In Defense of Beauty

I come before you in defense of beauty. At first glance, that might strike you as necessary as defending money at Davos, but take a deeper look.

When the history of our age is written, whether by human historian or computer algorithm, on silicon wafers or copper plates, in shining cities or global ashes, this will be known as the Era of Ugly.

Pick a human institution, any institution, then put it back in the deck, don’t show it to me. You chose politics, right? Ugly. Oh, it was entertainment? Ugly. Internet snark? Ugly. Reality TV, Performance Art, Advertising, the degraded Environment, Ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly.

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New Beginnings for End of Days

The Twit will Tweet, and we can’t stop him. But a greater challenge awaits us this New Year. Our difficult but vital task is to Change the Subject.

I know, it won’t be easy. It’s hard to turn away from a tire fire.

But it’s important that we try, because if we keep staring at Trump, we’ll start to look like him, the way a dog comes to look like his master. And nobody wants that.

So let’s stop talking about Trump and think about all the new possibilities life can bring us in 2017.

The New Year is a great time to consider joining a gym. This is a laudable goal, but often fails. January is the peak month for gym memberships, February is the peak month for dropping out.

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You Can’t See America From Here

Wrong again. Not just me, everybody. The polls, the pols, the pundits, all wrong.

The West Coast went big for Hillary, as did most of the Northeast. But the rest of the country went for Trump. He lost the popular vote by over two million but won the Electoral College with ease. Trump captured thirty of the fifty states, the broad, vast, middle of the nation.

How could we not see this coming? How were we so geographically ignorant? Seen from California, it makes no sense at all. Yet it happened. What did we miss?

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The Post Trump Blues

I’m writing this a week before the election; anything can happen. But I’m assuming anything didn’t happen.

Shortly after this paper hits the stands you’ll know how close a call we had. Right now, I’m confident that Donald Trump will lose and Hillary Clinton will win. By how much? Usually that doesn’t matter.

It matters this time. The American people were asked to choose between a tired old liberal who has been around long enough to display the disfiguring scars of a lifetime in public service, or a visibly ugly, viscerally unpleasant, lowest-common-denominator demagogue who would be poison if he ever got into the oval office.

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A Little Less Conversation

It doesn’t matter what the crisis is. Be it a cop shooting yet another unarmed black guy, the latest case of sexual harassment on Fox, or gender wars about bathroom usage in the Carolinas, the response is always the same.

The talking heads pontificate, and right before they break for commercial, everyone concludes that “America really needs to have a conversation.”

But with two hundred channels, half a billion Tweets and countless Facebook posts constantly yammering on those subjects, you’d be forgiven for thinking we’re having that conversation already.

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Global Trembling Part 2: The Cure?

Last month we talked about how information overload is making us crazy with fear and paranoia, distorting our perceptions of reality.

But I also argued that Global Trembling isn’t merely hallucinations from overstressed minds, it has real causes.

To quote: “Information overload makes us feel out of control.”

The fact is, we aren’t in control. The forces that drive events today are infinitely stronger than the outdated institutions we created in earlier times to manage the world.

Not long ago the victors of World War II established the United Nations to enforce global peace and justice.

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Global Trembling: The Toxic Cloud

You can feel the tension everywhere. In America, where we’re having a fearful, farcical election. In Europe, from the Brexit shores of Dover to the refugee-laden borders of Turkey. Even at the Olympics, during what is supposed to be a celebration, the opening speech told us that the world was coming together in Rio at a time of dire, global crisis.

Really? The summer of 2016 is uniquely frightening and insecure, compared to other Olympiad years when things were so tranquil the speeches never said a discouraging word?

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The Popular Song: America’s Greatest Cultural Achievement

As beloved as it is, I don’t believe the popular song enjoys the cultural status it deserves. Perhaps that’s because the popular song is not an elite institution. But neither is the democracy that produced it.

The song instinct is as old as humanity. But, just as it took technology and a particular civilization to go from the mud hut to the Great Pyramids, it took technology and a particular civilization to go from war whoops to Stardust.

All the necessary preconditions for the emergence of the popular song came together in America. Many cultures from around the world gathered here, some voluntarily, some enslaved. They all brought their folk music traditions. Those traditions evolved in the new continent.

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Donald Trump: Tin Man

Like almost every pundit and prognosticator alive, I was totally wrong about Trump; I thought he’d burn out in a few months. But unlike most of my fellow scribes, I should have known better.

Writers tend to be a highly educated bunch, schooled in fine universities, equipped with the best that academia has to offer.

Not me. I was a Tin Man. Anything that could be sold in the home, I sold. Encyclopedias, aluminum windows, adjustable beds, vinyl siding, home security systems and cheap roof jobs: I knew how that game worked and I was pretty good at it.

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To Break the Gridlock, Break the Grid

The two party system of American politics has become the two party systemic dysfunction of political gridlock.

The parties created the grid. Now there are signs that it’s beginning to break up.

Exhibit one is Donald Trump. He is the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican party. But Donald Trump is a Republican like the leader of the Chinese Communist party, Xi Jinping, is a communist.

But this is not a column about Donald Trump. Though I can’t help but notice that Karl Marx saw Trump coming 150 years ago when he wrote: “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” Way to nail it, Karl.

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