I Love You So Plays Loose and Fast with the Safety of Our Children

“I Love You So…” is a book that’s on heavy rotation in our house, which means I’ve read it several hundred times. It’s been driving me crazy for weeks now– to the point where I stop in the middle of the book and hold pages up and point out the book’s absurdities to my wife while my toddlers look at each other and roll their eyes. So my wife said, “Write about it.” Here we are.

On the surface, Marianne Richmond’s classic is ostensibly a story about the parental capacity for limitless love, a feeling all parents know well, that children conjure depths of love unimaginable. It’s not at all about that. The title of this book is “I Love You So,” but it should be “I Love You, So I Will Repeatedly Put Your Life In Mortal Danger Because I Am Not a Responsible Parent and The State Really Needs to Intervene.”

The Camping Adventure

Hey, mom, great job leaving the bag of marshmallows in the open like that. It might attract wild animals. Oh, look. It did. One that carries rabies. There’s 1/16th of an inch of vinyl protecting you from the rabies parade to the marshmallow buffet tonight. Enjoy your son never sleeping again and eventually becoming Tyler Durden because you didn’t put the snacks away.

The Zoo

Zoos cost a lot of money. I get it. But if you’re going to cut corners, is the lion’s den really the habitat you want on the cheap?

“Where should we put the lions?”

“Right here. Seal it off with a 4-foot tall fence, but leave gaps between the fence posts wide enough so that a toddler could walk through.”

“Should we add something to separate the lions from the humans? Like a moat?”

“You think we have moat money to piss away, Frank?”

“It’s dangerous, Bill. There’s nothing to stop the lions.”

“What? YOU THINK I’M MADE OF MOATS? HERE’S A MOAT FOR YOU. AND HERE’S A MOAT FOR YOU. TWO MOATS? HERE. HAVE TWO MOATS! I AM THE MOAT FAIRY. I WAVE MY WAND AND MOATS JUST MAGICALLY APPEAR.”

The Storm

The clouds and lightning appear at window level. Window. Level. That’s not a storm. That’s an apocalypse. Did you hear? The channel 5 Doppler weather guy says there is a 100 percent chance of rain for the next 50,000 years, followed by lava covering every inch of the earth. So, yeah, soccer game’s canceled. So’s humankind. Common sense: You do not want to be anywhere near a window during an apocalypse.

The Seesaw

It’s the seesaw you’d expect in a Russian YouTube video with 146 million views.

The Beach

Why is there a bubbling fish visible behind the mother’s back? Only one reason. The water has risen up over beach level, the fish is still submerged, and a rogue wave (or tsunami) is seconds away from crashing down and sweeping away the family, which remains blissfully unaware of Poseidon’s wrath.

The End

“I am meant for you, and you are meant for me, the one I love forever more. Undeniably.”

Forever more.

Forever is a matter of seconds in the world of “I Love You So…”

– @joedonatelli

Titan, by Ron Chernow

The definitive biography of John D. Rockefeller was published in 1998. I was in college then, and I took a history course that spanned the robber baron era, when villainous tycoons got over on the public through various shady dealings until America was saved by President Teddy Roosevelt and his trust-busting. At least, that’s the universally-agreed-upon version of the story, but what Chernow reveals in Titan about Rockefeller is much more fascinating and multi-dimensional in this masterpiece biography. I would have been better served skipping that dreadfully dull class to read this book. Rockefeller committed dastardly acts, but he’s not the mustache-twirling villain history has made him out to be.

John D. Rockefeller is remembered today as a ruthless businessman, and also as a major philanthropist, which is apropos. He was both godly and amoral, a man of devout religious beliefs who absolutely crushed his competition by any means necessary.

It was his faith that both drove and justified his ruthless business practices. Rockefeller was religious in a way that people aren’t religious anymore—refusing to attend parties or seemingly any gathering where alcohol was served (echoes of Mike Pence), attending mass every week, teaching Sunday school, making large donations to his church, and more. By all accounts, even though he was possibly the most powerful man in the world, he never stepped out on his wife, drank, or gambled. He lived a clean and godly life.

Having such a deep sense of spiritual mission—and such a healthy lifestyle (no drinking, no smoking, no staying up late)—fueled him. He had a religious fervor, and his belief in god and salvation extended beyond religion and into business. It turns out that constancy is a transferrable skill. (Note: add constancy to my LinkedIn skills.)

“He steeled himself to persevere, subordinating his every impulse to the profit motive, working to master truly unruly emotions and striving for an almost Buddhist detachment from his own appetites and passions.”

How did John D. Rockefeller become the richest man in the world? The answer was: God. Subordination to the lord, and subordination to the growth of Standard Oil. God wanted him to make a lot of money, and his devout, unbending faith in his own righteous destiny (in addition to world-class accounting skills) was his greatest asset to the lord and oil.

“John D. regarded God as an ally, a sort of honorary shareholder of Standard Oil who had richly blessed his fortunes.”

The book reveals some truths that my old textbooks did not. While Rockefeller is often accused of being everything that is wrong with capitalism, in reality he scorned the free markets that were held in esteem by the likes of Adam Smith. Rockefeller was more a fan of “cooperation”—provided it was always Standard Oil dictating the terms. The oil business was precarious in its infancy, “forged in a desperate spirit of self-preservation,” and one can see why Rockefeller preferred a smooth, profitable status quo over rollicking and destructive competition. Still, his firm either bought out the competition or annihilated it visibly or invisibly, leaving just enough competition in the market to give the impression that market competition existed, leaving behind kind of a Potemkin market.

To Chernow’s credit he casts his judgment on Rockefeller from a market point of view, as he should, because Rockefeller dominated the energy market for decades, and the free market was the source of his wealth and power.

“Standard Oil taught the American people an important but paradoxical lesson: Free markets, if left completely to their own devices, can wind up terribly unfree.”

By looking at Rockefeller as a businessman in a market economy, as opposed to evil incarnate, Chernow offers up the deepest possible criticism. Libertarian commentators often point out (and get no credit for doing so) that the fiercest opponents to free-market capitalism are often businessmen. As someone who clearly would not disagree with that assertion, Chernow compared the 19th century’s most successful businessman to Karl Marx.

“Like the Marxists, he believed that the competitive free-for-all eventually gave way to monopoly and that large industrial-planning units were the most sensible way to manage an economy.”

The capitalist as a Marxist—another dichotomy, like the saint and the sinner. It’s not a shocking split when you consider the Christian desire to prostrate oneself before a greater power, which communism also demands, though to a secular power. There’s a consistency to the business tycoon’s seeming contradictions.

I was drawn to this book because Rockefeller is from Cleveland, and I hoped to learn something about my hometown, and one of the men who built it—giving it not only Standard Oil, but donating money and/or land to Euclid Avenue Baptist Church, Alta House in Little Italy, Western Reserve University, the Case School of Applied Sciences, the Cleveland Orchestra, Rockefeller Park, and Forest Hill Park. Rockefeller founded his oil company in Cleveland because of its proximity to western Pennsylvania’s oil fields, and because Cleveland was the hub of so many transportation networks (the Erie Canal, Lake Erie, the railroads), which gave him leverage to negotiate favorable transportation rates. The Pittsburgh-Cleveland rivalry dates back to Rockefeller, with Standard Oil using the railroads to crush Pittsburgh’s refineries so that they could not compete with Cleveland’s. (The Steelers have since meted out decades of revenge.)

It was Standard Oil’s rebate deals with the railroads (receiving discounts that other refiners did not) that tarnished Rockefeller’s reputation and led pioneering journalists like Ida Tarbell and a president of the United States (Teddy Roosevelt) to persecute him for his alleged crimes. Chernow, in trademark fairness, writes:

“So were Ida Tarbell and other detractors justified in tarring Rockefeller’s whole career based on railroad rebates? Unfortunately, the controversy was played out in a gray area of ethics and the law that makes a definitive answer impossible. From a strictly economic standpoint Rockefeller rested on solid ground when he insisted that bulk shippers deserved a discount.”

That’s not a fashionable view, but considering the evidence, it is a fair one.

In his second act, as a philanthropist, Rockefeller put his unmatched talent for industrial organization to good use, doling out his massive fortune to establish colleges, help African-Americans, and push medical care to new heights. By all accounts he did much good with his billions, absorbing the world’s thirst for kerosene, oil, and gasoline like a sponge, and returning that money to the public in the form of world-class institutions of higher learning and medicine that would become the envy of every other country on earth. His commercial products, while never celebrated, provided countless jobs (to this day), illuminated businesses and homes, and gave the individual American a newfound mobility.

“His good side was every bit as good as his bad side was bad. Seldom has history produced such a contradictory figure. We are almost forced to posit, in helpless confusion, at least two Rockefellers: the good, religious man, and the renegade businessman, driven by baser motives. Complicating this puzzle is the fact that Rockefeller experienced no sense of discontinuity as he passed from being the brains of Standard Oil to being the monarch of a charitable empire.”

Rockefeller was, Chernow writes, “an implausible blend of sin and sanctity.”

Perhaps you need to be, in order to achieve such towering heights.

@joedonatelli

What if George H.W. Bush Had Won in 1992?

When I was in high school we held a mock election right before the 1992 election, and our choices were the two major party candidates President Bush and Gov. Bill Clinton. (And maybe Perot, but I don’t recall him being one of the choices they gave us.) Clinton won something like 200-7. Those weren’t the exact numbers, but the margin was that dominant in favor of Clinton, who had recently been on MTV playing sax while Bush had recently been vomiting on the Japanese prime minister. I was one of the seven students at Mayfield High who was like — I know Bill Clinton likes boxers over briefs and goes on Arsenio, but I’m going with the barf guy.

I was a Republican back then (I quit the party around 2000), and I took it hard when Bush lost. I blamed the media for not focusing on the good things he had done (won the Gulf War, and, uhhh, something or other) and only focusing on the bad (the economy wasn’t great, and he did spend an inordinate amount of time vomiting on world leaders.) I thought Bush would make a better president than Clinton, whom I was convinced was a liar (little did I know they all lie) and would do or say anything to advance the liberal agenda (which today would pass for the Republican agenda but I was 16 and no one knew the Oval Office would drift left for the next three decades so cut me some slack.)

OK. You should know all of that to understand what happens next. A couple of days ago when President Trump started firing missiles into Syria to save his flailing presidency, I posted this question on my Facebook page:

I wonder how many D voters would trade Obama’s second term for one Romney term, followed by a Clinton term, and Trump is never elected. Any takers?

I wound up with a couple of takers, which didn’t surprise me. I’d take that deal in a heartbeat. Romney would have been a one-termer, and he probably would have been followed up by a Democrat, like Clinton.

One of my friends, though, pitched an alt version of my alt-history. She wrote:

What I REALLY would have traded is the 2000 SC Republican primary, which dealt the final blow to McCain’s campaign, setting the stage for every stupid thing since.

This got me thinking. About 1992. Which is what I trace “every stupid thing since” back to. (Although you could make a case for the stupidity starting with Reagan, FDR, or Wilson, and I wouldn’t fight you very hard on it.) In any case, I started thinking back to our dark electoral year of 1992, and I came up with an alt version of my friend’s alt-historical response to my alt question. My response (slightly edited):

Or we could go back to 1992. George H.W. Bush gets a second term. In 1996, Bill Clinton wins the first of his two terms. The terror attacks on 9/11 still happen, but they’re during Clinton’s second term, and we still invade Afghanistan and Iraq. Both wars are still going well in 2004, when Clinton’s vice president Al Gore is elected president.

Both wars go sideways during Gore’s first term, and the economy still tanks in 2007-2008, and Gore loses in 2008 to the Republican peace candidate George W. Bush, who oversees the steadying of the economy and the withdrawal of troops from the Middle East. Having ushered in world peace, and having saved the economy, Bush wins a second term in 2012 against challenger Hillary Clinton.

Near the end of Bush’s second term, though, as we turn our attention inward to domestic issues, Americans are mad that Bush hasn’t done enough for health care, and Barack Obama is elected to his first term after narrowly defeating Bush’s vice president Colin Powell.

Obama, seasoned by two terms in the Senate, emerges in 2017 as the most popular and powerful Democrat since FDR. He passes health reform within his first two years and is widely seen as the favorite in 2020.

During this whole time, Donald Trump hosts a TV show and is on Twitter.

See. As I’ve been saying for decades: We should have voted for Bush in 1992. YOU BLEW IT, MAYFIELD HIGH!

@joedonatelli

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