You just can’t think too deeply about it

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Consolation following a loved one’s death comes hard sometimes. Wayne died of pancreatic cancer. But his greatest fear was that he would die the way his father did: living with Alzheimer’s, staring at his shoes. He still remembered how to tie his shoelaces. ~ Gordon, remembering Wayne G. Boulton (1941-2019).

Live & Learn

Think about the work that goes into tying your shoelaces. It calls for physical exertion, dexterity, and cleverness, any child between the ages of six and nine years old knows it, early in life it is a serious matter, the bow the greatest mystery, the fingers, the hands, the laces, altogether an apparently unsolvable riddle. But once you have mastered it, you forget how complicated it is, the years pass until one day—having put your socks on—you look down at your feet, unsure of how to proceed.

Linn Ullmann, ”Unquiet: A Novel” (W. W. Norton & Company, January 15, 2019)


Notes: Photo titled Self Perfection by Randy’sPhotography

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Elijah stands up for democracy

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Good morning, Bumpa!

Well, good morning to you, Elijah! It’s cold, but it looks like a great day.

Yeah, the sun’s out. I get to see the sunshine on the drive to daycare.

That’s a long drive.

Yeah, last Wednesday it took us two hours! But that wasn’t the worst thing, Bumpa.

What was the worst thing?

Television!

Didn’t the TV work?

No, it worked. It was on all day!

So what was the problem?

We’re a democracy, right, Bumpa?

Well, Sort of. Yes. What’s that have to do with the television?

Democracy’s where everybody votes and majority wins, right?

Pretty much. I’m not following. What’s majority rule have to do the television?

Marissa got the only vote last Wednesday! That’s not fair!

Well, it is her house. It’s Marissa’s television, and she’s the only adult in the house. Majority rule doesn’t apply. Daycare’s not a democracy.

Yeah, it’s authoritarian! She was a tyrant, Bumpa! We couldn’t watch Sesame Street and our other kids programs.

What did you watch instead of Sesame Street?

The Michael Cone Show. All day. In Congress. The people were mean, Bumpa!

You watched the whole hearing?

Well, not all of it. We kept protesting and Marissa was making a lot of noise shouting at the Show.

Was she mad at you?

No.

Was she mad at Michael Cone?

No.

So, who was she mad at, Elijah?

The Publicans! Every time one of the Publicans was mean to Michael, Marissa yelled, El que está sin pecado, tire la primera piedra!”*

— Grandpa (“Bumpa”) Gordon, Chaska, MN, March 4, 2019.

*In English for others of you who don’t speak Spanish: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone!”


The Magician’s Bargain in 2019 America

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Beneath the surface of the obvious turmoil in American lies a fissure deeper than our differences. More than just a fissure. A seismic shift in the ground that has traditionally held the nation together, as suggested by this adaptation of L. Robert Kohl’s “The Values Americans Live By”:

Traditional American Cultural Values

1. PERSONAL CONTROL OVER THE ENVIRONMENT
People can/should control nature, their own environment and destiny. The future is not left to fate.
Result: An energetic, goal-oriented society.

2. CHANGE / MOBILITY
Change is seen as positive and good. This means progress, improvement and growth.
Result: An established transient society geographically, economically and socially.

3. TIME AND ITS IMPORTANCE
Time is valuable - achievement of goals depends on the productive use of time.
Result: An efficient and progressive society often at the expense of interpersonal relationships.

4. EQUALITY / EGALITARIANISM
People have equal opportunities; people are important as individuals, for who they are, not from which family they come.
Result: A society where little deference is shown or status is acknowledged.

5. INDIVIDUALISM, INDEPENDENCE AND PRIVACY
People are seen as separate individuals (not group members) with individual needs. People need time to be alone and to be themselves.
Result: Americans may be seen as self-centered and sometimes isolated and lonely.

6. SELF-HELP
Americans take pride in their own accomplishments.
Result: Americans give respect for self achievements not achievements based on rights of birth.

7. COMPETITION AND FREE ENTERPRISE
Americans believe competition brings out the best in people and free enterprise leads to progress and produces success
Result: Competition is emphasized over cooperation.

8. FUTURE ORIENTATION / OPTIMISM
Americans believe that, regardless of past or present, the future will be better and happier.
Result: Americans place less value on past events and constantly look ahead to tomorrow.

9. ACTION AND WORK ORIENTATION
Americans believe that work is morally right; that it is immoral to waste time.
Result: There is more emphasis on "doing" rather than "being". This is a no-nonsense attitude toward life.

10. INFORMALITY
Americans believe that formality is "un-American" and a show of arrogance and superiority.
Result: A casual, egalitarian attitude between people is more accepted.

11. DIRECTNESS / OPENNESS / HONESTY
One can only trust people who "look you in the eye" and "tell it like it is". Truth is a function of reality not of circumstance.
Result: People tend to tell the "truth" and not worry about saving the other person's "face" or "honor".

12. PRACTICALITY / EFFICIENCY
Practicality is usually the most important consideration when decisions are to be made.
Result: Americans place less emphasis on the subjective, aesthetic, emotional or consensual decisions.

13. MATERIALISM / ACQUISITIVENESS
Material goods are seen as the just rewards of hard-work, the evidence of "God's favor."
Result: Americans are seen as caring more for things than people or relationships.

Adapted from http://“The Values Americans Live By”, L. Robert Kohls

Thoughtful people may quibble with Robert Kohl’s list. But few would erase the 11th valuehonesty/trustworthiness –as bedrock to the American experiment in democracy. 

The Magician’s Bargain

Looking each other in the eye and “telling it like it is” has been chipped away, replaced by the twists of tongue and cunning to get and hold power. In our time, truth has been reduced to a function of circumstance in the road to power. We live with the consequences of what C.S. Lewis called the magician’s bargain.

It is the magician’s bargain: give up our soul, get power in return. But once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be the slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls.

C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

The surrender of soul in return for power is the seismic shift in the America of 2019. Honesty/openness/directness have never been a fact of our common life. The 11th traditional value is aspirational. There have been and always will be lies. But never in my lifetime has truth-telling been less valued than it is today in the highest places of government. To the chagrin and sadness of George Will and other principled traditional conservatives, it is the children of Jerry Falwell‘s Moral Majority who engage the moral magician’s bargain.

The Irony of the American Magician’s Bargain

Michael Cohen testified last week before the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee. The minority members of the Committee attacked the credibility of the convicted criminal who had served for 10 years as the president’s personal lawyer and “fixer” and chose to ignore the hard evidence the president’s “rat” had placed before them.

The only difference between Michael Cohen and those who refused to exercise their duty to uphold the Constitution was that Michael had confessed.

Do we feel the rumbling of the common ground beneath the partisan divide?

How deep is the loss! How much greater the challenge. Ben Franklin would have a cow!

“We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”  — C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 2, 2019.

We’re better than this!

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Elijah spoke yesterday. Elijah preached yesterday. Elijah spoke from the heart yesterday. Elijah was kind yesterday. Elijah warned us yesterday. Elijah spoke of destiny yesterday. Elijah challenged all of us yesterday:

“C’mon now! We’re better than this! We really are!

Congressman Elijah Cummings, Chair of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, is named after the Hebrew prophet.

Rep. Elijah Cummings’ closing remarks at House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing examining Michael Cohen, February 27, 2019.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 28 2019.

Elijah made Elijah proud yesterday!


The Cohen Moment

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This morning Michael Cohen testifies publicly before the House Oversight Committee. He’s lied before. Will he lie again? Whether he does or doesn’t, how does one discern what’s true and what’s not?

Michael Cohen walks in the long shadow of Roy Cohn (R in this photo), right-hand man and fixer for Sen, Joseph McCarthy (C in photo), and the lawyer, fixer, mentor for Donald Trump.

Roy Cohn continued to practice law and “fix” things until his fixing led to disbarment five weeks before he died. Like Roy, Michael Cohen will never practice law again. Unlike Roy Cohen, Michael Cohen may yet redeem himself from the darkness and unqualified public scorn.

Michael Cohen is going away for three years. But am I imagining that I see a different countenance since his sentence? That his face looks different — less troubled — and his walk lighter because he has little reason deny or twist the truth? Who’s to say?

Watching Michael on C-Span today, the Leonard Cohen’s There Is a Crack in Everything. That’s How the Light Gets In will play in my head. Will Michael be a Roy or a Leonard? Will Michael “sing” or sing? Or are “singing” and singing the same thing when there’s a crack in everything?

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 27, 2019.


I’m sorry to disturb you again!

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When was the last time you had time to waste before boarding a flight? The uber drops you off at the curb in plenty of time. You check your bag. You pass through security. You have an hour or so to kill before the 11:10 boarding of your flight on Concourse C.

You haven’t had breakfast. You go to the food court, buy a coffee and a breakfast sandwich, and take a seat at a small table in the food court. You reach for your iPhone to check the time, read the texts and tweets, and read the e-edition of your favorite news source. But it’s missing! You rummage though your pockets or your purse. You’ve forgotten or, God forbid, lost your iPhone. You never do that. Never, never, never!

You scarf down the coffee and croissant sandwich and go across the hall for a newspaper. You buy a copy of today’s New York Times, return to the table in the food court, read the front page headlines, open to the sections of interest, and get absorbed in the latest news or this morning’s crossword puzzle or sudoku.

Suddenly, you realize you’ve lost track of time. You reach for your iPhone and remember. You look for a clock, but there are no clocks. You leave the food court in search of a clock. There are no clocks.

You race down the concourse toward your gate, looking for a clock to see whether you’re late for your flight. But there are no clocks. None. Anywhere. Not even on the flight arrival and departure boards. The flight boards display the schedule and whether your flight is on time, delayed, or cancelled, but they do not tell you what time it is now.

Arriving at the gate, there is no line for boarding. You breathe a sigh of relief when you learn you’re not too late. You sit down in the waiting area and sheepishly ask a stranger for the time. She checks her phone and gives you the time, while you explain that you’ve left home without your new iPhone6, or maybe you’d lost it, as though she cares.

On board the flight, you fasten your seat belt and break the rule of privacy. “Hi, my name’s Bob. Is this home, or do you live in Denver?” “Denver,” he says without looking up from his smartphone. You might as well have asked for his Social Security number. This flight will be a long exercise with silence, a chance for meditation, but you can’t do meditation without the meditation app on your iPhone.

After take-off, you take out the New York Times. It’s been awhile since you read a newspaper in print, and you’d missed out on an aisle seat where you could spread out. Your left arm is flush against the window. As you unfold the newspaper, you intrude again into the space of the guy from Denver in the middle seat. He looks up and shakes his head. You apologize for your rudeness and carefully fold the newspaper in half the way commuters do on trains on their way to work in the city. You settle down with the properly-folded newspaper. A headline leaps from the page:

Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched my Phone and Unbroke My Brain”(Kevin Roose, Feb. 23, NYT) comes to the rescue. It begins:

“My name is Kevin, and I have a phone problem. And if you’re anything like me — and the statistics suggest you probably are, at least where smartphones are concerned — you have one, too.”

I do! Yes! I do! you say to yourself. You wonder whether Kevin also has a clock problem. Whether he’ll lament our isolation in a world missing the one thing we all had in common before smartphones: public clocks on the tower of the old village square . . . and in airports!

On the way to baggage claim, the problem is bigger than the absence of a friendly clock. You’re in a strange city without information on where you’re supposed to go. The address of your hotel, how to get there, contacts, e-mail and text information, phone numbers, and the name of the restaurant where you’re to meet the headhunter for the job interview are carefully stored on your iPhone.

What to do? At baggage claim, a stranger takes pity on you. She lends you her smartphone. A family member answers your call, finds your phone, follows your instructions for unlocking your iPhone, and begins to give you the information you’ve asked for. But the phone to take down the information, you’re still helpless!

“Hold on a minute,” you tell the family member back home, and return to the stranger. “I’m sorry to disturb you again, but do you have a pencil and a piece of paper?”

Elijah’s Advises Grandpa on Happiness

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Elijah, you seem really happy this morning.

I am, Bumpa! It’s a great day!

I wish I could be that happy!

You can, Bumpa. It’s easy.

Easy for you to say. It’s not easy

Uh-huh! Stop watching How to Get Away with Murder,” Bumpa!

You mean Ray Donovan?

Ray, too. Ray and Annalise aren’t good for you. They’re making you grumpy like Oscar!

I know. Those shows are pretty depressing, Elijah. What do recommend?

Like I said, it’s easy, Just do what we do in day care.

I’m too old for day care, Elijah. Way too old. Look at me!!!

Do I have to? You have hairs sticking’ out of your nose and stuff! And you need a haircut!

Let’s get back to happiness. What do you recommend for Grandpa?

Like I said, stop watching those bad shows. They’re making you sad.

Okay, so I’ll stop watching Annalise and Ray. What do I do now?

Go to day care, Bumpa. Day care’s not just for kids. They have day care for grumpy old men. It’s called adult day care.

What do they do at adult day care?!

Don’t you know? They watch Sesame Street and get happy with Big Bird!

Sesame Street‘s for kids!

AND, for old guys with hairs sticking out of their nose and stuff. They accept anybody! Check in at 123 Sesame Street and get happy with Big Bird.

— Grandpa (Bumpa) Gordon, Chaska, MN, Feb. 23, 2019

Elijah for President

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Bumpa!!! Did you see that?

See what, Elijah?

Someone wants us to run in 2020!

Run for what?

President and Vice President!

Aha! Someones pulling your leg.

Uh-uh. Someone is serious, Bumpa.

Who’s Someone? Give me a name.

SomeoneIS the name.

I see. Where’d you hear Someone say that, Elijah?

On your blog!

Ah! So you saw Someone’s comment on the missing children post!

Yeah, Grandma showed it to me.

What do you mean “showed” it to you? You can’t read yet.

Yes I can. A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I-3-4-5 . . .

I’m so proud of you, Elijah! You’re only 21 months old.

Yeah. When I turn 35 we can run as a ticket! We’ll make Someone happy!

Who’ll be at the top of the ticket?

Grandma said you got a ticket. You have a record.

No, this is a different kind of ticket. It’s not a speeding ticket.

Phew!!!

So, who does Someone think should be President?

You don’t pay attention to anyone, Bumpa.

That’s not true, Elijah. You hurt my feelings.

Just start by listening to Someone! One person at a time.

Okay, what did Someone say?

Someone said, “Elijah for President! Bumpa for Vice President! I vote for this team!!!”

And it all started with Someone.

Jimmy Durante, “Make Someone Happy”

— Grandpa (“Bumpa”) with Grandson Elijah, Chaska, MN, Feb. 22, 2019.

Elijah and the Missing Children

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Bumpa, you’re mean! Why do you keep saying that?

Say what, Elijah?

That there’s no national emergency?

Because there isn’t.

Yes there is.

No, there isn’t. How would you know? You’re only 21.

You’re cruel, Bumpa! POTUS is kinder than you!

What’s gotten into your little head?

My head’s not little! My head’s bigger than 96 percent. Doctor said so! I’m in the top four percent!

I know. That’s good. But you shouldn’t get a big head about that! So, tell me, why do you think there’s a real national emergency? 

POTUS declared it. I saw it on PBS!

On Sesame Street? Did Big Bird tell you?

No. It came on after Sesame Street. I saw it!

What did you see, Elijah?

MISSING children, Bumpa! Don’t you know? 1,475 kidnapped children, Bumpa! That’s a national emergency! We need to help rescue all those kidnapped children!

I hear you. We do. But the kidnappers didn’t come from south of the border. The kidnappers are not here illegally.

Uh-huh!

No, they aren’t. They’re legal. Homeland Security took them!

I like security. So there’s no national energency? The children are safe?

Well, no, Elijah. Homeland Security took them away from their parents, and then Homeland Security lost them

So the President called a national emergency to find them, right?

No, Elijah. POTUS hasn’t said one word about the missing children.

Why, Bumpa? Why? That’s not right! Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, right?

Right! It’s not right! 

Right, I told you! You’re wrong! There is a national emergency.

— Bumpa and Elijah, Chaska, MN, Feb. 18, 2019

Elijah and Grumpy Old Bumpa

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Bumpa, can I be president… or do I have to be a lawyer?

Yes, you can, and no, you don’t. Why would you ask that, Elijah?

‘Cause they’re the only people who count.

Oh, my, Elijah! You were born in a strange time!

Uh-uh! I was nine when I was born. Mom says it was past time. Mom was miserable before I got borned.

She was, Elijah. She sure was.

You’re miserable, Bumpa! Are you pregnant?

No, only young women get pregnant and miserable. Old men just get miserable and grumpy.

Yeah, we’re Minnesotans. When can we go ice fishing?

fish houses of ice fishermen in Minnesota

Grandpa doesn’t do ice fishing. Maybe Uncle Andrew will take you and Calvin together.

Does Uncle Andrew have a fish house?

No. You don’t have to have a fish house to go ice fishing.

But you have to have a big house if you want to be president or a lawyer, right?

Well, no. You don’t have to have a big house to be a lawyer. Some lawyers are street lawyers and public defenders. All lawyers take an oath to protect the constitution.

But some lawyers are bad, right? Like Michael Cohen and Rudy Giuliani. Grandma says they’re walkin on thin ice. It’s a national emergency!

Yes and no, Elijah. Mr. Cohen and Mr. Giuliani represented or represent the president. The president’s about to fall through the ice for making stuff up.

Yeah, the president’s a national emergency and his lawyers pretend he’s not!

Yes, that’s our opinion.

Right! I changed my mind. I don’t want to be president, Bumpa, and I’m glad I don’t have to be like Michael and Rudy.

Like I said, Elijah, you could be either president or a lawyer, but you don’t have to be. You can be anything you want.

OK! I wanna to be like Uncle Andrew! I can be a ice fisherman right here in Minnesota and grow up to be a grumpy old man. I wanna be like you, Bumpa.

— Grandpa (“Bumpa”) Stewart and Elijah (21 months old), Chaska, MN, February 17, 2019