What Was It All About?

The existence of this blog coincides with the retirement phase of my life.  I started writing here in November 2013 when I had been retired for 10 months.  I am in my seventh year of retirement, and this blog’s sixth birthday is coming up soon.  I marked my own 70th birthday earlier this year.  Writing these words, I feel astonished.  So many years.

I have not written anything remarkable here.  The numerous blog entries—nearly 130 posts so far—represent many hours that I have sat before a computer screen.  Too many to bother calculating.  I would like to say that in those hours I produced something insightful or inspiring, or at least something clever and entertaining—in a word, something valuable—but I realize that is not the case.

It would be easy enough, I suppose, to delete it all.  That would be the ultimate acknowledgement that everything I’ve written is ephemeral.  One day in the future, even if it is not my doing, it will all go away when my lease on a tiny portion of the Internet world expires.  Whatever I write here means little and counts for nothing in the long run.  It is a metaphor for my life.  Nobody will write my biography.

At best, what I have written here is a record—however short-lived and episodic—of thoughts that have occupied my mind from time to time.  These electronic scratchings have been of interest to me and, much less so, to those few curious others who have bothered to read my words.

The thought of aging is one recurring subject of interest.  It has been all along, of course, but marking seventy years on my calendar has put it into boldface on any list that I could make of subjects to think about.  What is the best way to live with the relative nearness of death?

I am seeking comfort and lately finding little.  I am not comforted by considering the odds.  The odds are that I will have another decade or two before I run out of time.  Thinking about the odds only teaches me that I had better take care of myself—and I do, but it is not enough.

Nor is it comforting to accept the notion that we all have to die sometime.  I gain nothing from this idea.  It is not instructive or helpful.  It merely restates the problem—as if I didn’t get it the first time.

For some people there is comfort in what they have accomplished.  There are great authors, great musicians, great mathematicians and physicists.  There are great explorers and inventors and great artists of all stripes.  Indeed, the list of greatnesses seems endless.  I do not know any people who are great like that and so I am speculating, but in their last years, I think that great people must have a sense of satisfaction about the great things they did in life.  Next to theirs my accomplishments are puny.  I’ve done some good things, but no great things.

I find that thinking about my life’s accomplishments only makes me less comfortable because I tend to remember my mistakes, my regrets, my errors in judgment.  It seems that the negative memories have a kind of adhesive quality.  They get stuck in my mind when I am trying to remember the good things that I have done.

Some people who cannot take comfort in great accomplishments, can yet find comfort in having great numbers of children and grandchildren—and even great-grandchildren!  It seems likely that having a large family would be comforting for some because they might imagine living on vicariously through their multitudinous offspring.  It might be comforting to think that they would be remembered more or remembered a little longer.

The quality of such vicarious life and legacy would depend on the quality of a person’s relationships with their offspring.  The odds of having good relationships and a positive legacy increase as the number of children grows, or so I presume, but even for me and my wife and our only child there is hope.  And there is some comfort for me in that.

Some people shaken by thoughts of death’s approach turn for comfort to religion or spirituality.  In my experience, though, religion promises but does not deliver.  When I retired, I started going to a church on a regular basis, but for most of my life I had very little to do with religion, and I have never felt comforted by it.  To the contrary, when I think about religion—and spirituality generally—I feel disquieted and uncomfortable.  I feel that I am alone on the outside of religion.  It does not speak to me, nor I to it.  I don’t know its language.  Maybe I am too old to learn.

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Foresight 2020: Get Real

The 2020 election is fifteen months away, and already the Democrats are intent on deciding how best to lose.  There is general agreement among the two dozen or so candidates that any one of them would be a far better president than the one we’ve got now.  Yet, their collective strategy seems to focus on mutual disparagement.

It is painful to watch.  The urge to score a knockout punch is obscene in its irrelevance.  The desire to thump an opponent—preferably an opponent who has higher poll numbers—outweighs the real necessity of focusing on the shortcomings of the presumptive Republican nominee the sooner the better.  The candidates’ other favorite tactic seems to be to bore the public to death by discussing minute policy differences.  The Republicans and their titular leader are gleeful.

How can this be?

The current “president,” who is perhaps the most obnoxious resident of the White House since Andrew Johnson, presides over an administration distinguished by incompetence.  His one notable campaign message from four years ago was the exclusion of immigrants, and he has pursued that theme since his election, recently claiming that the United States is “full.”

The election of 2016 ushered in an era of corruption of our public discourse through so-called “social” media and the subversion of our political process by foreign governments.  The “president” has done nothing about this because, in his view, it is all a hoax.

The central animating principle of this government is self-glorification.  He thrives on adulation of rally-goers.  He exploits division in the body politic and appears indifferent, at best, to the chanting of an adoring mob motivated by core racial hatred.

Essentially a one-trick pony, his signature tactic is to “tweet” whatever outrageous thing comes into his little mind and watch the world react.  It’s a game that he enjoys, and “We’ll see what happens!” is his favorite go-to phrase.  

Unfortunately, a loyal 45 percent of the American electorate is happy to share the joke.

So, why are Democrats losing?

Unlike the lively Republican rallies, the Democratic primary debates suffer from poor production and little entertainment value—unless you happen to enjoy watching a wall of lecterns and hearing people talking over one another.

The much-hyped my-plan-is-better-than-your-plan contest is tedious and uninteresting.  If the candidates believe that this is the way to attract voters, they are delusional.  One can only hope that this is a temporary insanity.  It is high time to get back to what is real.  Having a plan is a fine thing, but to pitch your plan as a future reality is foolish. 

What is real is that none of the candidates’ plans will ever become law without significant modification through the legislative process.  To a large extent, then, the details that the candidates are spending so much time arguing about are a fiction that is all the more fanciful as long as Republicans control the Senate.

To make the primary more interesting and possibly even exciting, the candidates should consider how to outsmart the format that is being foisted on them.  They should work together not only to put one of their number in the White House but also to retain Democratic control of the House and win control of the Senate.

I would like to see the Democratic candidates actually meet with each other every two or three weeks (away from all cameras and microphones) and create a shared vision and a strategy to achieve it.  The debate stage could be used not to compare separate visions but to inspire one shared vision, with all of the candidates on the same page.  The candidate who can best articulate that vision—and most effectively contrast that vision with the present administration—should become the Democrats’ standard-bearer in 2020.

Can the candidates stop attacking each other and figure out how to join forces and support each other?  It’s doubtful, but I would sure like to see them try.

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