Wednesday, March 29, 2017



     March 29, 2017:
          Blame everybody, anybody else for the huge mistakes you make
          Lie, lie, lie, and lie some more. You know it won't cost you anything because your followers, who are desperate, uneducated, ignorant, don't know enough not to believe you.
          Make promises you know you can't keep.
          Act on instinct. Indulge your own paranoid fantasies.
          Don't take advice from people who know subjects way better than you do.
          Advance pollution, people won't notice for a while.
          Follow the lead of Calvin Coolidge, author of that famous remark, "The business of America is business."
          In line with that, deregulate everything.
          Don't just ignore history. Make sure you don't know it, either.
          Don't trouble yourself with the complexities of situations. Let ideology be your guide.
          Never think about your responsibilities. Think only about your power.
          Belittle science. It's just a bunch of pointyheads with "theories."
          Divide the country into ethnic groups, religious groups, ideological groups, racial groups. Demonize all groups you don't happen to belong to.
          Persuade yourself that it's all about you. Everything is about  you. Call yourself a winner, on all occasions, no matter what the evidence.

          Does that about sum it up? Lorraine and I, and most of our friends, wake up to new horrors in the New York Times every day and breakfast gets more and more depressing. Each new Congressman who makes news turns out to be dumber than the last, less well-informed, more deeply locked into right-wing fantasy life. If you write history or even just know it, you can't help but think of the long-term damage being done every day. Today was the day to roll back all the efforts Obama instituted to control climate change. Climate change? Will they finally believe in it when the Atlantic Ocean starts climbing up lower Broadway into mid-Manhattan? When the Seychelles disappear entirely? When all the reefs have finally died? Inconvenient truths indeed. Greenland is melting faster and faster every year. When all its ice is gone, sea level in all the world's oceans will be twenty-two feet higher. When Lt. Edward Parry stood on the shores of Melville Island in 1820 and stared out over the Arctic Ocean he saw ten solid feet of ice everywhere he looked, and it was August. In some places the ice stood forty feet thick. That's a four story building. Now? Sea ice in the Arctic gets thinner and thinner every winter--it's now down to about three feet--and summers are largely free of it. This is not a theory. This is evidence, and there's endless amounts of evidence. ExxonMobil has been studying the effects of man-made climate change for many years now, which has not stopped them from steadfastly fighting against programs to do anything about it. One of many examples of the fundamental dishonesty of the business system, which has always been about profits above all, no matter what the human cost.

          So what will future historians make of people like Paul Ryan, or Pence Climate-Change-Is-Only-a-Theory, or Trump the Unlearned, or all the other enablers for whom truth itself is, well, inconvenient? These people are profoundly irresponsible, and history will call them that, and future historians will spend a lot of time analyzing what on earth went wrong with America. Because America is unlikely still to exist. Backward looking, anti-intellectual, living too long off its reputation, which is now in steep decline, banking on the kind of military power that is becoming increasingly useless in its many wars, failing to educate its children, its citizens, riven with internal contradictions--all this is now expressed in its leadership, which aimed for the bottom, for a "Southern strategy" and a hate-the-immigrant strategy, or anything else, no matter how divisive, that would bring them to power. Where they now reside, clueless, inept, mistaken, and totally out of touch with reality. As Trump himself might way in one of his inane tweets, "So sad."

Sunday, February 12, 2017


February 12, 2017: TRUTH

          "We hold these truths to be self-evident...."

          To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, isn't it pretty to think so.

          This morning on George Stephanopolus's show, I heard some government spokesman yelling about voter fraud, and how prevalent it is, and how millions of voters last November voted twice or more, with busloads of Massachusetts voters being driven to New Hampshire to cast votes, obviously for Hilary Clinton. When asked to provide evidence he replied, with the same loud determination, that he knew it was true, everybody knew it was true. George wasn't buying it. Neither did I. But you can bet many of the people who voted for Trump will. Because, you know, the media lies, the media is corrupt, facts are not facts, there are alternative facts. And those of us who are educated, who understand basic things like the necessity of evidence to prove a case, in law and in life, sigh in despair. Because there is no evidence for these claims at all. This never happened.

          The actual truth in this case? What is actually happening and has been happening for years now is that people on the right have been taking over state legislatures and gerrymandering election districts to ensure that they are way more likely to win political control over both state and Federal legislatures, and in the process attack voting rights to make it as difficult as possible for minorities to vote. It's a clever strategy, well-organized in its execution, and it has worked. With the connivance of the Supreme Court decision that it was no longer necessary for the Federal Gov't to oversee voting procedures in the South, which has spent the 150 years since the Civil War making sure blacks never got to vote. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ...."

          And what is this about? White power. This country belongs to white people, and by God they're going to keep it that way. Voter fraud? This is the actual voter fraud. All the rest is demagoguery. Fake news. In short, lies.

          The lies, the amateur foreign policy mistakes, the outright stupidity of the current administration come so fast and are so dangerous that I find myself reeling, reluctant to read the news it is so disheartening. I find it hard to work. Hard to pay attention. And "alternative facts"--as if there really were such things. Facts are facts. The truth is the truth. Yet the right denies it; worst of all, it denies the biggest and most frightening truth of our time, that the ice caps are melting, storms are becoming more frequent and more violent because of the amount of moisture in the air, glaciers are retreating all over the world, in Antarctica the Larsen Ice Shelf is breaking up, Greenland is melting far faster than anyone anticipated, and folks, we are in deep shit. Not just America. The whole world. Yet alone in the civilized world the American right denies that global warming is speeding up and is busy now deregulating the fossil fuel burners. Because global warming is only a "theory."

          When in fact, in fact, in fact, it is supported by mountains of scientific evidence, 97% of the world's climate scientists accept it, and every year the world's average temperature breaks the record set the previous year. This is the true Armageddon. The true Apocalypse. Close to 50% of the world's population lives on seacoasts. Here in the Hamptons, everyone wants a water view--preferably as close to the water as possible.

          It is truth itself that I mourn for. A President denies photographic evidence, as plain as day, that shows incontrovertibly that his inauguration crowd was way smaller than President Obama's. He says that when he began to speak it stopped raining, when in fact it started. Alas. We mourn. The search for truth is one of the sacred tasks of humankind. It is enshrined in the legal system, it is what scientists live for, it is the project of all our lives, to find the truth. Even if it is hard to face. It often is. What human beings are doing to our planet, the only one we have, is definitely a hard truth. But when the official leader of our country tells us that global warming is a Chinese plot, then we know. We are in deep shit. Our only option is to resist, to organize, to make every possible effort to take our country back from the brink of chaos and ignorance.


Sunday, January 1, 2017


January 1, 2017; MANAGING THE PAST

          A new year, and we're supposed to look forward, but it's hard to do when you are constantly wrestling with your past. I'll be leaving a whole lot of words behind me, essays, books, feature articles, book reviews, hundreds of those, two whole books still looking for publishers (one a memoir, talk about wrestling with the past), and now a book of poems, self-published because I never wanted a career as a poet, and I'll be giving a reading at the end of January, and it will be out of the past. Words words words. Occasionally I read some of the things I've written and pronounce them good, or not so good, and I think, does this make a whole? Is there a definitive person behind them? Was this a good way to lead a life?

          Well I can't stop. I look at the 5,000 books in my personal library, I reread old notebooks, I remember all the ideas I've had that could have been books or magazine pieces, and the same itch is there, the need to know, to tell stories about the present or the past,  or to voice opinions about politics, about human beings, about experience and its consequences. I once ran down Mt. Rainier. Served as a quality control inspector for a hotel chain in South America. Scuba dove to 85 feet in Belize. Kayaked in the Queen Charlotte Islands. Interviewed adults who had been sexually abused, by their own parents, as children. Stood for a day beside a concierge in a fancy hotel and watched him work. Spent eleven days in a mental hospital. Had lunch with Robert Lehman in his private dining room. The list is long. A full life, one would say, a rich life, but not atypical for a free-lance writer.

          What's it all about, Alfie? In a way, it's a stupid question. Nobody really knows what it's all about. To a degree it was all choices I made, from another angle it had little to do with choice. So many things just happen to a person, they appear as roadblocks or disasters you could not have foreseen, could not have prevented. Or wonderful strokes of luck. You don't get what you want, you get what you need. You try to sort it out, decide what you're responsible for, what you're not. Either way, guilt is built into the equation.

          I walk around the house sometimes scanning the bookshelves and wondering what's inside all those books. I'll pick one off a shelf, take it to bed with me to read after the TV gets shut off, read it over a period of a week or two, sometimes longer. I still want to know, I'm curious about all kinds of things. Maybe forty years ago I wrote a piece for the old Psychology Today, now vanished, called "Selves," about the slipperiness of that concept, the difficulty of pinning down what's going on inside our hearts and minds and what that means about who we are. The longest piece that magazine ever ran. But here's the thing--I still have some of the books I read for that piece. I may need them again someday.

          You wind up with doubt, or, if your heart is particularly flexible, with what Keats called "negative capability," which is the  ability to hold two opposed concepts in your mind at the same time without feeling the need to decide between them. You keep your options open. You accept the fact that mostly you don't know whether you're doing the wrong thing or the right with your life, and what the consequences will be. You tell yourself, you tell other people, you always wanted to live in the real world. But you can't promise that you reached that point, because the real world is a very complicated and unpredictable place, and you may be wrong. So your life could be like the lives of some scholars, who spend their lives chasing a subject, a dream, an insight down a blind alley. A waste.

          That takes courage. You hope you have it when you need it.