Crossroads

There is a scene in Lord of the Rings where Sam and Frodo, on their way to Mordor after the idyll in Ithilien, come to a crossroads. The landscape has steadily become more blighted as they arrive where the road from the west crosses the north/south road along the Mountains of Shadow. In both the book and the movie, this is painted as a scene of both hope and despair. There they find a statue put there by the Men of the West, the last remnant of which is Gondor and, in secret, Aragorn. It is a king of old, decapitated now, head replaced by a leering representation of an Orc’s head. The king’s head lies some distance away where an enduring vine of flowers, in defiance of its environment, has blossomed into a ragged crown. Frodo and Sam stop for a moment to gaze at it as the sun falls to the western horizon, illuminating the fallen king and his crown of flowers for a moment before plunging below the horizon and leaving only night. It is at this point in the book that the point of view switches from Frodo to Sam and remains there. The reading audience never really hears Frodo’s inner voice again. In a way, he dies there, retreating into a remote past.

I think we may have finally come upon that crossroads. We’ve been listening to Mr. Trump’s point of view for more than a year now, his unassailable, improbable, unfazed and mesmerizing point of view. We gasp, grin, grimace, shout, cry, laugh, shake our heads but always we pay attention. Mr. Trump cultivates the morbid fascination of a fatal car wreck, blackened machinery bent and twisted around a shell of a corpse, alive only minutes before. We hate ourselves for rubbernecking but we do it anyway.

By the end of this week all the political commentators, with the exception of what’s left of Fox, blasted the Trump Administration for its insensitivity and racism, its stupidity, its inability to speak or even perceive any sort of truth. The great road along the Mountains of Shadow, constructed to keep the evil in, is his thoroughfare; he uses our transparency and ingenuity against us. All attempts to make him repent, to make him see anything resembling sense fall on, not only deaf ears but upon inanimate stone ears as well. He was never capable of hearing anything except the endless refrain in his head: he’s the greatest. He reacts only to those who sing that phrase or variations thereof.

The press has predicted the end of the Trump Administration since the Inauguration; always to no avail. Trump et al. are as enduring, as narcissistic and self absorbed as the Eye of Sauron, if not quite as cunning. Trump is not so much a genius; his inability to perceive other people as anything but vague shadows precludes that. He is, rather, a master at figuring out other people’s weaknesses and exploiting them. His hubris, like the fictional Sauron’s, is that he thinks we all think the same way he does, or we should anyway.

If the current administration carries the mood and direction of the country, then the fact that we are awash in a dirty flood of truth these days makes sense. Men around us, powerful men, beloved even, are proving one by one to be venial, vulgar, reprehensible and only too happy to indulge in their own petty desires, mostly because they can. Not only that, they go out of their way to oppress. They, like our fearless leader, think only of themselves, their civilized facades encased in layers of talent and forced secrets. They do not know truth. Turns out, they never did. As a friend of mine said this week, it’s beginning to look like you can’t trust men at all.

That road constructed by the King’s men was supposed to banish evil forever. When the Internet went into wide use, about 25 years ago, it was seen as a great force for good, a great road; it would democratize the world, spread uncensorable information, defeat the gatekeepers, give the little guy a chance to circumvent the propaganda of media and politics, even of oppression and censorship. You could laugh at the big people, encircling, probing, exposing evil.

Now, however, that road is being used by the very people we wanted to get away from: advertising propaganda and its instagramming shills, influencers we call them now. We are assailed with hours of stupidity, shoddy temptations and hours of old fashioned and now soft porn as portrayed even on “mainstream” media. We read pretend journalism that is little more than rank speculation or ignorant opinion; it is the National Enquirer on steroids. Facebook, one of the most powerful entities in the world, gives us a picture of just how boring, mundane, banal and infuriating our friends/relatives can be; it is the hell of Thanksgiving dinner 24/7. Finally, we have been roped by our myriad weakness into a political reality show, masquerading as the Trump White House, featuring lots of white is black commentary of the highest order.

The King’s head, once handsome and noble, is rotting away along the side of the road. We gaze at the Orc’s head, wondering how we can make peace with it or perhaps just ignore it; maybe it will go away. The disgraced King, meanwhile, head strewn among the rocks, shows us the way, his fleeting crown of flowers a last vision of warning and hope. We can sit there and mourn only to be overtaken by Orcs, or we can pluck up our courage and head into the darkness, and though we lose ourselves, perhaps we can defeat it.

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Thank You For Your Service

Veterans’ Day. The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.  The armistice for World War I was signed on this day and thus, it became a day to commemorate those who fight our wars, known and unknown. World War I was the beginning of modern warfare, with its massive destructive capabilities.  The Civil War, however, remains America’s most deadly war.

Due in part to Ken Burns’ massive Vietnam War documentary, we are in the midst of a sort of collective reliving of that war.   It was one of America’s longest wars, at least until the continuing Afghanistan conflict.  It provoked a real sense of dislocation, especially between the generations, coining the phrase, “generation gap.”  The parents who had been the World War II  generation (whose children were born between 1948 and about 1954), and those who had been the Korea generation (whose children were born between 1955 and about 1962) could not understand why their sons had no wish to fight for a country that had been so good to them.

Of course, the thread of commonality among these, say one and a half generations, was the draft.  It was taken for granted that all young men (and some women) served in the military for a required two years, unless extended by the head honchos in the Pentagon.  The draft was finally abolished by Richard Nixon, of all people.

It was a canny move.  The fact that there was no longer any reason to fear being called up in the prime of your youth shredded the political power of the youth movement, showing just how rooted it was in self interest.  Nixon’s move strangled the radical youth movement, highlighting underlying radical political movements which no longer had protection from middle America, as they used to call it.  Middle America moved on to the American Dream,  generation gap notwithstanding  These erstwhile radicals became just as conservative as their parents.  Ronald Reagan, whose political career  was declared dead in the mid ’70’s, caught this new conservative wave in 1980 and rode it to the end of his life.

Those who fought in Vietnam faced ridicule at home.  Some felt so much more needed in Vietnam that they returned, despite the fact that it was obvious that Vietnam was a losing proposition.  Much attention was given to Vietnam Vets later on, especially in the ’80’s when it became obvious that many suffered from severe PTSD.  No one quite understood this because WWI, WWII and Korea vets did not seem to suffer at all.  There was some discussion of PTSD by the British in WWI, when it was called shell shock, but WWII was such a resounding victory that no one thought anyone in a victorious army would suffer from such a condition.   War was done; time to go home and resume your life.  It was only much later that many WWII vets confessed to carefully hidden PTSD.

Thank you for Your Service is a slogan, a mouthful of words as insincere and bland as the infamous (but still widely used) “Have a Nice Day!”  It is a collective way to be grateful for a struggle the person in question cannot comprehend, much less be thankful for.  Throughout most of the 20th Century, one of the  great American cultural institutions was boot camp and then service in the military.  Many young men did this straight out of high school, mostly to get it over with.   It was at boot camp and ensuing service that one met people from all walks of life, of roughly the same age, all having much the same experiences.  Now the only cultural institution we have left that unites Americans on the same scale is high school, and even that is dying, with the proliferation of parochial schools, charter schools and home schooling.

So, when you remember your vets, out there in the mall or on the Internet as faux black Friday sales compete for your frivolous attention, think seriously about what it would be like to experience the horror of war.  Take, say Saving Private Ryan (a worshipful take on war) or Game of Thrones (a bronze age, magical take on war).  Don’t just enjoy the melodrama; think about what it would be like to be cold, hungry and alone with only your terrified compatriots and a military issue rifle and ammunition, or sword as the case may be, for self defense.  We can watch these depictions, even be moved by them, but we cannot truly experience them.  Movies and television are always fictional constructs:  beginning, middle, end. Even documentaries, taken from real life, have a tendency to be structured this way.  As humans, we have an innate instinct for closure.

In war, however, there is no closure.  We have wars to end all wars and still we have war.  We cannot avoid war, which has occurred throughout our existence.  In America, we have managed to fence off war; instead of suffering through it for the sake of our boys on the front (WWI and II), we shop, eat out, get involved in the latest glossy cable TV show.  Most of our energy, in other words, is focused on ourselves.

Those civilians caught in the middle during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars suffered the same privations and threat of death their soldiers did.  World Wars I and II brought rationing and diversion of material resources for the front, leaving civilians limited products we now take for granted:  butter, sugar, gasoline, rubber for tires, hosiery. During Vietnam, the news organizations showed us the reality of the war even as our leaders gave us high flying, if out of touch, rhetoric.  By the time we got to the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, we were told not to worry:  go shopping, buy a new car or even a house.

Despite the fact that our leaders have developed almost a fetish (as the Brits say) about honoring our military, we pay scant attention to these men, and now women, unless there is a scandal or some sort of military debacle.  The average military guy in the grocery store gets barely a look.  No one can relate, so we don’t communicate at all.  Until the duty and obligation of war returns to the entire population, this will become a growing rift.  These people are on their own, almost as if they were in a foxhole somewhere instead of a grocery store, comparing prices on pork chops.

If you are particularly courageous you may want to thank the soldier for his/her service.  You can do this, but it’s awkward and basically useless.  It demeans both of you.  Instead, give to various organizations that help vets, particularly older vets, after careful vetting, of course.  Give serious thought to these people not just as characters in a drama, but as real people, who are willing to put there lives on line for you and your relatively pleasant lifestyle, if so required.  Support peace except when war is unavoidable.  Don’t be so carelessly belligerent and think long and hard before uttering the phrase, “we’ll bomb the hell of ’em!”  That never works; when it doesn’t, the boots hit the ground and the soldiers are in harm’s way, once again.

Friday Follies

I could rant about Trump’s visit to China (can anyone say “cave!”), but it’s Friday. Thus, more Internet “news.”

Megan Fox Poses in Sexy Lingerie. It’s always traumatic when you find out people don’t really look like this.

Trump Shakes Hands with Putin in Asia. Old news. Hasn’t Trump already done that elsewhere?

15 Steps to Building Your Online Tribe. I thought only pre-industrial cultures had tribes. A bit of advice: Ignore all that pie in the sky business/leadership advice on the Internet.

Tillerson at Odds with Trump Again. About what? Like the State Department isn’t dying fast enough?

Taylor Swift, Celebrities Reaction to Reputation Album. Isn’t dear Taylor rather old hat? She’s been around, like, forever.

Barkley, Shaq Roast Entire Ball Family Over Sunglasses Arrest.  First reaction: What? Second reaction: I swear you can’t make this stuff up.

Best Way to Roast a Turkey; Stop Worrying About it.  Okay for you. I’ve got competitive relatives coming over, nitpicking perfectionists all. Besides, everybody knows the best way to roast a turkey is to drink at least one bottle of wine while you’re basting and trying to figure out when to start the potatoes.

Per Trump Speech at Asia Conference:  U.S. Will Only Cut Deals with Individual Nations.  Welcome to Brexit, America!

Here’s Melania Trump Walking Along the Great Wall of China.  In yet another goofy designer outfit. If she’s going to drape her coat over her shoulders,  why not just wear a cape?

Mitt Romney Running in 2018.  A day late and a dollar short.

Amazon’s $15 Billion Headquarters Could Give these 5 Cities Biggest Boost:  Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh.  I’d like to put in a good word for Cumberland, MD. Check it out, empty, gothic downtown, disused rail yard, rampant opioid epidemic and all. The place is ripe for being pushed around by a behemoth like Amazon. Good luck getting high priced tech talent to move there, or any of the other named cities.

My Girlfriend Had a One-Night Stand and It Has Destroyed My Life. Grow up and find new girlfriend, buddy.

Duterte Says he Killed Someone as a Teenager.  Big surprise there.

Stupid Stuff a la Internet:

Rand Paul Landscaping Dispute.  It’s always fun to watch neighbors beating each other up.

Selfies With Hitler. Why?

Restaurant Owner Arrested for Choking Customer Over Cold Fries.  Wouldn’t you?

Woman Gets Knocked Out After Washer Explodes.  I foresee a lawsuit.

This was Kate’s Job Before Royal Life.   I guess Royal Life is a job now. How do I apply?

Man Awarded $7.5M for Watermelon Accident at Walmart. There’s gold in them thar watermelons! Next time I go into Walmart, I’m heading straight for the watermelons or, perhaps, the pineapples.

Broncos Over Pats and Other Picks for NFL Week 10.  Riiight. I love the Broncos, guys, but even I think this is just whistling past the graveyard.  Had to have been penned by a die-hard Broncos fan.

Ex-Trump Advisor Gorka Reportedly Has New Gig. Just goes to show the stupider you are, the more opportunity to rise to your level of  incomptence. That said, should I ever go back to college, I’m majoring in Stupid.

And the grand prize winner:

Khloe Kardashian Baffles Fans by Appearing Without a Baby Bump in Sexy Swimsuit. You mean it was all lie?! Be still my beating heart! Question: Which one’s Khloe?

Note to self: Put the phone down now!

 

Quid Pro Quo

Of late we seem to be in the sexual harassment circle of Hell. First we had Harvey Weinstein, that champion of sleazy quid pro quo. Then there’s Kevin Spacey, that champion of gay, non quid pro quo. Then it was the British House of Commons. (Question: What about the House of Lords?) Dustin Hoffman has been named, along with lots of other people, mostly behind the camera, as it were. Several high-profile entertainment executives have lost their jobs in the ensuing HR panic. Even that bastion of fairness and right thinking, NPR, fired its head of news, Michael Oreskes for questionable behavior and essentially an open secret reputation. Bill O’Reilly comes to mind, but he got a great shake from Fox; he was fired only after some very, and I do mean very, large financial settlements. Because financial settlements are negotiated primarily to avoid the cost of litigation and to preserve defendant reputations, not to mention the deep pocket organizations that back them, many incidents/cases never became public. Only when the Internet’s Big Eye focused on Harvey Weinstein, who was doing what movie producers have been doing since the inception of Hollywood, did anyone start talking. Now, no one is safe.

Okay, except for President Trump.

Sexual Harrassment, while loudly condemned, is one of the most tolerated of work place sins, particularly in media and politics. Affecting mostly women and now alleged, some children*, especially in raspacious Hollywood, sexual harassment (of adults) is better categorized as bullying behavior and is, unfortunately, as old as humanity. Men bully other men, of course; you see it all the time. Among heterosexual men, it is called management, motivation, or just straight talk. Ironically, there are bazillions of movies featuring bully bosses. In fact, that may be one of entertainment’s most popular storylines.

Back in the day, when feminism was considered a fad by the powers that be, it was up to the lady in question to fight back on her own, despite any laws to the contrary. Most HR issues went through office managers who, although well equipped to deal with paper orders and broken copiers, did not deal well with personnel issues. Now HR managers have post-graduate degrees. Hasn’t helped them much.

The problem? The HR manager’s paycheck is signed by the company they work for, not by some benevolent third party. The HR department in most offices (or the HR contractor) is given the job of keeping everything running smoothly, from attendance, to ensuring payroll and benefits are correct, to making sure the assistants (no one uses the word secretary any more) have proper oversight when it comes to the company credit card.  Thus, you have what is known in the legal world as a conflict of interest. That’s why, when things get dicey, the HR manager is pushed aside for the employer’s legal counsel, post-graduate degree notwithstanding. Many employers have employment insurance to deal with persistent personnel problems so when things go south, legal counsel contracted by the insurance company takes over.

This takes everyone into that wonderful voyage called Discovery. Discovery documents are not filed with the court, only notification that Discovery has/is taken/taking place in a timely manner. If there is an arbitration clause in the employment agreement, a truncated form of Discovery takes place which is not formalized at all because the case is never filed in the courts. At this point, many employers choose to settle; i.e. we’ll give you $100K and a good reference if you sign this paper and never darken our doorstep again. The corresponding requirement is that the person complaining never speaks to anyone about the incident. The person complaining goes about his/her merry way although the employer may suffer an investigation by its insurance company into its employment practices. That’s why you see so many CYA** employment practices these days. You will note that although office bullying and sexual harrassment are against the law, most settlements occur in the civil courts where, instead of prison or probation, the remedies are in terms of money. (Unless, of course, rape is alleged. That is always a criminal matter.)

This is what Bill Cosby and Bill O’Reilly did. Bill Cosby used his own funds, which indicates how financially successful he once was. Bill O’Reilly was backed by Fox, which regarded him as so integral to its success that it was willing to pay millions of dollars to keep the complaints under the radar. The only reason that Bill Cosby went to trial was that he was charged in criminal court.  The confidentiality agreement in question was breached by the charging jurisdiction. There was a lot of legal wrangling over this issue.

Our current situation is, unfortunately, not as clear cut as the Internet would have us believe. The Internet makes it too easy to get information out to large numbers of people almost instantaneously. Not all of this information is true or even an accurate account of the facts, such as they are. Russia’s recent social media doings on behalf, apparently, of President Trump’s election campaign makes that clear.

The narrative right now is that all these actors, journalists, politicians and just plain regular people are finally relating experiences they’ve had with the Harvey Weinsteins of the world. There is catharsis and heartbreak.  It is gratifying to report the unfairnesses and bullying, not to mention complete loss of the alleged perpetrator’s self control and all the vulgarity that entails. If we are honest, we have to admit it’s fun to peruse these stories; fun to see powerful people lose their dignity, to hear about all the dirt beneath the glamour of the red carpet and skillful publicity. The mental picture of Harvey Weinstein in a bathrobe pleading for a massage is not only disgusting, it’s degrading in a thoroughly entertaining Game of Thrones sort of way. In other words, it makes us into voyeurs.

There are many people who think this information is consciousness raising. I would say yes, but only so far as the stories remain salacious. As soon as the details become over told or passe, I can guarantee you the issue will become just more Internet flack, right next to pretend feuds between the eponymous Kardashian family and, well, whoever the next Instagram celebrity is.

It is also not unheard of for disgruntled employees to make sexual harrassment charges without cause, due to conflicts in the workplace which have more to do with employees not following perfectly legal orders;  in other words, not doing their jobs. The accuser believes they are not “liked,” they have a chip on their shoulder, or there is long-standing conflict. This can become a he said/she said situation, with no proof other than continuous complaining. When the employee is finally fired, he/she then files sexual harrassment, hostile workplace or discrimination charges.  Many of these people, not getting  what they believe is deserved redress from the legal system, post their accusations on the Internet, thinking to short circuit the justice system.  This can result in the erstwhile employee being sued by the accused for large amounts of money the employee surely does not have.  This is particularly true if the postings interfere with the accused getting work.

In other words, free speech does not allow someone to disseminate spurious accusations.

Despite public opinion, we live under rule of law, as slow, inefficient and boring as that is. Remember, the accused has rights too, no matter how hateful they may be. Media and its wailing handmaiden, the Internet, are not judge and jury. The courtroom is. Truth, or as close as the law ever gets, is determined there.

*This post does not purport to address the child molestation allegations currently floating around the Internet with regard to minors in the Hollywood system.  If these allegations are found to be credible, we can be certain that criminal charges will be filed and justice will take its course.  I note that child molestation and child pornography cases are almost never tried, presumably because the computer evidence held by the perpetrators is so damning.

**Cover Your Ass

 

The Ballerina Speaks

In case you haven’t been paying attention to Russian cultural doings these days, a certain Alexei Uchitel, against almost everyone’s better judgement, has made a biopic of ballerina Matilda Kschessinskaya (1872 – 1971). Kschessinskaya was a prima ballerina assoluta (translation: top of the ballerina heap) with the Imperial Marinsky Ballet of St. Petersburg, later rechristened the Kirov Ballet by Stalin. (The company has returned to the Marinsky name since the demise of the Soviet Union.) Kschessinskaya was also the mistress of Tsar Nicholas II before his marriage.

The rub? Tsar Nicholas II was executed, along with his family, by the Bolsheviks in July 1918 in Yekaterinburg, Russian SFSR. (Soviet Era: Sverdlovsk.) The Tsar and his son, Alexei, were subsequently canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile in the 1980’s along with innumerable monks, nuns and priests (“The New Martyrs”) who were indiscriminately slaughtered by the Cheka (the forerunner of the KGB) in the 1920’s when the Church was abolished by Lenin et al.  This canonization was later accepted by the Russian Patriarchate.

Confused yet? No? Liar.

Like prima ballerinas the world over, Kschessinskaya moved in powerful circles, her son fathered out of wedlock by a member of the extended Romanov family. She eventually married a Romanov Grand Duke who may or may not have been the father of her son. A Disney dream squared, she was a ballerina and a princess. Not bad.

That takes us back to the future Tsar and Saint, Nicholas II. In the late 19th Century, it was considered good form for a man of high social standing to have some sexual experience before marriage; therefore Nicholas fell in with Miss Kschessinskaya. He was 22; she was 17.  With his family’s tacit approval, Miss Kschessinskaya became the future Tsar’s mistress.

It is useful to note here that the Imperial Russian Court was extremely, shall we say, adulterous. Nicholas, with his staid temperament, was considered somewhat of an underachiever in this regard. The court found him too domestic; ironically he was considered rather bourgeois. Nonetheless, Nicholas’ and Kschessinskaya’s affair lasted for a little over three years, until his marriage.

Things continued apace until 1894, when it became obvious that Alexander III was close to death. That same year, Nicholas proposed to a minor German princess, Alix of Hesse, over his parents’ objections. The Russian biopic, entitled Matilda, is reported to claim that the future Tsar was heartbroken upon having to give up his ballerina mistress. This is too simple by, well, a lot more than half.

First of all, the future Tsar had to fight for Princess Alix in the face of parental disapproval, not exactly the behavior of a man in love with another woman.  It is obvious, even from the vantage point of over 100 years, that Nicholas’ and Alexandra’s marriage was a love match. Matilda Kschessinskaya couldn’t hold a candle to it.

While Kschessinskaya was cosmopolitan, tolerant and experienced, Alix was prudish, sheltered, painfully shy and foreign. She took her conversion to Russian Orthodoxy to extremes, to the mystification of the Russian Court. Together, she and the Tsar brought out the worst in each other when it came to ruling Russia. Alexandra’s religious extremes, not to mention her increasingly reactionary beliefs, isolated the Tsar’s family from the Court and from the chaotic life politic of Russia.

In the end, Matilda had very little do with Tsar Nicholas or his eventual sainthood. The real story was much more interesting, as usual. Matilda was a Polish girl who had enough talent and grit to get through the demanding Marinsky school and make a name for herself. She had no advantages. She was a Roman Catholic in a country that considered her a heretic, at best. At worst she was a courtesan, a position she used to climb the ladder to the top. She outlived her Grand Duke husband by 15 years, she outlived the Tsar by almost 50 years. She persevered through revolution, exile, Nazi occupation and poverty. On top of that, she became an influential ballet teacher, an instructor to some of the twentieth century’s most famous and accomplished classical dancers.  In other words, she was a survivor.

In many ways, the canonization of the Tsar and Alexi may have come too early, propelled in part by hunger for a closed homeland by an exiled church, historical events still within living memory. After all, many rulers have been canonized in the Orthodox Church, although usually long after their peccadillos were forgotten.

Nicholas and Alexandra clung to their faith as did many of their Orthodox faithful, slaughtered by a godless regime in an ill-fated attempt to stamp out religion.  In that sense, they fought the good fight, paying the ultimate price. The historical Nicholas, however, is still with us, the one who was a Russian aristocrat, a man of his time. As does the stain of the hysterical Alexandra, that former minor German princess, in over her head.  The Church did not canonize her, at least not singularly.  This omission indicates the thinking behind the Tsar’s sainthood and the prejudice within the choice.

Alexandra was a failed mystic, a passionate but isolated personality made hysterical first by her failure to produce a male heir and then later by the near fatal illness of her only son. Desperately seeking miracles from a God who seemed to have turned away, she was taken in by various, fraudulent “holy men” until the last one, Rasputin, was assassinated.  Rasputin, and Alexandra’s unfailing faith in him, turned out to be unforgiveable.

Rasputin was shrewd if unvarnished, a member of the mysterious Russian  peasantry, killed in cold blood by a member of one of the most illustrious scions of Russia’s aristocracy. The man who perpetrated the crime (and murder is always a crime, especially first degree murder), escaped Russia and eventually wrote at least two books on the subject, changing his story each time.  Needless to say, he was never prosecuted. Years later, his accomplices, one of whom was a member of the Duma, the other a member of the Romanov family, said that they considered the murder a political act, a cleansing of not only the royal family but of Russia itself. If so, it didn’t work. That cleansing came from the Bolsheviks, who were much more thorough than either the Duma or the aristocracy.

That, in and of itself, should tell you what sort of world it was. Nothing was real. Lord and peasant lived cheek by jowl, unable to recognize each other as human beings. Rasputin, one of the Dark People, as Chekhov called the peasantry, was as alien to most urban Russians as someone from Mars would be to us. One hundred years ago, Russia was a vessel consumed by chaos, morality lost in a kaleidoscope mist. It should not be surprising, therefore, that religions decisions made in the slippery hindsight of the Cold War should continue to haunt us. In the end, each of us must decide if the Tsar/Saint Nicholas II story is history or faith. Perhaps,  in ways we do not understand, it is both.

Trouble Ahead

Another fun week. Alas.

Harvey Weinstein: Fallout. It’s always worse than the initial explosion. Even the extremely likable Tom Hanks announced this is a sea change, or something to that effect. Why didn’t he speak up before? Lots of lawsuits on the way; Mr. Weinstein is fast becoming O.J. Simpson, guilty no matter what the courts may decide.

Trump Malapropisms:  Mr. Trump finally finds himself in a linguistic controversy. Considering Mr. Trump’s appalling use of the English language, this had been coming for a long time. Technically, Trump stumbled through a condolence call to the pregnant widow of a serviceman killed in combat.  He was being a good president for once, doing what a good president does at least according to his aides.  The only problem?  He quotes, out of context, the one line that he probably should have forgotten as soon as he heard it.   Widow retreats into tears but not before the whole thing is heard by a member of Congress who just happens to be in the car (Trump’s phone call was on loudspeaker).   Outrage. Cable ranting erupts. What does the White House (WH) do? Send in the cavalry, of course, in the form of General Kelly, currently WH Chief of Staff, to sort out the mess. The sacrifice is General Kelly’s private and profound mourning for his own son, killed in combat. Pursuant to the CNN anchor shouting into the camera this morning, most Americans  have no idea what losing a child in combat is like.  True but sad. True because we currently lose far fewer young people to combat than say, during the Vietnam War. Sad because those who constitute the point of the spear are a minority and our increasingly silly society ignores them until someone makes political hay out of their deaths.

Stock Market: Are you in the stock market? 401K? You might actually have made up losses you sustained at the end of the last decade, if you own stock in the right sectors, that is. Don’t worry, you’ll lose it again. The real winners are the fund managers. Welcome to working until death.  Speaking of which. . .

Employment: Close to full, according to the Internet.  If we have full employment, then why are so many people in their peak earning years driving for Uber? There’s lots of entry level  jobs: grocery cashier, deli assistant, retail, warehouse help. Pay runs from $9 to, if you’re lucky, to $15 an hour, but average pay is about $11 per hour. I’ll wait while you figure out what that is per year. . . can’t live on it? Thought so. “Good” jobs, that pay, say over $30K a year, are much harder to come by; employers have become exceedingly picky. In other words, there’s lots of competition for jobs.  That’s not full employment. At full employment there should be a labor shortage, immediate hires and climbing wages.

Economy:  New normal. Millennials (educated in the ‘90’s and 2000’s) have become the darlings of employers. They are cheap, relatively healthy, accustomed to technology and don’t mind being micromanaged. The oldest of these are now approaching 40, however, when reality catches up with age and expectation. Accordingly, their prospects are dimming; recently I’ve seen reports that the Harvey Weinstein crowd is turning its entertainment sights on Generation Z, the oldest of whom are now in high school. Employers will inevitably follow, especially as the Millennials start families and begin to age, thus becoming inconvenient, not to mention incurring more medical expenses.

Stuff that won’t go away:

Healthcare Reform: If this is reform, I have a bridge in New York City you might be interested in. Great location. Motivated seller. Price reduced! Call anytime, day or night.

North Korea: Trump is driving this one and currently he’s ignoring it.

Russia: Socialite runs in opposition to Putin. Opposition says it’s a sham. Navalny, the opposition leader, has been barred from running until the late 2020’s, when hopefully he’ll be dead. Putin is President for Life. The ghost of Tsar Nicholas I, up in St. Petersburg, has been seen nodding approval.

Tax Reform: Similar to the stock market. Good for fund managers, bad for the rest of us. More trickle down economics.   I guess it’s morning in America.  Again.  On second thought, make that mourning in America.

Brexit: Bad to worse. Brits voted for out; they’ve been second guessing ever since. Too late to go back, guys. Next question: how much will the Brits have to pay the troll under the bridge (aka the EU) to walk away?

Liberal Press in Conflict with Trump: Ratings, ratings, ratings; looks like ranting is irresistible to bored TV audiences, when they’re not watching Netflix. Good bonuses this holiday season. Merry Christmas!

Conservative Press: Still drinking Administration Kool Aid. The Base follows, so far. Liberal press so unfair! Fox and Friends gives encouragement.

The Base: I still can’t figure out who these people are. They did get their Obamacare subsidies back, however. Not sure whose Kool Aid they’re drinking, if any.

Puerto Rico: Ignore, ignore, ignore. Musk and Branson have promised to put the island on sustainable energy but someone else is going to have to pay for it. That means it’ll never happen. They, like a lot of other pie in the sky inventors/financiers, don’t seem to realize that the problem isn’t technology, it’s money.

NFL/National Anthem Thing: Owners had meeting; decided not to touch the issue with the proverbial ten foot pole. Great leadership, guys.

Funny Old World

It’s been a wonderful couple weeks in, well, whatever we’re in. Let’s see:

Healthcare: do or die. Looks like it’s do while the elderly and sick die. Just because the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is mortally wounded, doesn’t mean the need goes away. Americans still need health care not tied to employment or Medicare/Medicaid. Going back to the way it was before 2010 does not constitute reform.

Iran Treaty Compliance Certification: U.S non-certification plays to conservative Republicans who have never forgiven Iran for turning us out in the late 1970’s. This certification comes around every 90 days, so this does not get rid of the treaty altogether. IRL* nothing will happen. The President can then go to his base and report he’s standing tough on Iran. This will mollify the Israelis as well, although they won’t be so easy to snooker. Despite press flack and European pushback, the Trump administration handled the issue adroitly, given the ideological stance Republicans have on the treaty in the first place. Mr. Trump, in other words, is toeing the party line. Are the Iranians cheating?  I’m with the Republicans on this one:  Yes they are.

Immigration: A mess. Still. The President issues edicts, or are they just tweets? The overcrowded, understaffed, ill equipped, not to mention underfunded, immigration courts will be hard pressed to do anything beyond what they are doing now. Trump is simply ordering the department to rob Peter in order to pay Paul. As for the wall, that was a campaign promise and, hopefully, will carry about as much weight.

The Dream Act: Trump has shown amazing flexibility on this one. Uncharacteristically, he is willing to go through legislative channels. That way, Congress takes the rap when, upon some sort of legislative action, the inevitable wailing and teeth gnashing begins.

Puerto Rico: If a devastating hurricane had to hit any U.S. state or territory, this was probably the worst place for it. Puerto Rico, which was in dire financial distress before the storm, is now laid flat. This is not helped by the fact that Mr. Trump does not seem to care much about Puerto Ricans in the first place (they’re largely Hispanic, speak Spanish and vote Democratic), not to mention his ensuing twitter tiffs with the combative mayor of San Juan. Add that to the fact that Mr. Trump is not a particularly comforting person anyway, especially when faced with complicated and fundamentally unsolvable problems, and you have an impasse. I get the feeling he’d like to declare bankruptcy and walk away from this one.

State Department: Rex Tillerson speaks. Finally. When he does, however, he takes great pains to not apologize for dissing Mr. Trump. Go figure. Tillerson then retires to the purdah of his office on State’s grand 7th Floor to continue crunching numbers (work usually relegated to the accounting department). No Hilary Clinton showboating here which, come to think of it, may be the point.

General Kelly Speaks: He’s not leaving, he’s not being fired, so far as he knows (or knew) and he’s not terribly unhappy. That Toddler Trump stuff alleged by Senator Corker certainly hit a nerve. Things can’t be going well if the White House Chief of Staff has to reassure the press, in person, that we’re just fine, thank you.

California Wine Country Wildfires: A piece of advice: buy your wine now. The price is only going to go up. I notice a distinct lack of sympathy on the part of both the Trump Administration and the general public, both of whom seem to consider the population of northern California to be relatively privileged. Perhaps this is because fire is covered in most homeowners insurance policies, whereas floods are not.

Las Vegas Shootings: Hotel is backtracking on timelines, probably for liability reasons. The idea that perhaps some gun equipment should be regulated is not on the table, despite the NRA’s seeming olive branch. Once again, we have a shooting by someone who would not have been caught on a background check. Seems the shooter was mentally ill but he had money, kept to himself and wasn’t weird in public. All his guns were legal. Healing will be slow and hard. Lots of condemnation and sorrow but no solutions.

Tax Reform: The middle class and poor pay more, the rich less. Did you expect anything else?

Trump Threatening to Yank Broadcast Network’s License for “Fake News”: So Mr. Trump wants to amend the Constitution. Doesn’t he have enough on his plate already?

Harvey Weinstein: This isn’t a Trump thing, although it’s not far from the Trump playbook. Mr. Weinstein’s indiscretions/assaults, and the quid pro quo behind them, are par for the course in Hollywood. Why do you think very few of the actresses who claimed to have been assaulted spoke up before now? I find it interesting that the same newscasters (from NPR to Fox) who waxed splendiferous about the late Hugh Hefner’s playboy life objectifying women now condemn Mr. Weinstein’s attempt to live according to the same philosophy, such as it is. The Democratic Party will have a hard time unloading Weinstein’s taint; he was one of its most reliable donors. Watch the rest of Hollywood run for cover.

National Football League Kneeling Debate: The fight goes on. Colin Kaepernick is starting to look like the sainted civil rights activists of old. To quote Captain Jack Sparrow: Funny old world, isn’t it?

Lovely. Like the good Captain, I need a drink. ‘Til next time.

*IRL – Internet speak for “In Real Life”