, but in many earlier times when we elected immoral, mentally challenged morons as our leaders.
It matters more now because we gained so much power. And because the speed of events has increased and we don’t wait for news anymore. Everything is instant, continuous, and migraine-inducing.
We didn’t get here by accident or because of one bad election. We have never demanded our citizens vote or even get a decent education. We have never required our citizenry behave like grownups, either. Why should we be surprised we find ourselves in this unreal, treasonous, and terrifying scenario?
This is our moment to consider who and what we want to be as a nation. Do we want to be the perpetual international fools and morons? Do we want to pretend that all the really important things — decency, morality, safety, protection, equality, liberty and fair government — are trivial? That the only thing that matters is greed? As long as someone promises to lower our taxes, nothing else counts?
If we continue thinking like that, we will be lost in history, a mere blip on the timeline. And because we have had so much power, we might take down other nations with us. Who knows how many?
We are not an island, nor do we exist alone and separate on this planet.
No Man is an Island – John Donne
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
MEDITATION XVII Devotions upon Emergent Occasions John Donne
History wasn’t supposed to be an academic subject we learn in school and promptly forget. I am always a bit pixelated by people who tell me that there’s nothing in the past that means anything to them. They are inevitably the same people get twisted up in something they could have (easily) avoided if they knew some history.
Let’s take the old “trickle down” theory of economics. It has been tried by I don’t even know how many conservative or Republican administrations. It has never worked. That’s because it doesn’t work. It can’t work. It’s one of those theories that presupposes that the people involved will intentionally do “the right thing.”
That extra money will be reinvested in the business and used to pay employees better and hire more people.
Except they don’t. Ever.
They take the money as a bigger salary for themselves and other top-level administration. They use the rest to pay bigger dividends to investors and as often as not, cut staffing, lower salaries, and these days, move the entire business to a less expensive economic environment. The thing they never do is raise salaries for current employers and hire more people.
Good question. There was a time when that is what businesses did. They believed in America. They weren’t any less greedy or rapacious than the current bunch, but they were patriots too. They believed in the United States, trusted Americans to produce high-quality work. They also thought high-quality work mattered.
These days, greed is what’s left but without the patriotism or dedication to producing quality work. They don’t care whether what they do strips the land, destroys anyone living in the area, or is lethally poisonous. As long as they make an extra penny per whatever, that’s good enough.
Most of these “old time” rich people eventually turned to philanthropy. They did care about America and once they’d wrung every penny they could get from whatever industry they built, they thought it was their duty to “pay back” the country.
These days, most of the super-rich have no allegiance to anyone or anything but themselves. They think if we aren’t rich, we’re trash. That’s exactly how they treat us.
If you work harder at your job, they will fire someone else and you will get twice the work. I eventually learned to never let them know how quickly I could work because I never got a raise or a pat on the back. I just got more and more work. In one job, I started out as the junior writer in a department of five.
By the time I left, I was the junior writer in a department of me alone. Everyone else had quit or been let go. I still hadn’t gotten a raise or promotion. I did what five people had previously done. Nothing trickled down.
That was the last time I let myself work full-speed.
And that’s why trickle down is a pile of horseshit. Nothing trickles down. The guy at the top keeps it all and laughs as they haul his money to a Caribbean island while he avoids paying any taxes. To anyone.
If anyone reads history, the story of economics in this and every other country will assure them this isn’t going to work because it never has. It never will.
Meanwhile, a pile of damn fool voters will believe the bosses who promise they will make it better — yet never understand why they keep getting poorer.
Easy times, good times are not always the best times, at least not for creating a better world. When the world is running smoothly and turning sweetly on its axis, we are not building solutions to important cultural issues. Problems force solutions. Difficulties change society.
In the earliest years of what would later be called “The Renaissance,” the death of 25-million people resolved into a serious push to make the world a better place. Which is why I was sitting here thinking about the 1400s.
Not everybody thinks about the 1400s, but I do. Not only was it the time of the black death, it was a time when bands of terrorists roamed through Europe killing anyone they met. Inflation made money worthless. There was little of what we call “central government.” No congress, no government to address. Also, no roads, bridges, or books. And a whole lot of dying going on.
You know how Dickens said at the beginning of “A Tale of Two Cities”: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” or something to that effect? This was the worst of times.
Beginning in the early part of the 1300s with the importation of the Bubonic Plague-carrying rats, Europe became a horror show. Unless you lived in Warsaw which for some reason was spared.
The bubonic plague hit the continent in the 1340s, arriving on ships from (probably) Constantinople. The Black Death swept Europe like a hot blade cutting through butter.
Beginning in 1346 and through 1353, the number of deaths is unparalleled in human history. Ultimately, the Black Death killed more than 25 million people in Europe. Remember too that the world was much smaller. 25-million people were the largest part of the human race.
More than half the population of Europe died in the plague and in some towns, it was 100%. In other words, everybody died. The forest grew back over lands that had been sown. Murderous gangs that had formerly been remnants of disbanded armies roamed throughout the continent. When most of the peasants died, everyone starved. No one remained to grow new crops.
A burst of invention occurred. The peasantry, always been the least valuable members of European society, suddenly achieved importance. So few people remained who were able to grow crops, it was not unusual for peasants to go from castle to castle to see where they could get the best deal for their labor.
The middle class grew too, while more than half the nobility disappeared. Between death by plague and war, and the abject poverty the Crusades produced throughout Europe, many families slid from the bottom of nobility to the center of poverty. By the 1600s, many former nobles were tilling their own lands.
The Wars of the Roses consumed England. The printing press arrived. Europeans took to movable type with enthusiasm. The press was created sometime between 1400 and 1455. Movable type swept the scribes away.
I’m sure someone was telling everyone that this whole “printing thing” would never last. It was probably someone running a school for scribes.
The 1400s saw the invention of:
The golf ball (1400) The piano/spinet (1400) The trigger/matchlock (1411) The handgun arrived in 1364. Before the trigger, it was ignited with an ember or another form of portable fire. Oil painting (1420) The paint was invented long before this in China, but oil painting techniques (Rembrandt, et al) were 15th-century. Hoisting gear (1421) Spectacles/eyeglasses (1450) Possibly earlier. Printing Press (1450-55) Johannes Gutenberg Engravings (dry) (1465) Muzzle-loaded rifle (1475) Parachute (1485) Leonardo Da Vinci The copyright (1486) Bell chimes (1487) The map globe (1492) This is also when Leonardo was pondering flight because he had a parachute, so you ought to be able to fly, right? Whiskey (1494)
Sometime during this period, the moldboard plow was invented, turning agriculture on its ear. Deep plowing allowed real farming in areas that had previously been non-tillable. Historians are still arguing exactly when the moldboard plow was invented, but it was sometime between 1350 and 1475. Because there was no official “inventor,” it’s hard to set the date. It was more of a development by farmers until finally, someone got it right.
This might not sound like a lot to you, but the invention of the printing press was a bigger deal than the mobile phone or the computer or, for that matter, electricity and diesel power. It overturned the world. Made knowledge available to the many rather than the élite few.
Everybody drank the whiskey.
The point is that times were really bad in the 1300s and only nominally better in the 1400s, yet by the 1500s, the world began to flower.
These terrible old days gave the world a kick in the butt and triggered the arrival of central governments. It elevated both peasants and the middle classes. It advanced banking, industry, and art. Towns grew. The building industry changed and expanded. Bridges were redesigned to enable better roads and better roads made it easier for people to take goods to market.
Everything changed, including religion because this also was the birth of Protestantism, though it was not called that until later.
Hard times create a new world. Our two world wars were what pushed Europe into modern socialism and the caring world that they now (or used to) embrace. I think a lot of people have forgotten that before the first world war, it wasn’t the post-war caring, sharing Europe. It was a bunch of rich nobles doing whatever they felt like to anything and anyone.
The world doesn’t advance when times are easy. When all is well, we get lazy. Comfort doesn’t force change.
I’d want to believe that the current awfulness is going to push us into a creative change which will ultimately improve our world. I don’t know that it will be true because I don’t think I’ll live to see the outcome of this world into the next, but I’d like to think that’s how it will go.
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