Friday, January 19, 2018

Hell's Kitchen

Two celebrity chefs announce an upcoming dinner party, to be held at a fancy rented hall.

A large number of the invitees remind the chefs that they simply cannot eat anything with cream, cheese or butter.

Two days before the dinner, the chefs announce their custom-crafted menu, and every course has cream, cheese, or butter.  The dairy-free group says, "can't you do a couple of dishes separately?', the chefs say "sorry, no substitutions", and the dairy-free group says, "well, there's no reason for us to attend".

The two celebrity chefs (let's call them Chef Paul and Chef Mitch) announce to their entire Social Network that a minority of their invited guests have ruined their dinner party by being absolutely unwilling to compromise, and they plan to repeat the same scenario in four weeks.

MORAL:  Beware, or the owners of the rented hall will get frustrated and burn it down.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

This morning, I had a very dark thought.

If there really is such a nebulous thing as the Earth having a 'Global Consciousness', that consciousness must surely be blinking red.  There are far too many humans, and we are having a far too damaging impact on the Earth's precariously-balanced systems.

When plant or animal populations are stressed due to resource insufficiency, they self-regulate to reduce populations.  Assume it's reasonable that the human Collective Consciousness would have that same inbred inclination.

Supposing that our collective sense is indeed that the current path is one to doom.  What would our unconscious collective will desire?

Fewer people and a cooler planet.

What is the quickest, easiest way to get there?  Nuclear war.

Sure, many tems of millions will die horribly (maybe even someone you know), but the unplanned geo-engineering of nuclear war just might halt the warming enough to save Miami Beach, Lower Manhattan, and Venice (well, maybe not).

It's no accident that disaster movies resonate with us, at a deep level. Maybe the Trump Presidency* is simply the vehicle our Collective Consciousness has created, to prod us to DO SOMETHING ABOUT THOSE ICE-CAPS SOON.   

Furthermore, Trump blundering the world into a 'nuclear exchange' would save a lot of Republican legislators from actually having to vote for carbon-taxes and Green tax-credits.  Then, once it's over, we can allocate more tens of billions of dollars to refresh the nuclear inventory.

Everybody (well, not exactly everybody) wins.

See also:  Randy Newman - "Let's Drop the Big One Now"

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.
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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.