The Nuclear Threat and What To Do About It

This is the second installment of “The Stories of  Joseph Howell,”  and some may have read it before. Hope you will take a second look….

This week Trump is going to make a decision on the Iran nuclear deal, and the negotiations with South Korea loom in the future. The threat of nuclear war is probably greater now than it has been since the ending of the Cold War. But let’s not forget that it has always been lurking in the shadows, which recalls my experience with an organization called  Search For Common Ground as told below:

 The nuclear threat  is the reason when I got a call in the mid 80s, I responded the way I did. The call came from a guy who worked for one of the housing clients I was serving at the time (another reason to take the call seriously). The call went something like this:

“Joe, great to talk to you and hear your voice. I am calling to see how you feel about nuclear war.”

“Well, actually I am against it.”

“You know, I thought that you would feel this way and are one of us. I am part of a small but growing group whose sole purpose is to prevent nuclear war. We would be honored if you would consider joining us.”

He went on to say that his group–“Search for Common Ground”– would be meeting next week and that both I and my wife were invited. In fact it was really important that she come along as well, provided, of course, that she too was against nuclear war. I told him that we had not discussed the topic lately, but I was pretty sure that she also was “one of us.”  The meeting would be more like a reception, and there would be plenty of food and a chance to get to know others in the group. Most of the people would be new people, just like us.

It turned out that we could not make it  that meeting, but he came back with a bunch of other dates, and one of them worked. Boy, I thought, these guys meet a lot. They must be really dedicated. He then gave me very explicit directions to get to the location  of the meeting, which would start at seven. We should not be late. With some reluctance and skepticism, Embry agreed to join me, and we headed off to the meeting in plenty of time to get there by seven. In fact the meeting was in our neighborhood, less than a mile away.

For a couple of blocks we drove up Connecticut Avenue—the main drag—took a right  and went down a steep hill, toward the direction of Rock Creek Park.  His directions were very explicit that we should make a left turn on the dirt road just before the bottom of the hill. Dirt road in the middle of Washington? I certainly could not remember seeing any dirt road at that spot, which I passed all the time; but sure enough as we approached the bottom of the hill, there was a small, practically hidden dirt  road. We made the turn.

The road lead directly into Rock Creek Park. But for all we knew we could have been in a primeval forest. It was now twilight, and the huge trees cast shadows across our path as our car lurched forward up a  hill. “Where on earth are we going?” asked Embry. “It seems like we are in the wilderness.” I had to agree. There was an eerie feeling about the whole place, almost like we were characters in a Harry Potter movie. We drove along for what seemed like hours, but actually was probably more like ten minutes, when the road suddenly turned sharply down a hill where we could see a meadow in the dim light.

We emerged from the dark forest into the meadow and saw before us a giant, stone  mansion, four storey’s high with turrets, surrounded by luxuriant gardens. Were we in England, surely it would have been one of the estates of the Royal Family. We approached the house from the back where there was a parking lot full of cars, many of them late model BMWs and Mercedes. Beside the parking area was a large swimming pool and fountain. Could we possibly be in the right place? My friend said nothing about meeting in a castle. Parking our beat-up car beside a sparkling Cadillac, we wandered around to the front of the house. I checked the address with my instructions. We were in the right place. A huge plaque beside the front door read simply “Grey Stone.”

The front door was open, and we timidly walked into a completely empty, grand hallway with twenty or thirty foot ceilings and medieval tapestries on the wall and huge portraits of people who looked like they were dukes or counts. The dark wood floor was adorned with oriental rugs, and in the middle was a huge table with trays of cheese, various kinds of fruit, cookies, Perrier water and cokes. But not a soul was present. We looked at each other with puzzled expressions.

Suddenly out of nowhere a thin, white-haired woman, probably in her seventies, appeared. “You must be the Howells,” she said, smiling, and extended a hand. “Welcome to Grey Stone.”

I apologized that we must be early since no one else was here. “Oh no,” she replied you are right on time. The others will be here shortly. Have some cheese and fruit.”

As we munched away, the room slowly began to fill up. People—mostly in their 30s or 40s and dressed “business casual”—seemed to emerge out of nowhere just like our hostess. Within fifteen minutes the room was practically full with at least forty or fifty guests, all chatting away. This went on for at least forty-five minutes during which time we were never alone. I had never been with a friendlier group. One by one, almost every person in the room came over, extended a hand and said something to the effect, “You must be the Howells, I’ve heard so much about you, a true honor to meet you.” My spirits brightened immediately. Having emerged from the dark, primeval forest into a warm atmosphere of friendship and camaraderie was a welcomed relief and was just the kind of group I had always wanted to belong to. And they were all against nuclear war. What more could you ask for? I glanced at Embry, who was chatting quietly with one of her many new friends and admirers. She gave me one of her skeptical looks. But before I could think about it, I felt a pat on my back, “Joe Howell, right? How great to have you here….” How could all these people know about me?  It was the best reception I had ever attended. Nothing else had come close.

Just as I was beginning to wonder when the meeting was actually going to start, someone jingled a bell. It was our hostess. Suddenly the room became stone silent.  All eyes turned to her.

“I want to welcome you all to my home,” she said, “and I am so happy to have you here, most of you for the first time. I hope you are having a grand time and getting to meet each other. But it is now time for business, and we should move to the parlor.”

The “parlor” was another huge room but not as vast as the grand hall. The room had a nine or ten foot ceiling, was beautifully decorated with antiques and what I resumed was priceless artwork on the wall, some of it modern. As we gathered around a huge fireplace with the portrait of a baron above it, our hostess moved to the center of the room.

She started off by saying, “How many of you attended the lecture last week on ‘endophormorphic resonance’?” Almost everyone raised their hand. I had no idea what she was talking about or even if I heard her correctly; but from the conversation that followed I gathered it was the concept that ideas and thoughts can sort of float around the planet, which explains why two people separated by thousands of miles can come up with the same idea at more or less the same time. Think of inventing the wheel or using fire for cooking. In any event it was apparent that this crowd of anti nuclear activists was really into endophormorphic resonance.

At last the time came to focus on nuclear war, the prime reason we were there and the common bond that brought us together. It was somewhat odd, I thought, that at the reception not one person had said a word to us about nuclear war. But now the time had come to confront it head on. I was ready.

Our elderly hostess was replaced by a thirty-something man with a crop of black hair. He described the mission of the group known as Search for Common Ground: to eliminate the threat of nuclear war. When asked how many in the group were against nuclear war, everyone raised their hands but no one with more vigor than me. The next exercise was to go around the room and for everyone to stand up and say two things—first, what they really thought about nuclear war and second what they were going to do to stop it.

Well, you have never heard such moving speeches. Even Billy Graham would have been impressed. It was like an old fashioned revival. People poured out their soul as to why they did not think nuclear war was a good idea and then pledged lots of money to this organization, The Search for Common Ground. Several  pledged several thousand dollars each, somebody else 10% of all future profits in his  successful, hairstyling  business. Some were more modest but promised every penny they could come up with. People were reaching deep.

 Of the forty plus attendees I was probably around the thirty-fifth to speak. Embry actually was seated ahead of me in the speaking order but refused to say a word. Most of the speeches had been followed by applause. In some cases people were embracing. I could have sworn I saw some people crying. When Embry refused to stand up, there was a quiet, uneasy  murmur from the group.

I was next. I stood up, beaming. “I too am against nuclear war.” I said proudly, “In fact I have been against it for some time.” Applause from the group followed immediately. “I have heard all the stories about how nuclear war is not good and am deeply moved. It is true that I do not have a lot of money, but I pledge to give $500 to this worthy cause and join your group. I  am proud and honored to be part of Search for Common Ground.” The applause was deafening. Someone patted me on my back. Someone else embraced me. What a great thrill to be part of such a wonderful group of sincere, generous people.

I glanced at Embry who was now slouched  over in her seat with her head in her hands. The speeches continued.

Embry then sat up and whispered in my ear, “ We can’t even pay our utility bills, and you pledged $500 to this group that you know absolutely nothing about? Have you lost your mind?”

“Listen, there is nothing more important than stopping nuclear war, and I am going to do my part. We will figure out some way to come up with the money.”

Embry groaned.

Then it was all over. The speeches had all been made. I filled out my pledge card, signed up as a member  and was ready to talk to my new friends, who were cheerfully chatting away. Embry grabbed my hand and said, “Come on, we are getting out of this place right now.” She practically yanked me out the door as my new friends waved good bye and thanked me again.

On the way to our car a young woman raced up behind us, panting.

“Stop,” she said, “I need to talk to you.” She went on to say that she was a reporter from the Baltimore Sun and was doing a story on Search for Common Ground.

“You are new, right? I have two questions for you. First question—do you know how often this reception happens?” Before I could say anything, she said that it happens three, sometimes four days a week and that it has been going on for months.

The second question was if I knew how many people other than ourselves were “new” to the group. She said that tonight there were actually six of us, three couples. All three couples had pledged money, but I was the most generous. All the other people there were part of the organization.  This was a scam. People like  us were referred to as “pigeons”; and their hit rate on pigeons was pretty good, often as much as  several thousand dollars a night. All the other pledges were bogus.

“But they said it was about stopping nuclear war.”

“Stopping nuclear war, my ass,” she shot back. “These people are all part of Est, and the money they raise goes straight into the coffers of Est. It does not have anything to do with nuclear war.”

Est was one of the New Age, feel-good, self-actualization groups, popular at the time. They were known for having weekend retreats where they locked up everyone in a large room, would not let them out even to go to the bathroom, broke down their defenses, and if time permitted, rebuilt them to be happy members of the Est cult. Several of our friends had told us Est horror stories.

“But what about the nuclear war stuff?”

“That is how Est now raises money.  It has become  obvious to most people that Est  is a fraud, and members are dropping out like flies. They are desperate for cash. This is a cover.”

“But why the nuclear war angle?”

 “You idiot! Have you ever known anyone who is for nuclear war?”

“Oh,” I replied. Embry just laughed and shook her head with that “I told you so” look.

If you are seeing a pattern between this story and the Amway story, you are correct. I originally called these stories—and there are several more to follow—“Gullible’s Travels.” This is the story of my life. Well, part of the story. But rest assured: I did not give them a penny, and after several threatening letters to pay up or else, they left me alone. I never saw my friend again or heard anything more about the organization.

But, sadly, the threat of nuclear war is more real today than it was at the time of the story. More countries now have these weapons. Some like North Korea are borderline rogue. How long will it be before some nuclear weapons find there way into the hands of terrorists? And we have a volatile and unpredictable president, who appears to be on the verge of pushing the nuclear countdown clock a few more seconds closer to midnight. It is a frightening time. Yet most of us are lulled into a fog of belief that the unthinkable can’t happen. But it could. And no one knows what would happen after that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Respect at Last

It is almost summer and time for a change from Faux News all the time. A few years ago I published on the web a number of essays called “The Stories of Joseph Howell.” Some blog readers may have seen some of them before. Here (again) is one of my favorites:

 

Okay, let’s face it: Most people like to be liked and respected. And I am no different. I  have yearned for popularity and respect  my entire life, an endless quest , so to speak, rarely fulfilled.

Of course, being liked and being respected does not happen all the time and rarely happens at the same time, but it happened to me in the hot summer of 1981.

It all started with a phone call from an acquaintance from my former job where I worked as a developer of affordable housing. I hardly knew the guy, but he got right to the point. “Joe,  I  just wanted to call and tell you how much I respect you and how important you were to me when we worked together.”

I couldn’t believe it. Me? Important to a guy I really didn’t know? It just goes to show, you never know when you are having a positive influence on someone. It was surprising that he even remembered my name.

He went on to say that he respected and liked me so much that he was having a party in my honor and was going to invite a lot of his housing friends and people at HUD. It was going to be fun—but it was not just for me, it was also for my wife, and there would not be a party unless we both could attend. Now was that thoughtful or what? He did not even know Embry.

“The party is going to be on Wednesday, July 18. Can you and your wife make it?” I checked with Embry. I could make it. She couldn’t. I was really disappointed. Here was a guy having a party in my honor, and I couldn’t even make it. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity lost. I expressed my regrets, thinking how wonderful it would have been to be the center of attention.

“Oh, that’s ok, we can move it to the next Wednesday.”   Wow, this guy won’t give up, I thought. The conversation continued with several other dates proposed until we found one that worked. Wednesday, August 9. Oddly, all the dates suggested were Wednesdays. His last words were that it was really going to be fun, that I would meet a lot of affordable housing people, and that it was very, very important that we got there on time.  He gave me the address of his apartment, conveniently located only a couple of miles from our house in northwest Washington.

Since the party was almost a month away, I did not give it a great deal of thought; though when I did, I could not conceal my pride and sense of satisfaction. Being honored like this does not happen to many people. It was not that I did not deserve this kind of recognition. It is just that it is so rare and in my case was so long overdue.

About a week before the event, my excitement was starting to build. I got a call from my friend reminding me of the party and verifying that both I and my wife would be present and on time. He stressed that we should be there at seven at the latest.

There are two other things that you should know. First, I had just started up my own consulting practice (in affordable and seniors housing) and was desperate for clients; and two, August 9, 1981, the day of the party, could well have been the hottest and most unpleasant day in the history of Washington, with sweltering humidity and temperatures near 100.

The reason the first fact is important is that on that very day I was in New York City consulting with one of my few clients. I had planned to catch the two o’clock shuttle flight   allowing me to get home in plenty of time for the party. My client asked if I could stay another day to finish the work on the assignment.

 Rule number one: you never turn down a client request, especially if he is your only client.

 I turned him down. I could not miss the party in my honor, after all the planning that must have gone into it. I just could not do this to my friend or, for that matter, to myself. I had never been honored in such a fashion. I caught the two pm plane, which was delayed, but did get into National Airport around five thirty, allowing time to get home, take a shower, get dressed and still make it by seven. But I had to hurry. I did not have a minute to waste

I told the cab driver to step on it, arrived home around six and stumbled out of the air-conditioned cab. The heat almost knocked me out. I raced up our front stairs, announcing that I was home and that we had only minutes to get ready. There was no answer. Embry was nowhere to be found. Puzzling, I thought. Before I had left for my business trip, I had reminded her how important the event was and how we had to be on time. Oh well, I thought, she will surely be here soon. The baby sitter showed up minutes later.

At six thirty I was showered, dressed, and ready to go. It would take about fifteen minutes to get to his apartment, plenty of time. Still no Embry. At six forty-five, still no Embry. By this time I was pacing the floor of our front porch scanning the sidewalk, sweating, and furious. How could she do this to me? At exactly five minutes to seven, I saw her. She was smiling, with our six-year-old daughter in tow, and had on her swimming suit. They had been for a refreshing swim at the neighborhood pool. She was casually walking toward the house.

“Do you know what time it is and where we have to be?” I shouted. Several passersby on the sidewalk gave me a puzzled look. Embry’s smile changed to a frown. “What’s the big deal? It is unbearably hot. We went to the pool.” she said, “I’ll be ready in a couple of minutes….”

A couple of minutes? I was ruined. It was already seven, and we would be at least a half hour late. I can’t remember exactly what I said to her next, but she gave me a skeptical look and said, “Are you crazy? You don’t even know this guy!”

Around seven thirty she reappeared. By this time I had calmed down a bit, realizing that the damage had been done, and there was nothing I could do about it. Maybe my friend would be a little upset, but it was not the end of the world.  I jumped in the car and motioned to Embry to get in. How could she be so slow? I stepped on the gas as we raced up Connecticut Avenue, thankful that there were no cops around to nail us for speeding. We did not say one word to each other the whole way to the party.

Now that we were finally moving, I was finally able to relax a bit. I envisioned what it would be like when we did arrive. We would be warmly greeted. My friend would introduce us to everyone and say a lot of nice things about me. There would be great food, beer and wine and probably some good music in the background. I would feign humility and bask in the limelight, maybe even say a few words myself. All would be good. I managed to smile at Embry, who despite her look of bewilderment, managed to smile back.

I had his address on a sheet of paper—an apartment building on Connecticut Avenue, apartment 603. We pulled into a side street, found a parking space; and I leaped out of the car, pulling Embry along. Panting, we arrived at the front door of the apartment building, which thankfully was unlocked.  It was now almost eight, and the elevator took forever to get down to the first floor. As the elevator door opened on floor six, I bounded toward apartment 603 and found it only a few doors away. Oddly there was no sound coming from inside the apartment—no noise or laughter or music. I must have written down the wrong address. I paused for a long moment. Embry suggested I should just knock and see what would happen.

I did. The door opened, and we gazed into a room packed with probably thirty or forty people, all stone silent and sitting on the floor. The room was suffocating. Air conditioning units are not equipped to cool an apartment packed with people when it is over 100 degrees outside. All eyes turned to us. There was a man standing in front of the group. He was probably around 40, was wearing a dark suit and tie, and had a deadly serious look on his face. My friend was nowhere to be seen.

“The Howells I presume?” the presenter said in a sarcastic tone, “We have your place reserved on the front row. You are one hour late.”

My friend suddenly appeared from nowhere and escorted us to a spot on the floor in the front as we tried to avoid stepping on anyone. We sat down on the carpet as people shuffled around trying to make room for us.

 I had no idea what was happening or where we were. I immediately thought of Franz Kafka. Was this some kind of purgatory? Was this a bad joke? Was it some kind of torture? Was it a precursor to an execution? Or was it just a nightmare, which would fade into memory when I woke up?

 I was so confused I could not focus on what the guy was saying.

But after a couple of minutes I began to get my wits about me and was able to see what he was doing. He had an easel and was drawing a pyramid with dollar signs all over it.

Wait a minute. I had seen this movie before. An out-of-town, old friend from high school had showed up at our house a few years before, supposedly for dinner, but had immediately brought in an felt board on which he placed a pyramid with dollar signs and insisted on talking about some hair-brained, get rich scheme, selling toothpaste and laundry detergent. I had told him I had no interest in selling toothpaste or laundry detergent. He said, I didn’t have to sell anything, just enlist six friends, and I would be guaranteed riches. When I told him we were not interested in riches and that we should just have dinner and talk about old times, he left in a huff, not even staying for dinner. Embry thought the guy was nuts. I never saw or spoke to him again.

I quietly turned to the woman next to me, who seemed to be spellbound by whatever the presenter in the dark suit was saying, and asked in a whisper, “Amway Products?”

She nodded yes, smiling.

The moment the young woman nodded, Embry, with a horrified look on her face and in a stage whisper heard by everyone in the room, exclaimed: “Joe Howell, I have been married to you for a long time and I have put up with a lot of shit, but I am not putting up with this shit for one instant.” She stood up and headed for the door.

There was a hushed silence. Then everyone looked at me.

Without a moment’s hesitation, I stood up as well, waved my hand, and with an embarrassed smile managed to say, “Bye bye,” and bolted for the door, trying not to step on anyone.

Someone opened the door but not before I was able to notice the stunned look on the face of my friend. The door slammed shut and Embry and I stood alone in the dim hallway. We looked at each other for a brief moment and burst out laughing.

So much for being respected and well liked, I thought. But life could be a lot worse. I could be selling toothpaste and laundry detergent.

 

 

Faux News: Inside Story Behind the Syrian Bombing

President Trump is boasting that the strategic bombing in Syria last week represents one of the greatest military accomplishments of all time. But Faux News has learned that the decision to bomb Syria came very close to  not happening at all. Here is the story as secretly recorded by our faithful reporter disguised as janitor cleaning the War Room:

Trump: Okay, let’s get started. What we are here to do today is to start a war. We have got to do something: Stormy is going crazy. The Lying, Slimeball Comey’s book is coming out. The press is trying to track down my love child. Seems like every day some new, lying slut files a law suit against me. Approval ratings are down. We have got to change the subject.

Pence: A war? I thought we had already decided to invade Canada and take it over.

Trump: You are right, Pence. That was your idea, and at the time I thought it had merit.

Pence: Thank you, Mr. President, for saying that. Thank you very much.

Trump: But I have changed my mind. It actually was a dumb idea, and Pence, you are an idiot.

Pence: You are right, Mr. President, it was a bad idea, and I ask your forgiveness for even suggesting it.

Trump: I have decided that the country we will bomb to smithereens is Panama.

Pence:  That is a terrific idea! You are a genius, Mr. President.

Trump: Shut up, Pence.

Pence: Forgive me, sir.

Mattis:  Excuse me, Mr. President. Did you say Panama?

Trump: Yes. Panama. Do have any idea what is going on there and why we have to act now? The no good partner we had for our hotel there has changed the name of the hotel from Trump to…Well, I am not sure what the new name is, and I don’t care. He has removed the Trump hotel sign and trashed it. Said the name was a liability. Well, I have ordered the President of Panama to restore the sign, and he has not acted. I want to teach him a lesson. Mattis, I want the armed forces on high alert and the Pacific Fleet to head toward Panama now. I want the whole country bombed into the Stone Age and I want the canal back and I want it back now!

Pence: Wonderful, Mr. President!

Trump: Pence, when I want your opinion, I will ask for it.

Pence: Of course, Your Exalted One.

Mattis: The idea may have merit, but there is something more urgent.

Trump: Oh yeah, what?

Mattis: Syria.

Trump:  What about Syria?

Mattis: Chemical weapons, sir. They have used chemical weapons  again against the rebels. Many civilians have been killed. Certainly you must remember the briefing yesterday.

Trump: So what is the big deal? You are dead anyway. What difference does it make if you are killed by a bullet, a bomb or a chemistry set? If you are dead, you are dead. And that goes for nukes as well. I say a nuke is just like any other weapon, just more effective, and that is why, Mattis, I order you to send the nuclear-armed subs to Panama. We are going to teach them a lesson and do it now. Besides I just announced that we are pulling out of Syria. We have won that war, and I am bringing the troops home.

Mattis: Sir, I see your point, but actually we have not won the war and furthermore chemical weapons are outlawed by international law. If we let them get away with this a second time, then they will use them again and again, so will other countries.

Trump: So…?

Mattis: May I remind you of Obama and the line in the sand he drew about Syria’s chemical weapons and how he did not follow though and how that affected his approval ratings and his legacy?

Trump: It made him look bad?

Mattis: Yes, bad and weak.

Trump: Weak?

Mattis: Very weak and indecisive.

Trump: Bomb ‘em!

Mattis: Thank you, Mr. President. I will get the ball rolling.

Trump: But don’t forget about Panama.

Mattis: Will keep that in mind, sir.

Trump: Okay, Pence. You can talk now.

Pence: You are the greatest man  to ever live! Thank you, Mr. President.

Trump: You are now all dismissed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

76 Trombones

So what is it like to turn 76? Not much different than turning 75 except with a new knee replacement I am actually in better shape than I was a year ago.

So the next question: does 76 mean I am getting old? The answer is yes. I was pleasantly reminded of this recently on two occasions when someone in his forties (in both cases a friendly, African American man) smiled and said, “So how are you doing today, young man?”

It turns out that in 2018 the average life expectancy of a male in the U.S. is 76.4 years old. Five months to go and I will beat the average.

It is worth noting that people who are old are revered in many countries. In our 2015 trip around the world we were treated with deference and respect in many countries. China stands out the most. Toting a large suitcase each, whenever we were faced with climbing or descending a steep staircase in a train station, we would find the suitcases mysteriously disappearing from our hands and waiting for us as we reached the top or bottom of the stairs. Whoever the Good Samaritan was, he was nowhere to be found. How may times would that happen in the U.S. ?

The biggest challenge for me in old age is seeking to find a balance between purposeful and productive activity without overdoing it and also finding time for relaxation and enjoyment of life with friends and family. That has involved some adjunct teaching at GW, a lot of nonprofit board and church work, and returning to my passion for writing and photography. Nor have I given up my love for sailing and plan to compete in close to 20 races this season. Lunches and get-togethers with friends are also an important part of the routine.

I have been especially fortunate to have been able to stay close to family. We see our daughter, Jessica, our son-in-law, Peter, and their two children (ages 10 and 12) almost weekly since they live in the area, and our son, Andrew, and his wife, Karen, who live outside New York City, and their two children (ages 9 and 10) at least five or six times a year. Staying close to children and grandchildren is surely one of the most rewarding benefits of old age.

And most important of all is my fifty-two years of marriage to Embry Martin. I never cease to be amazed by her energy, her values, and her concern for others and am deeply grateful to have been married to such a strong, compassionate, and supportive person. We have been through a lot together, having lost our first child, Katherine, just short of her first birthday, the  summer of 1966 working on the front lines of the civil rights movement, our year on Clay Street, and our many travels together. When we got married, there was no such thing as a feminist, but that all changed, and little did I know that I would be married to one. But I am grateful for it and proud of her for all she has accomplished in her career and in her life,  and grateful for her being a great mother to our children, and  sticking with me during all these years.

I sometimes hear people say that they have never been happier than in retirement when they no longer have to work and are free to spend all their time on the golf course, playing tennis, hanging out at the club or “doing nothing.” Not so for me. I loved my work; and like so many of us Type A Washingtonians where your job/career establishes your identity, giving up my career was hard. However, because of all my seniors and affordable housing board work, I find that I still am able to keep an oar in the water and am grateful for that, even if it means that I have to write checks instead of receiving them.

So upon turning 76–I suppose like many my age–I am most of all reminded of all the blessings that I have received. I often find myself using the metaphor of how we have no choice other than to play the cards in the hand we have been dealt as best we can. Some of us have been dealt better cards than others. Some have not played their strong hands very well, and others who have received very weak hands have played them extraordinarily well. You must know people in both categories. I surely was dealt a strong hand, for which I am profoundly grateful. In the end how we play our cards is how we will be judged.

In some cultures we old folks are considered fountains of wisdom. I suppose that is because we have seen and done a lot and certainly must have learned something from experience. There is a question in my mind, however, as to whether this is true or whether our personalities just become a little more exaggerated as we age—for the better and for the worse. In any event I do not feel all that wise myself though I think I know enough to be genuinely concerned about the fate of the planet Earth if we continue along the path we are on now. Climate change and global warming are at the top of the list, but not far behind are our weapons of mass destruction and our ability to snuff ourselves out. Also high on the list are inequality and the uneven distribution of wealth and power. My generation had our shot at tackling big issues, and we have a mixed track record. The Civil Rights struggle–at least for me– was our finest hour; and other gains have been made—certainly in technology, which has changed our lives, often (but by no means always) for the better. But we are leaving behind a world of problems, which our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren will have to solve.

But isn’t that the way the world has always been and always will be? We are a small, lonely planet. It is up to us humans to protect it and make it a better place. With something like two billion stars in our galaxy and two billion galaxies in the Universe, surely there are other planets out there with life on them, but they are too far away to get to any time soon. We as a planet have been dealt a hand. We need to play those cards better than we have been doing during my short, 76 years on this planet.

 

Holy Week 2018

This week is Holy Week. I am what is called a “cradle Episcopalian,” which means I am a lifer, having grown up attending Christ Episcopal Church in Nashville and then worshipping in various Episcopal churches over the years. We have been regulars at All Souls, a few blocks from where we live, since the mid 1980s. Embry is now on the vestry, and I have had various leadership positions there.

Holy Week is a big deal for most Christian churches and a really big deal for most Episcopal churches. It all begins with the Palm Sunday service, which is solemn and dignified and when (in our church anyway) the entire Passion Narrative from one of the Gospels is chanted, starting with Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem and ending with the crucifixion. Then there is a service on Maundy Thursday (the Last Supper) when the alter is stripped and people leave the church in silence, another at noon on Good Friday, then a very long service on the next evening when the Easter Vigil happens, a service which begins in darkness and ends with the first Easter communion. Then finally there is the Easter service on Sunday, with fabulous music by the choir, often accompanied by a brass quartet, lots of incense and bells, and fancy robes and garments worn by the clergy, followed by a champagne reception in the undercroft. (After all we are Episcopalians!)

How do the clergy get through the week, I often wonder, realizing how close I came to being ordained myself.

For those who have been following Faux News, you know that I have been obsessed with what I believe is the most dangerous threat to our democracy and our country that I have witnessed in my 76 years. This weekend you are getting a breather from Faux News. In fact we all need a breather. This dark night of the soul will surely pass. We will be stronger and more just as a nation. We will get through this. Holy Week gives us a chance to pause and reflect and to think about what is really important.

What is really important is that there is something more to life than this secular world we find ourselves in. There is more than politics, than finding satisfying work, than fighting for good causes, than being “successful,” than maintaining strong personal and family relationships, and than struggling with the day to day challenges we all face. There is more than being happy. There is a spiritual dimension to human life. This is often illusive and seems to hide from us in places where we do not look. Holy Week and Easter remind us that this spiritual dimension is real. If we are lucky, Holy Week gives us a chance to look in the right places.

While I have “practiced” Christianity my entire life and have, as they say, paid my dues, I have struggled with questions of belief and doubt and am not one to say that I have found all the answers. Too often I wonder if I have any of the answers. But what I know is this: all of us humans on this small, blue planet are born, and we all die. Because we are human we ask the question, why. Why are we here? Why is the world the way it is? What is going on in the rest of this vast universe? What is the ultimate meaning of the all-too-short life we have been given and the cards we have been dealt to play the best we can as we slog along through the years?

Holy Week provides a fleeting glimpse of the answer. I believe that we humans yearn for meaning and for assurance that there is a reason and a purpose for our lives. This applies to all humans. Whether we admit it or not, most of us are on a spiritual journey. I believe there is one destination of this journey, yet many pathways. The Easter story is one pathway. That it happened and that the story is still alive today gives us a ray of hope on this troubled planet.

Faux News: Bolton To Arrive on the Scene

John Bolton will start work as Trump’s National Security Adviser on April 7. People are wondering why Trump chose the unapologetic architect of W.’s Iraq War and a controversial figure who has been described as the hawk of hawks. The answer is in his job interview as recorded below:

Trump: Come in, John. Do you mind if I call you Johnny-boy?

Bolton: Of course not, Mr. President.

Trump: So why do you want this job?

Bolton: Because you are the greatest President in U.S. history and the greatest man to ever live.

Trump: Good reasons.

Bolton: And I have a vision. A vision that will make you great again.

Trump: You don’t think I am already great?

Bolton: I misspoke. I meant America.

Trump: So?

Bolton: The vision I have is this: we are at a unique point in history, and you are the man to transform the world and our country. If you choose to use the weapons, I mean tools available to you.

Trump: Like what?

Bolton: Your best tools are the nukes. It is time to stop playing nambi-pambi and use these tools for what they were intended to be used for—to obliterate the enemy.

Trump: Really?

Bolton: You start off by nuking North Korea, the day before you and the fat toad, slime ball, Kim, are supposed to meet. They will not be prepared, and you will put them out of their misery, all 25 million of those kowtowing bastards. If you follow my plan, they won’t have a chance to fire back a single missile.

Trump: But what about China and South Korea?

Bolton: China won’t do a thing. They hate these people more than we do, plus South Korea will be wiped out by nuclear fallout. No worries there.

Trump: Japan?

Bolton: Depends on which way the wind is blowing. But they don’t have much of a choice.

Trump: But the backlash at home. The Democrats. The Fake Press.

Bolton: That is where my vision really begins. We will be at war. You will use your war powers to declare martial law and disband the Congress—only temporarily, of course, but long enough for you to get your job done, heh, heh, if you know what I mean.

Trump: Interesting idea, Johnny-boy and Mueller too?

Bolton: Of course, he is the first to go.

Trump: And the Fake Press?

Bolton: The slammer, where they belong. The Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, MSNBC—all of them, history.

Trump: This is becoming even more interesting.

Bolton: But this is just the beginning. Look, Mr. President, so called democracies like ours are relatively new in history and, frankly, have never worked all that well. Look at the morons that have been presidents—Obama, Kennedy, Roosevelt, Lincoln, Jefferson, Adams, Washington—and they are considered the good ones. In any event it is time to put the idea of a democracy behind us and move forward to a monarchy. You would be our first king –though I think “Emperor” is really a more suitable title. And the Trump name would live on for generations. Donny Jr. would be next and then Barron. Oh yes, did I mention that you would suspend the Constitution —just for a little while, to let things settle down?

Trump: Continue, Johnny-boy.

Bolton: I have not gotten to the best part. You would rename the country from the so called “United States of America” to “Trumptopia.”

Trump: I like the sound of that.

Bolton: And we would need a new flag. I have designed one myself. You know the old World War II sign that has a picture of Uncle Sam on it with him pointing a finger toward you and saying “Uncle Sam Wants You”? Well, it would look just like that except the picture would be of you, and it would say “Uncle Donald” and at the bottom of the flag would read, “Trumptopia.”

Trump: But what about the military? Would they go along with something like this?

Bolton: Forget the military. You don’t need them. You will have the NRA. In fact I recommend that only members of the NRA will be allowed to own guns, and they can own any kind of gun or weapon they want. Their membership will skyrocket from five million to fifty million. And you will make them an offer they can’t refuse—no member will have to pay any federal income taxes. You will rename them the Trumpsters, and they will be like, you know, your secret police. You can disband the military if you want.

Trump: Well, Johnny-boy, I have to tell you that this is quite a remarkable “vision” as you call it. Of course, I will have to think about it for a while, but I will tell you this: you are hired! See you on April 7.

Bolton: Thank you, Mr. President. It will turn out to be a lot easier than you think. These democracies are actually quite fragile.

Trump: Thanks for coming in Johnny-boy, and before you leave, could you describe for me again for me the way the new flag will look?

 

Faux News: We Did It!

Note to readers: if you are reading this, this means you probably got a notification. Several people have asked why no  blog posts recently. For some reason the notification seems not have not been working. There have been several posts, however—mainly Faux News so take a look if you have missed them.

 

Yes it was Faux News  that leaked the story to the press about Trump’s call to Putin on March 20. In the most explosive and revelatory reporting of our entire history as a fake news organization, we made history by eavesdropping during the Trump call yesterday with Vladimir Putin and recording it all with a concealed cell phone. We were only able to record one half of the conversation, the part from the President. The reporter who scooped the story must remain anonymous. He was able to accomplish his mission when disguised as a McDonald’s employee, he delivered Trump’s usual lunch order of two Big Macs, double order of fries with extra ketchup and two milk shakes. By dropping the delivery box and spilling the contents on the floor, he was able to delay just long enough to record almost all of the secure phone call. Here is the transcript (all comments by President Trump):

Knock on door.

OK come in. Bout time you showed up with lunch. I’m starving! Just put it on the table.

You , boy, I am on the line, so keep quiet. I said you can just put the food on the table. Now quiet.

Oh, Vladdy, hi, this is Donald.

Don’t worry, Vlad, I am on a totally secure line, and I don’t have a single adviser in the room to leak our conversation.

Crash

What the hell are you doing, you idiot? No, Vladdy, not you, this dumb ass delivery boy. He just dropped my Big Macs on the floor. Now clean up the mess and get the hell out of here, you moron! No, Vlad, I am not talking to you. That was intended for the delivery boy. My lunch is all over the floor, and do you have any idea what I paid for the rug? Actually I didn’t pay it. The taxpayers did, but I will guarantee it is the most expensive rug any President ever had. More than was paid by the taxpayers for Ben Carson or Scott Pruitt’s stuff.

Yes, good to talk to you, too, Vlad.

And, yes, the reason that I am calling is to congratulate you on a terrific win. Over 70%. That is fabulous! I probably could do that myself if the election were today, but no one thinks so because they believe the fake polls. These are dreamed up by the Fake Press just to make me look bad. Actually I am very popular, especially among my base and the Evangelicals. But I think you are even more popular. So, heh, heh, maybe you could say I am a little envious.

So, Vlad, since I have you on a secure line and no advisers are in the room, I am wondering if we might talk about a couple of sensitive items.

Yes, Vlad, I am sure it is safe. Delivery boy, what the hell are you doing? Shit, you spilled the chocolate shake all over the coffee table. For god’s sake, you imbecile, now clean that up too! No Vlad, not you, the delivery boy. He just spilled one of the shakes on my comic books. I mean for crissakes, where do they find these nincompoops? And people complain about the minimum wage being too low…

Yes, Vlad, it is a totally secure line. No need to worry.

Yes, the family is fine. Thanks for asking.

Now the first matter has to do with the hotels. How are they coming along?

That is great to hear, Vladdy. You know they must be registered in another name so I have set up a fake LLC, but Donny Junior heads that up and will be your main contact.

Yes, Vladdy, he thinks a lot of you, too.

And the second item is this, well, sensitive item regarding a certain video tape with the girls at the beauty pageant.

Oh, you have taken care of it?

The tape burned and the filmmakers were accidently poisoned by eating bad fish?

Vlad, how can I ever repay you?

Oh yes, I am working on that and can assure you the fake inquiry will be terminated. Next time we talk it will all be over.

Yes, I promise. That was the deal we had, didn’t we?

Oh, my God, you incompetent idiot! No, not you, Vladdy. It is the delivery boy again! He just spilled the strawberry shake all over the velvet couch. I am going to call security!

You are right, Vladdy, I can’t afford to do that. Got to keep this secure. Anyway he is trying to clean up the mess and will be out of here in a sec.

Yes, Vlad, I did have one other sensitive item. You know the last election and the fake inquiry and all that. Well, you and I know that I won by my own account and that Russia had nothing to do with it, but I am a tad worried right now about the mid terms and 2020. Do you think? I mean, do you believe…?

Well, yes, Vlad, while I know that you are clean, I am also very grateful for what, you know, happened and am, er, wondering if maybe you know if something like that might happen again.

Really? You are already working on it?

No kidding, Vladdy, this is fabulous to hear!

Ahead of where you were this time before the 2016 election?

Fabulous news, Vaddy! This will pay off for you big time.

Yes, there is a deal to be made, now get the hell out of here you dumb ass idiot. No, no, Vladdy, I am not talking to you but to the delivery boy. My office is a mess and he is finally leaving. No tip for him. Now let’s talk about what I can do for you in return…

Door slams

End of recording

 

Faux News: War!

Transcript: Emergency Cabinet Meeting, The White House, Sunday, March 18, 2018, 7:30 A.M.

 

Trump: Ok, thanks to all you Cabinet members and advisers for coming over this Sunday morning. You should all probably be in church—except for you, Mnuchin–but this is a national crisis.

Pence: Thank you for inviting us, Your Excellency. Your call is our command. And what would that crisis be?

Trump: You idiot, don’t you read the papers or watch Fox News? There is a “March for so called Our Lives” on Saturday and then 60 Minutes with Stormy on Sunday. These two bomb shells could ruin us. We need a plan.

Pence: Forgive me, Your Highest Honor. I wasn’t thinking.

Trump: Well, we need a plan, and we need one now.

Huckebee Sanders: You need to out press-coverage them, Your Highness. We have to come up with something that will put The March for Our Lives on the back pages. Ditto for Stormy.

Trump: So who’s got ideas?

Awkward period of silence

Perry: How about starting a war?

Gasp from several cabinet members followed by another awkward period of silence

Trump: You aren’t the dumb shit I thought you were, Rick. In fact you may be on to something. So who the hell do we want to bomb to hell and back before the weekend?

Voice from the side: Russia?

Trump: Who the hell said that? Who said Russia?

Carson: It was me, sir, Ben Carson.

Trump: You are fired right now. Get out of here. Police, escort this man out! The nerve to think that I would consider a war with Russia. Actually I have been thinking about firing you for a couple of weeks. I don’t mind anyone spending $50,000 of tax payers’ money on a conference table and chairs, but getting caught is another thing. You should have run the purchase through an LLC. Anyway this is the last straw. You probably believe the lies and fake news that Russia interfered with our election and helped elect me.

Carson is escorted from the room.

DeVos: What about North Korea!

Trump: Nice suggestion, Betsy, but I’m meeting with Kim in May, and we have to start a war this weekend to take the focus off the Communist-inspired march and the 60 Minutes interview with Lying Stormy. We need to act right now!

Shulkin: China?

Trump: Too big and they’ve got nukes. We might lose. Furthermore, you are fired. You haven’t done didley-squat for the VA, and you spend more tax payers’money on yourself than Carson does. Police!

Shulkin is escorted from the room.

Zinke: Mexico?

Trump: No way, and if we win, we get all these Latinos coming here. We would have to wipe them off the face of the Earth. Besides I want the Wall.

Another period of awkward silence

Sessions: Hey, what about Canada?

Pence: You can’t be serious. Canada is our friend.

Trump: Quiet, Pence. I believe this might be the only decent idea this imbecile has had since he has been AG. Canada? Canada?

Sessions: Thank you, Your Reverence. It is just a thought.

Trump: Yes, Canada! Of course. Why didn’t I think of Canada? The idea is brilliant even if it comes from a dumb mind. Since they think they are our friends, they will suspect nothing. They have no nukes, and a bunch of red-coated guys with big hats riding around on horses would be toast for the full might of our military. Plus this Trudeau guy has got to go. Everyone knows they are cheating us on trading. It would serve him right.

Sessions: I am so honored.

Trump: Well, you better be because if Mueller is still around next Sunday, you are fired.

Trump: So this is my order–Mattis and McMaster, pay attention: I am officially authorizing a take-over of Canada with the goal being annexation of this country and expanding the land area of the United States to include all of North America except for the pitiful country of Mexico, which no one wants anyway. What you should do, Mattis, is storm Montreal and take over the Parliament buildings and kidnap that two-bit, lying Trudeau and get him to surrender or else.

Ross: Sir, I believe the capital of Canada is Ottawa.

Trump: Whatever. Now if Trudeau does not surrender, then you tell him we will use our nukes and settle things once and for all. This needs to happen on Thursday, so it will be headlines on Friday and through the weekend.

Mattis: Sir, I believe that Canada is a member of NATO. That could cause some push back.

Trump: NATO, SCHMATO—a worthless organization. I will take care of them. Now, does anyone in this room see any problem with attacking, conquering and annexing Canada?

Pense: Bravo, Your Most Exalted One! Your base will love you for this. Republicans will stand behind you 100%, and Ryan and McConnell will be at your side supporting you in this time of national crisis. Our security as a nation is at stake. And you bet that this will dominate the airwaves!

Trump: Thank you, Pense. You are absolutely right. I am glad I thought of this, and it will go down in the history books as one of the greatest decisions of all time, and I will be the greatest President of all time. How about it, Mattis? Can you get this done? And McMaster, what do you think?

Mattis and McMaster: Sir, we believe you are a fucking moron.

Trump: Then you can join the idiot Tillerson. You both are fired, and I am replacing you with two Fox News anchors. Now get the hell out, and this Cabinet meeting is adjourned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faux News Exclusive: Preview of the 60 Minutes Interview with Stormy Daniels

While it is not certain that the Stormy Daniels interview will appear on 60 Minutes this Sunday due to the Trump Administration’s effort to curb “treasonous speech” and jail Ms. Daniels, Faux News has obtained surreptitiously a tape of the interview. Due to its explosive contents 60 Minutes has devoted the entire program to the interview and extended the time to two hours. It has also alerted parents that no person under the age of 21 should be allowed to view the program. CBS believes that it will be the most watched television program of all time. It will be broadcast around the world using satellites and is expected to be viewed in every nation including North Korea, reaching an audience of 5.2 billion people. CBS has already sold enough ads to meet its  budget for the entire year.

The most potentially damaging aspect of the program is that Ms. Daniels showed up with a host of friends all of whom reported current, ongoing affairs with the President. These included Hurricane Hannah, Cyclone Sally, Lightening Lilly, and Tsunami Sue. Last names of the four women were not available. All four women have recently joined the #MeToo Movement and are appearing to set the record straight and, they said, to get their lives back in order. The four friends of Ms. Daniels all live in the Mar-a-Lago Resort and “see” the President on a regular basis. When asked what they found attractive in the President, all four women and Ms. Daniels immediately stated his hair. Apparently there is something very attractive about a 70-year-old man with a huge clump of thinning, watered down, slicked back, yellow/orange hair. Other than that all five women reported that actually there was nothing attractive about the President at all. Their relationships, they said, were all based on money and were transactional—free room and board at Mar-a-Lago and a small stipend to cover clothes and jewelry.

The Trump Administration, having learned of the appearance of what is now being billed by CBS as “Stormy and the Fab Four,” countered with the assertion that the Fab Four and Ms. Daniels were actually advisers to the President and that the entire interview was nothing more than a dirty tricks stunt by the Democrats to embarrass him. They pointed out that the women were all authorities on climate change as noted by their names—Stormy, Hurricane, Cyclone, Lightening and Tsunami—and have been given high level positions at the Environmental Protection Agency in its climate change division. When pressed to explain what the climate change division was, the Trump spokesman replied that the Fab Four plus the recent addition of Ms. Daniels constituted the entire division and were defacto proof that climate change was a hoax.

It is not clear what political impact the program will have if it is allowed to be aired. The U.S. Supreme Court will determine if efforts by the White House to block the show represents a violation of free speech. The program includes several interviews of Trump supporters, who say they stand behind the President regardless what is said about him by anyone or whether he shot someone on Fifth Avenue. Several pointed out that he is shaking up Washington and that is exactly what he was elected to do.

Viewer discretion is advised.