308

It’s New Year’s Eve, and it’s highly unlikely I’ll stay up late enough to see the ball drop. Being on the verge of 7 decades old, it doesn’t hold the cachet it once did – and besides, sleep is a precious commodity that often eludes me. I’ll take it where I can find it!

The attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad was inevitable. Remember: we killed about 25 of the guys we fought alongside against ISIS. Everybody knew they were Iran-backed militia, but we had a common goal back then. In other words, we were willing to be in the middle of a religious conflict between Shia and Sunni. ISIS was Sunni, so the Shia were our friends. The ‘new’ enemy is Shia Iran, so the militia is now our enemy. Remind you of anything? George Orwell (whose real name was Eric Arthur Blair) certainly had it right in 1984. Of course, he was talking about Stalinist Russia – not us. Funny how we became the problem we strove to eliminate.

Pea Brains

My friend Pat’s daughter works at the Embassy as a paramedic. She let her mom know she was okay, but for how long will that be true? The militia are now camped out next to the embassy and their goal is for all the Americans to leave. I’m confident they’ll soon be distracted, but what if they aren’t? No good can come of the present administrations policies – if you want to call them that – regarding the Middle East. More like whims. Peas rolling from one side of the head to another…you know – Impotusism!

310 & 309

Newspapers and magazines are featuring reflections for the past year, it being the end of the second decade of the 21st century. There is considerable debate about whether we are improving or going to hell in a hand basket. It depends on which side is asked. No, actually that’s not quite right. Everyone agrees we’re going to hell, but the point of disagreement is: who’s at fault? The clear answer is: the other side!

Viet Nam Protest Against the Draft. Once the draft
ended, the protests ended

How in the world did we get into such a mess? It didn’t happen overnight, that’s for sure. I believe it started a generation ago with the reaction of young men to the idea of being drafted and sent to a fairly certain death in Viet Nam. Phrases like ‘credibility gap’ were coined that came to explain how little we trusted the government. That mistrust began to leak into the media, with the infamous war between Nixon and the press which ultimately resulted in Watergate. Then entertainment picked it up, with the new wave of directors and actors displaying unbridled cynicism about nearly everything.

Then the two political parties fell apart with the impeachment of Bill Clinton. When HIllary asked Newt why they were doing it, allegedly he replied, “Because we can.” I take that to mean, “Our constituents will not disagree with anything we do, no matter how craven.” Now that’s true of both political parties.

Obama managed to slide through by not doing much of anything and having not a whiff of scandal. Nonetheless, the Tea Party was ascendant, making an even bigger mockery of the virtual reality in government actions. Now we have Trump. I’d say he represents the beginning of the end for us. It’s time for a major effort at rehabilitation.

But if we are so divided in what we believe is right, how can rehab happen? Based on history, it means the action-oriented will come on first – like Madame DaFarge and her crew depicted in Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities. They’ll wreak havoc that will make the peace demonstrations of the 60’s look like child’s play. As we have no king (in theory), politicians of all stripes will likely be targeted for removal – and not necessarily at the ballot box. This group will declare a field day on their removal; then realize there’s nobody to take their place.

Then we’ll try on different forms of governance, from dictatorship to oligarchy to anarchy to dystopia. That will likely take at least another generation. So, for us older folks, that may be the good news: by the time things get to dystopia, we’ll be dead and gone!

Is there anything that can be done to stop this? I don’t believe there is. The arc of history says it’s time for us to go, just like so many others in the past. So my message is: love your family, enjoy every day that comes, and don’t be sad when it happens, ’cause you heard it here first and shoulda been prepared.

311

Detachable Stem

It’s Saturday and we are still cleaning up from Christmas! That means, finding pieces of kitchen equipment (like the tube the grater sits on in the Cuisinart food processor) and putting the last of the 13 x 9″ baking pans in the dishwasher (the cornbread wasn’t exactly a hit). Maybe tomorrow we’ll take down the tree and vacuum up tree needles – if it keeps raining. Otherwise, I won’t be able to get anybody to do anything. Lazy Sundays!

Let’s get serious for a moment. We’re almost at the end of 2019, and by almost all predictions, 2020 will be worse than 2019. Worse in what way? Nobody’s anticipating an economic downturn, which means that one guy that writes that obscure financial letter will predict it and it’ll happen. That will make him temporarily famous, but will make a lot of small investors very sad. Come on, people – what’s the current PE ratio? About a zillion? Close – for the Dow it’s 24.15 – more than double what Ben Graham says makes for a good pick.

DJIA in the ’29 Depression. The crash didn’t cause the Depression; overborrowing in Germany that couldn’t be paid back and poor fiscal and monetary policy in the US caused it

The stock market has reached dizzyingly high proportions and clearly is not sustainable. Remember the definition of inflation – too many dollars chasing too few goods? Well, that’s now the definition of retirement funds..too many dollars chasing false returns. What will it take to burst the bubble? Five possible answers: 1) a terror attack of major proportion (recall the market post 9/11); 2) A significant escalation in the trade war with China, seriously impacting growth and corporate profits; 3) A serious attack by short sellers on popular stocks like Amazon and Facebook (not likely); 4) The subprime auto loan market implodes; 5) A hard Brexit with accompanying disorder. Or there’s a sixth possibility: nothing. Some totally unexpected, insignificant in and of itself thing that just tips over the first domino. The market is sustained by the belief it will always go up. That is unsustainable. Sooner or later, it goes down. At its current height, it has a very long way to fall before stocks become attractive again. How far? The Dow is currently at over 28,600 with a PE ratio of over 24. A P/E ratio of 10 would mean a loss of 16,700 points. Now that would be something, eh? And that would just be to make it reasonably priced. For the stocks to be a bargain, the DJIA would have to drop another 6700 points. OMG!

It’s Called a Savings Account

At current levels, there is no stock, mutual fund or even bond that makes sense to invest in. Why? Because when it falls, everything will fall with it. The Fed at this point has no tools with which to work to help the economy recover because the few interest rate hikes they made were retracted because of pressure from Impotus. (Thanks, George Conway). Fiscal policy is hampered by incredibly high deficits caused by the tax law changes. So what is an investor to do? Don’t invest in the stock market. But, you say, my retirement funds are invested in the market. If you’re old, move them to treasury bills. If you’re young, wait it out – what goes down will come up. In the meantime, hoard cash in a savings account, regardless of the interest rate. The money is insured by the government, and when the market tanks, you’ll still have your cash. If it tanks enough, you’ll be ready to invest in good quality stocks with a P/E ratio of ten or less, that pay a dividend, and cost less than $10 a share. You can’t go wrong with that simple strategy. Trust me on this.

312

Two days after Christmas, and I’m still cleaning up dishes from the meal – there was so much food, and it lingers, with the expectation that surely someone will eat it, right? Well…anyway, other than some sticky pecan pie it’s about gone.

Two things to talk about: Xfinity and exercising at the gym. We had movie night last night with the first two John Wicks. After all these years, Keanu’s acting hasn’t improved a whit; he still walked a bit like Ted (you know, with Bill? Big Adventure? Yeah, OK). Anyway, it took 45 minutes to download one movie, so our system has slowed down to a crawl. Comcast, alias Xfinity, comes out and says it’s our equipment: that they are delivering 900 Mbps. Wow! Okay, ask me if I believe that’s possible? No I don’t. Their speed test multiples the real speed (based on other tests) by a factor of 6. So they say they’re delivering about 125 Mbps to the modem, and then the bits are disappearing after that. It’s likely time to either switch or get new equipment. Not sure which way to go. I know AT&T is just as bad – if not worse – than Comcast. What to do? Consult with Brother John and come up with a better game plan.

Re: exercise. The gym was closed from 2 PM on Tuesday until Thursday. I have no classes on Thursday, so my first day back to Silver Sneakers was Friday. So no exercise for three days. You’d think I’d laid off for six months! If I don’t keep up relentlessly with my exercise, everything hurts to move. And it’ll likely be the same next week because of New Year’s. What to do? I guess just deal with it and try to keep up with a program, even without the gym. Gotta find one.

Finally, I’ll start back next week with my therapist. She had to take a break to deal with her very ill husband, but now wants to return to practice next week. So I’ll be back at it: exercise for the body at the gym; exorcism for the mind at the therapist’s. They are just across the hedge from each other, literally. How’s that for convenient?

All I have to say for today. Ciao.

315 & 314 & 313

It’s the day after Christmas and all through the house, people are recovering from too much of.. well, too much of everything. The meal was great, and the company was fun. But as I get older, I’m sorta glad it only comes once a year. Not sure I could handle more.

Just read a piece in Slate, I think, about cooking: here it is. https://slate.com/human-interest/2019/12/cooking-revelations-tips-gadgets-2019.html

She’s right about the salad thing – it is the best salad ever, but a pain to make. The vinegarette is really good. Try it. It’s almost made me swear off ranch dressing.

Starting to think about the writing slate for the new year. The trumpet video will take ’til March some time. Then I’ll be working on the Redemption series and The Algorithmic Brain. As I’ve said before, writing is like exercise: if you stop, it’s painful to start again. So I’ll keep at it, Gardening in the front yard has become a thing too..when it’s done I’ll take some pics and post ’em.

It’s gotten to the point where I want to take a break from any travel that requires more than two hours’ movement. So I’ll schedule a visit to my sister in Deland and postpone everthing else for the foreseeable future. I’m a homebody for sure.

316

I am in line to talk with Pay Pal about a purchase I made on November 21st for a damned cycling shirt for Erik: something he saw on that Damned evil empire called Facebook. The company is clearly a fraud: even the phone number they post for customer service isn’t real. So I’m trying to get my money back via Pay Pal, which is an undertaking too..just trying to get a human on the phone is ‘nigh onto impossible. We shall see how this goes.

So warning to all of you out there – don’t buy ANYTHING advertised on Facebook. Sooner or later, that will cost them enough money to give them an incentive to better police their CHINESE vendors who are fraudulent.

Guess you can tell I’m annoyed.

UPDATE: No dice with Pay Pal. They tried to call back with their automated system and my phone wouldn’t let them through. Guess I’m stuck with filing a claim after the first of the year. Guess it’s time to swear off shopping online. Goodbye, Amazon. Goodbye Walmart. Goodbye Wayfair. Hello brick and mortar!

318 & 317

It’s the Sunday before Christmas, and I think I’ve finally gotten ahead of my allergy/sinus issues. The doc gave me new prescriptions so I don’t have to use Flonase, a steroid that isn’t good for long term use. So instead, I’m using an antihistamine like Zyrtec and Cingulair. One of the side effects of Cingulair is hallucinations. That should make for a new adventure!

Here’s the menu for Christmas dinner:

Shrimp ring appetizer

Chips/guacamole/salsa appetizer

Ham, the Jacques Pepin way (poaching a store bought ham gets rid of all the briny additives that tend to dry it out and taste tinny)

Standing rib roast, cooked on the little red egg – like the big green egg, but not big and not green

Scalloped potatoes with cheese and caramelized onions

Grilled Asparagus spears

Caesar salad (just for cousin Lee Ann who barely eats anything else) with homemade croutons and homemade dressing

Homemade yeast rolls

Pumpkin pie

Pecan Pie

Madelines made by Emily (with the bump)

Cheesecake for Michael (plain, no topping – delicioso)

It’s a lot of work, but hey – it’s only once a year.

Since everything is home-made, by the time it’s done, I’m not hungry at all – just tired. So if you’re one of those people who worry about gaining weight at holiday time, take my advice and cook everything from scratch. You too will be too exhausted to eat any of it. Think of the calories you’ll save!

319

319 more days ’til the election. After watching a total of about 10 minutes of last night’s debate, I want Joe Biden to get the nomination for president and Mayor Pete B to be the VP nominee. Dem women and minorities will just have to get over not having a woman or person of color lose to DtheT/crazier. It’s time for him to go.

I went Christmas shopping with my friend Bobbi yesterday. She’s like a gift whisperer. Somehow she found me about two dozen things that made sense and were cost effective for family. All I know how to do any more is order from Amazon. I think I’d like to set a goal of not ordering ANYTHING from Amazon in the month of January. Wouldn’t that be something?

Martha K Backer gave me the names of a couple of her relatives that are knowledgeable about jazz and trumpets – right up my alley for the latest mission. I am eagerly awaiting being able to find out from them what the greatest trumpet pieces of the past 80 years are, since I know nothing and would probably mess that up. Just want to be sure I do it justice, since it’s a mission from ‘on high’.

Finally, just a word or two about gratitude. ‘Tis the time of year to think about that, but lately I’ve been sort of focused on it. Kirsten apparently has a job starting on the 30th with a very progressive program that helps prisoners about to be released successfully re-enter society. That is right up her alley, and she’ll be really good at it. I’m happy for her, grateful that she has an opportunity to not only earn a living, but help others that need her expertise. Health insurance is gonna be part of the package. That is a blessing. Hallelujah. Missing Leonard Cohen.

320

Yeah, so he’s impeached..let’s get on with it. Quit making spectacles of yourselves just to get a few lines in somebody’s column (Doug Collins; some guy called Loudermilk..appropriate). Geez…

Ross Douthat turns out to be a really smart guy. He wrote a column today that compares present day antics (reference above) with the Coen Bros’ anticipatory movie Burn After Reading. I agree with him about the incompetence that has created our current situation. All the comments to his piece reinforced his point: if it weren’t so serious it would be funny. Both sides of the debate have become ridiculous.

None of this will matter, any more than the hijinks of a Nero or a Caligula hastened the fall of Rome. They were symptoms of a bigger malaise, just as Trump is a symptom.

One of my favorite thinker/writer types is Lewis Mumford. Here’s what he said about the fall of Rome. See if this doesn’t resonate:

“The larger Rome’s cities became, the farther away did its citizens withdraw from daily contact with the soil; the greater the conquests on the border of the empire, the more numerous were the civic defeats at the center…Symptoms of devitalization, discouragement, bitter self-disgust, appeared long before Rome’s active disintegration.”

The Condition of Man, p. 40

Well, friends and neighbors, boys and girls, that’s us at the moment. I write about the dissolution of America, only as a portent of things to come: just hopefully not in my lifetime. And what will that look like when it comes? Mumford discusses that in the same treatise on page 79:

“In the process of general disintegration, the various organs of society ceased to support each other and the overall pattern of life became meaningless. Result: a breakdown in stable forms of behavior, with a defiance of law, an evasion of common morality, rising outbreaks of violence and criminality. Out of all this came a steady loss of communion: the different social groups no longer understood one another or trusted one another.”

I think this is what we have to look forward to for the remainder of the 21st century: a slow disintegration separating the haves and the have-nots until we are ripe to be picked by an enterprising, organized group of individuals who know who they are and what they want.

In the meantime, we are buffoons, playing at life, acting like we believe the BS we spout. Is anybody that hates Trump really worried about he loss of the democracy, or do they think he’s just a bad vaudeville act that needs to get the hook? Does anyone on the other side truly believe Trump is a good president, acting on behalf of the American people to make things better? Puh-leeze..

Sad..very sad. But inexorable. Another democracy that committed suicide, quoting John Adams.

321

Impeachment vote is today – haven’t watched it because I went to the gym this morning, and I fear there will be a lot more hot air than substance. We know how this is gonna turn out, so what’s the big deal? Hey, y’all – surprise me with something worthwhile, eh?

I got the first book today about trumpeting. It probably won’t be the last. I know absolutely nothing on the topic, and haven’t even figured out yet how to approach it. I think I’ll give myself three months to get it done, with milestones along the way. I know it will be a video, and there will be trumpet music in the background, with text, talk, pictures and video segments along the way. The video segments are often the hardest to add. Then there’s always the issue of copyright. I will likely have to burn the video to a disc in order to make it useable. Youtube is too fussy about copyright; they’ll tear it apart.

Then after that, I’ll start working on both The Algorithmic Brain and the sequel to Save the Children. I’ve worked on two projects at the same time before; it’s actually a good way to proceed. If you get stuck on one, you can pick up the other until you get unstuck. Good plan, eh?

I was watching a show about Spain from the 700’s to the 1100’s; fascinating topic, about which I knew nothing. The emphasis was on the peaceful coexistence in that area between Muslims, Christians and Jews. Why can’t it be like that today? Because they were short periods of time and always ended in violence – mostly against the Jews. It’s unlikely we’ll have true peace in my lifetime. That is such a shame.