Notes from 2017 – Predictions and Prophecies

I’ve never been big on New Year’s predictions. Even if accurate, they’re like signs on a mountain road saying, “Watch out for falling rocks.” What do you do if you see one barreling at you?

Prophecies are even worse! In all the old stories, those who attempt to escape an evil fate choose the precise actions that bring it about. They do it every time!

Oedipus is probably the best known example. Told by the Delphic Oracle – an ironclad source – that his fate was to kill his father and marry his mother, what does he do? He quarrels with the first old guy he meets on the road and kills him! That’s when we know it can’t turn out well!

The following video is Keith Olbermann’s take on what we, as a nation, have done. Recognizing that our political and economic systems were broken, we went to the polls and made a choice that most of us now know can’t possibly turn out well…

See what you think. I’ll make a few predictions of my own in future posts, but most of them follow on this one.

Notes on Saint Stephen


Today, December 26, is known as Saint Stephen’s Day, and in the UK, as “Boxing Day.” I’ve never understood the latter term – nor does Wikipedia, which says, “There are competing theories for the origins of the term, none of which are definitive.”

Saint Stephen was the first Christian martyr. A young and zealous deacon in the early church, he was tried for blasphemy. After denouncing the authorities who sat in judgement upon him, he was stoned in the year 34. Saul of Tarsus, who later became Saint Paul, famously held the cloaks of those who threw the stones.

The word, “martyr,” has lost much of its meaning through overuse. Now we use the word for someone who complains a lot. In church history, a few of the early martyrs seemed to choose their fate. There are stories of judges who said, “Look, if you just shut up, I’ll let you go,” but they wouldn’t. They believed that this literal following of Christ was a fast-track ticket to heaven.

The last thing the world needs now is religious zealots of any variety – those willing to use physical or legislative violence to try to destroy other people’s freedom to believe what they want to believe. Atrocities committed in the name of God – any God – are especially heinous. I suspect that much of that sort of violence, like politically motivated violence, boils down to fear. If my self-knowledge is so shallow that I don’t really know where I stand, then a contrary opinion that threatens my world view must be discredited or or silenced.

There are ways other than projecting my views onto some vengeful God. The Dalai Lama, one who humbly but joyously lives by the words he speaks, has said, “We could do without religion, and we could do without ritual, but we cannot survive without kindness.”

-Great words to remember on Boxing Day, which I’m pretty sure has to do with re-gifting rather than post-Christmas pugilism…

Notes from 2017 – The war on what???

Intruder Alert! St. Nicholas, by Thomas Nast

Intruder Alert! St. Nicholas, by Thomas Nast

Piety and commercialism, two unlovely attributes, are rampant at this time of year, so it’s time for my annual Christmas history post. If you search on “Christmas” here, you’ll find some interesting info on things like the Ghostly Christmas tree ship (Christmas Tree Facts and Legends), my grinchly rant on “Holiday music,” and most poignantly, the Christmas Truce, when to the chagrin of the generals, peace broke out on the western front on Dec. 25, 1914.

One thing you won’t find are notes on a “war on Christmas,” since there isn’t one. No one out here in the world cares whether you say “Merry Christmas,” or “Happy Holidays.” But if you look back in history, you’ll find a number of instances of Christians waging war on Christmas. Consider that:

–Early Christians did not celebrate Christmas. Origen of Alexandria, a third century theologian, wrote that “only sinners like Herod and Pharaoh celebrate their birthdays.”

–Christians didn’t celebrate Christmas until the ninth century reign of Charlemagne.

–During the middle ages, the Feast of Epiphany was more important than Christmas, which didn’t really emerge as a feast until 1377, when Richard II held a months long blowout with his nobles. Twenty-eight oxen and 300 sheep were slaughtered for the event, which according to chroniclers, featured “drunkenness, promiscuity, and gambling.” Early Christmas carols were sung, but they were bawdy.

–In 1645, Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas in England, and the Mayflower pilgrims outlawed it in Boston from 1658-1681.

–The New York City Police Department was formed after a Christmas riot in 1828. We read on that “The early 19th century was a period of class conflict and turmoil. During this time, unemployment was high and gang rioting by the disenchanted classes often occurred during the Christmas season.”

–The “one percent” of the day responded with a campaign to transform a holiday long known for outlandish behavior into a commercial, family centered time, drafting the work of Thomas Nast, Charles Dickens, Washington Irving and others for the task.

–Victorian sensibilities focused on family and children, and it was only then, in 1870 that Christmas become a legal holiday in America. We’ve been led to believe we celebrate this day as it has been done for centuries, but that simply isn’t so (Humbug Revisited: A Brief History of Christmas).

I have no complaints about Christmas as a spiritual holiday, and it’s a great time to remember family and friends, but I do my best to ignore the cultural trappings. I boycott stores that force employees to work on Thanksgiving. I celebrate “Buy Nothing Day,” instead of Black Friday.

I will end with an observation I once heard an Art History professor share on the iconography of Santa Claus.

Glance at the Thomas Nast illustration at the start of this post. If you saw this guy in your living room, you’d either unlock your gun safe or call 911. He’s looking for your liquor cabinet and fridge, as he carries a sack of loot boosted from the neighbors!

Now look at the “Jolly Old Elf” in this modern representation below – white hair and beard but a child’s nose! This is an infantilized Santa Claus! It may help to get parents of very young children out to Toys R Us, but I don’t think it does much good for the maturity level of the culture…

Happy Solstice everyone!

Santa with puppies, kittens, and the facial features of a child.

Santa with puppies, kittens, and the facial features of a child.

Notes from 2017, part 1

Petroglyphs, Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Petroglyphs, Saguaro National Park, Arizona

This morning, at 2:44 am local time, the still point of the turning world became even more still. Like the gap between the end of an outbreath and the next inbreath, the earth paused.  From the depth of our longest night, her axis tilted back toward summer.

Darkness is metaphorical as well as physical. By many measures, our nation is in its darkest hour since the civil war. The inspiration for what will become a series of posts through the coming year was an article by Summer Brennan, called Notes From the Resistance: A Column on Language and Power. Ms Brennan begins by saying:

“In George Orwell’s 1984, the first act of rebellion undertaken by Winston, the protagonist, is to acquire a blank book and begin to write down his thoughts and memories.”

As Big Brother watches, Winston begins to reclaim words and celebrate truth. Big Brother is not yet as pervasive here, although security experts warn I should put a piece of tape over the camera on my laptop – just in case. In my estimation, I’m hiding in plain sight, betting that no one much cares about pics of an unshaven man in his 60’s, sitting in his bathrobe before dawn, swilling coffee and searching for words.

Although if Ken Bones could go viral…

But I digress. A minority of those Americans who voted chose a petty tyrant and reality TV star to become the most powerful man on earth. Lies are his currency. I will not repeat the lies here, but rather, use these posts to document my reality, and as much as I can sense it, the national reality, over the coming year.

Rather adding my saliva to the spitting contest between supporters and detractors, I will use this space, through the coming year, to ask the Dr. Phil question: “How’s this working for you?”

Here we will celebrate truth and truth-tellers.

Here I begin by celebrating Pope Francis, who so follows so beautifully in the footsteps of the apostle of peace for whom he is named. Yesterday, he declared that evolution and the Big Bang theory are correct. That God is not a magician who pulled the universe out of a hat 5000 years ago. That science can be a mode of truly appreciating the handiwork of the Creator.

Happy Solstice to all!

Back / Bart to the Future

Anyone who spends much time watching The Simpsons will likely agree that for 600 shows and counting, they’ve had the best writing in the history of television. Did you know that the show’s writers are sometimes prophetic? Sixteen years ago, in an episode called “Bart to the Future,” they showed us Donald Trump as president.

This shot from the episode shows Mr. Trump with a poster reading, “America you can be my ex-wife.” Think about that for a moment…

From "Bart to the Future" episode of the Simpsons, first aired March 19. 2000

From “Bart to the Future” episode of the Simpsons, first aired March 19. 2000

Homer is beginning to see what even those who voted for him will soon learn – that we’ve been screwed by a con man and pathological liar, who cares no more for us than he cared for the students at Trump University.

Voters had every reason to be angry with the status quo. When John Stumpf, the disgraced CEO of Wells Fargo, resigned with no jail time and $133 million, every working man or woman who is slipping further behind can see how those who play by the rules get shafted, and it is mainstream politicians of both parties who put the rules in place.

Donald Trump feigned concern for these workers just long enough to get elected. Union leaders aren’t stupid; five weeks before the inauguration, Richard L. Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said Trump’s cabinet appointments prove his campaign promises were hollow. Many other well meaning people who voted for the hope that Mr. Tump offered will learn soon enough they were conned. There won’t be much of a honeymoon.

Meanwhile, there is no room for compromise with evil and stupidity; it’s time for the majority of Americans who voted against our sociopathic president-elect to take a page from the Republican notebook, and prepare to defy and obstruct the incoming administration in every way we can.

When Barack Obama was elected, and the Republican party in seeming disarray, Mitch McConnell, senate minority leader, announced his party’s goal – to obstruct and insure that Obama was a one term president. It’s time for Democrats to adopt his playbook. The Tea Party taught us it doesn’t take that many people to stall a government.


A good place to start is with this detailed outline, prepared by former congressional staffers, on how to influence members of congress: An Anti-Trump Guide.  The premise is simple – those who work closely with representatives report that they care about just one thing – reelection. The more personal our interaction, the better. None of them much care about social media or blogs. Personal emails are good, print letters are better, and best of all are direct questions at the public events and townhalls they host.

“Where do you stand on privatizing Social Security? Oh, so you really want to deliver seniors’ lifeblood to the tender mercies of the too-big-to-fail firms that gave us the great recession?”

Those who stood firm at Standing Rock remind us of the lessons of Gandhi and Martin Luther King – the power of non-violent resistance. The tech engineers and CEO’s who refuse to work on a Muslim registry are also exemplars, as is Jerry Brown, Governor of California, who vows that we’ll launch “Our own damn satellite,” if Mr. Trump succeeds in defunding NASA climate monitoring. We can honor the administration of the EPA, which refused to submit a list of their people who attend climate conference, and Leonardo DiCaprio, who has made himself a spokesman, not only for the science of climate change, but for the economic opportunities clean energy holds.

There’s a lot of damage that Mr. Trump’s ship of fools can do in the near term, but a battle is on for the soul of the nation. Few things are more important than insuring that the incoming government is thwarted at every turn, and voted out of office, in the disgrace it deserves, as soon as possible.

My Fulfillment Package


The voice on a recent robo-call, in the masculine-but-chirpy tone of a game show host, said, “Hi, this is Tod, here to tell you your fulfillment package is ready! Having just come from the meditation room, I wondered what kind of fulfillment Tod was selling. “Stay on the line for details on how to get your medical alert package.” I hung up.

We all know Big Data is watching our every keystroke, and that “secure information” is an oxymoron, but although “they” may have accurately placed me in the medical alert demographic, they don’t understand my idea of fulfillment.  Or do they?

Every “positive psychology” poll I’ve ever seen on the key factors of happiness lists “good health” as most important, so perhaps Tod wasn’t that far off.  Or so you might think, unless you’d seen the third annual Chapman University Survey of American Fears, which lists the flip-side of happiness, things that get in the way of fulfillment. The top fear, listed by 60.5% of the 1511 Americans surveyed was, “Corruption of government officials.”

Understandable, especially this year, but it also tells me that the survey is skewed toward a young demographic. Trust me, when you get old enough to care for a parent with Alzheimer’s, the things you fear change dramatically. Plus, I’m cynical enough to believe that “corrupt government official” is usually redundant – like speaking of “wealthy millionaires.” (There are 383 of those in Congress, by the way).

Here are the results of the survey:

  • Corruption of government officials (same top fear as 2015) — 60.6%
  • Terrorist attacks — 41%
  • Not having enough money for the future — 39.9%
  • Being a victim of terror — 38.5%
  • Government restrictions on firearms and ammunition — 38.5%
  • People I love dying — 38.1%
  • Economic or financial collapse — 37.5%
  • Identity theft — 37.1%
  • People I love becoming seriously ill — 35.9%
  • The Affordable Health Care Act/”Obamacare” — 35.5%

Interesting to note that by a small percentage, more of us fear losing our guns than losing our loved ones.  Nope, not my fulfillment package.

However, fear of clowns didn’t make the top ten, so perhaps we can let Stephen King off the hook….

How did it come to this?

While scanning yet another article along the lines of, “What to Watch for During the Debates,” or “What Each Candidate Must Do to Win,” a lightbulb went on, and I realized that all of the hype is nothing more than a media push for “eyeballs,” like the Super Bowl, except without the good spirits, camaraderie, pride in being American, or fun commercials.  

The League of Women Voters, being an organization of integrity and intelligence, pulled out as sponsor of this quadrienniel farce back in 1988, saying they had “no intention of becoming an accessory in the hoodwinking of the American public.”

We are told the election is neck and neck.  Of course we are!  As any writer knows, tension draws readers/viewers, and that drives advertising revenue, and that drives the bottom line of the six corporations that own almost all of our media outlets.  I’m sure they don’t give a rat’s ass which major party candidate wins; they’ll thrive either way. 

Does this election scare you?  If you are one of the 90% of Americans who know who you’ll vote for, of course it does.  Pundits on the right and left tell us daily of the potential horrors that await if our candidate loses.  I am reminded of the Star Trek episode in which an alien race that feeds off human anger and fear keeps the Enterprise crew at each other’s throats.  

Yes, I think there are grave dangers in our world, though I doubt very much that either of our contenders and our disfunctional congress can do more good than harm.

Am I worried?  

I keep thinking about that wonderful exchange, repeated three or four times, in “Bridge of Spies,” when fate forces Tom Hanks’ character to work with a Russian spy.

Hanks asks, “Aren’t you worried.”  The spy replies, “Would that help?”

So when (not if) I watch our sad national farce tonight and find myself feeling negative, I’ll remember to ask myself if the fear and hopelessness our media moguls, the DNC, and the RNC are peddling can help me or anyone else…

If not, I’ll do as we all do after a Super Bowl, regardless of which team wins, and get back to living my life, attempting to do as much good and as little harm as I can.

Of cutting trees and the truths we cannot handle

George Washington and the cherry tree

George Washington and the cherry tree

The story goes that George Washington received a hatchet for his sixth birthday. With it, he damaged a cherry tree. When his father confronted him, young George said, “I cannot tell a lie. I cut it with my hatchet.” His father embraced him and said, “Your honesty is worth a thousand trees.” 

Ironically, this paean to honesty was the fabrication of Mason Weems, an itinerant preacher and one of Washington’s first biographers (the cherry tree myth). Politically expedient falsehood has been with us from the dawn of our Republic.

Readers of theFirstGates and movie buffs will recognize the other part of this post’s title as a partial paraphrase of the Jack Nicholson line, “You can’t handle the truth,”  in A Few Good Men, 1992, which I referenced through a link on August 8.

It came to mind last night as I watched Nixon, the third PBS documentary on American presidents I’ve seen this week. It’s a fascinating series for those interested in history, and especially during this disheartening election year. The truth I find hardest to handle is that even the pretense of truth has become optional during elections.

After his discharge from the navy after WWII, Richard Nixon ran for congress against five-term Democratic representative, Jerry Voorhis. Nixon won 60% of the vote, after, among other things, spreading the word, via anonymous telephone calls, that Voorhis was a communist.

“Of course I knew Jerry Voorhis wasn’t a communist,” Nixon later confided to a Voorhis aide.  “But I had to win. The important thing is to win.”  I was actually happy to learn that the lies that permeate this campaign are not a new aberration, but more a case of deja vu all over again. The only difference is that in earlier times, people caught in blatant lies were certain to lose – the appearance of honesty was a matter of style and decorum.

Political lies cross party lines, of course. Feeling compelled to be as “tough on communism” as Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election, Lyndon Johnson engineered the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” – a supposed torpedo attack on a US destroyer by North Vietnamese ships.  We now know the event never happened, but the lie won Johnson almost unlimited power to escalate the war in Vietnam, with tragic consequences for millions of people. It also set the precedent for fighting undeclared wars that remains a national disaster 50 years later.


I remember a hatchet incident when I was a kid in upstate New York. A boy who lived nearby chopped down a neighbor’s dogwood sapling with a hatchet. This was an especially serious act of vandalism, since dogwood trees were protected by law.

Not the brightest kid on the block, he did so while the lady of the house was home; she heard the chopping, looked out the window, and recognized him.  When confronted, however, the boy’s mother said, “It couldn’t have been my son. He told me he didn’t do it, and he doesn’t lie.” 

I’ve often wondered if that kid is in politics now.  He’d be a natural…