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June 2020

Remember Becket

I wasn’t surprised when the carrier captain was fired.  Sure seemed like a hasty, knee-jerk response, but we should be used to that.  But I was shocked by the diatribe that Acting Secretary Modly flew 8,000 miles to deliver.  I’ve never served in the military so I hesitate to critique military decisions, but leadership is something I do know something about.  Such a glaring lack of it startled me.

I'd been moved by the video clips of the crew seeing their Captain off.  Apparently Modly was as well.  How long does the flight from DC to Guam take?  Picture Modly, with his Eraserhead hair, seething that entire time.  How dare they!  He’d show 'em.  Question his decision, do they?  His anger simmers.  Next to it, his fear.  All during the flight, he’s checking his twitter feed.  The President backed him up right away, so that was good.  But the winds can shift.  He needs to show the boss that he’s tough.  Not going to put up with insubordination.  “Cap-tain, Cro-zier!  Cap-tain, Cro-zier!” the sailors chanted as he walked down the gangway.   Modly can’t get the sound out of his head.

Trump’s critics often accuse him of actively being behind every loathsome decision, as if he'd called Modly himself and told him to fire that damned captain.  He doesn’t need to do that.  Once the bus is running and a few high-profile minions have been ground under the wheels, the problems take care of themselves.  “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” says Henry.  Becket dies.  Modly himself told WaPo’s David Ignatius that he was thinking about his predecessor who’d been fired because he “got crossways with the president … I didn’t want that to happen again.”

Survival in Trumpland requires demonstrating unending loyalty to the boss, the ability to anticipate what might set him off, and then take care of it.  There’s a little room for missteps because, ironically, Trump actually hates to fire people straight out.  He’d rather belittle and insult them.  Eventually someone else will pick up the hint.

Trump has many people who are now in “acting” positions (the jokes write themselves).  He says he likes “acting.”  He doesn’t have to send them to the Senate for confirmation and they’re easier to get rid of when he tires of them.  So they’re all dancing on thin ice, anxious to please the audience of one.

The role model is VP Pence, who understands that whatever he’s talking about, every other sentence needs to praise the President.  Pence is lucky though; as VP, he doesn’t really have responsibility for anything.  The various secretaries and under-secretaries have actual jobs to do, decisions with consequences.  You can use pleasing the boss as your lodestar for decision-making, but what happens when you guess wrong?

Poor Modly overreached.  He’d probably have kept his job if he’d just stayed home and ridden it out.  But he was afraid his decisive firing of the captain might not be enough.  That chanting!  So he had to go and berate the crew in person.  Show Trump just how tough he can be. 

Defense Secretary Esper tried to save him by giving him a chance to apologize.  And then he mucked that up as well. “I believe, precisely because he [Crozier] is not naive and stupid, that he sent his alarming email with the intention of getting it into the public domain in an effort to draw public attention to the situation on his ship. I apologize for any confusion this choice of words may have caused.”  Nobody hearing it was confused.

It was over by then anyway.  Trump was backtracking from his initial support.  He’d heard good things about Crozier.  “So, I'm going to get involved and see what is going on there because I don't want to destroy somebody for having a bad day.”  He hates it when he sees somebody being treated badly.  He didn’t need to say anything else. 

 


Who is that (un)masked man?

I was sure that the holdup on the mask recommendation was because Trump didn’t want to wear one.  Sure enough.  “Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens – I don’t know.  Somehow, I just don’t see it for myself.”  Erratic his judgment may be, but his narcissistic vanity is unwaveringly consistent. 

It’s not as if he’s got a steady stream of dignitaries coming through the White House these days.  But it could happen.  And one wants to look one’s best for the dictators of the world.

Seems to me it would’ve been a great opportunity to start up a cottage industry in red MAGA masks.  Put your MAGA where your mouth is.  A counterpoint to all those pussy hats that infuriated him so. 

He soothes his annoyance at being talked into allowing the mask recommendation by firing a couple of inspectors general.  Rooting out disloyalists always makes him feel better. 

The language on the Strategic National Stockpile website was quickly changed to reflect the nonsense that Jared was spouting about “our” stockpile.  And people say that this administration isn’t efficient. 

Here in Alabama the governor finally issued a stay at home order.  I don’t expect to see her wearing a mask either.  Her explanations for waiting were pretty vague.  “We’re not California.  We’re not New York.”  Quite true.  But we could be! Give it another week or so.  She was one of the last holdouts.  Even the governor of Georgia beat her to it and he had the excuse of not knowing asymptomatic people could be contagious.  When he found that out on Tuesday of this week, he said it was a game changer and issued the order.  Then yesterday he overruled some of the local jurisdictions and re-opened the beaches.  He’s confident people will follow the social distancing guidelines.  Of course.  Because that’s so obviously what people have been doing in the absence of the stay at home orders.

I completely understand that in the press of their daily lives many people don’t have time to keep up with the latest expertise on this fast moving crisis.  Alexandra Petri does an excellent job of explaining why so many people are willing to believe Trump’s statements that he always knew this would be a pandemic and he was just trying to give people hope.  There’s a lot going on in our lives!  But I’d’ve thought (speaking of hope) that a governor would’ve been paying enough attention to what the public health experts were saying two months ago to know a little more about the mechanics of the spread. 

Now that Trump has undercut his own recommendation I don’t expect to see a lot of mask wearing down here.  That’s the whole point of leading by example, but he doesn’t quite get it.  You can tell that the people around him have been trying to feed him the right lines, get him to make the right gestures.  Exercise leadership in a time of crisis.  And he tries.  But the words don’t feel right in his mouth.  It’s an effort for him to say that Cuomo’s latest comments were “okay.”  But he can’t keep himself from saying, “But they weren’t gracious.”  It enrages him that some of the governors aren’t as appreciative as he feels they ought to be.

We had drinks over FaceTime earlier today with our friends in Cyprus.  We had bloody marys before brunch while they were having wine after dinner.  They go out twice a week now for groceries and essential healthcare.  They need to text the local authorities to let them know they’re leaving and where they’re going and when they’ll be back.  Imagine how that’d be received here.  There’s a vocal subset of Americans, particularly here in the South, who are already screaming about the unconstitutional assault on their civil liberties. The luxuries of ignorance.

Have no fear.  Your President will not force you to wear a mask.  He’s made sure that the gun shops are essential services.  He’s still encouraging people to go to the churches next Sunday.  Other than that, he’ll leave it to the governors.

If I were the praying kind, I’d just as soon do it from home.  A church full of evangelicals with guns scares me much more than the coronavirus.  

 


Mercy

Yes, I was feeling cranky about Facebook the other day.  I’m not taking anything back, but of course it’s not the whole story.  The other night I had a brief exchange with the guy who sold me the Takamine that I’ve travelled around the world with.  It was 25 years ago and I haven’t seen him or talked with him since, but FB let's me see some of what he's up to.  I was gratified to be able to tell him a bit of what that guitar's meant to me.  No doubt social media brings out the worst in people, but then it enables moments like that.  What a gift!  It’s what Zuck imagined it could be.

Lynn’s not on Facebook.  Marian and I try to remember to let her know when we see something from a friend or a family member that we think she ought to know.  Or something cute or funny we think she’d get a kick out of.

It’s those connections, those cute and funny moments that are helpful now.  But you have to choose to lean into them, rather than going the other way.

Everybody’s on edge.  Hair triggers.  I had a colleague once who was very good at many things, and because of that, she was very impatient with people.  They rarely measured up to her standards.  And when something went wrong, the main thing she wanted to know was who to blame.  Who was the deserving target of her anger. 

A lot of the internet is like that now.  But I’m trying to stay away  from the anger button.  I don’t think it’s good for me. 

I’m not saying there’s not plenty to be angry about.  The President let the country down badly.  If you’re just now tuning in, maybe you can accept that “nobody could have imagined this.”  But that’s if you don’t know that his administration was running simulations through most of 2019 imagining exactly this.  We could go on.

Raging at him and his supporters on Facebook isn’t going to help me get through it, though.  Maybe that’s just me.  I don’t know what kinds of catharsis other people need. 

I bought a t-shirt from Mary Gauthier.  It says “Mercy Now”, the title of one of her greatest songs.

The song ends this way:

Yeah, we all could use a little mercy now

I know we don't deserve it but we need it anyhow

We hang in the balance dangle 'tween hell and hallowed ground

And every single one of us could use some mercy now

Every single one of us could use some mercy now

Every single one of us could use some mercy now

I’m trying to keep my hand away from the anger button.  Mercy, now.


Sing

I’d just been playing Angel From Montgomery on guitar when I got the news that John Prine was in critical condition with Covid-19.  Thankfully, the news is a little better now.  The most recent word from his wife is that he’s stable.  This is good. The world needs more John Prine songs.  Wouldn’t you love to hear his funny but deeply moving version of coronavirus blues?  I can’t wait.

It’s no coincidence that I was playing that song at that time.  It’s one of the about five songs I can make my way through these days so whenever I pick up the guitar for a music therapy session (which I try to do several times a week), I give it a try.  Still having trouble with the F chord, but the rest doesn’t come out too badly.

Just like everybody else who’s picked up an acoustic guitar in the last fifty years, I’ve been playing it for just about my entire musical life.  You don’t ask a guitar player if they know it.  Of course they know it.  At every Bearded Pigs gig it was the song we started the first set with.  When Ranger Dave and I played at the Venice Café as The Prairie Dogs it was a highlight, and I loved listening to his elegant lead lines during the instrumental break, particularly when we went into the chorus (the way he handled that F chord).  I was at a remote mountain resort in Korea, leading a workshop for a bunch of bright young librarians, Banquet 001and somebody found a guitar so I could play after dinner one night.  I did three songs and of course that was one of them.  I told the story of it first, so that my translator could relay it in Korean before I played, but I’m sure that many of them already knew it, too.

People have been posting their own versions of it lately, even before we heard he was sick.  TomCat put one up on Facebook a couple of days before.  I played along on harmonica while I watched and listened.  (He put up a nice rendition of Paradise as well).  Now, of course, there’s been a flood of them.  What can musicians do in hard times, but play and sing? 

Social distancing is tough on performing artists.  And while I’m not a sports fan I’ll say I was completely sympathetic to LeBron saying that he wasn’t going to play if the league was going to try to continue the season in empty arenas.  Asinine idea.  The fans are where the power comes from.

So musicians and actors and dancers, professional and amateur, are posting themselves from home.  Paul Simon put up an achingly beautiful American Tune.  I saw that he’s now put up The Boxer but I haven’t had the courage to watch it yet.  I’ll cry.*  Dolly Parton is reading bedtime stories for children.  Trent Reznor just released two Nine Inch Nails albums for free download.  Families who are quarantined together are posting amateur theatricals.  Museums are mounting online exhibits, with narrated walk-throughs of the blockbuster shows they’ve spent years curating, that now hang in empty halls.  The late night comics are doing their shows from home.  There’s I So Lounging w/ Amanda Shires every afternoon at 5. 

The internet is stressed.  I see reports from people using Zoom for conferencing that sometimes it’s flaking out on them.  I’m getting occasional DNS errors, but nothing too disruptive.  For a long time now it’s been hard to imagine what our daily lives would be like without that technology.  I try, occasionally, to tell Josie what it was like and she can’t wrap her 15 year old mind around it.  Now we’re seeing what a lifeline it truly is.

I see there’s a petition asking the networks to quit broadcasting the daily coronavirus briefings.  Too little new and useful information and too much misinformation that then needs to walked back.  I’m thinking, “But nobody is required to watch.”  Spend too much time with coronavirus news and you’ll ratchet your anxiety up to unhealthy levels. 

Dylan’s utterly astonishing Murder Most Foul tells us that music is the essential balm the nation needs in desperate times.  Now is when we need the arts more than ever.  See what your favorites are doing.  Find some news ones.  If you can spare it, send a contribution.  Buy a tour shirt for the tour that got cancelled.  And join in.  Paint a picture and put it up.  Write a short story.  Sing.

 

(*Just watched it now as I was getting ready to post this.  Yep.  I cried.  It was good.)