Hit Man Misses the Mark

We watched Hit Man when it came out last evening. The star is quite good; the rest of the cast adequate. Oh, but that ending…nope. What the hell? Either a) the suits made them change whatever they came up with first; b) the two writers (star and director) are really that naive; or c) both a and b.

OK, if you haven’t watched the film, here’s the plot. Nerd guy who teaches philosophy and psych does tech support for NOLA PD..you know, New Orleans Police Department. Their main undercover guy gets busted for roughing up teenagers, so quite implausibly, they get the nerd to play the undercover guy. You can fill in what happens in Acts 1 and 2. Different perps; some guilty, some goofy ones innocent. He’s clearly himself testifying in open court but somehow nobody knows he’s an undercover wannabe cop. Right.

Act 3 introduces the inevitable femme fatale. Beautiful, sexy, but semi-innocent appearing – at first. He gets drawn in deeper, as the ersatz hit man “Ron”. Then the soon-to-be-ex husband (and putative hittee) appears on the scene as they are leaving the nightclub. Confrontation, “Ron” pulls the gun on him and … Oh my… Off to the races. But then …

Of course! Ex-husband tries to hire “Ron”, not knowing he’s the guy who pulled the gun on him with the wife. More implausible. But ok..I can live with it up to this point. But guess what happens next? Yep. Ex-husband ends up dead. Who killed him? Not “Ron” and not the nerd. Uh huh..

More plot ensues, and rather than bore you with the details, let’s just say the ending is, “And they all lived happily ever after.” Oh My God. Refer to paragraph 1.

Now: here’s what SHOULD have happened. There would be three endings. First ending..Just a shot of nerd in the hole, with the shovel, burying a guy in part of the plot I didn’t bore you with. He’s the guy who got busted for roughing up teenagers who tumbles to the relationship after the ex’s death. Anyway, back to the ending. He’s about to finish burying the guy when the lights flash and the bit player other cops are standing over the hole. Freeze in mid-scene; flash forward to interview rooms like Homicide, Life on the Streets where in one room he’s blaming her and in the next she’s blaming him, batting her eyes at some hapless interviewer who has ten seconds on screen. Fade out. Then!

Second ending: He drives up to her place in a new Lambourghini, or however you spell it. He’s spending the million dollar insurance money she got from the dead ex. Confrontation; takes a bite of pie (pie figures in the plot in several scenes) and his head drops into the plate. She waits ten minutes; then calls 911, saying her boyfriend just OD’d and please hurry. Hangs up and smiles at dead “Ron” or nerd. Next scene the EMTs are carrying the covered body out. At the door, she bats her eyes at the cute one, asking if he knows anyone who wants to buy a used sports car. Smiles exchanged. Fade out. Finally!

Third ending. Scene outside same nightclub. Girl is leaving with another guy who looks a lot like the ex-husband (but isn’t..just a guy) and they’re laughing and kissing. Nerd steps up – just like ex-husband did – and confronts the pair. Of course, there’s a scene and yes, new hook-up pulls the gun on “Ron”/nerd. But this time “Ron”/nerd reaches for the gun behind his back, firing at the pair and killing them both. Drops the gun and looks stunned. Sirens. Fade out.

End piece voiceover. Ron/nerd is in prison stripes, finishing telling the story that he should have realized. At heart, people never really do change. Which was thesis of the piece to begin with. Ta da! Thank you, thank you.

Exegesis, Happy Carrots and the Fine Line Between Madness & Knowledge

Whew – now that’s some kind of title, huh?

It all started with Philip K. Dick, sci-fi writer extraordinaire. He was a scribbler who happened to get published, back in the day when it wasn’t that hard to get your crummy stories into print via pulp fiction magazines. But that makes sense … I’ll get to that.

Start at the beginning: exegesis. Definition: critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture. The Bible. That poor book that is at the heart of most of the world’s troubles these days. But it isn’t the book – that’s just the excuse. It’s mostly men straining to become powerful by acting in ways that ultimately will destroy their own and everybody else’s world. Whoa – another big one. But that isn’t my point.

So what about Philip K. Dick, sci-fi writer ex..you know. As I said, he was pretty much a full time scribbler. He got his stories published in those pulp magazines. Some weren’t very good, but eventually they got better and then they were quite good. However, later on he wrote letters and other forms of thought documentation. Why? It would appear he put it all down to keep away the hounds of madness. And what was the result? He thought it was the path to knowledge, both about himself and the world around him. Others attributed it to him having high blood pressure, a stroke and then the aftermath. Everything has to be broken down to a simple explanation, right?

Simple explanations help us sleep at night. Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy. The UFOs are just weather balloons. Mass shootings are all done by crazy people. Nothing to see here. Nothing to worry about.

So a couple of folks got together, collecting a bunch of PK’s scribblings and published it as the book known as “The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick.” So that makes PK downright Biblical? No, not really. A lot of it does sound crazy. But throughout, there’s an element of rationality and logic that can’t be avoided. Why? Because ultimately, we’re either on that path to enlightenment, or we’re a “Happy Carrot”. Huh?

My therapist Elaine studied with Marion Woodman, who coined the phrase, “Happy Carrot” for those people who are perfectly content to go through life without thinking the really hard thoughts – and doing the hard work associated with psychotherapy. My beloved Erik is a Happy Carrot, God bless him. I am not. Ergo, I try to do the same type of work PK did, without the whiff of madness … at least most days. Sometimes it overcomes me, but less and less. Does that mean I’m making progress? I’d like to think so.

What has all this to do with anything? Right now we’re on the cusp of changes. Everyone is. I talked about that in the last post. Some will be minor – refinancing our mortgage, Kirsten moving back to Tallahassee and living in a nice condo, maybe us selling the island to help everyone with their financial houses. But the larger world is also on the cusp of changes. Which brings me to the point. Oh, hooray! At last.

Back in March of this year, I promised to talk about the potential for a rapproachement between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It had been discussed, and even envoys had met with tentative steps taken toward putting differences aside. That was March…

Eight months later, the Middle East has blown up. You know all about that, having carefully read all my prior posts, right? So what happened? Superficially, it was Hamas’ fear of that thawing of tensions and the impact on them that caused them to horrifically attack Israelies. But take a step back. Put all these posts together. Recognize that everything is symptomatic of a much larger change. What will it look like, in the short and longer term?

That’s the point of this work – trying to do what PK did to understand and therefore prepare for the coming changes. I’ve been feeling it for quite some time, but avoiding the work of doing what is needed to say the outrageous. So the book – I’ll call it TEO PK has been purchased and minimally scanned. Can I do the work and work (at HD)? Probably not. Do I need to work at HD anymore? Beginning to think not. Target date for notice to them: 12/1.

But something has to take its place in order to continue with physical fitness, balance and weight management. What will that be? Walking on a treadmill, listening to music or reading, maybe? Worth a try. Returning to the gym, this time Planet Fitness for a mere 10 bucks a month? Good idea for upper body strength. Maybe both. Dance class? Silver Sneakers? Something …ideas would be welcomed.

OK, so I didn’t talk much about the Middle East changes from March to November. But I will…after I learn more. Enlightenment has not yet sufficiently arrived to do it justice. Patience, grasshopper.

Somebody Call Serling

Watching the Nightly Newshour night before last, I was jolted to remember the three act play I wrote in 2015 about the state of the near future world. I predicted a war in the Middle East, going on at the same time as the war for the soul of Eastern Europe and … wait for it … a labor strike that gets mentioned at the end of the broadcast. Yep – it’s all there. And it doesn’t end well for any of us.

I know – here we go again, doomsday prepping…but where have you been lately? Category 5 hurricane hits Acapulco and destroys the town. Downright Biblical, especially since the night before everybody there went to bed thinking it was going to be a little storm. Oops – sorry about that, Acapulcans – got water?

All this is enough to make you really frightened for the world – are we on the verge of the next world war? I don’t think so – that’s quite frankly old thinking – like poor Tom Friedman continues to indulge in. Time to retire my dear…I don’t think you get what’s happening.

What is happening, then, you ask indignantly. OK – I’ll tell you: we are on the cusp of the major transition predicted by those folks that brought you the term anthropocene, as in the next era brought on by human acts. You’ve seen it all before, but brought to you as a form of entertainment. Video games, movies, post-apocalyptic odyssey stories. So who are we to be blamed for not understanding that it’s real this time? Or is it?

Harken back to a simpler time – say around October 2, 1959. First episode of writer Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone” called “Where Is Everybody?” starring Earl Holliman, as a guy who can’t figure out if his world has ended. He’s quite frightened, until he finds out he’s a subject in a psychological experiment. Then he’s pissed off. So maybe we’re all lab rats in some superalien world psychological experiment..it could be. Can you prove it isn’t?

So Serling got it – Rod Serling, author of great works like “Requiem for a Heavyweight” and “A Carol for Another Christmas”, one of the last things Peter Sellers was in. If you read Serling’s Wikipedia page, you can understand how he got it, given his wartime experiences in The Phillipines. Best cure for PTSD is to write it out – right? That’s what Rod did, and The Twilight Zone featured many of his efforts. But it all boils down to one thing that I keep focus on: fear. It isn’t the thing, it’s the fear of the thing that causes all the trouble. Hamas leaders feared they were losing control of the situation in Gaza, so they plan and execute a terrible raid that killed innocent Israelis. A wag the dog action, most likely. The reaction out of fear from Israel is killing more innocents. And so it goes, as Vonnegut said in “Breakfast of Champions.” He wrote that in a reaction of fear and disgust over Viet Nam. See the trend here?

So the play is “Fearful of the Sixth Extinction”. You can find it under the writing tab on this very blog. And I maintain that this is what has just begun. So now I am – fearful.

What the World Needs Now is … Love?

Poor Tom Friedman. He’s still living in a delusional world where rational people can think rational thoughts and come to rational conclusions. That all went away with the Palestinian attack on Israel. Tom, nobody is rational anymore, anywhere. But his latest column did contain a powerful insight. Hamas had … “access to endless supplies of humiliated young men, many of whom have never been in a job, power or a romantic relationship: a lethal combination that makes them easy to mobilize for mayhem. Shades of our January 6th gang of marauders, eh? But I digress. Back to the point about rationality.

If we think clearly, and aren’t beholden to money interests or eaten up with politics, we’d see that this wasn’t a state attacking another state, any more than what’s happening in eastern Europe is the state of Russia vs the state of Ukraine. These are individual MEN attacking other individual men. Mohammed Deif aka Masri is attacking Bib Netanyahu; Vladimir Putin is attacking Volodomyr Zelenskyy. It’s personal on both fronts. Why?

Deif lost an eye and part of an arm from Israeli attacks. They killed his wife and children. He’s been blown up and had to undergo very painful rehab multiple times. That’s generally enough to make anybody mad. Putin didn’t respect cute little Volodomyr, the sitcom actor turned President. He thought he’d be easy to bump off. He wasn’t, and instead he’s won the PR war ever since. Very dumb move, Vlad the Invader.

Bibi is accountable for the lax response from the military, both because he and his government allowed settlers into the West Bank and because of the internal dissent over his power grab against the judiciary. Those two realities put the military into a lax enough stance that Deif took advantage and sent the boys into the kibbutzes to commit murder and mayhem. But we can’t call Bibi out for that anymore. He’s still in charge, and Israel has to mount a concerted response, right? Of course they do. If they don’t, he’s a coward. If they do, he’s sealing the fate of his country, sooner or later. Not a good situation to be in.

Ok…what about Iranian support for the incursion? Surely you don’t contest that. I do. Iran is Shia. Hamas is Sunni. Case closed from my perspective. This incursion is brought to you courtesy of cryptocurrency sent by … by whom? Doubt that it was Iran…oh, they send money, but so does everybody else and here’s the thing. Some of that money gets delivered in cash from Qatar to Israel to Gaza, ostensibly to pay for living expenses for the citizenry. But cash is cash, and along with crypto, buys everything the fellas needed to carry out this attack. So does that make Israel complicit in this drama? Sorta.

By assuming they could eternally abuse the natives without consequences, Israel – nay, Bibi – set up this slaughter. The citizens of Israel know that, but at the moment, are they free to say that without looking like traitors? Think America after 9/11. Was Bill Maher rewarded for admiring how Al Qaeda pulled off flying into buildings? Nope – his show was cancelled immediately. Conclusion? You have to pick a side. Could you have empathy for Crazy Horse & the Sioux after Little Big Horn? Nope. Goodbye Sitting Bull – not because he did anything wrong, but because he didn’t condemn the attack. Gotta toe the official line.

Is there hope for Eastern Europe and the Middle East? Sure – but that requires leadership. Who do we have in leadership positions at the moment? Craven opportunists, cynical ideologues and incipient senility. And crooks. Not much to see here, no sir.

So what’s to be done? If you look under the writing tab, I wrote a three act play back in 2013 lampooning the situation we find ourselves in. It’s called “Fear of the Sixth Extinction”, and was supposed to be comic. Instead, it’s all coming to pass. Nukes are involved, as well as a baseball strike treated as equivalent news. Damn. Irrational, then..But now?

Love isn’t the solution at the moment. There’s no room for it in these endless debates on CNN, Fox and MSNBC. Hate and retribution are the emotions of the moment. Don’t see anything working out well for anybody anytime soon. No cheer here – get used to it.

Money – Pink Floyd or The O’Jays?

Pink Floyd said “it’s a gas”. The O’Jays called it “Mean Green”. Either way, it occupies a fair amount of my thinking these days. Why? Because Olson Family south is currently in a time of transition, making a host of decisions that ultimately will involve The Mean Green gas.

What are we talkin’ about here? Selling the Tallahassee house is pending, closing later this month. At the moment, per Zillow, our home is the only decent one on the market in Jupiter Farms with five acres. There’s a few that are a bit smaller; a couple of ten acre parcels too, but not with a very nice house. Either way, big money.

So there is a contemplation of moving to Maryland. Kiernan and I have developed some criteria for the new location, featuring a room for her ‘squishies’ (stuffed critters) and lots of outdoor amenities. I want to be near history. Shouldn’t be that hard to fill the bill, right?

Then there’s the ‘bigger picture’ of things economic. A few people in the know are commenting about the situation with Treasury bonds, which are currently yielding all time high interest rates. Why? Opinions differ, but it’s econ 101: more offerings than there are takers. According to some, global investor attention has shifted to some Japanese offerings, amidst fear of American hegemony and dysfunction in DC. Whaa?

Here’s the thing. Apparently sanctions have finally pissed off – nay, frightened off government investors who worry about American use of sanctions as they pertain to Treasury bill investments. They also look at the shenanigans going on in the House of Reps, likely about to cause a government shutdown with accompanying potential credit downgrade. All of these factors combine with the fact that the Fed is flooding the market with their QE holdings. Whaa again?

QE is short for quantitative easing, a way for the Fed to stimulate the economy. For many years, particularly during the “Helicopter Ben” era, the Fed bought US debt as a way to keep prices high and interest rates low – good for the government, good for the American economy. Supply and demand. Well, now Jer Powell has reversed course, and is selling back to investors same said bonds – now called QT, or quantitative tightening. Putting more debt for purchase out there means the prices go down, and guess what happens then? The yield – the percentage value of the bond – goes up.

Ten year Treasuries are what most consumer debt is tied to in terms of rates. So increasing interest rates should have a dampening effect on inflation in the US – what Jer thinks is a good idea right now. But is he wrong, and is this going to have a negative effect for quite some time? Some say yes; some say it’s temporary. Only time will tell.

In the interim, we are going to refinance our mortgage here from an expiring adjustable rate to a high, fixed rate. Does that make economic sense? Not particularly. It only makes sense from a cash flow perspective, which is what is needed at the moment. Why?

Here’s the deal. It all boils down to a few questions. How long will we live? How much of an estate will we leave our children? It’s the same conundrum that plagues many families these days. What is my priority? Making the smartest choices for both the short and the long term. Is that possible? If you’ve got a crystal ball, how about getting it out now, polishing it up and letting me know what interest rates will look like in twelve to twenty four months. That will provide the answer to that question.

But if we take a step back and look at the mess the world is in today, it gives a different perspective. Interest rate discussions are like discussions about the judiciary in Israel right now. Secondary to the fact that Hamas has breached the wall, taken prisoners and is now holding the entirety of the country hostage. Yeah, I know, we just made a big segue, but it actually illustrates my point. You worry about the small stuff until the big stuff bites you in the ass.

I think, for now, we won’t do anything. How’s that for a smart choice?

Is It Doom Scrolling – or is it just Doom?

Starting to get that queasy feeling again, not for myself or for Erik, but for the younger generation. I’m pretty sure we’re just like those mouse communities in NIMH experiments that only managed to survive about a year. Huh, you ask? OK, here’s a link to the article, so if you want to read it you can. But I’m going to tell you what it says anyway, so knock yourself out.

There are now lots of ‘meta’ articles about John B Calhoun’s Experiments in Universe 25, as it came to be known. At first, it was the effects of overpopulation when Paul Ehrlich and his ilk were giving us Malthusian doom scenarios. That lasted about twenty years – until we started to understand how oversimplified the notion of the ‘population bomb’ was. Now it’s concluded that ‘excessive social interaction’ caused the mice to die out. Gee: doesn’t that make you feel calmer? Right.

Calhoun put a bunch of mice in a uptopian setting where all their needs were met and there were no predators. Things went along quite well – for a while. But soon there was ‘trouble in River City’. Fewer babies were born and mothers stopped tending to those that were. Was it urban decay? That never made sense to me. My sense was that ennui set in. Is that all there is? Is this as good as it gets? Do I even have a future in this place?

That’s what life around me feels like for young people. They can’t afford to buy a house. They can’t get ahead because rent, food and child care eats up all their money. So Emily’s generation sees that and says, “nah – no marriage or kids for me. I’m livin’ for just me.”

And that’s what happened to the mice. The stronger mice made the weaker ones congregate but not engage in reproductive activities. The females got confused and stopped caring for the few young that were left. Goodbye utopian citizens.

Now back to today. Let’s blame the media for telling us all about the evils that beset us. So if they don’t, will those evils go away? China has stopped publishing the percentage of 18-24 year olds that are unemployed. Will that find them jobs? You know the answer to that.

My adorable Adam Tooze has jumped into the discussion, comparing two theories proposed about China’s woes. One is that harsh government is the root evil. The other is that China has effectively fallen into the middle income trap. What is that? We’ve talked about it before, but it’s been a while. So here it is again. Per Wikipedia, “a country in the middle-income trap has lost its competitive edge in the export of manufactured goods due to rising wages, but is unable to keep up with more developed economies in the high-value-added market.” (blue font theirs). But sociologists add an extra point: income disparity contributes to the problem with the wealthy wanting the struggling lower classes – i.e. workers – to keep toiling away to keep them in their expensive cars and good schools for their kids.

I was watching a documentary called Ascension on this very topic last night. I had to stop watching it, as I wasn’t sure whose life was worse in China: the workers doing repetitive, mind numbing work, or the children of the wealthy staring at their video screens while cigarette ash falls on their chests. Terrifying – yet familiar.

OK, so now you’re doom scrolling by reading this post. You might ask, “What’s your point? Or maybe more importantly, “How do we fix this?”

That gets at the conversation we had with Robin and Colter on Saturday relative to housing. They can’t afford to buy a house in Palm Beach County. They could build a tiny house, but we’re talking 400 square feet. The County will let us build what they call a accessory dwelling unit (ADU) up to 1,000 square feet. But it has to only have one bedroom. That wouldn’t work. In addition, they wouldn’t own the land: the owner of the land has to own the unit. So the only way it would work for them is for Erik and me to die and Robin inherits the house. But what about the other two kids? That’s when we all get stuck.

The solution to this particular problem is to sell this house, move closer to Erik & Tiffany in Maryland and give money to Robin & Colter to help them buy a house. To do anything else is wrong. We are helping Kirsten at the moment, and Erik is pretty much set. It’s time to move on. We’ll let Kiernan finish fifth grade at Allamanda, then everybody moves north. Maryland has a lot of advantages. Erik the Younger thinks Colter can find a job up there that pays as well if not better than Pratt. That’s worth exploring. Housing is possible there. We just need to decide to do it.

Does that help the youth in China? No, but hey: they’ll have to figure out the solution to their own problems. No more doom scrolling, OK?

Review, nay Rewrite: I Am Homeless if This is Not My Home

Shame on you, Lorrie Moore. You chickened out . Or did you get editized? We’ll never know. But here’s the reality: it coulda been better. It shoulda been better. I’ll make a stab at making it better.

What the fuck are you talking about, darling? The latest book from Lorrie Moore is entitled “I am Homeless if This is Not My Home”. The title is a riff on a sign affixed to a homeless person, reading “I am not homeless. This IS my home.” She moved the “not” and added an “if”. First question sister Sharyn asked: What has the title to do with the story? Hmm..beats me..guess I could make something up, but that’s hardly a worthwhile effort. Instead, let us plunge in.

Now: if you want to read the book and haven’t yet, stop reading this post. If you’ve already read the book and hated it, as some will, you can read on and we can debate the changes. If you read the book and loved it the way it is, ditto – that last advice. If you never intend to read the book, why are you reading this post?

OK, ok, get on with it you say. What’s it all about, Alfie? A guy, a girl. Hmm..novel start. They were together; they broke up. The guy’s brother is dying. The guy – Finn is his name – visits his brother and has awkward conversations with him. The brother seems unaware that he is dying. He knows he has cancer and thinks he needs to leave where he is to get chemo. But his is a lost cause, and he’s in hospice.

Oh wait, it really starts with a letter from someone called Elizabeth to her sister. So far, we have no idea why we have an American Civil War era letter kicking off this tome, when it is clearly about a guy with a dying brother and a lost, suicidal love. Is that fair? Hell, no. Then why did you keep reading? Because…because she – Lorrie Moore – writes very witty prose.

Witty prose? Witty like how? Hmm…like The English Patient, but less formal and much more up my alley as an older female. Clear the author knows a lot about a lot. References to opera. According to a British interview, I think, her family was into opera when she was a kid. OK, check that box.

Back to the story. When in NY visiting the brother, Finn gets a message from the wife of the headmaster of the school where he teaches saying he needs to get in touch. Now Finn has been suspended for two weeks for teaching outside his subject. He gives his kids math lessons for ten minutes in his history class. But the real reason, he suspects, is because the wife of the headmaster – the same wife now messaging him – was hitting on him and he spurned her. How does the wife of the headmaster know about Lily, the girlfriend? Hmm..felt like an invented connection, maybe suggested by the editor after that turns out to be a loose end, or maybe wasn’t there at all at first, and was introduced by another character who then disappeared? Maybe..anyway, ANSWER: they are in a book club together.

So he finds out from spurned wife of school headmaster that Lily has died, committed suicide in the loony bin by drowning herself in the shower with lax supervision due to prurience about a naked woman in a shower. Even though she’d already tried to kill herself before exactly the same way. So Finn gets angry. Wants to know where the grave is. Spurned wife says it was a green burial, no marker. OK, so la di da, more discussion – move on. OK. Finn goes to graveyard to find greenly-buried Lily. Who is there..as a shrouded, uh – well, a zombie. OK. Not a ghost, but a dead person who walks and talks and sorta looks right but isn’t. Now there’s lots of fodder for interesting description of what an unembalmed body would look like over time. Over time? Well, yes. Lily says she wants to ‘contribute something’ by being one of the dead bodies at the cadaver farm in Knoxville, Tennessee. Yes, it is a thing. You can check it out.

So, road trip! Finn and Lily traveling by Subaru from NYC to Knoxville. Long enough trip for lots of dialogue and arguments about failed relationships, especially theirs. Why was she so suicidal all the time? Why was he always so clueless about how it feels to be suicidal all the time? Why can’t they just forget the past and move on? Talk about clueless…

That’s when we must quote Dylan. Wait – segue. Lily points out that two mass murderers were called Dylan. She doesn’t add this next factoid, it’s me adding it. Klebold and Root. I had to look up Klebold because I forgot his name. I remembered Root.

Gee this is getting long. OK. Quote Dylan. “Things fall apart”. He says it at the end of the CD soundtrack from “Masked and Anonymous”. A terrible movie but a marvelous collection of Dylan covers. Back to the story. The ending. Lorrie, honey, you missed. Or got editorized. Who knows.

There’s an incident fairly early on when Finn’s car goes into a slide on an icy road and hits a dirt bank. A sheriff is called who calls a tow truck and the car starts and he’s back on the road. Really. No kidding…hole here. Opportunity here..but nope. That’s what happened.

Along the way, they stop at ‘motel’ for the night and it’s the place where Elizabeth – remember Elizabeth writing the letter? Did I call her that? One second – scroll up – check. Yes I did. Elizabeth writes letters to her sister and has ambrotypes on a window of civil war amputees looking sad. That’s the clue that helps us realize that Finn and the dead Lily are at the same place talking to a woman who is like Elizabeth, but obviously isn’t. He finds the letters bound in a book on the shelf in the room they rent at this sorta motel.

Whew. Now: Elizabeth the Civil War era writer describes how she killed one of her boarders – a guy she calls Jack, who has tights in his luggage, wears capes and spouts Shakespeare to her. Get it? Jack – nickname for John..Shakespeare? Christ almighty, it’s J. Wilkes Booth! There’s dialogue about conspiracy theories in the story. How the things we call conspiracy theories today aren’t, they’re really just bullshit. A real conspiracy theory is that J. Wilkes Booth didn’t die in that fire in the shed, that he went about his merry way and ended up in India or something. Well, in this story, it is surmised that Elizabeth sorta knows it’s him, with references to young Yankee soldiers stopping by her rest stop in Kentucky and crying when they hear on Easter Sunday that Lincoln has been shot. There is even dispute about the ‘sic semper tyrannis’ part, which was allegedly added later for emphasis. This Jack character even has a wooden leg, even tho’ Dr. Mudd – you know, the guy eventually locked up at Fort Jeff on the Dry Tortugas? That Dr. Mudd set his leg, didn’t amputate it. So who knows about that part?

God this is really getting long. So OK. What we have here is a ghost story that should have been Finn is killed when his car slides off the icy road, which occurs before he picks up zombie Lily. Their quest to go to Knoxville should have been revealed at the end to have taken place in the bardo. She mentions the bardo. George Saunders’ “Lincoln in the Bardo” beat her to that reference, something she mentioned in that British interview, and reviews have also mentioned it. But Lorrie didn’t use it properly! Finn and Lily are both dead, trying to reconcile their relationship in the afterlife, but cannot. Simple. Not unlike Lincoln going to son Willie’s tomb and trying to reconcile himself to the loss of his marvelous child.

Maybe Lorrie changed it because George beat her to the punch? Didn’t want readers to say, oh, you got this from George, even though she was working on it when George’s work came out? That’s a pity. It shoulda been better. Because it really doesn’t work this way. It ends with Finn at his brother’s funeral. Doesn’t fit. Doesn’t work. Should have ended with Finn’s funeral, and the announcement that he wanted to be donated to the cadaver farm, but there was a mixup and he ended up in the same green graveyard as Lily. Now that is a perfect ending. Think about it, relative to the title: “..if this is not my home. Not my final resting place, that green graveyard..so I – dead body Finn, dead body Lily..are homeless in the bardo. Problem to fix throughout book. So obvious. Lorrie..why? Explain yourself, woman.

Final thought: two terrific writers are channeling something very similar. Lincoln..the Bardo..loss..reconciliation. They both tapped into the cosmic consciousness after having been tasked with talking about it to enlighten readers about something that must be known. Hey, it’s about the multiverse again (see last post below). I have not written on that particular topic, but I have delved into something similar in writing something for Aunt Jopie about her brother Clemmie. I’ve described it, but haven’t put it out to anyone other than her. After she goes, I’ll put it out as a two part story. Apparently, this stuff needs to be said for skeptics who don’t get that it’s all just quantum mechanics. We have so much to learn as humans. Hope we figure it all out before we become obsolete via climate change and AI.

Writing and the Multiverse

Writing is a microcosm representing the Multiverse. A writer creates a story with an ending. In the end the protagonist dies. The writer re-writes the story. The protagonist lives. The writer writes a sentence with three adjectives used to describe the appearance of the protagonist. The writer edits the story, changing the adjectives to their opposites. The protagonist is completely different now.

In the Multiverse, every possible outcome of every situation everywhere occurs. The enormity of such a thing defies understanding. But so does the universe defy our true appreciation because of its enormity, and the fact that every second it grows larger. Think about that for a second, and all of a sudden, the Multiverse seems tame..relatively speaking.

So every writer is a participant in the Multiverse..verse..poetry..Hmm. I create a story, with characters who believe certain things and behave in various ways. That is a multiverse within the Multiverse, ad infinitum. Wow..now that’s something to think about. Pictures with mirrors showing pictures with mirrors. Infinity as a concept, both philosophically and mathematically. Divide anything by zero and you have infinity. Divide zero by anything and you have zero. That’s the mirror picture..the multiverse in the Multiverse.

What’s the point? Trying to understand everything. But you can never achieve that understanding..it’s a limit as x approaches infinity. You’ll never get there. So stop trying? That is death. Can you effect (not a typo – to implement) how you die? Only if you commit suicide. But they’ll call it an accidental shooting or an unintended overdose. What if you leave a note? That’d do it. But some embarrassed family member would destroy the note, and it would revert back to accidental. It’s awkward having a family member commit selfiecide. Makes the family feel like failures. Upsets the natural balance in the universe.

So what’s to be done? Avoid politics. The definition of woke is irrelevant when defined by a fascist. It’s just the false narrative to be opposed, no matter what “it” is. Solve algebraic equations, preferably trinomials. Unsatisfying, you say? True..unless you get out your graph paper and draw them. That feels like taking back a bit of control, doesn’t it?

Lunch is always good. Try something tasty and different, not the usual sandwich or salad or soup and salad or sandwich and soup or soup and salad combos. How about crab on a split roll with a dab of a lemony homemade mayo? Love alliteration in all its cozy familiarity.

Find the comfort of madness. Whoever said you had to be sane ALL the time? I like the idea of leaving to someplace else where you can make up the rules as you go along. But avoid using drugs to get there. There’s a boomerang effect that makes it most unsatisfying. Like one of those equations that, when you graph it, has two legs, one on the negative side and then it curves and goes straight up on the positive side. Why? What does that represent in nature? Sometimes nature is bizarre that way.

I was looking at four blue jays pecking away at the bird seed Erik scatters outside the sliding glass doors. I looked to see if I could distinguish one from the other. They moved too quickly for me to study them. Maybe if I took their picture, I could see subtle differences. They must know who’s who in that milieu, right? More alliterative multiverse.

This thinking foray was brought to you by the eternity of rain we’ve experienced over this past week. It’s starting to be annoying. But it wasn’t raining in Africa. At all. I’d be happy to share some. Aren’t you glad you’re not in Khartoum at the moment?

Adam Tooze, I Love You

Would you agree with the premise that we are meant to see and hear that which we are meant to see and here? Perusing the iPad this morning, saw a reference to a podcast involving Adam Tooze. It came from an interview from Berlin.

Adam said he insisted on talking about the debt ceiling “default crisis” and got to the topic after an agonizing 15 minutes or so of small talk about learning German in his upbringing. And from the mouth of this very brilliant historical economist (the best kind there is!), came the words “it’s no big deal, even if they default a little bit.”

That surely explains why the markets have been so calm, despite the brinksmanship going on, even as we speak, in D.C. Because the dollar is so well entrenched as the global reserve currency, the impact on a brief, albeit scary default will be nil on the world economy. Well, that’s a big ass relief! But that’s not what I came to talk about.

I want to talk about inflation instead. After his words about the default, I suppose by way of explanatory detail, he talked about the relationship between the strength of the dollar, oil and inflation. This is the first time anybody has put those things together for me. After hearing what he said, I practically slapped my forehead. Of course!

So what is it, you ask? Geez..irony. I’ve been talking about this stuff for the past decade, but I never connected the dots. Here’s the story. Back when we were net importers of oil – say up to earlier in this decade – there was an inverse relationship between oil price and the strength of the dollar. Think about it. A stronger dollar means we could buy more oil per unit than if the dollar weakened. That makes each one cheaper. Makes sense.

Conversely, weaker dollars meant the money paid for oil imports would push the unit price up. OK, that’s not so straightforward. But if the dollar is the reserve currency that everybody trades in, what would affect the US would also affect those other countries paying dollars for the oil they import. Like Japan. Or Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka, you ask? What have they got to do with this? I’ll get to that in a minute. Keep your shirt on. OK. Where was I? Oh yes – something changed. This decade. Fracking. The logistics solved of exporting our abundant LNG – liquid natural gas. When the Russians cut off Western Europe in the leadup to their invasion of Ukraine, who stepped it to fill the breach, foiling Vlad the Invader’s ignorant plans? Yup – we did.

OK, still not following. Back to Adam Tooze, my hero. He points out that now the US is a net EXPORTER of petroleum products. So now when the dollar gets stronger, we are selling oil in dollars. More expensive oil. So countries that import lots of oil (cue Sri Lanka) had a tough time finding the money to pay the tab. So they tried to reduce imports to save money. What happened? Rioting in the streets when people couldn’t cook their dinners because there was no fuel. So what did Sri Lanka do? They defaulted on their debts.

So that is a real default. What Washington is playing around with I’ll start calling a ‘political’ default. It’s not real. In fact, the moderator pointed out that JP Morgan said AFTER the default, Treasuries will increase in value. Talk about your law of unintended consequences. Adam didn’t dispute the suggestion; it led to the facts discussed above.

But hey, you point out, you said you wanted to talk about inflation, not oil, reserve currencies and Sri Lanka. Yeah. Right. Let’s talk about inflation relative to all of the above. The basics. Emily, please recite. “Inflation is too many dollars chasing too few goods.” We’ve talked about that before with respect to Covid. Then there were too few goods. Now let’s talk about this oil and the strength of the currency. The more oil we sell, the more dollars flow into the coffers of the country. Yes, you say, but those are private companies, not the government. Economies don’t differentiate. Record profits for oil companies. Google what Exxon paid in income taxes for the past two years since Covid. See how private dollars turn into public dollars? All that money means too many dollars chasing the same number of goods or less. Inflation. So the Fed raises interest rates, like this was 1971 and the problem was labor. Stupid – no, not stupid, political again. Must do something to protect the brand called The Government, even if it’s the wrong solution that will make things WORSE for its citizenry. Like Sri Lanka defaulting made things worse for its populace.

So now, let’s take a step back and analyze. The much touted need in previous years for ‘oil independence’ status has had the net effect of making everything you buy more expensive, coming after the effects of a global pandemic. What’d a predicted that?

“The Troubles”

We watched several episodes of a show on PBS about Northern Ireland back in the day when the residents of that pitiful area were hell bent on killing one another. It surely did bring to mind our current situation here in America. Let me ‘splain.

Per the documentary, it was the fight for Civil Rights in America that was the start of the troubles in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Catholics were deprived of their civil and economic rights by Protestants. It led to significant income inequality, always a dangerous element that precedes serious woe with accompanying violence. Marches led to confrontations with police, and ultimately deaths of marchers and officers. At some point, the clashes turned from marchers versus cops to Catholics versus Protestants when fear took hold and the Ulster Defense Association got involved. There was an Evangelical minister called Ian Paisley that became the face of opposition to Catholics, among other sins like homosexuality, civil rights and The Good Friday Agreement that stopped the violence. Sinn Fein was the political arm of the violence sect of Catholics known as the Irish Republican Army. It was made up of the descendants of the same folks who tried to separate Northern Ireland from Great Britain during World War I.

With all that as background, think about life today in these good old States United. Evangelical support for Donald Trump. January 6th uprising at the capital. Guns everywhere with accompanying massacres. States passing legislation allowing open carry of weapons. These are all the elements in common with “The Troubles” as the natives in Northern Ireland came to call the civil war there. So are we actually already in a civil war here?

The most interesting part of the documentary was the testimony of people involved on all sides: Protestants, Catholics and police. All of them were effectively brainwashed to believe in their ’cause’, just as left wing Democrats and right wing Republicans have been. In the case of Northern Ireland, nothing was going to stop the violence until, in my opinion, it had effectively run its course and everyone was ready to compromise. George Mitchell, the Senator from Maine, helped negotiate the agreement. It took an outsider to make it happen.

Women had tried in the early 80’s, but the hatred was too strong and they were still in the tit for tat phase of war that ultimately lasted for 30 years. It was unlikely that women could bring about peace, given the misogyny on both sides of the dispute. So that’s a lesson in how to address our current difficulties. It likely won’t be women who will change things in this country. And the fact that it took 30 years to run its course says to me we won’t see ultimate resolution for quite some time here. It also says things will get much worse before they are resolved.

Northern Ireland was too small a space to have much effect on anyone outside their own back yard and eventually assassinations of members of the Royal Family and attempted assassination of the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. That is where our situation differs from theirs. Our troubles will affect the whole world, given our status in political and economic terms. Today is the 26th, and still there’s no agreement on raising the debt ceiling. Default will be another chink in the armor of reason in the US. All we can do is watch and wait to see what happens next. I am not encouraged.