A large tree grows near my house, but on my neighbor's lot. For some time the lower branches on one side have reached over to my house. I've wondered about the damage that could happen when the branches bash against my house in a gale, and about the squirrels climbing onto my roof and into my attic. All those worries. Then, yesterday, I noticed the the squirrels have taken to trotting down the offending branches and ripping off the bark to line their nests. This kills the branches, which will soon drop off and so -- no more branch problems and no more squirrel fears. Worry is so unproductive, isn't it?
History - and things historical - seem to go through phases. Here's an example. An object is manufactured and several hundred thousand are sold. After a while they get old and people chuck them away because, "There are so many of them". Wait a bit and suddenly there are very few left, and those few are declared to be "classics", endangered, desperate for conservation. Whether it's a Rolls Royce or a table the same thing happens. Why do we do this? Why do we wait until the last Dodo or the last rhino or the last Pearl Harbor vet before we pay attention to what is before us? And that's the human tragedy. So let's make it personal. You may gather wisdom and learning beyond measure, but the chances are that no one much will listen to you until, when you're buried, they try to dredge up what you said, did, or wrote. Only a civilization that is confused about how to respond to death would be so irrational.
After taking a break from blogging and Facebook posts and so on -- what do I notice? I notice how much time I have free. Well, says I, that's nice. Now I can do all those other things. Then follows a pause. What other things? What do I actually feel like doing? I know I used to have a million thoughts about stuff that I wanted and needed to do. That to-do list still exists. Somewhere. What has changed is that I don't feel like doing them anymore. In fact the blogging and FB posts (and the marketing of books, the writing of articles and so much more) took over a portion of my life and displaced all the things I actually liked doing. I discovered I'm out of the habit of doing things that re-create me. The question is a real one: can I get back to me? Well, of course I can, but while I do that I'm left noticing that, like any addiction, this one caught me hard in its grasp, and I liked it. Like any addiction it wasn't until I noticed the other costs that I held back from what I was doing. All that time at a keyboard? It was starting to give me aches and pains from too much sitting, typing. My exercise routine was disrupted by interviews and deadlines and just one more thing that needed to be written. Shoulders, eyesight, back, hips, knees, fingers -- all began to show signs of distress. I move around more, now. The aches are almost all gone. My doctor (who was all set to do surgery and give me medications) things it's a miracle. It's not. It's just about getting back to being healthy - which sometimes means treating one's body and mind as if it deserves rest, gentle treatment, and diversion.
I can honesty say that I do not understand money at all. Example: I had some money in a Bank in England. It was inherited from my mother's estate. I looked at the economic situation in England, at Brexit, at the collapse of the markets and the flight of financial institutions to Frankfurt and concluded: the British pound is dying. So I got my money out. Guess what? Since then the value of the pound has continued to go up. At the same time I thought about the US dollar. Trump in charge (nominally) and the economy in tatters for most people, with only the super wealthy likely to benefit.... I concluded that the dollar would weaken, and that the small amount of Canadian change I had left over from my last vacation would be worth even less since Canada depends so much on the US. Wrong again. The value of the Loony (as they call it) went up. Now, none of this made much of a difference to me. I think the loss in each case was equivalent to about a round of drinks and a plate of nachos. But I shall think again when I hear of markets responding with "irrational exuberance". Money has laws of its own that have little to do with reality.
Our president has been accused, many times, of aspiring to become a dictator. Certainly he behaves like one, much of the time. Given the chance that is exactly what he'd become. The point we may wish to consider is that historically (in modern times) Dictators have tended to arise only in places where there has been immense poverty. So nazism was a direct result of the catastrophic collapse of the German economy. Napoleon rose to power in the aftermath of the upheaval that was The French Revolution, which left their economy in tatters. Franco took over a badly fragmented Spain. Mussolini grabbed power in an Italy that was so impoverished and divided that it was in economic collapse. In such cases the impression of the citizens was that they were without resources. So, Italy before Mussolini had very little heavy industry - and it was therefore somewhat defenseless compared to the industrial might of many of its neighbors. France before Napoleon was afraid of foreign invasions. Japan under Hirohito was starved of oil and steel, and so invaded China and then the Philippines to get what it needed. China under Mao could not feed its populace. These are the breeding grounds of Dictators. The US, by comparison, has always been wealthy beyond most people's beliefs. The natural resources here are extraordinary. This country has defied tyranny because we've had no reason to believe that tyranny will serve us any better. Trump's dubious achievement is that he persuaded a significant portion of the population that there simply isn't enough wealth to go around, and that "immigrants" are to blame. Obviously this notion is not true. This is still the richest nation on earth. There is plenty of wealth, even with that thieving 1% in charge of so much. Look around, people. Trump sold you a lie.
What we've been told, many times by post-election analysts, is that Trump voters are those who felt Washington had ignored them and that neither party was taking them into account. That is indeed a sad situation. Yet it is no good reason for voting the way they did. America in 2016 was far from perfect. But plenty of people from all over the world were only too happy to come here in order too find a better life - a better life, notice, than most of the rest of the world could offer. Doesn't that say something? I emigrated thirty-two years ago. My own (British) government had destroyed the jobs market, so I came to the US. Since there is so much opportunity in the US, why do so many people believe that it's a dwindling resource, one to be protected by walls, expulsions of foreigners and so on? What sort of illogic is that? The answer may be something less than pleasant. Trump always felt he'd been ignored by those in power. He is also shifty, deceitful, manipulative, dishonest, entitled, frightened, and angry. What happened in the election was that these personal aspects of his character came through his speeches at a subliminal level. And you know what? He appealed to those people who were, fundamentally exactly like himself. Dishonesty spoke to dishonesty. People who liked what they saw were essentially responding to those instincts within themselves, projected onto his already unpleasant attributes. Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the ugliest of them all?
About that non-handshake between Trump and Merkel this week... Yes, it was a snub. It was also astonishingly crude. If you want to convey disapproval of a political leader there are plenty of ways of doing it, all of them better. Trump doesn't seem to know what the art of the diplomatic snub is. Just another thing he doesn't know. To be fair, though, Merkel herself wasn't that phased by it. One could almost hear her thinking: OK, if that's the way you are, then that says it all. So she paused, and in that pause she showed that she was less than eager to shake his hand, too. Who looked like an idiot? Not Merkel.
Perhaps you've already noticed the blizzard of edicts coming from the Oval Office. These pieces of paper threaten to undo many of the protections and services we've had for many years, and nothing is going to replace them if they go. Please recognize, though, that they are not yet law, and need to be challenged. The problem is that the Oval Office is deliberately issuing far more of these than we can ever hope to deal with. It's the equivalent of speeding up the conveyor belt. The aim is simple: wear us down, wear us out. When we're exhausted then the heavy laws will be passed, and we won't have enough energy to fight back. That's what the edict maker wants. So, good people, it's absolutely OK to pace yourself. While the flurry of activity is distracting us we are very likely to have our pockets picked -- unless we know we're being "played". Personally I'm doing all I can without driving myself or others crazy. Then I'm also giving money to the ACLU and other such causes. They know all about fighting the legal issues. For me this is the equivalent of working smart.
I read with interest today (Guardian: 17 Feb.) that scientists are on the verge of de-extinctioning the woolly mammoth. In two years or so they should be able to recreate something close to this enormous creature through DNA manipulations I do not pretend to understand. So we'll have woolly mammoths, which lived in the Arctic-like Ice Age, just about the same time the Arctic ceases to exist and elephants become extinct. Forgive me if I'm underwhelmed. Now, I admire science. I love that we explore such astonishing things. What I have trouble with is science that can do amazing things when the larger world seems intent on destruction which renders science's progress useless. For example: We have ever better ways of harnessing solar and wind energy. Yet the US government is defunding that research so we can keep burning fossil fuels. We have ways of reducing pollution ready to hand, yet the US has gutted the EPA. And so on. I hope we can de-extinction the woolly mammoth, and perhaps many other species that we are, every day, eradicating. I just wish we didn't do that eradicating in the first place.
Beauty comes in all forms and is never a guarantee of anything -- such as good character, morality, etc. But we can sometimes tell the characters of people by looking at them. With this in mind I've been surveying the pictures of some of the Republican stalwarts. Kellyanne Conway, Paul Rand, Mitch McConnell, Bannon... all of them look like very sad people who have been dragged out of the pit of hell. There's no real life in their faces, just a sort of ghastly, semi-dead mask. They all seem to be suffering. Match that to what they say and all I can point out is that, sometimes, we can see what's wrong without even having to listen that hard. Trust your eyes. These are sick and haunted people.