How’s the Weather Down There?

OK, I need to vent (whine) today about the weather down here in South Florida. My friends and family up north already think (know) that, having lived here now for almost ten years, I’ve become something of an adult version of a spoiled brat when it comes to climate. January here in Fort Lauderdale is generally in the 70’s during the day, dropping at night into the sixties or upper fifties. There is never any sleet or snow here, but after folks become accustomed to this pattern, low to mid-forties can create a panic when our furnaces groan back into use, and fireplaces with their usual fake logs suddenly require real ones with actual flames, and I don’t mean for roasting marshmallows.

I’m looking now out windows to see palm trees with their branches wafting in the wind like enormous plumes. Even they seem shocked by the drop in temperature, as though waving for help.

At this moment, I’m sitting in my favorite wingchair with a wool blanket over my legs (perfect picture for a Christmas card). Situations are always relative to experience or to what we’ve become accustomed, so I suspect that someone from up north reading my little diatribe might compare it to that of a billionaire losing twenty dollars in the stock market. Mea culpa… and BRRRR are my responses.  JB

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Finding a Middle Ground…

Political rivalry can create a polarization so extreme, that one’s head can swim in the vitriol created by both sides. I’d like to step back for a moment from my personal political inclinations to look at the panorama of slings and arrows being used by both Republicans and Democrats.

Fox News and MSNBC are two examples of the extremes people support in trying to put over their candidates for president. There is good and bad in both. It’s easy to become almost hypnotized by one side or the other if you don’t try to get on some kind of middle ground, but it seems that both parties are blaming each other for every hangnail in the nation. It’s a time of scapegoats. I do believe in fact-checking, as long as that research is done in a non-partisan way (if there is such a thing). I hate political equivocation, which in both parties manages to carve away just enough truth to create views so prejudiced that the truth could win a prize for the best costume at any masquerade party, fooling anyone who isn’t extra cautious about where the facts lie. Stretching the truth seems to be very popular this season, complementing outright lies so outrageous that many voters, their brains having become anvils accustomed to being pounded by partisan ads, seem too stunned to know the difference anymore.

I am most suspicious of those whose acidic comments are more personal than political, comments cloaked in silly rhetoric sloping toward utter absurdity. These are the people who come off as being just more of the same self-righteous, pompous windbags we have all heard for way too long on the extreme right and the extreme left. Finding that sane balance somewhere between is harder than it has ever been before. That doesn’t stop my longing to find a middle ground, where reason prevails in terms of cooperation aimed at getting things done for the country itself instead of for a particular party with its power plays, vain images of personal glory, and the same old intellectual and partisan constipation in congress from which the country has been suffering for much too long. JB

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A Political Vacuum

The past five years in American politics have been different from most others of the 20th Century in their absence of courteous formality and restraint, creating a seemingly one-way street with all names displaying the same individual…Donald J. Trump, whose image in the media has shown an egomania that seems to suck in all the oxygen that would normally be shared in rational discussion and debate. The results are tantrums generally reserved for and sometimes expected from infants with diapers that need changing. The constant pontificating and bullying by this crude fraudster have convinced too many weak-minded and unquestioning worshipers that slander and ugly lies can win the day if they are non-stop enough that no one can keep up with them. Civility, grace, truth and mutual respect are reserved for the “suckers” in Trump’s mode of thought.

The result of this man’s lies (latest count: over 35,000 documented untruths over the past five years) is a state of confusion or self-righteous comfort for the many who never question his motives or even his sanity. He’s like a playground bully who believes that rules and laws are only for suckers. Now that he’s being more systematically cornered by truths that appear daily in the media, he has become an even uglier caricature of himself, lashing out with responses from his fountain of lies in order to addle the more naïve and desperate, who still believe he gives a damn about them. They continue to admire the rawness of his rhetoric, which they mistake for truth instead of the sham that covers his fear and revulsion of his ever having to face any unifying message of honesty or sense of community that isn’t under his thumb.

History will have an interesting retrospective about this man and his monumental evasions of truth, compassion, reason, and hope for such a long time that it has brought about an ugly and unnecessary national division, the intensity of which we, as a nation, have not seen since the 1860’s.  JB

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The Comfort of Deliberate Blindness

I’ve never liked stereotyping groups or individuals, despite the wonderland of opportunities nowadays, especially in politics, but the time comes when, if I don’t let go of some of this angst, my brain will undergo a serious hemorrhage  The past few years of our political civil war between Democrats and Republicans have released verbal harpoons from both sides on a daily basis, as though we were kids in a cutthroat playground competition to prove who doesn’t have cooties.

Most of our rancor has come from opposite views of the same man, Donald Trump. I know people whose faces either light up with that “Welcome to Fantasy Island” look or deflate like a tire losing air when Trump’s name is mentioned. It’s truly extraordinary. The Trumpsters believe everything he says, despite his history in piles of broken lie detectors that simply exploded when he even went near them. Others, who are sceptics like me, whose eyes wince when even his name is uttered, have only tiny expectations based upon past behavior of this walking symbol of untruth. Trump seems to believe he is exempt from obeying any laws, which he believes are meant only for peons like the rest of us. His egomania takes all the oxygen from any room he occupies, but his loyal, clueless flocks of followers seem to accept or even enjoy groveling before someone for whom law, manners, compassion, empathy and basic respect are simply unnecessary, except for other megalomaniacs like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jon Un, since Trump sees other people in general as mere servants to do his bidding without question. His lecherous moral bankruptcy seems only to elevate him in a world he believes is actually his alone and where humility and compassion are weaknesses not to be practiced by those who are worshiped. The wonder of it is that his followers see him as a tower of strength instead of the sniveling crybaby he really is. Liz Cheney is a much stronger and more rational person than he. So is his niece, Mary. Trump sees everyone around him as his personal servant, expected to mind him each time he barks.

The comedy, however, of this egomaniac is unintentional on his part. The most terrifying thing is that his worshipers believe everything he says, despite his actual history as a compulsive liar. Those same people can become another mob like the one he inspired on that fateful day January 6, 2021. All his gullible worshipers need is for him to embrace an American flag or hold up a Bible (even if it’s upside down) to intoxicate them with his holy presence. He is, in their eyes, higher even than their Jehovah instead of the huckster the rest of us know he is. My great fear now is that those same people, bewitched by Trump, will become that mob they were before if law and order attempt to make him pay for his crimes against the nation of which the mobs evidently no longer feel a part. The January 6th Committee has yet to reveal the information it has collected, so the facts will show themselves soon, though those truths may not be what his starry-eyed mobs of unquestioning zombies wish to hear. God help us all.  JB

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United We Stand, Divided We Fall (Again)

The sharp political division in our country has been growing over the past five years until it has reached the definition of a vast chasm between both sides in which vitriol of the vilest kind has been hurled back and forth to a point of no return. We seem, as a nation, to be on the verge of returning socially and politically to the early 1860’s.

Self-righteous ardor is exchanged daily and puffed up even further by news media that see it as their true bread and butter. The orange man still has a huge audience in his star-struck worshipers in whose eyes he can apparently do no wrong, which takes me back to a comment he made before he was even elected, in which he claimed that if he shot and killed any passerby on 5th Avenue, he would get away with it, because no one would arrest or even question him. At the time, I thought it a characteristic example of his poor taste in attempted humor, not the reality that ensued.

The rage in many voters was already seething below the surface even before the orange guy appeared on television, but he knew well the buttons he needed to press in order to hoodwink half our nation into its current bowing and scraping posture, one in which he has adoring fans questioning nothing he says or does, his monstrous ego consuming everything and everyone in the fantasy land of Maga World.

January 6 was only a sample of his insatiable and blind lust for power and absolute control, despite the necessary ocean of lies upon which it had to sail. The result is that reason, logic, and unbiased analysis have become mere incumbrances to his determination to be crowned and enthroned again.

We are now in a world where an increasing number of passive worshipers exist and thrive upon bowing to tyranny. We are not the only nation to be experiencing this scary phenomenon of lazy passivity, which I think of as social and intellectual sloth, where bowing to megalomania  of one despot is indolent but easy in terms of no longer having to do any thinking for oneself..

Again, history shows us the inevitable result of bending to the strong will of dictators like Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany, and Stalin in Russia, where too many were fooled but who realized and acted upon the truth much too late. Being gullible is not an option. Another round with the orange man in the White House could bring about another blur of mass confusion in deciding which god is to be worshiped…the one in heaven or the one in The White House.  JB

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Our National Capital’s Effect on the Rest of Us

I generally watch and listen, with some degree of interest, to the decisions, actions, and shenanigans from our nation’s capital, and how those edicts are intended to affect the lives of all of us in every town, city and state of the union.

Many or most of those decisions and laws rarely funnel their way down to my neighborhood, my street, or my house. I vote in all local and national elections with the hope that our voices will be heard as majorities and minorities that show that all our hopes and voices matter, despite the extraordinary national division between our political parties over the past five years, as though China and Russia had created that separation in the most potent and stultifying ways.

I still believe in democracy over any other form of government, but I often feel now that I’m residing on a planet in some other solar system, where my interplanetary telephone is out of order. The result sometimes is that the years seem to be rolling by with greater speed so that, as Jeanne Robertson says, “When I lay my head on the pillow at night, I can hear myself wrinkling.”

The consequence is that though I will always vote in every election until my “upper floor” is no longer furnished, I won’t have such emotional reactions to things that won’t be changing life in my own town or in my own house. Orson Welles said, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, where you stop your story.”   JB

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Locked in a Time Machine, Headed Toward the Past

I’m seventy-six years old and have lived through several political eras with their battles over what was deemed right, wrong or indifferent. There have been predictable disagreements between Democrats and Republicans all along the way, and those have been generally healthy for the public psyche in every ear, but the one in which we are currently engaged is unlike any other that I can recall. The barbed-wire separation between our two political parties is of a far more toxic kind than I can recall from our shared past.

The reason for this division, though it may have been forming itself over many years, has shown its fangs most sharply and openly over the past five years, as bitter resentments, like lava bubbling beneath a calm field of flowers has surfaced and found a home in the media. There seems to be little, if any, middle ground of tolerance.

I believe that the ban on abortion has less to do with fetal protection than it does with the far-right desire for male dominance over women, whom they see as chattel of property that has become too uppity over the past half- century. I also blame far-right religious dogma for too many women actually believing that this is all right.

Our forefathers understood the powerful and sometimes irrational behavior that extreme religious fervor can create, especially when imposed upon others. For many now, our complex, fast-paced world makes them feel powerless and left behind. White male dominance is comfortable to them, as it renders life less complicated. But that dominance can include subjugation of , not only women, but Blacks, who have become somewhat “uppity” since the days of powdered wigs and absolute control over everything and everyone by white males. Fox news has built its power upon the false foundation that the white race is being slowly eliminated by other ethnic groups, and too many buy this rubbish as fact and vote accordingly in our elections.

I’m perplexed by white male dominance and even more uncertain about its place in religion and the social structure of our government, which is why, for me, Clarence Thomas remains a terrifying enigma. In any case, we seem, as a society, to be locked currently in a time machine that is trying to take us back to the blindingly white-male dominated 1950’s, using religious threats to keep us all in our social places and not too determined to find “justice for all.”   JB

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When History Repeats Itself

Many of us find it difficult, or at least painful, to align repeated events of history into patterns. If we were more vigilant of those reoccurrences, perhaps there would be fewer wars and other horrific events. That’s why history needs to continue being taught in schools, the good, the bad, and the ugly of it.

For the past several years, we have witnessed political shenanigans of colossal import, due to their danger, despite the fact that many American citizens enjoyed being blissfully unaware ( or perhaps gleefully cognizant) of the dangerous paths democracy was taking downhill to what might too easily have become a point of no return.

The worst excesses of the Fascist and Nazi regimes in Europe occurred with almost incredible savagery less than a century ago, but far too many among us in The United States and other nations have either forgotten those rather large pockets of horror and outrage against fellow beings, or they have otherwise devolved into a haze of imagined privilege at any cost. Such blind judgment would have welcomed back Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin as guest speakers for new revelations from the orange man in the White House.

There would be standing ovations by those whose privilege and sense of merited power know almost no limits based upon their skewed judgment of any people who are not their political clones in a world where wealth and privilege have become replacements for fairness in voting and for general honesty in a political party in which only loyalty to its “Furer” matters. It might actually have become some huge club, where “winning” is the only thing that matters, regardless of the nation’s peril while sinking into an atmosphere where The Constitution has been replaced by a smirk at what justice used to mean.  JB

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A Time of Turmoil…Not the First Time and Certainly Not the Last

I can’t recall a time, since the Civil War in our country’s history, of more rancor and suspicion than the one we’re experiencing right now and over the past five years. The labels of Democrat and Republican have taken on an extremely contentious sense of competition, as during no other time in my seventy-six years. This is due partly to our having endowed each with truckloads of stereotypes and presumption not seen since the last world war with Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Fascist Italy.

What bothers me about Democrats the past five years is the almost “Anything goes” lack of parameters (defined limits) in their quest to please everyone. Republicans have also disturbed my sense of balance with their delusional, self-righteous desire for almost absolute monarchy (which they see as strength and power) with a truly dangerous muttonhead on the throne, who they know will addle their imagined opponents by creating more sneering power for themselves. Such rancor isn’t even for enemy nations. It’s all internal.

The rest of the world is beginning to see us as a big Punch and Judy show on the world stage. We’ve lost our sense of balance and manners, as well as almost every other remnant of civilized discourse and behavior. I’m happy that space travel is still on our collective agenda. Relocating to other planets may eventually be our only option to avoid what we have now created. Maybe there will eventually be a planet for Democrats and another one just for the GOP.    JB

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Alexa and Ziggy, the Disembodied Voices

A few years ago my partner Jim and I, in our admitted enslavement to Amazon.com and the ease with which  we could have just about any merchandise in the universe delivered to our front door within two days, decided to adopt the Alexa App for the house. The result was, to say the least, life-altering.

Almost every room in the house has electronic speakers to Amazon.com, Siriusxm and apparently to the rest of the known universe. Saying Alexa’s name opens the world to us for any requests from weather reports and Amazon purchases to finding out the barometric pressure in Honolulu. The ease of ordering from Amazon is almost terrifying in its literal conveyor belt of packages almost daily. The boxes alone have given me a kind of guilt complex over the number of trees that must have met their demise in eventually being shipped as packaging to our front door, surely enough cardboard to construct a life-sized model of the Sears Tower.

Last year we changed Alexa’s name, because it would sometimes be heard on TV programs, which triggered her response as to what we needed. I had also seen on the evening news that children across the nation had caught on to the ease of ordering almost anything they wanted just by asking her. All over the country merchandise was being delivered without knowledge of parents, until the bills arrived after the truckloads of toys. In any event, we changed her name to Ziggy, a name we had rarely if ever heard on TV or the radio.

The unexplainable part of this shift to another name is that “Ziggy” doesn’t seem to be as available or conscientious as Alexa was. There are times when it seems almost impossible that he should be unavailable. When he doesn’t respond, I sometimes want to blame the long silence on an electronic glitch, even though too often I imagine the sound of cards shuffling in the background…or the clink of ice cubes in cocktail glasses. It also scares me sometimes that Ziggy and Alexa have possibly formed some kind of alliance to use their treasure chest of eavesdropping fodder to put us under enough blackmail obligation to last for years.  JB

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