Winston Churchill or Kenny Rogers?

On October 29, 1941 Winston Churchill, who was the first leader to stand up to Hitler and who held England together through those first years of horror in World War II, made at speech at his boyhood school, Harrow.

In that speech he delivered one of his most famous lines: “Young men, never give up! Never give up! Never give up!! Never, never, never-never-never-never!”

The line was clearly intended to inspire, not just Harrow students, but the rest of England. And it did. It helped England stand up and fight. It inspired allies around the world.

Over time, millions more people have been inspired by it. They’ve refused to be stymied by adversity; they weathered it and worked through to success.

Imagine the world if Churchill hadn’t believed so strongly in never giving up. Imagine the US if Lincoln hadn’t been adamant in his opposition to slavery. Imagine so many things without Thomas Edison famous habit of never, ever giving up.

(Although, I guess if Washington had caved to the British we would all be speaking better English.)

“Never give up! Never give up!! Never, never, never-never-never-never!” is a very powerful approach to life.

Still, there’s a counter to that, albeit from someone just a little less heroic than Churchill. In 1978, Kenny Rogers released “The Gambler”. ”You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ‘em,” he sang, “know when to walk away and know when to run.”

Therein lies a rub for us mortals: when to choose between the philosophies of “Never, never, never-never-never-never!” and poker.

For the past year (well, probably since his father bounced that first silver dollar off his head), Trump has played poker with Congress over everything, but most of all, his 5 billion dollar wall.

This week Trump and the Congress are squaring off over whether to shut down the entire government over that one issue. The last time it was shut down in 2013, it put 800,000 people out of work for awhile.

“If we don’t get what we want, one way or the other, whether it’s through you, through military, through anything you want to call, I will shut down the government”, Trump told Schumer last week.

So, now there’s a Mexican standoff over, not infrastructure, not healthcare, not China tariffs, not Climate Change, not the national debt or myriad other things, but a wall for Mexico.

That’s poker.

The rest of us are like the little kid in the restaurant watching a couple at the next table fight over that second martini.

If you’re sparring over the passing lane with an 18 wheeler maybe “fold ‘em” is the better approach. If you’re trying to rush a dying friend to the hospital, “never give up!” works a lot better.

If you’re an NFL player, you can get fired for folding. If you’re a college kid you shouldn’t earn a reputation for never giving up in drinking contests. You probably shouldn’t play chicken with a Brown bear.

Relationships are really tricky; when you fight with your boy/girl friend, do you work through the problem or play poker with him/her? It all depends: are you in love or in like?

Most goals aren’t as critical as Churchill’s. Trump’s wall isn’t critical to the country; running an honest government is. It isn’t crucial for every college kid to graduate Phi Beta Kappa. It isn’t crucial for every relationship to be successful –just THE one. The only time to play chicken with a brown bear is when he’s eyeballing one of your kids for dinner.

Churchill couldn’t choose between walking or running. He had to stand fast, persevere. Presidents have a choice about winning political battles, but they don’t have a choice about doing the right thing for the country. A college student’s goal should be to “Never, never, never-never-never-never!” stop trying to learn. If that boy/girl is your best shot at happiness, you should become the Churchill of romance (Ok, that’s a weird visual, but remember, at one time he was trim and dashing – and he and Clementine did, in fact, become each other’s happiness.).

Harriet Tubman, Steve Jobs and John McCain, and so many others, from Lincoln to Martin Luther King, knew when, not just to “hold ‘em” or “fold ‘em”, but to “never give in”.

A lot of life is a poker game. A lot isn’t. Knowing the difference is key.

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What’s in Your Baggage?

I have a friend who is almost as old as I am  (OK, not really. No-one’s that old). Like many older people, that means more than one relationship, more than one career, more than one “for every door that closes, another opens”.

We were talking about successful relationships for older folks a few years ago when she offered something I’d never thought about.

“It’s all about the baggage.”, she said. “Over time, we develop idiosyncrasies, stupid habits, and emotional scars just by living life. That’s the baggage. The older we are, the more baggage. The success of a relationship has to do with how our baggage fits with the other person’s baggage.”

(Yes, this column is for older people – midlife crisis and beyond. If you’re below 35, your bags are too light; this will bore you.)

Her idea is not new. There are variations from “Turn the other cheek” to “Let he without sin throw the first stone.” But the metaphor of a suitcase filled with personality quirks and rolling beside us down life’s path really brought the concept into the “now” of life into focus.

We think age brings wisdom. And in some ways it does. But it also brings side effects from all those lessons learned, some of which aren’t full of fun. They’re all part of our baggage.

Traumatized by your parents divorce? Into the bag. Got bullied in school? Into the bag. Girl/boy friend dumped you? Your skin is brown, black, or any other color than white? Into the bag. Boss took credit for your work then fired you? Into the bag. Your perfect marriage exploded? Into the bag. Have a medical problem? An obnoxious ex-spouse? An adult kid living in the basement? Into the bag. Elderly parents to care for? Into the bag.

There’s the flip side of this, too. Can an Ivy League graduate get along with a high school graduate? If you’ve had an easy time gaining success, can you identify or be patient with someone who struggles for it? You’re really good looking; can you have a relationship with someone less so – in other words, is your love more than skin deep? If she’s a neat freak, does she freak out if you leave your pants on the floor?

And, of course, the ultimate baggage: kids. Do you have kids? How old? How many? One way or another, they’re going to be part of you and your significant other’s lives. And that’s the living part. Recently, I met a widow whose stepchildren, while their father was losing to cancer, tried to get to him to reduce her nest egg. They failed, but later fought with her over household furnishings. On his way out the door with one of her favorite paintings, the son said, “See! Blood’s thicker than water!” This to the woman who had given unqualified love to all of them for over 22 years.

That’s baggage – with a capital “B”.

Some of it is BS, of course. Little Johnny getting a flag during the soccer game should not trigger an “Angry Dad” response. Failing to get a low-rate mortgage does not qualify as baggage.  Neither does getting a ticket for jaywalking.

We take our baggage everywhere we go as a late-in-life couple. It’s in the back seat when we drive, at the party when someone brings up politics. It’s in the arguments we have, the friends we choose, the enemies we make.  It’s in the way we raise our kids, treat our elders, deal with strangers, work with the neighbors. It’s even in the conjugal bed.

The thing to keep in mind, she told me, is “when you’re older and you meet someone on a website or at a party, there’s going to be baggage and it’s going to be big. When you’re younger, it’s small and easy to manage. Not so when you’re our age. The key is to recognize when two sets of baggage won’t fit together well.”

(Did I say I was older? Sorry. She must be. By a lot. As you can see from her wisdom.)

Once you decide the baggage fits, how to avoid problems with someone you like? She brought up another old adage: “Perfect is the enemy of good”.

Or you can just stay home alone and watch old TV shows.

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The Difference Between 41 and 45

The nation is not mourning so much as reflecting on the death of “41,” George H.W. Bush. He was the last of an era, we are thinking, a guy who represented the best of 20th century America: the winning of World War II, civility, modesty, courage and putting others — especially the country — ahead of ourselves.

A lot has been said about the characters of “41” and “45” over the last few days. If ever there was an opposite to Bush, the epitome of smart, prepared, honest, self-effacing and kind, it’s Trump, the epitome of crass, unprepared, narcissistic, dishonest and mean.

With “41”’s death, it’s painfully evident how far we’ve come in just a few decades.

After World War II, the admirable elements of the culture, the ones embodied by 41, Bob Dole, John McCain and others, were passed down to the next generation in every way possible: family talks, books, stories and media. From Superman comics to “12 O’Clock High” to “High Noon” to Norman Rockwell paintings, they showed us what we could be, what we should be.

The educational system taught history, particularly what triggered World War II, and civics — that democracy depended on individual participation and knowledge — as much as English, math and science. Entertainment of the time was aspirational. “On The Waterfront” showed mob rule in NYC, but the hero was a good person. From “Gunsmoke” to “The Magnificent Seven” to “The Great Escape,” the culture that produced and defined “41” and his generation was celebrated and emphasized.

Over recent decades, though, many schools dropped civics, the Pledge of Allegiance and a demand for civility. Movies, plays, TV shows, books grew less aspirational and started focusing on what was “real.” The hero of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” was quashed. Wall Street celebrated lying, cheating and stealing. “The Godfather” made us love the mob. More recent TV and movies empathize with drug dealers, thieves and killers (“Get Shorty,” “Breaking Bad”). News organizations like Fox spew propaganda instead of facts.

The leaders we produced have tried to emulate, not the culture that won World War II, but the pride in winning a war that saved the world. Without a world to save, they just started wars.

We’ve gone to war to save oil (Middle East), to save real estate and political power (Vietnam, Iraq and others) and to save … face (Afghanistan). Instead of going after bin Laden and his followers for 9/11, we went to war with the country he was hiding in. Between that and our war in Iraq, we’ve lit the whole Middle East on fire. Seventeen years later and 11 years after killing Bin Laden, we’re still there with no end in sight. World War II took five years.

Today, the culture that fueled Bush’s and others’ sacrifices to save a world from a fate — literally — worse than death has gone the way of leather helmets and sandlot baseball. There are few heroes in American politics now. Ideals like truth, justice and the American Dream are parodied in slick comedies or mocked by our current president’s lies. Shared sacrifice, the glue that kept the World War II generation together, is hardly mentioned any more. It is still taught in the military, but since the end of the draft, only a minority of the country experiences or understands it.

In the decades since World War II, a culture that once considered a handshake a contract now tries to legislate morality, which is impossible; honesty is an attitude, not a piece of legislation. Cheating is rampant in schools. Stores mark items up so they can mark them down for “sales.” Advertisers tell us we “deserve” what they want us to buy — and we believe them. Where Jonas Salk invented the polio vaccine and just gave it to the world in the ’50s, pharmaceutical companies today charge thousands of dollars for a single pill. Our politicians have perfected the art of lying to the point where nobody trusts them.

Which defines the difference between “45” and “41.” Bush was an example of his culture; Trump is an example of ours. The fact is this country elected both of them. Our president’s character is not the problem we have today; it’s the culture that elected him. Our culture. Us.

In reflecting on his death, we may yearn for another George H.W. Bush. But until we rediscover civility, modesty, courage and putting others ahead of ourselves, until we model and teach it at home, at  school, in the media and at work, we’re not going to get it in our leaders.

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The Trump Worldwide Network

Few people know this, but President Trump is not a fan of CNN. His reasoning is simple: it “doesn’t do great in” ratings and it is “a powerful voice portraying the United States in an unfair and false way.”

Like all great leaders, he recently decided that something has to be done.

“Something has to be done,” he tweeted Monday, “including the possibility of the United States starting our own Worldwide Network to show the World the way we really are, GREAT!”

And it turned out to be bi-partisan, too! Even the Democrats like the idea. The Democratic Coalition Against Trump called it “wildly popular with dictators around the world.”

Upon learning about this new idea of Trump’s, I had an off-the-record conversation with the as-yet-unnamed CEO of the new network, ex-Fox News Executive Bill Shine. Remember him? He was hired away from Fox News to, as he put it, improve the lighting at Trump press conferences.

Trump wants to name the new network World Wide Trump, in appreciation of World Wide Entertainment entrepreneur Vince McMahon, who turned a fake sport into a huge moneymaker, somewhat like what Trump is doing to the presidency.

They met when Trump fake-assaulted Vince during a 2007 appearance on WWE. Vince was so fake-upset, he fake-fired Trump. Trump was so fake-repentant (it’s the only time he’s been fired, fake or real), he hired Vince’s wife to run the Small Business Administration. And that wasn’t fake.

Yep. If it weren’t for Vince McMahon, fake news would not exist.

Shine outlined some of Trump’s ideas for the new network:

The Trump Travel Channel: this sprightly travelogue will feature visits to Trump properties around the world. It will include holographs of Anthony Bourdain playing golf with Trump and later drinking Trump wine and pigging out on Kentucky Fried Chicken takeout.

60 Trumpian Minutes: This magazine show will feature in-depth investigative stories about Trump’s acts of valor over the years. Several are already in production, including a behind the scenes report of how Trump overcame the terror of impending baldness by designing a new look for testosterone-challenged bald guys.

24/7 Trump News! These 30 minutes news shows will feature Trump quotes of the day, along with personal appearances and insider commentary by Ivanka, Melania, Eric, and Don Jr. It will include uplifting short pieces featuring give-aways of “previously-owned!” Trump T-shirts (in the summer) and Trump sweatshirts (in the winter) to poor people. Every Thanksgiving, Trump will also give the bird to any non-white, non-English speaking, non-Christian, homeless person he can find in his fan base.

Trump’s Big Bang Theory: Although the format is not fully fleshed out, this show will detail stories of Trump conquests of unsuspecting out-of-town girls. The parts of the girls will be played by professional escorts. Trump will play himself.

Young Trump: This heartwarming series will star a young, cute-as-a-button Trump as he runs adorable and brilliant circles around grouchy out-of-touch grownups. Episodes will include the first time he scammed the IRS, his first taste of fast-food, and the first lie he ever told (in that show the part of young Trump will be played by a newborn).

Game of Trumps: This series will be based on the Trump family’s successes: starting with outsmarting immigrant tenants in Trump buildings in Queens, to mastering the art of money-laundering around the world, to applying mob tactics to politics.

Mr. Trump’s Neighborhood: This heartwarming show is aimed at children only. Mr. Trump, wearing an unassuming cardigan and sitting on a brownstone stoop, talks to kids in a loving, fatherly tone. He teaches them some of life’s important lessons: how lie to your parents, friends, and teachers; the importance of never admitting a mistake and never apologizing; the need to personally attack anyone who questions you; the fact that rules and integrity are made for losers; and, above all the requirement of absolute loyalty to Mr. Donald.

I asked Bill (we were on a first named basis by then) if I could interview Trump about the new network. He said Trump liked me so much, he would do more than that: he would write, not just the answers, but the questions too, and then send them to me as soon as he has finished the Mueller interview.

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What I am thankful for

Every Thanksgiving someone in the family always comes up with, “Hey, let’s have everyone name something they’re thankful for!” We go around the table with people saying things like, “I’m grateful for Aunt Nanny” and then offering a beautifully written ode to Aunt Nanny, while I’m just trying to remember everyone’s name. Every year I’m caught by surprise. One year, I blurted out “I’m grateful for the turkey!” and actually got booed. And I had cooked the turkey!

This year, I’m ready. Here’s my list.

• Donald Trump for energizing voters to get off their couches and actually exercise their right to vote. We had the highest voter turnout in years, all due to the country dividing itself into Pro-Trump and Con-Trump camps. I guess there’s something to be said for being a divider instead of a uniter.

• Netflix for rescuing me from over-the-air TV shows. Netflix shows are far better than their network counterparts. Plus, there are no commercials! Plus plus, I can binge-watch and re-watch as many times as I like. Netflix even has old TV shows I missed, like Friends (Could there BE a funnier cast?) Netflix started by renting classic movies from old-time movie studios. Then, the rights got too expensive, so they started making their own. Now that others like Apple and Amazon are joining the no commercials model, I hope some of the old-time studios will start streaming a channel of their classic movies.

• The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, AP, Reuters and other major news media for providing in-depth investigative stories (such as last week’s NY Times piece on Facebook) as a counter to the breathless and somewhat lobotomized TV news. Poor TV news: so costly, so time consuming, and so vacuous.

• The men’s fashion world for no longer requiring that men wear ties for formal occasions. Open necked shirts are a lot more comfortable than shirt and tie. Wearing ties goes back eons to the world-before-steam-heat,  even to the Romans according to some historians. Some say a tie was used to ward of cold, others say it was to subtly point to a certain part of a man’s anatomy. Whatever the answer, this man is happy.

• Ride hailing services. They have saved me beaucoup bucks. Now instead of driving to an airport, bus, or train station when I travel, and paying exorbitant parking fees while I’m gone, I take a Lyft to and from. It’s a lot cheaper and a lot nicer to be driven. Plus, being a back seat driver is way more fun than being a front seat driver.

• Turkey. Not the bird, the country, for telling the world about the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, for forcing the world to pay attention. The facts about it are horrific enough. The White House and the administration’s support for the Saudis who killed him, cut up his body and took the parts to God knows where, darned close.

• Dogs. Because they aren’t racist or bigoted. They don’t lie or cheat. They do steal, but no-one ever told them they shouldn’t steal because we haven’t learned to speak dog; however they can speak to us – in a variety of ways. They like everybody, except those who harm them. What a great code of living.

• Karen and Tyrone Mack of Capitol Heights, MD not just for adopting – at age 55 – all five siblings from one family, but also for their reason for doing so: “because they are our future. They are our Congress. They are our president.”

• Women legislators and the voters who put them in power, because they’ve been sitting in the wings long enough, because all that talent, insight, and capability have been ignored for too long, because the country needs them.

• California, because even on it’s knees and breathing through tear-stained facemasks, it’s still one of the best places on earth.

• Finally, you – everyone who reads this column, because of your brilliance, high level of curiosity, understanding, endless seeking of truth, and all around next-to-Godliness. If anyone deserves thanks, it is you.

As Pilgrim Captain John Woodleaf and Squanto of the Pawtuxet Tribe said to those very first dinner guests in 1619:  “Happy Thanksgiving, Turkeys!”

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