Lordy, we are an ignernt bunch

As I sat in an idling car with several new friends on a chilled working-day dawn last week, the topic turned to politics which is always a mistake these days.

By that I mean, it’s a mistake for me.

Because when that exchange arises—unless everyone in the car believed everything I believe—the conversation is likely to be transformed quickly into a hysterically shrieking hurl of crude insults.

At the very fork of life where mature balance and generosity of spirit should be my guiding influence, I have found just the opposite seems more likely. Why is this happening to me? Can I not find a better way to deal with the world’s conflicts than this barely restrained hostility? Apparently, these are rhetorical questions for which I have no good answers.

I take no solace in my enduring juvenile temptations.

But I suspect this conversation stands in symbolic stead for millions of similar conversations that Americans are having among themselves these days. At least, that might be true for those ever-diminishing numbers of Americans who still courageously debate public issue among themselves.

In this realm, where all facts and truths are amorphous changelings, we are told that everyone has a right to opinions no matter how scurrilous and defamatory they are.

But, lordy, lordy, we are an ignorant people these days—truly “ignernt” as my dad would say—and demanding equanimity of me in this era just does not seem to work. Or be satisfying.

I’d prefer to scream. Howl. Bay. Mock. Hoot derisively.

This does not presume I am always right about matters either large or small, because I am not. My only protection is that when presented with better evidence (tested, scientific, validated, observed reality), I often change my mind.

The topic of the moment was J.B.Pritzker,  the Chicago billionaire who is running for Illinois governor as a Democrat. I do not understand how any one person with $3 billion in the bank can also be a down-home one-of-the-average-Joes he portrays on TV commercials. That needs more research.

“Sure, he’s rich, but he married into the money. She’s an Abbott (of big pharma fame) or some other rich family,” said my friend with such calm assurance that you’d never doubt he had or needed independent evidence to support this theory.

This description was meant to reinforce the sly slander that not only is Pritzker trying to buy the governor’s mansion, but he’s doing it with pillow-talk financial benefits. So he’s a skunk who married for money.

This theory has a few holes. Pritzker doesn’t need the governor’s mansion because he already owns a much grander 12,500-square-foot version on Chicago’s Gold Coast.

But my friend’s statement is an apt distillation of where intellectual and political debates have landed us as a nation.

As I sit there in the car, I silently debate the choice presented to me. I can keep quiet and preserve the momentary harmony of the gathering. Or I could gently point out that my friend might not have all the facts.

Or I could simply scream, “HE’S A PRITZKER, YOU MORON!! His family INVENTED money!”

But as the outwardly silent screeching was ricocheting inside my head, I only nodded affably, and pretended my friend’s discourse was so obviously true that it did not even require my assent. So I stayed quiet. Peace was maintained.

But my friend had grown up in Chicago and probably even stayed some nights somewhere in a Hyatt hotel, the hospitality empire that the family transformed into a $15 billion empire. When the family divested its holdings in 1999, the family split the business into 11 pieces worth $1.4 billion each.

J.B. took one slice of the pie, and built it into $3 billion.

As to the source of Pritzker influence, power and money (all forms of the same cosmic force), Bryan Smith wrote this in a 2014 Chicago Magazine profile: “The tale of the Pritzkers’ rise from penniless Ukrainian Jews to stupendously wealthy power brokers has already passed into legend. Nicholas, J.B.’s great-grandfather, moving from Kiev to Chicago in 1881 at the age of 10, attending Harvard Law School, and starting his own law firm. The expansion into business under Nicholas’s sons, Harry, A.N., and Jack, who made a fortune buying up distressed properties and other assets. And then, thanks mostly to the savvy of A.N.’s elder sons, Jay and Robert, the growth into a multibillion-dollar family held conglomerate called Marmon, which owned mostly manufacturing companies; they also acquired casinos and even an airline (Braniff). In 1957, Jay, an indefatigable dealmaker and the de facto head of the Pritzker family’s third generation, bought a Los Angeles hotel called Hyatt House. He soon summoned his younger brother Donald—who had recently earned a law degree at the University of Chicago—to run it.”

The Prizkers have made billions and given away billions to improve the lives of the communities in which they’ve lived. They are not perfect people, and no one claims such economic moral spotlessness in their behalf.

All these facts are easily at the right hand of anyone who wishes to know the truth or at least know the facts. Secure a library card of a Google account. Invest in awareness.

My friend in the car chose his own facts, which I suppose is the enduring reality of human consciousness. The delight in choosing to be deliberately self-duped seems strangely addictive these days.

We only know what we choose to know.

And the rest?

That’s left to drift in the eternal but comforting void of ignorance and deliberate prejudice which all Americans claim as their natural right.


Is ‘Orient Express’ still a mystery, or is that a meteor headed for me?

The surviving enlistees in the Cultural Old Guard are hunkered down in our front line trenches awaiting the sergeant’s whistle to launch ourselves over the edge and charge the Huns.

Editor’s note: This is a clumsy allusion to trench warfare in World War I in which America, Britain and France fought Germany. Spoiler alert! We won.

Occasionally when curiosity and boredom overtake us, we peek over the lip of our dirt fortification to check the cultural landscape. It’s a “No Person’s Land” out there.

What have we forgotten? What did we never know? What do some of us know, but are appalled when no one but we can remember? We constantly are getting smarter or less so, but it’s wise to check the teeter-totter scorecard for trends.

The object lesson from the frontline today is “Murder on the Orient Express,” a thriller mystery movie scheduled to appear on Nov. 10.

In this case, current mores and attitudes suggest it’s rude to reveal the ending to the 10th remake of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express.”

We are constantly warned against the gaucheness of unwanted revelation.

This one has director/star Kenneth Branagh as Detective Poirot and every Hollywood star not named George Clooney trapped on the eponymous European passenger train. Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer,  Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi all are aboard. Sounds expensive.

In theoretical truth, I don’t know how this one ends, except for some hints.

First hint? For 80 years, this story always has ended the same way.

This is the delicate storytelling point that gets dicey because  “Orient Express” is a mysterious literary trail that has been trod so often that no blade of grass along the path remains untrammeled. To change the end of a historical literary property merely to get a box office boost might be the riskier option. Risk-aversion being the ruling zeitgeist of the day, we doubt 20th Century Fox studios has that much artistic courage.

Fox does not hide that Orient is indeed a remake of an old crime novel but promises surprising new twists. Branagh’s    Hercule Poirot mustache will be the most gargantuan follicle growth ever attempted by a leading man and, further, this Poirot will be a young, virile military veteran of 57.

That sound you heard is Agatha Christie rotating briskly in her crypt. In the next remake, maybe Miss Jane Marple will be a hot babe.

We are promised this will be a nuanced, “darker” Express which usually foretells that sly evil has been replaced by more casual crudity.

Director Sidney Lumet’s 1974 version was nominated for six Oscars, and Ingrid Bergman won for Best Supporting Actress. That’s the cachet of real history,

Stars? That one also had Albert Finney as Poirot, Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Rachel Roberts, Richard Widmark and Michael York.

I’ll see your Cruz and Dench, and I’ll raise you a Bacall and Bergman.

Christie’s source work is a rich, wonderful novel (regarded as one the best of Christie’s 66 mysteries) that spawned subsequent movie adaptations that I have known for at least 50 years. That’s not cultural self-puffery. I was merely awake during those years and took casual note of my surroundings.

Biographers have reported Christie loathed all the movie interpretations of her mysteries. But all versions of “Orient” except for minor parodies have been the same movie.

As a result, I know how this version of “Orient” ends if it replicates Christie’s 1934 novel or any of the movies, stage plays or television re-enactments that followed.

It has never occurred to me until this very week that this was a secret to be guarded.

I casually mentioned to The Wonderful Girl in My Life how silly I found this secrecy when everyone knows how it ends. Then I told her how all the Orients end. “Everyone knows” is a diabolical and shaky premise.

“Oh, Thanks!” she shot back. “I never read that book, or saw those other movies; so I don’t know how it ended until you just told me.  So I guess I won’t have to go.”

She was irked with my unnecessary candor.

So I tested the cultural boundaries theory that “everyone knows” how this ends. I asked a handful of random Gen-Xers. “Never heard of it,” they all said in different variations.

Then I asked if they could guess how I might know this fact without having seen this movie or read descriptions of its plot. They were stumped.

We had stumbled into an unwelcome realization. Younger movie consumers in 2017 are more likely to be surprised by reused plots because they never experienced the original story, especially if it was a book. Likewise, they will be surprised if then have not subscribed to an old movie cable channel.

The pathways by which civilization delivers art and literature to the new generational buying public have exploded into a maze of platforms. But there is less interest in “old culture” when there is so much “new culture” to be consumed.

This has produced the Spoiler Alert Culture. Sshhh. Don’t tell. It’s rude.

If you don’t know how “Murder on the Orient Express” ends, many other cultural benchmarks might have eluded you, too. Too many secrets just add to normalized ignorance.

Perhaps I’m the only one left who knows facts important to me, but relatively unimportant to anyone else. Am I the last dinosaur waiting for the meteor to arrive?

That’s a rhetorically existential question to which I always fear the answer is “Yes.”

To me, this gap is like someone watching DiCaprio in “Titanic” and being shocked that the ship sank. Yep. Hit an iceberg.

Yes, the Hindenburg dirigible blew up, the Easter Bunny is not real and JFK is dead (WHAT? JFK is DEAD? I didn’t even know he was sick. Sorry. It’s an old joke that suffers in 2017 because apparently there are people alive now who don’t know who JFK was).

Then you have to explain what a dirigible is, and what “JFK” stands for.

So, while I will note that every one of the dozen remakes of “Orient” ended within small variations of the exact same plot twist, should I tell? The urge to spill the beans probably is just arrogance or its cousin—hubris.

On the other hand, is cultural ignorance a right guaranteed in the Constitution?

Modern American adults should know 10,000 facts and how “Orient” concludes should be one of them. That’s just my current theory of civilization.

If your colleagues and family have managed to never learn about “Orient” and Christie, you must decide for yourself whether to keep them uniformed until Fox, Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green make them pay to learn it.

You are implicitly required, or at least subtly urged, to share in the commercial whodunit without being paid for the service. In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock attempted the same ploy in “Psycho” by asking moviegoers to promise they would not reveal the ending.

At this point, I had written 200 words that described exactly what that plot resolution is. But then I decided to delete the paragraphs. The power of glibness had evaporated.

“Spoilers” are usually rude and insufferable—guilty, as charged—but we have entered a a more rarefied era in which lack of knowledge (common or otherwise) is protected.

On the other hand, maybe I don’t know what I don’t know.

In the next “Romeo and Juliet” retelling, perhaps the young lovers don’t both die. Maybe in the next remake, Lincoln pulls out his own revolver and shoots John Wilkes Booth.

In case you have never read one of the two billion published copies of Christie mysteries written between 1920 and 1976, why should we deny your first exposure to a great storytelling mind? If you have ever read Christie, the mathematical chances are high that it involved either Poirot or Marple solving murders.

Branagh’s cinematic interpretation might inspire you to read her words in an actual book. Could happen to a few people. In that case, we could willingly conspire to keep the “Orient”  mystery secret.

We can support discovery of old ideas even while we resent the forces that made them an undiscovered secret.

Then I lowered my head behind the bunker. Cultural wars are hell, and the mixed metaphor meteor could arrive any second now.

Media Studebaker trapped in a Ferrari Facebook world

The  dark lords who enforce media trends—as opposed to working stiffs and stiffettes who must answer to those orders—have decided that because social media exists, those who carry press credentials must be displayed on social media.

This is a mistake for two reasons.

First, it’s an error because making old sports writers stage live social media wind sprints can produce human ugliness and depressing thoughtlessness. True sports thinking works only if they are drinking beer and smoking stogies around a beat-up poker table. Then, you will get some serious erudition about sports.

Second, Facebook puts faces on video screens in real time. Some of these faces, and their attached bodies, should not be seen by the general public. These are faces made for radio, or perhaps letter writing.

As I follow a half-dozen newspaper-originated news operations during football season, you see these stressed faces every week after games. They are standing in stadiums after three sweaty hours filled wth free hotdogs,  never-ending buckets of baked beans and piles of team-provided stats and comments.

They generally are writers required by their once-upon-a-time print news employers to be instantaneously analytical for Facebook, Twitter and blogs.

It’s drive-by thinking by reporters who should be sitting down to collect their wits. No time for thinking now. “I’m late; I’m late,” says the White Rabbit.

The inhabitants of this world often are middle-aged white guys and about 50 pounds overweight. They sweat because they are required to stand on the stadium’s turf floor, which is approximately two miles from where they’ve been sitting to cover the game.

Forcing old, fat, white guys to run for the field as part of their post-game duties might be creating a labor law violation. As Nixon experienced, performers should not sweat like farm animals.

They have been working for hours trying to keep track of the game, but let us merely face basic facts. Fat middle age men are not meant to be paraded on social media, unless it’s part of some elaborate, staged joke or as dads playing with their children or their dogs.

They are Studebakers trapped in a Ferrari world.

They should be secluded and shielded from interference while they construct 1,000 perfectly-balanced words that everyone will read because the words are insightful and purposeful. But, no, the dark barons demand they must stand before the world and be instantly insightful and interesting.

This is required because dark lords are too cheap to hire others to do this.

The dark lords of media don’t allow time for contemplation now. This is a video, live-streaming world; so get yourself in front of that camera. And be profound on cue.

At one time, I thought most TV newsfolks who did this job were dolts whose main skill was pretending they knew anything about what they were saying. I thought they were just adept at gibberish.

True, many might be soulless dopes, but some have a true gift for matching thinking and Iive video. It’s a more nuanced craft than I realized. At the least, it’s a different job with different rules.

As my old, fat, white-guy chums in print media can testify,— even the ones who try to stay fit— not everyone is suited intellectually for the multi-task universe. Even science suggests that multitasking is a self-delusion we have been coaxed to embrace.

If you are doing three things at once, you are doing one of them very badly which is why it’s against the law to drive a car, breathe and hold a live telephone conversation at the same time.

As for football, I fully expect a stressed, fat, red-faced, middle-aged sports reporter to die right on the Facebook air some Saturday night trying to explain a Purdue football game.

It’s one reason to keep watching.

How Ken Burns misses on Vietnam

One can watch Ken Burns’ documetary work on several levels. He’s admirable as a basic storytelling technician but, in his typical quest to show “many truths”, he eventually obscures the one necessary truth that withstands reinvention.

In the Civil War series (which I generally admire for technique)  he lost track of the essential cause of the war and thereby obscured that slavery was the principle sustaining motive for the South’s “lost cause.” Slavery always looks more appealing when it’s portrayed in sepia tones with aching violin solos as background. But it was a cruel, despicable motive for war.

In the Vietnam opus, he almost misplaces the essential that the war was never that nation’s Civil War. It was an American extension of the Colonial universe that France employed to bleed the country and which then the U.S. adopted.

South Vietnam was never a self-generated free state filled with “freedom fighters.” It was created and sustained by U.S. intelligence operators.

I am not the first or most insightful (see Jeff Stein in newsweek.com) to suggest the erroneous narrative of “Freedom Fighters against the Communist Horde” was conveniently pitched to American news correspondents who then sold the confabulation to America as the reason we had to be there. It was a deadly self-delusion.

But that energizing narrative that spawned the Vietnam War was never true. And before we are allowed to cleanse ourselves of what the Vietnam War did to us, we should at  least see our sin clearly for the self-indulgent solipsism it was.

Is Sheriff Oscar Martinez Jr. a lion tamer or a door man?

The tendency to rain on parades can overcome the temptation to misplaced enthusiasm.

So the reaction to Oscar Martinez Jr. being picked to fulfill John Buncich’s criminally stunted term as Lake County (Ind.) sheriff should be tempered.

Maybe you too can smell the approaching rain clouds.

Martinez’s friends and relatives showed up on Facebook this weekend to share their glee, and it’s entirely possible Martinez is a great guy and a superior street cop. Let’s start with those presumptions.

But acknowledging his strengths provides no proof he can manage a public institution with 475 employees and a $32 million budget. Those require different skills than do busting street gangs.

That’s why he is officially and technically the “pro-tem” sheriff. Never has the Latin phrase “for the time being” been applied so accurately.

For the record, this job should not be a door prize for good attendance, and he did not earn the job the way all Indiana sheriffs normally would.

Maybe that makes him more immune to the unending crookedness of county politics.

He did not present himself to Lake County’s 480,000 citizens and ask the adults for their vote. He did not test himself before the voters. He auditioned for the county’s Democratic Party Central Committee.

What he did was convince a plurality of 220 Democratic politicians he should have the job “for the time being.” In fact, it took three ballots for Democrat insiders to reach even that decision.

This was like being elected president of your hometown Kiwanis club when the previous president dies in office.

Why does it make a difference how he got the job? Because the same politicians who picked him also picked Buncich, a convicted federal criminal, to be their party’s standard bearer four times. They even made him the county Democratic Party’s official head.

In four elections over 16 years, many of those same committeeman came to Buncich victory parties to genuflect and kiss the sheriff’s ring. The same political cast that “elected” Martinez had named Buncich their party’s de facto monarch.

Why would any rational observer credit their judgment?

At most, Martinez’s selection is a quest for hope against recent precedent. So when his campaign placards promised “A New Direction,” we presumed he meant a direction that, at the very least, did not lead to a federal prison cell.

With the Democratic Party’s long affection and acceptance of Buncich’s felonious management, the people of Lake County hardly have reason to unequivocally hail the wisdom of Martinez’s choice.

Based on experience, they have less reason to trust either the local Democrat establishment or the Sheriff’s Department.

Even assuming Martinez is a man of impeccable moral standards, the episode offers muted satisfaction. This choice was a private political party decision, and you were not invited to the party.

Martinez now has 14 months before he stands before the electorate, if he’d want a full four-year term. That’s barely a heartbeat to repair a department that, if not corrupt on its own, was managed by a now-convicted criminal for a decade.

Apparently no one wearing a deputy’s badge in Lake County questioned Buncich’s criminal enterprise. They either saw his conspiracy and ignored it, or else were not astute enough to see his con game for what it was—rank thievery and innate public corruption. The same is true for the elected officials who knighted Martinez last weekend.

As for Buncich’s aptitudes, he allowed himself to be surreptitiously video-recorded taking bribes in cash. As a criminal, he was either brazen or stupid. Or perhaps both.

Former Merrillville cop Scott Jurgensen, who runs Samson Towing, was the apparent undercover informant. He testified he paid Buncich thousands and eventually went to the feds as a tipster because the bribery was costing him too much. He claimed there was no way to escape Buncich and still stay in business profitably.

Buncich’s dirty money made the rounds. Indeed, Martinez was ratified by one of the same groups that shared financial campaign benefits of Buncich’s crimes.

Testimony revealed that Jurgensen paid $2,000 to the Lake County Central Democratic Committee in October 2014 as part of the Buncich payoffs. We’ll presume they were ignorant of the source.

Maybe Martinez’s first leadership act as sheriff is to advise the central committee it should return the extorted towing “donations” his predecessor scavenged.

Nonetheless, Martinez’s fans say he will “clean up” Lake County, and, if he does, that would prove he’s the law enforcement lion tamer his advocates claim.

But the first area of Lake County he needs to cleanse in his own sheriff’s department.

He has just 14 months to change a departmental culture of privilege, self-dealing and at least tacit acceptance of  Buncich’s corruption.

Maybe Martinez can do that. Maybe he wants to do that. Maybe his party’s electors would claim they want reform, too.

On the other hand, that’s high hopes for a pro-tem lame duck, though he’s hardly powerless.

First decision? If no one in Buncich’s departmental high command structure reported him to the FBI—and it does not appear they did—none of them deserve to keep their jobs.

Martinez did nothing in his victory speech to reveal he has a plan or ambition—other than good intentions to “make Lake County safer”—to address the sheriff’s department.

He did not put his senior command staff on notice or reveal intentions beyond comforting but unspecific law and order platitudes.

There literally is a new sheriff in town, but is that new sheriff a reform leader or mostly affable? If he just a door holder for the next sheriff in 2018, the residual stain left by Buncich will be left for the next administration.

The stench that enveloped Buncich smudged the entire department’s reputation. Martinez does not have much time to clean that blot.

The state Constitution and local Dems have made this call for the voters to whom he eventually must answer. They made it sound as though a real election had occurred, though they hid their enthusiasm for Martinez well.

He was not exactly a Cincinnatus-style hero summoned to save the republic. The three secret ballots required to give Martinez barely enough votes to win suggest the party itself has mixed feelings that likely will be unresolved in 2018 when the debate arises again.

Of the 500 voting-eligible committeeman in the party, only 400 voted and only 223 voted for Martinez who, by definition, is a victor who won a small plurality of an even tinier minority. The Democrats mostly seemed indifferent or bored, like country clubbers picking a new “pro-tem” sergeant-at-arms.

Maybe there is solace that party bigwigs were not sure Martinez was a safe, predictable choice and one of the guys. Maybe they weren’t sure he can be controlled.

What if he actually is a fearless lion tamer?

That would be a rousing endorsement, even in the Kiwanis.

Return of Morose Dad and Volvo’s Stockholm Syndrome

Another football season. Another end of summer. Another television commercial visit from the Morose Volvo Dad trying to explain in a car pitch why his daughter’s pending wedding makes him want to leap off the Swedish version of the Empire State Building.

We are left to wonder. Why? Mostly I wonder why we have to wonder, and why does Volvo inflict this on us.

I often place myself in contemplative Perry Mason scenarios in which I am trying to convince an audience of a preposterous proposition that common sense would never allow to stand. For example, Johnnie Cochran explaining to a jury why OJ was totally innocent.

In the same way, advertising pitchfolks convinced Volvo managers why the “Morose Volvo Dad” ad campaign was both profound and inspirational.

The Morose Father character—actor Ron Jack Foley in real life—is deeply reflective about his decades-long fatherly role and what it has wrought on his children. This has something to do with his reflexive instinct to buy a Volvo, and thus prove something profound about his life, or something like that.

Frankly speaking, I’m not intellectual enough to grasp that subtlety or even to care that much that I don’t get it. Realizing the many aspects of your personal ignorance is one path to wisdom. Realizing you don’t care is an alternative road to a different enlightenment.

I presume without direct evidence that the 2017 Morose Volvo Dad is a continuation of the 2016 story created to sell the same ugly but really safe European cars.

The 2016 script set off a global cottage industry, the main goal being to analyze this commercial and what its deeper emotional context meant for humanity. And also to sell cars by making you so happy to share the planet with noble, thoughtful Swedes that you’d literally throw money at them and only hope they might give you a Volvo in return.

It’s the commercial version of the Stockholm Syndrome, in which you are held hostage by Swedish carmakers and hope they take you with them when they escape.

The underlying advertising gestalt is affirmation that Volvo really cares more about your happiness and fulfillment than it does about selling ugly but resplendently safe $45,000 cars. I try to use the word “gestalt” whenever I can.

But at this juncture of commerce and art, I find myself playing the role of Captain Kirk in “Star Trek V,” truly one of the most horrid of the Trek variants.

“Excuse me … excuse me,” Kirk asks an ersatz Almighty trapped on a grim prison planet from which His Godness needs to hitch a ride. Asks Kirk: “I just want to ask a question. What does God need with a starship?”

If this next iteration of the Morose Volvo Dad Ad keeps Pops in the same car heading somewhere else after his trip to the wedding, I am wondering out loud. Excuse me. Excuse me. What does a Morose Father need with another trip in a Volvo?

Apparently a Volvo does nothing for mood enhancement if watching your daughter celebrate love and commitment to her life partner does not suffice.

Maybe Morose Dad is peeved because daughter’s new husband is a schmuck. “He’s a klantskalle,” Morose Dad might be muttering into his ever-present notebook. “Klantskalle” is the Swedish word for “schmuck.”

The fact such a word even exists is inductive proof that owning Volvos has not made all Swedes happy or automotively fulfilled.

Some Swedes apparently are “klanta till det” which, in Swedish, means “Effed up.”

This might be related to Volvo not actually be a “Make Sweden Great Again” company any longer. In 2013, China automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group bought Volvo for $1.6 billion.

It hadn’t been a Swedish company since 1999 when Ford bought it for $6 billion. That financial black hole proved Ford was seriously “klanta till det” in 1999.

But maybe the TV commercial mystery is simpler.

Morose Volvo Dad, are you just jealous?

Except for promoting a continual deconstruction of a clever but tauntingly mysterious TV ad, that question might be the Freudian subtext. Plausibility is Occam’s Razor in operation.

Stripped of his mysterious self-musings, the bearded middle-aged dad whimpering over this daughter’s marriage is creepy.

Creepy is a vastly more understandable human state of being.

But we’re not oppose to even ponder that question because even asking is sort images.jpegof creepy, too. In fact, I feel creepy even raising the issue, which makes this TV ad campaign simultaneously clever and diabolical.

Or perhaps the ads are not profound at all, merely ordinary advertisements masquerading as intellectualism. That’s the possibility that makes me want to yell at the TV and its Morose Dad: “Quit whimpering, you klantskalle!”

None of this contemplation likely will change my mind about the basic issue. I end as I began—unconvinced and unpersuaded.

I am not now, as I have always never been, likely to ever purchase a “ful bil.” That’s the Swedish phrase for “ugly car.”


Musket balls and immortality

In one instant you are a corporal in the Union Army’s Illinois 69th Regiment, charging ever faster toward the Confederate picket line as the musket balls start to whiz around you. They are killer bees.

All are angry and sizzling hot, less like little happy creatures than molten marbles hurled from a volcano. And then, they began to hit your friends, guys who’d shared morning breakfast coffee; guys who were a little older than you and some a year or so younger.

They all seemed so smart and alive this morning, sharing songs, spitting, insulting officers out of earshot, hunkering around the campfire and announcing they would surely withstand death’s visit today. They were too strong and surly and ornery to be taken down. No, not today, Johnny Reb. Not today.

They certainly were more full of living than you had felt that morning.

But then the round killing balls began to tear into them, and they fell around you, and you were at a loss to know whythey were gone and you were not. How could you guarantee your life would continue if theirs were so casually ended by the trajectory of a tiny pice of metal? How could a God allow fine young friends to be killed with so little effort and so much pain?

But you have little time to think deep thoughts. Must run. Must live. But they fell, often hard and with grieved pain in their last breaths. Oh, lord, so many fell.

But not I. Not by a long shot. Wait. That’s not the figure of speech I meant to use.

And you ran. And ran and ran, until you were not sure why you were running, except that to stop running meant you would die. The Rebs were good shots. You could not stop churning young legs, and make their job of killing you easier. At least make them work for your life and death.

Walter Becker fell like that this weekend. He was the guitarist, bassist and co-founder of the rock group Steely Dan. He was 67. He was a genius whose work will live past us and most of what we produce.

Sean O’Callaghan went, too, this week. He was an Irish Republican Army assassin and bomb-maker whose great feat was not the lives he snuffed out, but those he saved. He became an Irish police informant and foiled the 1984 plot to assassinate Prince Charles and Lady Diana at a Duran Duran concert. He was 62.

What I contemplated in my gallop toward the picket line and possible death was how many people were dying who were younger than I am. Or was.

At some point in nearly everyone’s life, you will begin to notice this phenomenon. It can be a grim preoccupation.

For everyone you once knew who perishes at age 80 or 90, there is someone with whom you shared time and expedience who was 60 or so when they went. Then the concept of “average life span” does not seem to hold the same comfort it once did.

I can’t die now, you will tell yourself, because I’m only “fill in the blank” with the safely youthful age. All the body parts seem to work with reasonable efficiency. You feel fine. At least, you did last week. It’s not my time, because the math says it’s not my time. Of course, that’s not the way “median” lifespan metrics actually work.

You’re safe mathematically and statistically only as long as you remain a member of the massive herd of gazelles. As a member of the herd, your life expectancy is a measurable average while you all run together from the lions. Once singled out and all alone as a singular creature in the universe, you are no longer one of a kind with limitless options and choices. You are meat.

Of course, none of this is profound. I apologize for glib metaphors. Given more time and contemplation, I could do a better, deeper analysis of the biometric equations of mortality.

But I am running now, and musket balls are burning past me. Perhaps I will live forever, or least longer than several close friends of mine who were felled this month. Or perhaps one of the Rebel marksmen is too accurate for my good.

Meanwhile, let us hope that immortality of consciousness is more than a hope. That would be nice.

I wonder what happens on the other side after I reach the Confederate picket line. And I hope that’s not a rhetorical question.