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Here and There
It is a place like no other. There are no worries there, no distractions, and no interruptions of your perfect experience. Actions need only be imagined, and they come to pass. There is no stress, no doubt, no calculation; only effortlessly being in the moment, in the happiest of happy places.

That place, of course, is The Zone. It is an enchanted latitude where we enjoy instantaneous access to all of our skills, where events flow freely, and where we can do no wrong.

Ah, but would you want to live there full time, forever present in the present?

It certainly sounds attractive. Many of the most enlightened among us have set that very state of being as their life’s goal. Follow their wisdom, and you would no doubt find fulfillment. Yes, very tempting, but you go ahead; I don’t think I’m ready for it. I just couldn’t handle All One all the time.

For one thing, you actually need to acquire skills before you can exercise them like a god. If you’ve never played ping-pong, for instance, you will still suck at it in The Zone. To be good there, you first have to learn what it means to be good here, in The unZone. There is no substitute, in other words, for doing the hard, repetitive labor of figuring out what works.

Even then, once you can pronounce yourself as “good” at something, wouldn’t you want to get even better? That means more grunt work picking up skills in this mundane, uncertain world. And if you ever hope to be really good, I think the fundamental breakthroughs such a jump would require could only come through trial-and-error struggles right here in The unZone.

I confess that I would also miss the long periods of random thought that are so common in this world. I know they don’t really count as meditation, and I can’t point to anything concrete that they are good for, but I’m quite sure I couldn’t live without them. In any case, I do like staring out the window.

Furthermore, there is something unhealthy about The Zone. I can’t put my finger on what it is, but it troubles me. That shutting out of everything but the task at hand seems a little selfish somehow, and sterile. There’s no room for chance or serendipity, and I just can’t trust an accomplishment that doesn’t involve struggle.

I like being in The Zone; I wish I could go there anytime I wanted. If I could buy a ticket, I would; but the thought of getting there and never coming back scares me. I see the All One as something to ponder, to strive for, but I wouldn’t be happy being there forever. I’d just end up missing my angst-ridden life here in The unZone. Besides, if I don’t feel lousy sometimes, how can I appreciate feeling good?

So punch my ticket to The Zone, by all means, but please ... make it round-trip.
High on Austerity
You know, I kind of like austerity. Really.

There’s a stoic pleasure that comes with self-denial, a sense of control and mastery. Strip to the basics, hunker down and tough it out through sheer force of will. Yeah, like an animal. A wolverine, or a badger, or the nastiest bug you’ve ever seen. Rugged, resilient, too mean to die. Form a goddamn husk if necessary. Grrrr.

That’s the austerity high. Not fun, exactly, but when you come out the other side you feel empowered as a survivor. The rush of deferred gratification can be very gratifying indeed, and the self-righteousness you feel is way more fun than real righteousness. If you’re alone, particularly — living out of your knapsack, sleeping under bridges, depending only on yourself and letting others do likewise.

I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and I understand the austerity high. Of course, I was a young man then, with no job and no dependents; a lone wolverine. The prospect of living it now, however, is not so appealing. I’m married, I’ve got a kid, and if I have an animal identity, it’s more likely some kind of house pet.

The missus, I can say with confidence, would not be fan of the husk look. I don’t want my kid hunkering down under anything. Same with old Mr. Bronstein up the block, or the Ogilvy twins. I don’t want vets, or poor people, or middle class families, or any of my fellow citizens to feel any more pain than they need to. There is, after all, more than enough naturally occurring austerity to go around.

I certainly don’t want my government to make it worse by adding a layer of official, government-sponsored belt-tightening. In fact, I want my government to do just the opposite: soften the blow, ease the pain, smooth out the bumps. Isn’t that what we have a government for in the first place — to keep things sailing on an even keel so we can all thrive?

So please, beloved leaders — don’t fail the gut check the way the Europeans did. Just back away from that austerity panic button re-e-e-al slow, and nobody will get hurt. Which is what we all want, right?

Thank you, and good luck in the upcoming election. Be sure to spend whatever it takes to get elected.

Evil
Some people think of evil as an independent force operating in the universe, like gravity or nuclear fission. To them, it is a calculating menace abroad in our lives, actively plotting to ruin us by making bad things happen.

I don’t think so. I don’t think we need to look any further than right in front of our noses for an explanation for badness. Bad choices, bad attitudes, bad luck — these are the causes of our troubles, and nothing more.

Evil, I would suggest, is like coldness. Cold is not a force in and of itself, but simply the absence of heat. When all heat has gone, you’re down to absolute zero, and you can’t get any lower. Heat, on the other hand, essentially has no upper limit. Similarly, evil is nothing more than the absence of good, and there’s plenty of good to be had in the world.

So evil is not a dark, mysterious entity to be battled, but rather a condition (like freezing temperatures) to be avoided. To make the badness go away, try to make good choices, focus on having a good attitude, and be ready for good luck.

If you want to defeat Satan, in other words, try putting on a sweater.
Capitol Crime
I was sitting in the U.S. Senate the other day, and I couldn’t help noticing the décor.

One of the reasons I couldn’t help it was that Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley was reading a long, impassioned speech into the public record. If you’ve ever heard Grassley speak, you’ll know that I had to focus on something, anything, to keep from nodding off.

But back to my thesis: the U.S. Senate, for all its magnificence, is a nightmare of tackiness. Now, before you start getting huffy about lack of respect for treasured national icons, let me just say, “U.-S.-A.! U.-S.-A.!” So I’m a patriot, okay? I am simply suggesting that the upper house needs a visit from “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

First of all, nothing matches. The wallpaper, the carpet, the furniture, the hair plugs — there’s just no consistent theme. While there is nothing inherently wrong with contrasting patterns, the Senate chamber has become a blizzard of clashing elements, styles, and colors, including a shade of green I would name “Twilight Nausea.”

I advise the 113th Congress to take it on the road, spend 2013 and 2014 lawmaking in the Hollywood Bowl, and let a team of interior designers create something to match the eminence of this august body.

Come to think of it, all of official Washington, D.C. needs a radical re-do. Is anybody else tired of the classical style of architecture? It worked for the Greeks, then the Romans overdid it, but now we’re into sloppy thirds, and this burg resembles nothing less than a field of Transformer droppings.

I’d keep all the monuments, the White House, and the Supreme Court, but the rest of these architectural blots should be hauled away to the landfill. I’d probably keep the huge, hulking Capitol itself, as well. It is, after all, the mother of all statehouses. On the other hand, it would be tempting to start from scratch, go modern, and get all Gehry with it.

Or how about a log-home look for some of the office buildings? You know, to honor Honest Abe? An all-Lego version of the Library of Congress might be interesting, too. The whole idea would be to have fun with it — maybe with a giant roller coaster spanning the Potomac!

Also, while we’re at it, how about team uniforms? Republicans in red, Democrats in blue, perhaps with some details picking up the design themes of the new décor … tiny brushed nickel eagles on the epelets, say, or modest satin sashes draped over the shoulder (slashing left for the men and right for the women, if you like).

Anything to jazz it up a bit. On the day I visited the Senate, Oregon’s Democratic Senator Ron Wyden was the acting President of the Senate and the only other lawmaker in the room besides Grassley. Imagine the exciting contrapuntal splash of color he could have added to set off the Kansan’s attire. Maybe that would have kept us awake in the gallery.

Again, this is not meant as an attack on the institution itself. I only wish that we provide the best possible working environment for our leaders. Is it too much to ask for a little style from my government? It’s not as if I’m complaining about content.

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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon