“Okay, God.” An Exclusive Interview by Faux News

In an unusual and extraordinary journalistic coup, our reporter-on-the-spot was able to get up to the Pearly Gates and return with this exclusive interview with God. Unfortunately for some unknown reason God’s comments did not come through on the tape recorder, so what you read below is a verbatim transcript of only one side of the interview:

Okay, God. Thanks for agreeing to the interview, and I want to get straight to the point. First of all, you are all powerful, right? I mean you created the world and all the planets and the stars, galaxies and the whole universe and everything in it, right?

Silence

Yes, I can imagine that it was a lot of hard work, but if you are powerful as surely you must be if you did all this stuff, then how come you allowed the gunman in New Zealand to kill all those innocent people yesterday?

Silence

Yes, I understand that you have decided to take a hands-off approach like a loving parent who watches a wayward child so that the child can learn on his own. I know you aren’t a helicopter parent, but still….

Silence

I know that it is not right for a mere Earthling to question your motives. You have got your reasons, but still you have also got to admit that your hands-off approach has its problems. A lot of really bad people have messed things up big time. You know who they are—Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam, Mao, and so many other dictators and so many just bad people, like the gunman in New Zealand—and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Silence

Okay, I can see why you are disappointed about how we humans turned out on the planet Earth. I can surely understand that. And I can understand that that makes you sad.

Silence

Yes, I do feel sorry for you and know that it must hurt to see the way it has turned out down there, but what I am asking is why you haven’t done something about it.

Silence

All right, I will accept your answer about free will and all that, and I suppose you have your reasons for setting it up this way. And I also really appreciate it when you do step in and help ordinary people when we experience horrible things and challenges. I know a lot of people who have personally benefited as indeed as I have, so I would like to say thanks for what you do, but I am just wondering if you maybe could do more….

Silence

Yes, I agree that there is a lot that I do not know about. And I also want to thank you for, as you say, “giving us a glimpse” every now and then.

Silence

Yes, I do call myself a Christian and appreciate that you sent Jesus to give us a clue, along with other holy people. And I also agree that it is too bad that most of the time we humans just don’t get it. So thanks for doing that. It does help, but you need to know that there are a lot of us down there on Earth who will never get it and need more clues….

Silence

Really? You will take that under advisement? 

Silence

What do you mean, “But if I paid more attention, I would realize that it is already happening all the time”?

Silence

Okay, I will try to pay better attention. But what about the natural disasters and the “acts of God” that insurance policies don’t reimburse people for? I know that every year there are a bunch of legal cases suing the National Council of Churches for “acts of God” that aren’t covered by insurance, but none of these has held up in court. What are all these natural disasters, plagues, famines, floods, and calamities all about?

Silence

Yes, I admit that there are things that if you told me, I would not be able to understand. So I will accept your refusal to answer, but I can’t help asking if you might have messed up a time or two when you were creating everything from scratch and setting up all the ground rules. I can’t help asking that if you had to do it all over again, if you would have done it differently.

Silence

Yes, I do accept that you have only one shot at creating a universe and what is, is. I agree that you did the best you could under the circumstances. You have to let the chips fall and let what happens, happen. Don’t feel too bad about this. We all make mistakes, and there is no need to “shed a tear,” as you say.

Silence

What’s that? You say you are shedding tears, but are not shedding tears about the universe so much as about something else? What is that, God, why all of a sudden do you seem so upset?

Silence

You are watching one of your prize creations do what?

Very Long Silence

You mean the planet Earth? You are watching us self-destruct? Go down the tubes? And that is the reason you granted the interview? So someone with a face-to-face interview– though of course I really do not mean this literally because all I can do is hear you–but so someone like me can let others on Earth know how you feel? That is why you gave Faux News an exclusive?

Silence

Of course, I hear how distressed you are. You put such faith in us. As you say, there aren’t that many places in the universe quite like us. We had such potential and now we are destroying what you made. I can see why you are so upset, but can’t you just step in and do something about it?

Silence

Yes, yes. I know, I know. This is just not the way you work. I have to tell you that if you ask me, I think you could have given yourself a better job description, but as you say, what is, is.

Silence

What’s that, God? Not much time? How much? Decades, centuries, millennia? How much, if we don’t change our ways?

Silence

Okay, God. I know that it all depends. Rest assured. I will be sure people down there on Earth know you have added your name to the “Concerned About Climate Change” list. But I wish I could say it would make a difference. I know how hard it is for us humans when you lose something you love so much. It must be even harder for you—especially if you are talking about a planet which is so special. Okay, God, I will spread the word. And, God, thanks so much for the interview. I know how busy you are. So, I guess I will head back down. I will see you later….

Short Silence

What do you mean, “Don’t count your chickens….?” That’s a joke, right?

Very Short Silence

Okay, God. Understood. I get it. The stakes are high.Thanks again! See you around….

“The Uninhabitable Earth”: A Book Review by Guest Blogger, Andrew Howell

This is a very important book, and having just finished it. I feel compelled to run to the nearest bookstore and buy copies for everyone I know. I’m not sure who will read it, as it’s pretty harrowing stuff. But as fantastical as the author’s claims about the threats facing humanity may seem, I am fully persuaded by them. Life on earth is staring down the barrel of massive climate-related disruption and suffering — this is supported by a vast body of research: and while the destruction has already affected many species on the planet, it is on the verge of engulfing our own, probably sooner than most people suspect.

The problem with most academic, scientific writing is that scientists are very cautious about over-stating their conclusions, as they should be, and tend to couch their views in degrees of certainty, clouded by the language of statistics. They also tend to over-specialize, making it hard to synthesize conclusions across a broad body of related research. Institutions such as the IPCC try to step in and play the role of collating knowledge, but these bodies tend to get bogged down with massive teams of co-authors, beset by political considerations that blunt their arguments.

This leaves a very important role for the science writer who can bring it all together and say, in direct and clear terms, what it all means, “to the best of our understanding”. Occasionally academics can do this effectively, but writers with a journalistic background who have truly done the work can be effective, and here David Wallace-Wells has done the best job of anyone I have read (eclipsing Elizabeth Kolbert) at getting to the brutal, devastating crux of the matter.

I have been listening to the audiobook over the past couple of weeks during my commute into New York City, and cannot shake the sensation, as I pass through a panorama of glass and steel buildings on my way to work, of being surrounded by ghosts–that this all may be emptied or destroyed in no more than a generation or two. This is, of course, imagery already captured effectively by Hollywood.

Is it possible that the author overstates the risks here — overly focusing on the most negative outcomes? On the whole, I find this to be a well-balanced work, and hardly the “propaganda” that some reviewers claim. However two points did occur to me that Wallace-Wells does not devote as much time to as I think he should. The first is a geographic reality: the fact that there is a lot of landmass in the upper latitudes of the northern hemisphere — Russia, Canada, Scandinavia and Greenland — that presumably will not be rendered uninhabitable by climate change and could potentially become much more habitable, with longer warm seasons and higher soil fertility. That fact does not preclude massive disruption and suffering, as relocating the mass of the world’s population is not easily done (and may not be possible at all) — but it is an element that the author should consider, and explore.

A second point is over the potential for technology to help in our dilemma. Wallace-Wells treats this “techno-saviorism” dismissively, and I think he is right to challenge the assumption that “technology will always bail us out.” Yes, this is far from certain, and indeed technology is in a sense the source of the very problem we face. But recent advances, for example, in carbon capture technology allowing carbon to be restored to solid form do provide some glimmer of a hope.  Yes, it is still far from being practical, but can we really dismiss the possibility that technology can ultimately prove transformational?”

Andrew Howell is a strategist at Citi Group in New York where he heads up the Frontier Markets group. He lives in Maplewood, NJ, with his wife, Karen, a public defender in Newark, and two or our four grandchildren.

Faux News on Justice in America

The Manafort sentencing last Thursday has gotten a lot of news coverage with many expressing outrage for the light sentence he received and others expressing support for him. Just like everything else at this time in our divided nation, the mood is split down the middle, sparking a national conversation about justice and fairness. Here is a conversation between two old friends overheard by our reporter at a diner in Washington on Saturday:

Con: Can you believe Manafort got off with less than four years?

Pro: Yes, it was a fair sentence. He made a few mistakes but worked hard and is not a danger to anyone. Besides, four years is a long time for someone who is 70. Big fine too. Plus he has got something wrong with his foot. Was in a wheelchair, I read in the news.

Con: Hey, he stole $55 million and cheated the IRS out of $6 million. Plus the recommended sentence was 19-25 years. He lied repeatedly to the Special Prosecutor.

Pro: Yeah, but the sentence he got is about average for an activity like this. The sentencing guidelines are excessive for someone like him who worked hard and was a very successful person, and who made a lot of money. I think the judge said something like, except for this, he lived an exemplary life.

Con: But that is the point. White collar criminals like Manafort get off with a slap on the wrist while poor people and people of color get long sentences for much less. 

Pro: The judge showed compassion. What Manafort did was a lot different than what the typical criminal does.

Con: It was the same judge who sentenced Congressman William Jefferson from Louisiana to 13 years for a similar, white collar crime, and he stole much less–only $100,000. Jefferson was black.

Pro: Race has nothing do to with it. You bleeding hearts always pull the race card.Jefferson deserved what he got. He was a scoundrel.

Con: What about the black guy that got a long sentence for stealing $100 from the laundry room or the African American lady who got five years for trying to vote with a criminal record, not knowing it was against the law? What about all the mandatory drug laws that lock people up for decades–a disproportionate number being people of color — for selling an illegal substance? And the fact that studies show blacks get 20% more time in jail than white people who commit the same crimes?

Pro: You know, what really pisses me off about you bleeding hearts is that you are always sticking up for a bunch of scoundrels– convicts, robbers, panhandlers, low-life types. Why don’t they just go out and get a job? If you ask me, it is their own fault and they get what they deserve. You make your bed, you lie in it.

Con: You don’t see any injustice in our society?

Pro: If you work hard and play by the rules, you get ahead. This is America, and I am proud to call myself an American. This is the American Way, land of the free. Opportunity for all. You work hard in legitimate, productive jobs. That is what successful people do. That is what I do and what you do. We don’t whine and complain and want a government handout. There are already too many handouts by the government, doing away with work incentives. That is the problem in America. Too many not willing to work. Welfare Queens. People who want a free ride. And, yes, a lot of them are black, so what does that tell you?

Con: Excuse me? I believe your parents were wealthy and sent you to a fancy prep school and an elite college.

Pro: Well? Yours did too.

Con: Wouldn’t you say that gave you–and me–a head start so to speak?

Pro: I did quite well in prep school and college, thank you. I did this on my own. My parents did not take any tests for me. And, yes, I make a lot of money. I work very hard for this money, and I also pay a lot of taxes. A lot of my taxes go to failed government programs that are supposed to help these poor people. Count the tax dollars. I am doing more than most; and besides, it is not my fault if people are poor. 

Con: It is not that poor people, black, brown and white, are not working. It is that they do not make a living wage. A lot of people work in service jobs in the Washington area for under $10/hour. Like dishwashers, housekeepers, food service workers, nursing assistants, day care workers and many more. And they work hard, often in thankless jobs, though these jobs are very important ones and make all our lives a bit easier. That comes to around $20,000/year. How does anyone live on that? Rents in even the worst neighborhoods in Washington start at around $1,000/month. Add to that the basics like food, clothing, transportation and health care. How do you expect them to get by?

Pro: Their problem, not mine. It is their own fault if they can’t figure it out, and do not give me all that BS about hardship. They should have studied harder in school, gone to college. If they can’t get by on one job, they should get a second job.

Con: Many already do work more than one job, and can you imagine the stress that puts on a family, especially a single parent family? 

Pro: Should never have had kids. Probably out of wedlock too. Whatever became of personal responsibility?

Con:And there are a lot of other obstacles–bad schools, lousy housing, dangerous neighborhoods, poor access to health care…

Pro: Please! Enough, enough. I see your point. I just don’t agree.

Con: We do not seem to be getting anywhere. We both are white, grew up in a wealthy suburb and were born into two-parent, loving families with plenty of money to get by. We went to good schools and got good educations. Because of our skin color, we have never had to experience discrimination. Yes, we have done well, but we have others to thank for that, not just ourselves. The deck is stacked against a lot of people in this country and not just African Americans, immigrants, and Latinos. A lot of white people are struggling too. I think that we all have a responsibility to level the playing field so that the American Dream is accessible to all.

Pro: This is something I totally agree with you on: you are right! We are not getting anywhere. And we probably never will.

Con: But we will remain friends, right?

Pro: Of course. Though I have got to say that differences like ours are ripping our country apart.

Con: And we haven’t even talked about Trump.

Pro: Thank God.

Democrats: Keep Your Eye On The Ball (Again!)

We do not know how the Mueller investigation will turn out or if there is compelling evidence of collusion with Russia. We do not know whether it will even make a twit of difference with Republican senators whose votes will be needed to convict, following an impeachment vote by the House. We do not know what the attorneys of the Southern District of New York will come up with involving Trump’s overt criminal activity or whether compelling evidence will change one Republican vote required for impeachment or make one staunch member of Trump’s hallowed “base” abandon him. After all, following the televised Cohen testimony, Trump’s approval rating actually went up.

But what we do know is this: Trump is the worst president in the history of the Republic and the most dangerous. As long as he is president, we will be in deep trouble. We have got to replace him.

On come the Democrat contenders for 2020. As of today there are twelve who have officially declared, three more who have formed “exploratory committees,” and another six or seven who are likely to throw their hats in the ring. During the course of the next 12 months, we could be faced with having to choose the best candidate among 20 or so contenders. How do we choose? How do we know who will be best? Will it make a difference? 

The answer is simple: we need the candidate who has the best chance of beating Trump. And make no mistake. Electing a Democrat is far from a shoe-in. Trump starts off with at least 40 percent of the vote. If the election were an up or down vote, Trump would lose. A solid majority of voters detest him. But that is not the way it works. It will be a choice between two candidates, Trump versus someone else. The “someone else” makes all the difference. We surely learned this in 2016. The stakes could not be higher.

Much is being made about the new, far left progressives, who are transforming the Democratic party and moving the bar in their direction. If you know me, you know that I am a quintessential, bleeding heart Democrat. I go along with most of   the ‘’’socialist” stuff that Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and some of the others are promoting—affordable health care for all, more income equality, higher taxes on the rich, a guaranteed living wage, fairer elections, affordable housing, welcoming immigrants, and a much stronger safety net. To nominate someone who could be readily labeled “a socialist” by the Republicans, however, would be a disaster. We would lose. Democrats must nominate a center-left candidate, if we have any chance of dethroning the orange-haired-narcissist called Trump. We have got to appeal to the Independent moderates, disillusioned, traditional Republicans, and suburban, formerly Republican, women, all of whom  helped deliver the House to the Democrats in 2018.

Enter Jay Inslee. Now I had never heard of this guy until   a few weeks ago. He is the governor of the State of Washington now serving a second term and a former congressman. Last week a good, very progressive, far left, friend who is now an Inslee supporter, sent a link to an interview with him by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. I was blown away. Here is the link (It may take two clicks to work):

https://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow/watch/inslee-builds-2020-presidential-campaign-on-climate-change-agenda-1452125763516

Now I know that we are still a year away from the first primary and a lot of water will flow under the bridge between now and then, but the interview with Maddow gave me a flicker of hope. He could be the candidate we need to beat Trump.

What appealed to me most about Inslee besides his  progressive record, his strong experience in actually governing, and his popularity in his state with both parties , is his message about climate change. 

Hello! Come on, people, this is the elephant in the room, the one, over-riding issue of our time. We are only talking about the survival of the planet Earth, as we know it. Yes, the issues of more equality, fairness, and a better safety net are important, but everything pales when compared to the climate change issue. 

The ironic thing is that Inslee is being written off by most pundits as an also-ran because of his low visibility on a national scale and the fact that he is a one-issue candidate. The Maddow interview shows that he is more than a one-issue candidate. His track record in Washington State is very impressive from a progressive perspective, but he has got his basic message exactly where it should be: Wake up, America, the time frame we have for averting world-wide catastrophe is very short! Every day that passes that we do not take the lead in aggressively tackling this issue is a day lost. 

Scientists tell us that at some point in the relatively near future, we may find ourselves on a pathway of no return. All it will take is the melting of the Greenland ice cap or the Antarctic ice pack or a combination of other factors like less snow to reflect heat from the sun. We will then be en route to a 20-30  foot rise in sea levels, more droughts, wild fires, mega storms, and  massive human displacement; and there will be nothing we can do about it. No one knows when the irreversible tipping point will be triggered. Some scientists say by mid century if we do not take significant action now. Sure, actual doomsday may not happen until a century or so from now, and it probably will happen slowly. But unless we humans on the planet Earth change our behavior and reliance on fossil fuels, many experts believe doomsday is inevitable. Read The Uninhabitable Earth, a new book by David Wallace-Wells. If this does not scare the bejesus out of you, nothing will.

There is hope, however. Our son-in-law, Peter  Ellis, is a scientist at the Nature Conservancy and an expert on climate change, particularly issues related to trees and forestation. He firmly believes that we now have the knowledge and technology to slow down the increase of carbon in the atmosphere by moving away aggressively from fossil fuels to solar, wind power, nuclear, and geothermal energy. This action, along with forest preservation and better practices for harvesting trees, could buy time for us humans on Earth to figure out and implement a lasting solution to the human causes of global warming.  It is not a technological challenge but rather a political one.

Skeptics point out that the United States is just one country and that it will require a world-wide effort with China and India, among others, as equal partners, which they believe is a pipe dream. This implies an attitude of hopeless surrender. Just let the chips fall. Besides, they point out, we will all be dead by then anyway. Why bother? 

But what about our grandchildren, great grandchildren and their children?

Inslee does not believe that failure and hopelessness are foregone conclusions. Look at the interview. He is an  optimist and a fighter. He may not stand a chance, but let’s hope he hangs in there and continues to remind us of the elephant in the room. He now is my candidate though I realize that it is very early in the nominating process and the winnowing down has not yet even started. If Trump is able to remain in power for six more years, God help us all. Inslee could be our ticket for assuring this will not happen. Six more years of Trump, the climate change denier-in chief, would hasten our demise. The stakes have never been higher.

They Are Gone

Disappearing like thieves in the night, our Afghan/Iranian refugee family is gone. Off to Columbus, Ohio. Greener pastures. Hope for a better future.

Last week, Embry spent a day with them helping them cram the last few pieces of furniture and assorted stuff into their car and rental truck, which towed the car the next day all the way to Columbus. The wife and two kids rode in the towed car while her husband drove the truck. The evening before, our daughter, Jessica, and husband, Peter, hosted a neighborhood goodbye party at their house attended by 25 or 30 people, with great food, toasts, speeches, hugs (no hugs by men with the mother, of course), and a few tears. Pure Americana 2019, I thought as I looked around and saw a mix of people with various shades of skin color and a broad range of ages. Another immigrant family from Mexico/Honduras was there as well with their seven-year-old son. The father, a DACA recipient, has built up a very successful business as a builder/contractor, and they are now pillars of this mixed race/income community.

Only in America, I thought. As bad as things are at the national level in the Era of Trump, on the ground in neighborhoods all across America, immigrants and refugees are accepted and welcomed and become  “ordinary Americans.” This is who we are– a nation of immigrants, of people who took great risks and pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps against almost insurmountable odds. 

Consider this refugee family. They moved into Jessica and Peter’s basement apartment about two years ago with not much more than what they were wearing. The father fled years ago from death threats by the Taliban, ending up in Iran, where he married his now wife. Two years later they both escaped death threats again, this time from his wife’s irate father. With a toddler in tow they hiked for several days climbing mountains and crossing streams ending up in Turkey where they spent five years in internment camps and temporary housing before they gained official UN refugee status and were awarded a coveted refugee visa. Then they finally ended up in the Promised Land, speaking almost no English, having few skills, and knowing no one. 

And it turns out the Promised Land is not all milk and honey. The refugee agencies help a little by providing a small, temporary stipend, Medicaid, and hand holding, but it is still up to the refugees to figure things out, to get a job that pays enough money to cover rent and the basics, to get their kids in school, to learn a new language, to find a doctor, and to make friends—in other words to start a new life. Much credit goes to our daughter’s family and to Embry for stepping up to the plate. Were it not for them, and others like them providing a helping hand for other refugee families, I do not see how they–or any refugee family without the ability to read or write English, with minimal education, and few job skills–could have made it. But this is America, and we Americans do step up. In neighborhoods throughout the country this is happening despite what we hear from the White House.

Of course, a successful resettlement ultimately depends most on the refugee family. This is what this family has accomplished during their first two years here: Husband and wife have both gotten driver’s licenses, and both now drive. They acquired two cars, one a brand new SUV. The other, a gift from our church, they just sold for $800 before they left. Within a few weeks after their arrival the father landed a job without help from anyone as a welder paying $14/hour with lots of overtime. A year ago they found and moved into a new, larger apartment on their own and have a wide screen TV that is almost the size of the wall it is mounted on. The mother has made additional income by cooking for others, house cleaning and chauffeuring another Afghan child to and from school. Their two girls are in school and preschool. They have made friends. They have paid their bills (with Embry’s help doing the paper work.) They have been to the doctor many times and appear to have gotten their health problems addressed—and there are many. The most important was getting the father’s eyesight restored in one eye with a special contact lens. This all happened because the Wilmer Eye Clinic at John Hopkins Medical Center is the best in the world and happens to be only an hour’s drive away. And now they have moved to Columbus where they have a better apartment for lower rent in a nicer neighborhood and where the father now has his dream job, a driver of big trucks transporting goods across the country. 

The two years have not been easy, for them or for us, but the progress they have made is, in my view, remarkable. Others who know more than I do about immigrants and refugees would probably say their story is pretty typical. Their grit and determination are beyond anything I have ever seen. They simply refuse to take no for an answer and charge ahead, let the rules be damned. I never thought that they would get a drivers license, that they would qualify financially for a larger, more expensive apartment, that the father also would get a commercial  drivers license permitting him to become a truck driver, or that he would quickly land a job as a trucker. But they set their eye on a goal and go for it, kind of like the proverbial junkyard dog that hangs onto your leg and does not let go until he gets his bone.

Is all going to be well in Columbus? Of course not. They know people there, so hopefully that will help with the transition, but still it will be hard. That is the way it is with first generation immigrants and refugees. It is never going to be easy. The parents really need to improve their English. Doing routine paper work and paying bills will be a challenge. They have to find new doctors. There are already desperate text messages from the mother about needing help enrolling their kids in school. (We have contacted four churches in the area with pleas for assistance but have not been able to get any of them to call back or email.) But will they get through this next challenge? Of course they will. Their grit, courage and determination will get them through it.

Before we had actually met the family, we asked Josie, our 10-year old granddaughter, how it was going with the refugee family living in their basement apartment. She said with a twinkle in her eye, “Well, we love them, but they’re a handful!”

Yes, a handful, but we will miss them and wish them well on the next leg of their American journey.

Faux News Returns: Trump Rallies Followers Around Wall Victory, “the Greatest of All Time”

In a hastily called rally in the  small hamlet of Jefferson Davis, Alabama, Trump held a nationally televised rally,  packed with 20,000 supporters, all jammed into  a high school basketball gymnasium designed to hold only 500 people. Tens of  thousands of other supporters waited in line outside in the rain. His supporters, all sporting new, red baseball caps with the words “WALL NOW” inscribed on the front, screamed and hollered at every word. At multiple times the National Guard had to be brought in to restore order.

As the president took the podium, more than two hours were required to bring order to the event, forcing television stations throughout the country to run continuous commercials of Viagra and Bud Light. Here is the exact transcription of what the president said during his brief appearance:

“Friends and supporters and those who love and respect law and order, who hate immigrants, and most of all who love me, thank you for your support.”

Another pause of 16 minutes while the crowd goes wild.

“I am pleased to say I have accomplished more today  than any human in the history of the world has accomplished. Everyone combined. I have stopped the greatest, Emergency Crisis the world has ever known or will know, and I have done it on my own without any help from anyone, least of all the Democratic controlled House. I have stopped the massive invasion of the United States by marauding bands of rapists, murderers, robbers, drug dealers, and known terrorists whose only goal is to take over and destroy the United States. I have overruled the Democrats, the weaklings and cowards, who are a disgrace to the country, and I have started the Wall I promised you. It is happening now!”

More cheers lasting 23 minutes requiring National Guard intervention.

“Now that I have started the Wall with  billions I am taking from wasteful and unnecessary programs like the military and disaster relief, we are now safe. The world is safe.” 

More cheers

“Now that the Wall  construction has begun, this concrete, massive, beautiful, gigantic, incredible structure, it will be completed in record time. And it will be beautiful and high. Maybe 20-30 stories, and no one will get through. Ever. There will be no doors. I am sending 250,000 troops, whom I am removing from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and other shithole countries and putting them on the job. It will be finished so soon and so quickly, and it will be so beautiful. Maybe not tomorrow or the next day but soon, very soon. Incredibly soon and beautiful. And if the 250,000 soldiers can’t get the job done, I will bring in more from other shithole countries. There are a lot of shithole countries where we do not belong. Take Germany for instance. Enemy. Merkel is a dog face. We don’t need troops there or anywhere in Europe to defend us from our friend and ally, Russia. I don’t know if we have any troops in England, but if we do, I will remove them. May is another dog face.

“And I want to thank my faithful Republican friends in the Senate for standing behind me and supporting my actions. They are the greatest. And as for the few Republican defectors, you are history. We will destroy you in the primaries. You might as well quit now like the flake Flake, and the midget, peanut brain, Corker. You defectors are toast.

More cheers

“Now some traitor Democrats have talked about taking my action to the courts. “

Boos continue for 17 minutes before order is restored.

“This will never happen. Won’t happen. When it gets to the Supreme Court, I’ve got five votes in my pocket and everyone knows that. I own them. Whatever legal action I want, I get and it makes no difference what the Democrats do.”

More cheers. Trump asks for quiet.

Now what the American people need to know is that this is not the only national emergency we face right now. There are many others. Take the so called “Dreamers” who came here illegally and were given a reprieve by the Fake President Obama, who was not even born in this country. They too are trying to destroy our country and take it over . We know who they are and where they live. Low hanging fruit. Get ‘em. 

Audience goes crazy.

And there  are a lot more of these lowlifes, almost  20 million illegal immigrants. Now I know that some say only 11 million, but I know there are 20 million, and until each and every one is locked up and put in jail, America won’t be safe. We will continue to be in a state of National Emergency unlike anything the world has seen, and it is going to stay that way until all these no good , illegal immigrants  are out of the country or locked up. All of them. That is why I am recalling almost all of our military who are wasting their time overseas in shithole countries supposedly defending our country against a friend like Russia or North Korea. They will return home, build new prisons,  and lock these people up. I am  transferring another $500 billion from worthless agencies like EPA, HHS, and HUD for this purpose. In fact because of the emergency I am closing them down.” 

More cheers

So this is a great day for America and a great day for me, the greatest president of the United States, ever. I will fight and fight and fight until all national emergencies are over, and that is likely to take a very long, long time.

Thank you. 

Joyous bedlam erupts. Chants of “lock her up, lock her up, lock her up.” National Guard moves in.

Trips Taken, Lessons Learned

It turns out that this year may be an over-the-top, travel year for the Howells, perhaps even surpassing the 2015 around-the-world-no-airplanes adventure. All the credit goes to Embry. I am just a tagalong. Next trips—the Baltic countries this summer when Embry will be joining a choir tour and then a cruise in the fall starting in Ft. Lauderdale, going through the Panama Canal, and ending up in Rio 35 days later with about a dozen stops for excursions in coastal, South American cities. I suppose the motivation behind this is “better do it now, when you can,” which at our advanced ages probably has merit.

So the question of the day is do people learn anything from  travel. The answer, for me anyway, is “yes” and here some of the lessons that I have learned:

  • Despite our ordeal getting home from Perth, Australia, involving 23 hours in flight and crossing 11 time zones, the world is actually a pretty small place. It is also pretty fragile as most of us are aware as we watch the effects of climate change. Globalism is present almost everywhere.  What happens in China and India in the future, for example, will affect us in the U.S. since we breathe the same air. (And the air is already pretty bad in both countries.) In fact they hold the hole cards since about half the world’s population lives in these two countries. We are all linked together on this small, blue planet and damn well better figure out a better way to live together and take better care of the environment, or it’s curtains for all of us.
  • People are the same all over the world. By that I mean good and bad, though in my experience, I think, mostly good. We are all humans and subject to the human condition. People who were once our mortal enemies become friends and vice versa. The people we have fought and hated in past years treated us on our travels with kindness and respect—Germans, Russians, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Italians, and Cambodians. If only we could just skip the wars and move on as friends forever.
  • We humans are not only imperfect creatures, we are also herd animals and follow our leaders. A leader makes all the difference—for good or for evil. The Germans had their Hitler, the Russians their Stalin, the Chinese their Mao, the Cambodians their Pol Pot, Spain their Franco, Italy their Mussolini, and France their Napoleon. You could add a bunch more names to the list of bad guys. But you also have Nelson Mandela, Deng Chou Ping, Gorbachev, Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, Lincoln, our two Roosevelts, Kennedy, and Obama. Leaders make a huge difference. Many more could be added to the list of good leaders, but the current occupant of the White House is not one of them.
  • The United States is not anywhere near as great as we think we are. We are way behind most developed countries in a lot of things. Our infrastructure is decaying. Our trains do not run on time. Good public transportation is lacking in many cities. Neighborhoods in many of our cities suffer from disinvestment with boarded up homes, rundown buildings, panhandlers on every block, trash and graffiti everywhere, and in-your-face poverty. Income disparities between the rich and everyone else are increasing, and there is too much poverty. Racism persists. Homelessness continues to be a persistent problem. You don’t find these sorts of things in most developed countries. 
  • Our safety net is weaker than in most developed countries where there is more affordable access to essentials like health care, day care, preschool, higher education, decent housing, and better paying, low skilled jobs. Gun violence is much lower. Labor unions are stronger. Money does not play as much of a role in politics, and more people vote. This does not mean that other developed countries are perfect or don’t have problems, but the notion that we are number one in practically everything just does not hold water. 
  • The developing world, of course, is another story. While some progress is being made, poverty abounds in too many countries, and the disparity between the rich and poor countries continues to be way too great. Long term survival of the planet depends on leveling the playing field.
  • The United States is also not as great as we need  to be. We need to address better the areas where we fall behind the developed world and need to beware of troubling trends.  I believe that we are at a crossroads. The Era of Trump is a shot across the bow warning us that many of the things we have taken for granted—welcoming immigrants, a free press, democracy, and a country of laws—are not carved in stone. We could lose what has been the foundation of our country if we are not vigilant. It has happened before in many countries, and it could happen here sooner than we think. How we survive the Trump Era is a major challenge and remains a question mark. 

But while the United States is not anywhere near as great as we think we are or need to be, I think we remain the best hope we’ve got on the planet. Since our founding we have been the land of opportunity for distressed people who have immigrated here, and our diversity is extraordinary. Some other countries may technically be more diverse, but it sure doesn’t seem that way to me on my travels. No country has more natural beauty. Our national parks are a world treasure. While we are still battling our horrible legacy of slavery, and racial and ethnic prejudice persist, we are struggling to deal with these issues, often two-steps forward, one back, but we are still trying. People still are able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and we have a free, independent press. We have been the world leader in technology and inventing things and we have championed (most of the time) the principles of democracy and freedom, here and elsewhere. Our economy is robust and resilient. Every year thousands of people from other, less fortunate countries still risk their lives to come here. I am always glad to return home. There is no place I would rather live.

“Oumaumua”

Real News: The Washington Post Style Section today (February 5, 2019) contains an interesting feature about the chairman of Harvard’s astronomy department, Avi Loeb, who is an advocate of “cosmic modesty.” This is simply the idea that it is extreme arrogance to think that life on this small, lonely, blue planet, which is located at the edge of a run-of-the-mill galaxy of over 200 billion stars, is the only life in the universe. Estimates are there over 200 billion galaxies—some estimates are as high as two trillion–and maybe our universe is only one in a multiverse containing perhaps an infinite number of universes. 

Loeb and others have been following the path of a strange object in space called “Oumaumua,” (Hawaiian term meaning “scout”), which was first observed in 2017. Loeb believes this could be our first glimpse of a celestial object that has come from another civilization somewhere else in the universe, perhaps “debris from advanced technological equipment.” The scientific community has for the most part pooh-poohed this idea as outlandish though no one has come up with a compelling explanation of what it might be.

Outlandish that there is no other life—or certainly no advanced or intelligent life—anywhere in the universe? Please. Consider the facts: there is no evidence that the basic laws of science that we observe here are different in other parts of the universe. We now know that virtually all stars that we have been able to obtain information on have planets circling them. Some of these planets are  in the “Goldilocks Zone” –rocky bodies circling a star about the same size as our sun, about the same distance as we are from our sun, and about the same age as our planet. Even if the likelihood of meeting this criteria is only a tiny fraction of a percent, the actual number of such candidates for advanced life in the universe could number in the trillions.

And yet many believe that we are it. There is nothing else anywhere like us. There is no life and certainly no advanced or intelligent life anywhere else in the universe. 

In one sense the argument is irrelevant because of the great distances between the  stars and the galaxies. The closest star to us is about 4.3 light years away. It would take us 81,000 years to get there using the fastest speeds available to us today. Even if there is life out there somewhere, we will never have a chance to prove it or encounter it.

But in another sense it is a profound question, which has both scientific and religious implications. If there is no life anywhere else, why? What are all these celestial bodies doing anyway? Why are they there and why isn’t there life on planets that fall into the Goldilocks Zone? Many who have argued against life elsewhere do so because of religious reasons, but few religions talk about the “God of Earth.” They talk about “the God of Creation,” or “the God of the Universe.”

Okay, what exactly did God have in mind when he created this vast universe with life on only one planet? Sounds like a lot of trouble to me for not very much in return. And if there is life elsewhere in the universe, what is that all about? Are there other beings like us? And what does this tell us about God and about our faith? Will we ever know?

I confess that for most of my life I have been a believer that life on this planet is not the only life  there is or that we humans are the only “intelligent life” that there is. (Though some may argue with the term “intelligent.”) It really all started when I was eight and my 10-year old neighbor, George Singleton, witnessed a flying saucer land in his back yard. He even showed me the burned grass where the craft landed. In later years George recanted, confessing that he really did not witness the event after all, but that did not keep me from doing the arithmetic: All these trillions of celestial bodies out there—many not all that different from us—it just does not compute that we humans are it when it comes to advanced life.

Carl Sagan, the famous astronomer, was obsessed with the notion of intelligent life elsewhere and hoped to live long enough to at least get some hint that he was right. He noted that not only was distance a factor in preventing us from verifying what he believed to be true, but there was another factor. That was that as life on other planets evolved like life has evolved on this planet, he thought that it was quite probable that “advanced civilizations” would do themselves in. I recall his stating that if we ever did discover an advanced civilization elsewhere in the universe, the first question he would ask would be, how did you do it. How did you avoid destroying yourselves and your planet?

Which brings us precisely to the present day. We humans are on the verge of doing ourselves in. We are destroying our planet at an alarming rate. We have the weapons at our disposal to eliminate human life on this planet in the blink of an eye should we end up in a world-wide nuclear war. What are the chances of our making it into the 22ndCentury given that technology has so far outpaced our ability as humans to deal with conflict and competition for scarce resources? These are the questions that I ask myself as I ponder whether “Oumaumua” is the glimpse that Sagan was looking for. We certainly will not know the answer in my lifetime, but we humans had better figure out how to get beyond the survival challenges we now face or we could end up as a mere blip in the history of a small, blue planet that centuries from now could be absent the advanced life we cherish today and in Sagan’s thinking, yet another example of a planet that had a chance but blew it.

Back in the Barn

Twenty-three hours in an airplane and 12,000 miles in two days is a bit of an ordeal, but we made it back and are now happily ensconced in our Kennedy-Warren apartment. Some of our beloved plants died due to lack of watering by our apartment sitter, who departed 12 days earlier than anticipated without letting anyone know, but otherwise things are fine except for the expected jet lag.

As our plane passed over the Blue Ridge Mountains at sunset on our descent to Dulles Airport, I felt the usual excitement that I feel when returning to the U.S. after a long trip. It is great to be back! I love our country. I love living in Washington. I love our family and friends and so many things about the life I have been given. I love our great president….

Just checking to see if you are awake.

We are returning to a country still dysfunctional with Trump again threatening another shutdown and/or using money earmarked for disaster relief due to “national emergency” so he can build his wall and appease his restless base.

And it appears that Mueller is getting closer and closer to issuing the long awaited report. 

Strange and fragile times, these times. If nothing else there is plenty of grist for the story mill and for  Faux News. 

Stay tuned.

Down Under 10: Perth

As the Indian-Pacific train slogged its way along the desert, stopping every couple of hours to pull aside to allow a freight train to pass on the single track, the flat, vast scenery remained unchanged until a little after one in the afternoon when miraculously trees—as in real trees, not scraggly, overgrown bushes—started to appear. Not long after that we began to see sheep grazing on brown grass in vast, arid pastures and then a paved road, a car, a pick up truck and, voila,a house. Civilization again! We were about a hundred miles from Perth, and small villages started to pop up as we got closer to the city. In an hour we were passing through typical suburbs of modest, ranch style homes and at 3:30 arrived at the small Perth train station where we said our goodbyes to the Indian-Pacific and to our fellow passengers as the train emptied and we went our separate ways.

Our separate way began with a bus tour of the city arranged by Indian-Pacific. We were joined by 20 or so of the departing 400 plus passengers and spent the better part of three hours touring the downtown area and some of the adjoining suburbs. It was another one of those “I had no idea” moments. Somewhere I had gotten the idea that Perth was a rinky-dink, small town on the coast. Hardly. In fact the city is a thriving metropolis with sparkling skyscrapers making it feel more like a Sydney or a Melbourne rather than an Adelaide. With a population of over two million it is pretty much tied with Brisbane as the third biggest city in Australia. What is rather amazing is that Perth is really the only game in all of Western Australia, accounting for more than 80% of the population of an area that includes about a third of the entire country. The balance is—you guessed it—the Outback. By all accounts that I have read, Perth is the most remote and isolated, large city on the entire planet.

What stands out most about Perth , however, is its extraordinary riverfront. The city is not a port. It is located about 10 miles from the Indian Ocean where the neighboring town of Fremantle serves as the  port city. That was the location of the America’s Cup races  in the early 1990s that featured Dennis Connors recapturing the cup from the Aussies, who had pulled off a major upset a couple of years earlier. Perth is located on the Swan River, which is the tidal estuary that flows through Fremantle and into the Indian Ocean. When the river reaches Perth, it opens up into a   bay, which in some places is more than a mile wide. It is the perfect location for small sailboat racing, which was happening all over the place in various spots.

Perth is also different from the East Coast cities in terms of climate. It has a rainy season from March through July, which is responsible for producing about 39 inches of precipitation, about what we get in Washington. The balance of the year is dry with clear skies most of the time and moderate temperatures. The hot day we encountered was something of an anomaly.  

Our bus ride took us past a major university and then to a large park on a steep hill overlooking the river with stunning views of the Perth skyline. We then wound our way through fancy, single family neighborhoods where all the houses were worth millions of dollars—all guides seem to be obsessed with how high housing values are—and then to two beach areas. Since it was Saturday afternoon and unusually hot with 95 degree temperatures, the beeches were packed with sun bathers and surfers. At six the driver started dropping people off at various downtown hotels and went out of his way to deposit us at a bed and breakfast about three miles from the downtown area.

There were two highlights of the Perth experience. The first was spending virtually the entire day, the day after we arrived, at a beautiful beach in Fremantle where we sat on the grass under the shade of a large tree in a manicured park area alongside the public beach. Embry got her swim in the Indian Ocean, and I just chilled out since I still have not completely recovered from the respiratory virus. Truth be told, we were both pretty exhausted by this time.  We  left Washington on December 22 and have traveled God knows how many miles and through eleven time zones, using almost every mode of transportation.  I could not help thinking, time for the cows to head for the barn. 

We did take a brief walk around Fremantle and stopped for a beer at a seaside bar, packed with Millennials. The actual port of Fremantle is pretty small, unsightly, and industrial, but the town is fairly quaint and worth a visit.

The other highlight was the bed and breakfast, a charming cottage nestled under a huge shade tree that resembled a live oak, located in a quiet, suburban community only a five minute walk to the local light rail station, which made it easy for us to get to Fremantle. The owners were retired farmers who had sold their sheep farm located on the coast about 50 miles north of town. They started the bed and breakfast about 15 years ago, permitting them to be near their children and grandchildren, who live in Perth. Two other guests were a German couple (husband a retired engineer and wife a retired nurse of Korean ancestry) spending several weeks touring Australia by car, and a middle-aged physician from Melbourne, who is a regular at the B & B when he visits his son and his family. The doctor from Melbourne pointed out that by missing the north coastal area (Darwin), the northeast rain forest, and the Great Barrier Reef, we could not truly understand the country. We told him those places would be on our agenda next trip to Down Under.

It did not take long for our conversation over breakfast to turn to Trump. As for almost all Australians and others we have chatted with over the past month, our president is a major worry, if not outright frightening. 

But not for all  Australians. I have already described one Trump supporter on the train; and our Uber cab driver, who gave us a ride to the airport this morning, is not only a Trump supporter, he is a conspiracy theorist who has “compelling evidence” that George W. Bush was behind the 9-11 attacks in order to gain popular support for invading Iraq. He is also bitter and angry, unlike almost all the other people we have met on this journey. His major source of news is the Russia Today channel, which he watches every day and maintains is the “only reliable source for news  you can trust.“ His two heroes are Trump and Putin. Chalk up another one for global dislocation and alienation.

So now we are headed home aboard an American Airline flight, which should deposit us in Los Angeles in about 15 hours, then a five hour flight to Dulles. Total flying time from Perth to DC, about 23 hours, not counting the transition time in Sydney and L.A. The total distance is about 12,000 miles. The cows are headed back to the barn. 

Thanks for following us on this journey. Put Australia and New Zealand on your bucket list. Long way to go but worth it.