May 23rd, 2019


Time warp

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published May 18, 2016

  Time warp

"Owney Madden's the name, crime boss is the game. Hot Springs, Ark., was my territory, the way Chicago was Capone's, and New York was Lucky Luciano's."

"Henry Kissinger, pleased to meet you, I guess."

"But I was just a small-time operator, Dr. Kissinger. I may have been obliged to knock off a pretender to the title now and then, like Tony Zale eliminating Rocky Graziano in their best two out of three, but you did in whole nations. Some weren't just knocked out of the ring, but out of existence. Who now hears of Serbo-Croatia or even Czechoslovakia even though they were well represented during the time between the wars, or rather between acts of what was called the Great War -- till it was succeeded, of course, by a greater one."

"We all have our limitations," Herr Doktor Kissinger interjected in his best, or rather worst, Doctor Strangelovian way. "Though I may be the exception. Perfection was always expected of me almost as much as I expected it of myself. I may have been accused of many things, but never modesty. Realpolitik is my specialty, and nobody's been better at it than my hero Metternich, who did understand his times, though he may have been at a loss to explain this Age of Trump and Trumpismo."

"Who can keep up these days or any days? The times, they keep changin' faster'n the sweep-second hand on your watch, or is that the sands in the hourglass I see dangling from your robe? Technology doesn't stand still any more than time does. Who knows or cares? They say only art endures and for once they, whoever they are, may have a point. For time has an elastic quality, expanding one moment and shrinking the next, producing goats and heroes with equal facility. Speaking of heroes, Colonel Darby should be putt-putting by any time now. That's the way it is with these time warps. You meet the most interesting people -- whether you want to or not. The one thing we can all be sure of in this world and maybe the next, too, is that there ain't no sure thing. It's all a gamble. So place your bets now, ladies and gentlemen, for there's no tomorrow. Or yesterday, either. History is bunk, as that most American of us all, Henry Ford, put it in his crass way. There's certainly no history worthy of the name in our liberal-arts curricula. So cash in your winnings or accept your losses now before we clear the table."

"Somewhere distinguished diplomats are still meeting to no clear purpose except to mystify rather than clarify," a passerby named Herodotus, who'd seen it all and recorded most of it, observed. "Once upon a different time, men may have understood why they fought and died for great causes, but both the men and the causes now have been dwarfed by small leaders who pretend to be great ones, knowing what they were doing and why. Not leading from behind when they should be out front."

"Instead," the late, not so great Owney Madden noted, "they only cower like the small-time gunsels they are. Or give grandiose speeches whose significance in inverse proportion to their relevance. Like one of Hillary Rodham Clinton's. At least Democrat-socialist-independent or whatever Bernie Sanders has an ideology to sell, if not an idea. They're types, the Sanderses and Clintons, even if they fail to hold our interest. Any more than a notorious hoaxer like Alan Sokal, the physicist and joker in a stacked deck, did. Some of us love him to this day. There he is smiling over there. But the intellectuals lose us while the buffoons don't."

"The great republic that once sought to stretch from sea to shining sea and eventually did now fails to stir entirely too many of us," a passing American historian of the New Immigration named Oscar Handlin noted. "But these new immigrants still keep coming through the golden gates. They may arrive with nothing but stars in their eyes and no money in their pockets. Nobody stops them and nobody should try, for they are our pride and hope, not some gaudy simulacrum of either. E Pluribus Unum used to be our motto and goal. Remember when poor Al Gore got them reversed? Typical."

"But who bothers now about details like truth, justice and confidence? Not to mention the American Way, or the difference between an Owney Madden like Yours Truly or an eminence like Henry Kissinger, if there is one except of scale. We may know how to spill blood, a little or a lot depending on our inclinations, but cannot say just why. Without purpose or even pretense, we just go on, occasionally colliding, and then are gone. And when we are, who will miss us? For We the People not only scarcely knew us, but did not really want to."

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.