Wednesday, March 29, 2017

what are we thinking?

Here in The Present, we experience Life moment by moment, our perceptions always colored by our memories of The Past (unreliable/delusional as they may be).

I'm not talking about your personal Past (undoubtedly the biggest factor in one's personal Present).  I'm talking about the collective Past - what we retained from History class (for those who were awake) and from our own obsessive reading since we left formal schooling (you know who you are).

It's so easy to be smug about catastrophic mistakes made by The Dead (or, as Homer and Nixon called them, the Silent Majority).  We ask ourselves 'what were they thinking?', as we ponder the blunders, whose results are so obvious and inevitable.

Examples are too numerous to mention.

I know there are an infinite number of distractions these days, but, still, it's positively shocking to me that so little is said about the events of exactly 100 years ago, when the Great War raged and millions were slaughtered.  To this day, unexploded shells (many filled with still-deadly gas) surface in the gardens of rural France, along that path of misery that stretched from Switzerland to the sea.

By 1917, the pre-war world was crumbling.  The Russian Empire's autocratic rulers were (unlike today's) clueless.  Same with the Ottomans.  Bleeding men and treasure, the French and British and Germans carried on with the same vain certainty that 'one more push' would lead to a quick victory.  The Americans arrived with their 'step aside and let us take over' bravado.

What were they thinking?

We know how it ended.  It's so obvious that the harsh, vindictive terms of the Treaty of Versailles would lead inevitably to economic hardship in Germany, and we know what panic does to people in times of economic hardship.

What were they thinking? 

We envision Sykes and Picot drawing lines on their map of Mesopotamia, giving birth to 'Iraq' and 'Iran'.  What were they thinking?

I own about a dozen DVDs; my favorite films, which I have watched many times.  There are the obvious ones:  Vertigo, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Maltese Falcon, Godfather Part II, Dr. Strangelove, Cabaret, The Producers.  You get the idea.

But there are two that I am especially thinking about today, in conjunction with WWI.

First,  Lawrence of Arabia.  Aside from the unparalled cinematography (I think I know just about every shot), what I get from the film is Lawrence's shocking progression from idealistic History nerd to a blood-smeared, violated, broken shell of a man (as the world itself was bloodied and broken when the shooting stopped).

The other is a film you probably don't know:  Richard Attenborough's astonishing film from the late 60's "Oh, What a Lovely War".  I first saw it in Baltimore around 1969 - I believe twice.  A few years ago, I ordered the DVD and have watched it three or four times, including yesterday.

It was originally a stage production, featuring songs sung by the soldiers in World War I.  The songs start out full of confidence and end up full of cynicism, hopelessness and the stark, grim reality they faced in the trenches.

The cinematography and editing are breathtaking, the dream cast includes Lawrence Oliver, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, John Mills, Dirk Bogard, Susanna York, Jack Hawkins (unrecognizable as the doddering Austrian emperor), and the shockingly young Maggie Smith, among other assorted Redgraves, etc.  One of the best anti-war films ever made.  If you'd like to BORROW my copy, let me know.

But (returning to my theme), seeing the events of 1914-1918 recapped, one can only ask how could they not have seen the coming calamity?  Why didn't the world rise up and try to prevent it?

What were they thinking?

In this week's news, there's this New York Times headline:  "Trump Lays Plans to Reverse Obama’s Climate Change Legacy". 

Now imagine reading that in 2117.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

it might as well be spring

I've been thinking a lot about Elmira, New York, my home town, and mortality, the passing of time, and the passing of generations.  I think what really triggered these thoughts in a big way, here in my mature (sic) years, was my Uncle Sanford's funeral, a couple of years ago.  He was 100 and was buried with military honors, in the cemetery that holds Elmira's Jewish community.

After the burial, I remember walking around, both the Barcus (Reform) and Lavine (Conservative) sections.  The image I cannot get out of my mind is seeing the graves of Norma and George Feinstein, and Alan and Lorraine Nathenson, parents of my best childhood friends.  The obvious realization of 'grown-ups' who were vivid and present figures at one time now permanently residing, silently, in that field, was a bombshell.

I had had an earlier flash of insight many years ago, after my mother's burial.  I walked up and down the rows of Shul people, and I flashed back to a long-forgotten memory, of a Simchas Torah celebration at the old shul, on Orchard Street, before it moved in the mid-50s.  So, I would have been around 5 at the time.

As I strolled past the graves that afternoon, I realized that that crowd, who was there dancing around at that Simchas Torah celebration in 1955, had, over time, all gotten back together.  They were all there.

But back to Sanford's funeral.  As I walked over to my parents' graves, I came upon Sandy Kaplan, who lived across the street from us, and was one of the kids on our block.  I knew she had died from cancer some years before, but seeing her grave put seeing the graves of my parents' friends into an entirely different perspective.

Yesterday afternoon, I took a break from (a little bit of) yard work and sat on our garden bench here in Portland, so far from Elmira.  I noticed birds and squirrels, and passing clouds, and trees beginning to bud and flower once more.  I thought of the peas and potatoes I have planted in the last couple of weeks, and the reliable rhubarb, returning year after year without much effort on my part.

I feel amazingly lucky, to have emerged in a time and place of comfort and security, to have had caring and generous parents, to have found work that I love and, of course, music.  To have had the company of a woman, children, friends, and various dogs and cats.  To have planted trees.  To have memories.  To have seen Angkor Wat at sunrise; to have heard the call to prayer in Marrakesh at sunset.

I have no fear of death.  It does not make me sad that the world will go on without me.  Humans are an experiment that the Earth generated, and that experiment is going bad, but it's always been a mixed bag.

For every Enlightenment there was a Spanish Inquisition.  Somehow, though, we got Mozart and Chuck Berry, Leonardo and Picasso, and especially Laurel and Hardy.

No regrets.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

do the right thing

Open Letter to Neil Gorsuch

Neil, I am writing to you about a great opportunity, for which you are uniquely qualified.  I have already drafted a statement for you:

"My fellow Americans.  Because I so deeply honor and respect our Constitution and our Republic's historical precedents, I am today withdrawing my name in consideration for the current open seat on the US Supreme Court.

I cannot in good conscience accept this privilege until such time that Judge Garland has had a fair hearing and vote in the US Senate.  After that matter has been faithfully resolved, I would be sincerely honored to once again be considered for either the current open seat or the (let's face it) inevitable next open seat.

As one of our greatest Americans, Mark Twain, so perfectly put it:  'Do the right thing.  It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.'

God Bless America."

Easy-peasy, Neil.  You have a once-in-a-lifetime choice at this moment.  You can either have your name be, for all time, placed among the greatest of patriots in the entire History of our Republic, or simply listed, in a footnote, with an asterisk.

Do the right thing.

Barry Lavine
Portland, Oregon
Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.
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Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.
Read more at:

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

I'm Beginning to See the Light

All this time, I've been thinking that there were two very separate forces at work in the Age of Trump:

1)  The relatively-recent mission to destroy America by high-level cooperation with Vlad "Bad Boy" Putin to install Trump, Tillerson, Ryan, and (Wilbur) Ross, enabling the extermination of the hated State Department and the US economic engine.  Bonus points for the sheer audacity of putting Perry in the Dept. of Energy and Pruitt at EPA.

2)  The 85-year Republican mission to destroy the New Deal and insure that All The Money not only flows to the Absolutely Wealthy, but, in fact, gushes directly into their pockets.

Now, it appears that we have achieved synergy.  The Republicans, whether they have truly realized it yet, have actually fully embraced the Russian model, where the nation's political machinery is expressly, fearlessly, and OPENLY focused on enriching the powerful (hint, you don't have to be an American to benefit), without any troubling conscience asking 'what about everybody else?'.  Thievery is Good.  Compassion is simulated.

Welcome to the new USA, the western subsidiary of 'Putin, Inc'.  Now that that ship has sailed, let's see if the French, Dutch, and Germans are, unlike us, able to resist.  Dutch election is Wednesday.

The Resistance is strong, and MSNBC still on the air, but this is a country ruled by bullshit and kool-aid, and History (with the exception of Purim's lesson) is not on our side.

Truly, we are witnessing days that will provide material to PhD candidates for centuries to come, assuming the art of writing survives.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

why impeachment over Emoluments is a Dead End

There are a lot of hopes being raised about this Constitutional text being our 'Get out of Trump Free' card.

It's not going to happen.

Read the darn thing:
"No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State."

 Did you notice what is stuck between commas there?

"without the Consent of the Congress"

I am not a Constitutional scholar, but does this not mean that Congress can say "we see no problems - it's OK" , and the Impeachment talk is moot?  They have already shown, by their refusal to deal with Merrick Garland, their waiver of the seven-year law for Mattis, and their utter disregard for the blatant conflicts of interest among the Cabinet appointees (and Himself, too) that any rules, laws, or longstanding traditions that get in the way of Trump power shall be dismissed.

We are already sliding down that slippery slope.

The Emoluments clause is not our ace in the hole.  The 25th Amendment is.

Pence is counting the days.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

are we in peak 'Depression' yet, or still 'Bargaining'?

Traditionally, it's:
  1. Denial – The first reaction is denial. In this stage individuals believe the diagnosis is somehow mistaken, and cling to a false, preferable reality.
  2. Anger – When the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue, they become frustrated, especially at proximate individuals. Certain psychological responses of a person undergoing this phase would be: "Why me? It's not fair!"; "How can this happen to me?"; "Who is to blame?"; "Why would this happen?".
  3. Bargaining – The third stage involves the hope that the individual can avoid a cause of grief. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek compromise.
  4. Depression – "I'm so sad, why bother with anything?"; "I'm going to die soon, so what's the point?"; "I miss my loved one, why go on?"
    During the fourth stage, the individual despairs at the recognition of their mortality. In this state, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time mournful and sullen.
  5. Acceptance – "It's going to be okay."; "I can't fight it; I may as well prepare for it."
    In this last stage, individuals embrace mortality or inevitable future, or that of a loved one, or other tragic event. People dying may precede the survivors in this state, which typically comes with a calm, retrospective view for the individual, and a stable condition of emotions.
I have been firmly in 'Depression' since the 'election'. I don't even remember passing thru 'Bargaining', but that's where I am this morning, and thinking about Abraham's tweets with God, prior to the destruction of Sodom.

You may recall that God laid out his plan to destroy Sodom, but Abraham proposes to God that the city should be saved if 50 righteous men (sorry, no women got to vote on this, times being what they were) can be located.

Over the subsequent verses, Abraham, practicing the art of the deal (sic), bargains down until he finally gets God to agree to forestall destruction if 10 can be found. 

Here's the bargain I am looking for: if there is even ONE Elector in each of the States that voted for You-Know-Who, who has the moral courage to simply cast an 'Abstain' vote, that will reduce the tally to under 270 and, at least, apply an Emergency Brake on this runaway train.

We can worry about the House of Representatives (sic) after that.

So, would it be too much to ask citizens of the Trump states, who might have some doubts as to the current trajectory, to please find out where in your state your Electors are meeting on December 19th, and shout loudly enough so they can hear you?  Remember, we only need to reach 1 Elector in each Red state.

Before I go, let me take another look at those Bible verses to find out what happened to Sodom....

Oh, crap.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

you're invited to my party

OK, it's come down to this.

Given the increasing evidence of Russian meddling, the long-recognized Russian entanglements among many of the Trump insiders, the astonishing cravenness of the Cabinet appointments (Exxon Mobile CEO as Secretary of State? Can you say 'Oil-igarchy'?), and, ultimately, the preposterous reality of the President-Elect (shudder) himself, I believe it's time for a 'what side are you on' moment.

A certain number of elected Congressfolk are well and truly alarmed at the rot that this 'election' has wrought.  And exposed.

I know that the few vocal Republicans, who understand what these developments mean for the American Republic, will never cross-over to declare themselves Democrats, to counter the 'Freedom Caucus' troglodytes.

Therefore, I proclaim that it's now time for a new coalition to form (yes, it will be predominantly Democrats, excluding Joe Manchin), of statespeople who understand the abyss we are hurtling towards (gas-pedal brought to you by Exxon Mobile and Koch Industries).

I don't even care if you call it the 'Patriot Party' or some such nonsense.  I don't care if you put John McCain and Lindsay Graham as its leaders.  I don't care if they call it the 'New Republicans'.

All that is important is that it has enough members in both Houses (heck, I'd settle ONLY for the Senate), to constitute a movement that the Media will HAVE to explain as 'people of American principles, dedicated to stopping a runaway train'.

By the way, if this results in the disintegration of one or both of the existing Major Parties, I'm willing to live with that.  Yes, I know all about the 'Law of Unintended Consequences'.

To continue on the current course, I believe, is Social Suicide.

Gaia also would say 'thanks - what took you so long?'.

Just a thought...