Weary Pilgrim - March
I don’t know about you, but I find March frustrating. The third month of the year, March is to the year as 5AM is to the day - it’s dark, tiring, there’s not a whole lot really going on, and pretty much all you can think of is the coming daylight. The way I look at it, March is ‘black as the pit from pole to pole’, April is brown, and May…..May, thank God, is green. And Boy, oh Boy, this year is no exception. The Winter Without End, the Russians, Flight 370, spring training for the Red Sox without Jacob Ellsbury, spring training for the Yankees WITH Jacob Ellsbury, …..it doesn’t take a lot of explaining to figure out why the greatest betting event in the history of the world is a bunch of unpaid college athletes throwing a round ball through a hoop. March Madness indeed. First the weather. Depending on who you quote, this is the snowiest, coldest, or third most snowy, or second coldest winter ever…..well, you get the idea. So feel free to quote me: this was the suckiest winter ever. Period. Every time I check the paper, it’s going to be fifty degrees the day after tomorrow. But the day after that it’s going to go back down to 29, with the possibility of snow. When they do a pledge drive on WBUR, they like to offer the Eton Calamity radio, which has a solar powered cell charger, and a crank handle for those days after The End of the World when the sun doesn’t come out, so you can get a cramp in your arm cranking the damned thing, scanning the airwaves for some sign of life. I own, like, three of these things. And every March I get the urge to buy another one, because, face it, if the world is going to end, it’s going to end in March. I can just see me now, in the shadow of a mushroom cloud, cranking away, turning the dial furiously through the FM band - in comes a faint signal I can just make out: it’s a broadcast from Yankee Stadium, and Jacob Ellsbury has just hit a rocket in the bottom of the ninth for a walk-off homer against the Red Sox. My arm gives out, I drop the radio into ocean, my pooch starts looking at me like the Last Supper…..boy, see what happens when you wake up at 3AM in March? And then we have the Russians and Crimea. Before this, the only thing I remember about Crimea was that it was the place made famous by the Charge of the Light Brigade, which lead to a real cool poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, which was about a really UNCOOL move by a bunch of British cavalry. Basically, some fool sent the order to charge the wrong cannons, and the British being British, they were okay with that. Like I said, it made for a good poem. So now we have a country, Ukraine, where the excesses of your basic really bad and corrupt president finally ticked off enough people so that they overran the presidential palace, and the Bad Guy went to Russia, where we are pretty much used to Bad Guys going. After all, it’s run by Vlad ( The Appaller ) Putin. The first thing I think of when I see a picture of Putin is, couldn’t Central Casting send down a Russian president who doesn’t remind me of all the other Russian presidents? I keep waiting for him to start banging things with his shoe. The guy must practice that whole Thousand Yard Stare thing in the mirror - you get the feeling if he had a band, they would rehearse in the Lubyanka. And how about those pictures? Him on a horse with his shirt off, him beside a large ferocious cat he just shot. With his shirt off. Bear in mind, this guy didn’t get his picture taken by some paparazzi - he actually posed for these pictures. If Obama posed on a horse with his shirt on, he would be reviled. If he posed with his shirt off, he would be impeached. If he shot anything, and I do mean anything, shirt on or shirt off, he would be shot in turn. ( This applies to all sitting presidents, but not vice-presidents, who are allowed to shoot their friends in the face ). Obama truly can’t catch a break. Mind you, he is his own worst enemy. After the Republicans spent a zillion hours and dollars trying to put down Obama care, they found out they could have been taking a long nap, as Obama was doing his level best to ruin it all by himself. My sense of the Republicans is that they are secretly pleased that Obama gets to be in office when Putin takes over Crimea, because the fact is, there’s not a whole lot we’re going to do about it. The day we announced sanctions, the Russian stock market went up. Putin can chat all day with Obama, but I get the distinct feeling that he’s going to do whatever he wants. He is more popular than ever in Russia, and the man knows how to play to his home crowd.
Bear in mind that Putin is the head of a country that gave us words like Pogrom and Gulag. If you have to be slightly nuts to run for president of the Free World, how crazy do you have to be to run for president of a country that had its first semi-legal president just after they shot their czar? The last olympics cost 50 billion dollars, more than all the other olympics put together, and nobody wasted time pretending that most of that didn’t go into the pockets of Putin and his friends. So what exactly goes through Obama’s mind when he is talking to Putin: I can’t believe I’m talking to a guy who throws his competitors in prison, brazenly steals millions of dollars without blinking, and once stole a Super Bowl ring in full view of the entire world - I wonder if he has his shirt on? And what goes through Putin’s mind: I could take this punk - just look at his jeans? Obama, on the other hand, is starting to act like a petulant kid who really doesn’t play well with others. There’s no doubt that he’s a brilliant guy, and this whole ‘Mom-jeans’ thing is one more meaningless prank by Fox news to highlight his weaknesses. The fact of the matter is, he’s probably in better physical shape than any president we’ve ever had - watch him play basketball sometime. But he’s also in worse political shape than any president we’ve had for a long time, and while some of the blame rests with the Republican party, a lot of it can be laid at the feet of the president - he doesn’t like the political game, he really doesn’t play it all that well, and right now he’s alone in the schoolyard. Congressional Republicans are circling Washington DC like buzzards, waiting to pick off the weakest Dem’s this fall - if they take both wings of Congress, Obama might as well work on his short game for the rest of his term. The tough thing to swallow about Putin is that, like a lot of bad guys, he’s not always in the wrong, at least in the eyes of his people. The plain fact of the matter is, the vast majority of Crimea wants to be part of Russia. Putin might want that for all the wrong reasons, but the one thing we’ve gained from our time in Iraq and Afghanistan is a new-found aversion to Being on the Wrong Side. And when we’re not sure which side of this we really want to be on, you can bet we’re not about to ship troops over there to be in harm’s way while we hold up a collective finger to the political winds. Putin strikes me as the kind of schoolyard bully who will need to hear the girls call his name every five minutes - he won’t stop at Crimea, and when he ramps this up, the one thing you can bet is that the next presidential election will be all about saber-rattling. Hillary and two or three of the Republican front-runners will be all about Defense - what should the new army look like, and where should we be ready to send it? Just when you couldn’t remember what the Hell N-A-T-O stood for. And then there’s Flight 370. The fascination with Amelia Earhart combined with the horror of modern day flight-fear, mixed in with a little geo-politics. Who knew that Malaysia has had the same government for around 50 years? How do they do it? Well, for one thing,their corruption is so blatant, the various branches of government that need to work together when something like this happens, can’t find each other in the phone book. There are many other governmental organizations from other countries that want to help, but by the time they got invited to the table, the trail was cold. One of the things that we get from these horrible interludes is a newfound appreciation for those who work in our own trenches. The FAA would have been all over this flight from the first moment anything was wrong. I hate paying taxes too, but it’s easy to forget that sometimes they go to pay for things that simply can’t be operated by the private sector. So what to do when the Ides of March leave you with a sense of terminal frustration? I often think of those cargo cults - groups of natives in far-away places like New Guinea who occasionally go on jags of building crudely fashioned landing strips and docks, in hopes the Gods will show up in planes or ships and give them gifts. This never works, mind you, but while they’re out there building away, they at least have a sense of doing something. So I’m going to stroll out into my meager garden and get to work. If May isn’t actually around the corner, it’s down the street somewhere, and I intend to find it.