Ten Years out




I have had several reminders about what I was doing ten years ago. I was not writing this blog back then, I was working on another one in which I was chronicling my wife’s experiences with Pancreatic Cancer. Most of this month I have been looking back at what I wrote during the last days of June 2010. Some days brought a smile, which at times were about the irony. Most days I wipe the tears from my eyes.

Looking back through Facebook, I can see my conflicted feelings. On one day, I wrote about a man in Liberty Park asking “Where is the Taco Bell” as a light-hearted moment, and later posted “I’m tired of having to go to the hospital to see my wife.”

On 5 July 2010 I wrote

My friend, confidant, lover, cooking teacher, music student and wife died this morning at 6 AM. She was sleeping peacefully and holding my hand when she stopped breathing.

She had a very rough night, I was glad that we were in the hospital rather than at home. Her pain medications were being updated on an hourly basis. Her kidneys had failed along with her liver, the pressure from the swelling made her feel the need to urinate but her bladder was empty. At about five she looked at me and said “I can’t fight anymore” and she closed her eyes. I held her hand as she lay sleeping, telling her that the time apart would seem to her like an instant from the perspective of eternity. I quoted Bible verses and reminded her of God’s promise. At about six she stopped breathing. I kissed her and called the nurses, there was no pulse.

I was able to stay with her as I tried to call friends and family, due to the hour and the holiday weekend I mostly spoke to answering machines. I held her hand the entire time, when it came time to wash her rigor mortis had set in, her hand stiff and curled around mine. I washed her, gently caressing the body that had once been so full of life, now just an empty container. I stroked her hair and kissed her face and neck, then helped place her body into the bag and onto the gurney. I watched as she was rolled away and packed her things, including the plant she had recieved just two days earlier.

This afternoon I stopped at the funeral home and realized how little I know about her family, I had no idea of everyone’s name that would go in the obituary, and decided that a generic “well loved by her many friends and family” would be the best route. I picked out an urn, actually only narrowed it down to three, I’ll have to go back with her cousin to make the final choice.

I grabbed a sandwich and now realize that I haven’t slept in a while. I have a lot to do this evening, but I know it will all be there tomorrow.

She is still alive in all of our memories. She is still alive in God’s loving arms. She made me a better person, and I must honor her by being the best person I can be until we are reunited.

Looking through her site at the condolences, I found this. It stood out then, and I have never forgotten giving, and receiving, this advice.

Blake,

Our prayers and thoughts are with you I hope your letter can be of some comfort during this difficult time.

Pat

From: Cash, K

Sent: Thursday, June 04, 2009 2:58 PM (Note: two days before I started Emma’s site)

To: Cash, Patricia

Subject: Grief

Patty,

Grief is a denial of our knowledge that your father is beyond suffering, with our Lord, where he is destined to be.

That does not mean that you should not experience grief, it is an opportunity to reflect on your father’s service to our Lord, in works as far away as Morocco, and as near as your heart. It is an opportunity to allow his children to show their strength, to support each other, to show what your father has given to them.

Prejudice is another opportunity to see our frailty. We justify our prejudices by calling them knowledge, by insisting that we have learned from the past. God has no prejudice, and he knows the future. He loves us no matter who we are, what we have done, or what we will do. Allow your loved ones to prove any prejudices you may have to be wrong. Allow God to guide your loved ones to step up and support you and your mother. Rejoice in the example your father gave us all. Do not falter in your faith due to the failure of another to live up to your expectations. Rejoice in those that do. We think of life as a gift, yet it is eternal life for which we strive.

When I lose Emma, please remind me of these thoughts.

The results from Emma’s biopsy are in, she has stage 3 pancreatic cancer. As much as she expected it to be even worse (stage 4), the news hit her hard, as if it was out of the blue. We see the oncologist tomorrow. I don’t know how she’ll get through this, but it does seem to make her feel better to talk to you.

Peace,

Blake



I stopped by her site quite a bit that year, grooming it into her book. A year later I wrote:


Our wedding rings, now in Emma’s shrine



Tomorrow it will be one year since Emma’s death. I wasn’t sure how I would deal with everything, I’m still not.


I have completed all my “mourning steps”. I’ve recounted the events leading up to her death ad nauseam, I’m certain everyone is tired of hearing about it. So I wrote a book about it. Still, the images won’t go away.


I sit with Lieve today, I’m writing the blurb for the back cover of the book, she’s designing the front cover, using the photograph above.


A few words about guilt. I felt a certain amount of “survivor’s guilt” for living after Emma, I’ve felt some guilt for enjoying life so much with Lieve, I’ve felt guilt for not letting go and putting more of myself into my life with Lieve, I’ve felt guilt for not “doing more” for Emma. This is not me. I’ve never really believed in feeling guilty, “accept and move on” has always been my creed.
I’m sure I’ll be overwhelmed by sadness a few more times this weekend, and there’s no reason to expect it to stop. Grief has no calendar. Emma was a huge part of my life, in time, in emotional attachment, in significant events. We didn’t break up. We loved each other more and more and then it was over, the film ran off the reel, white screen.


This will indeed mark the end of regular posting here. I have a life, and a wife who has been exceptionally understanding of my absent mind. There is no question that I loved Emma, and unlike a divorce, there is no reason to stop loving her. Except that she’s not here, and isn’t coming back. I could never forget Emma, but I can live a normal life, and share the love within me with someone who is here and can appreciate it.


I’ll stop by and post updates on the book’s availability, but there’s nothing left to say about Blake and Emma, she found peace, and now so should I.



What have I done since then?



Well, if you’ve been reading this blog, you know. I married again far too soon, and re-learned something Emma had told me; I am hard to Love. In the last ten years I have had four meaningful relationships, the first three echoed those words. Each woman looked me in the eyes and said those words. I expect Janice will someday as well, she’s in touch with her feelings more than most; she’s also a great deal more honest. I accept my complexities, I wouldn’t want to only see one point of view at a time. I could never be “normal.”

I spent a fair amount of time in Belgium, which led to gaining forty pounds. Later, I visited Mazzo’s, the Lebanese restaurant where Emma was one of the family. Mama kept saying “If Emma could see you! You look so healthy!” I learned a new language (Flemish) and was ever so close to emigrating, then at the very last minute had a change of circumstances.

I’ve moved from South Philly. I still drive by our old place whenever I’m in the area. I still go to Termini Brothers occasionally, and find other reasons to be in South Philly. The first few months, while I was still working, I found myself in and around the hospital far too often. First I went to Princeton, where I found the need for a driver’s license, then eventually to Elkins Park Pennsylvania, where I bought a condominium.

I’ve had my own medical issues, the ankle I twisted before Emma’s surgery persisted in getting twisted for at least two years, and halfway through the decade I broke my brain in a fall. That was spectacular. I wrote about it with the details, if you know me you know the intense detail with which I remember crises. The dispassionate way I write about tragedy did not originate with Emma. She hadn’t liked my fiction, but I hope she enjoyed the book I wrote about her.

Our cat, Autumn, has become an old lady. I believe she is fifteen or sixteen years old now, last year she beat cancer; which was traumatic for me more than her I think. Now she has a playmate, Janice’s cat Flash, who is only three and wants to play. Autumn has maintained her dignity; when she wants she and Flash will chase each other, when she doesn’t want to play she gives Flash a look and he backs down. Very little hissing or fighting.

I had a psychotic break last fall and loved it almost as much as I loved going to jail. Really, it was incredibly instructional. Who would have thought a mental hospital could be so calming. I learned a lot about myself, and how my brain does and doesn’t work. I realized I was still grieving Emma. Nine years on and I had not found balance; I was just pretending.

I no longer work. In the months following Emma’s death I developed the idea that if I couldn’t fix pancreatic cancer I couldn’t fix anything. Confidence is eighty percent of a technician’s skill, so I retired. Ended up needing income a few years later and worked at Amazon, then L’Oreal, then I broke my brain and have been on disability ever since.

I don’t know if I would have been a writer had Emma survived. I did collect a journal of her cancer, but I don’t think I would have been moved to have it published had she survived. I’m pretty sure I would not get much screen time, we always found better things to do. When I started this blog in 2013 I was writing no less than a thousand words a day, seven days a week. Now sometimes I miss an entire month.

I wonder what she would think about the President. I’m sure she would have voted for him, but she voted for Obama and hated him six months later. Emma told a story about running into Donald Trump and Michael Jackson in a hotel in Atlantic City. Michael said “Don’t you want my autograph?” and Emma replied “No, I want his (indicating Trump).”

Emma teased me about my sexuality, sometimes using it to start an argument, sometimes using it to turn herself on. That portion of my life has become far more open than it had been, with unexpected repercussions and benefits.

I did finally figure out which band was playing on her last night, it was The Roots, performing on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. I’ve met some of the members of the band who also play with David Uosikkinen of The Hooters, who also played with Buddy Cash, who played at a restaurant called Tom and Jerry’s where Emma used to work. Everything intersects, is it any surprise I wander through multiple universes?

At some point late next year she will have been gone longer than we were together. Probably around Nouveau day, the day we met. I have no expectations of “healing,” the scars will last forever. The memories are softer now, I know she could be harsh but I can’t remember her being harsh. Emma and I are at peace, happy for each other. The vision I remember best is her lips in an “O” when she was excited.

My latest relationship has all the indications of being my last, Janice is a forever person. It is a good time in life to gather the wisdom of all the lives I’ve led over the last sixty one years and create something solid. The mother of Janice’s late husband lives with us, as does his brother. Janice’s daughter sometimes spends the evening, so we’re about at capacity. It feels warm.

I think of her every day. Part of that is because her shrine has traveled every step of my journey at my side. Sometimes I need to look at something, sometimes I need to touch it. Every now and then something will suddenly appear, a card or something she wrote will be in a stack of papers. Those are weird. I still look at Emma’s personal ad, through which we met.

Emma’s personal ad




I’m in a healthy relationship. I’m building a family. I’m surviving. That’s what she asked me to do. But sometimes I feel like the character “Griffin” in the film MIB3. Seeing everything and everywhere at once, knowing possible outcomes but having no control of his path. Then I remember I had a TBI and a psychotic break, so maybe I’m just crazy. Doesn’t bother me a bit.

But 4 July stopped being celebratory ten years ago, so I’m posting this today, it will be ten years tomorrow at 0600 EST, I’ll be awake.

Enough tears to fill the oceans



My country is on fire. The riots which began in Minneapolis Minnesota have spread throughout the world. I was concerned when they reached Philadelphia, I have friends and loved ones within the now barricaded city. I just came back from the pharmacy and it too has closed in preparations for more. Less than a mile from my home.

I have spent the last few days providing intel for friends who want to join the protests, and guidance for the younger ones who think they have to be there. These kids really don’t know what they’re up against.

In Indianapolis, friends on the ground report seeing a MK19 firing teargas. The MK19 is a belt fed 40mm automatic weapon, used by the military. It has a three hundred seventy five rounds per minute cyclic rate, equating to a practical rate of sixty rounds per minute. It’s target range is seventy five to fifteen hundred meters. At fifteen hundred meters, the shooter can’t see his target.

 

The MK19

 

Other friends have seen pallets of bricks being dropped off in some cities. I have wondered since Ferguson where people found bricks to throw on a city street. Now I know.

I have tried to explain to people the motivations of the police, and though some thought I was justifying their response others made use of the information. Kids can be hard headed, I hope that protects them.

The police are there to protect the community. Peaceful demonstrations usually end peacefully, but when fires are started and property damaged they respond with force to dispel the crowd. While tear gas and rubber bullets are less than lethal responses, they do on occasion kill. Fired from fifteen hundred meters they are not aimed at an individual, but still may hit one. My advice to all has been know who is around you. Shun outsiders.

There are no available statistics, so I won’t say “all,” but many of the riots were started by outside agitators as we used to call them; the new name is “accelerators.” They are usually people with goals completely opposite of the demonstrators. They intend to distract attention from the object being protested, so they can claim the protestors were just violent looters, avoiding the issue of another murdered black man. Every person who says “Why are they burning their own neighborhoods?” does not understand that “they” did not start the fires. Once the situation turns into a riot common sense finds an exit, some people steal from the broken stores. Again, this is often outsiders, turning a riot into an opportunity to steal. You can pretty much be sure that none of the people carrying away television sets were part of the non-violent protest. Outside and out of race people have frequently been seen committing acts of vandalism in the name of Black Lives matter.

Thankfully, nearly everyone carries a phone and takes videos. The racist assholes who incite the riots are often assholes in day to day life, the ones that have been identified have usually been pointed out by ex-girlfriends. Such as this man, identified as an officer of the nearby St. Paul Police Department. The following video was filmed in Boston earlier today, I have no idea why the police would destroy their own car, but a number of crimes in Boston have been falsely blamed on “black men” who did not exist.



I don’t think there is a single person who saw (fmr.) Officer Derek Chauvin kneel on the neck of a handcuffed, bleeding, and gasping for air George Floyd for nearly nine minutes (the last two minutes of which he was already dead), doubts the officer’s guilt. Finding that in his nineteen year career he had received nineteen complaints of excessive force came as no surprise, nor the fact that his wife filed for divorce and fled as soon as he was in custody. I don’t think anyone would say there are no bad cops. My thoughts are the other three officers on the scene are guilty of dereliction of duty at the least, up to and including accomplice to murder. I just can’t say there are no good cops.

I used to work with them. None of them had been cloned, they were individuals with the same flaws as any human. It has been heartwarming to see police join the demonstrations. My local chief published a statement against brutality the day Mr. Floyd died. Countless chiefs across the nation have met and joined protestors.



I can’t think of an instance in which the chief joined the protestors, and a riot broke out. Ours did not.

As I am writing this, the news is live at interstate 76 at 20th street in Philadelphia. The edge of the barricade. Several hundred protestors broke off from the peaceful demonstration and blocked the interstate. It took less than five minutes for tear gas to start flying. Police have swarmed the area and are taking people into custody, no resistance. This is our third day of protests, the city is under curfew from six to six, just forty five minutes from now. The reporters are emphasizing that this is a splinter group. The incoming bridges are closed. It would be easy to characterize the city as “under siege.” Philly has a reputation for violent police responses, going back to Mayor Rizzo who was police commissioner in the sixties, and continuing when Mayor Goode dropped a bomb on a house in 1985. Today they’re looking good, everything is orderly and peaceful.

A station chief who had served in the former Soviet Union once advised me “When the shooting starts, the conversation is over.” This applies to everything, including the protests. Once violence begins, no one is thinking about anything other than survival.

Another saying from that time was “Think globally, act locally.” Change can be made at the local level, with time those changes can move to larger theatres. One man changing the world only happens a few times in a lifetime, focusing on local elections, local issues, is the way to make a difference.

For now, we just need to watch the rain and hope for a rainbow.

What would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Do?

We continue to see violent protests against the murder of George Floyd. Our (I’m white too) response has been to bring up Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, as viewed from a couple of angles.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said “In the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.” I see this as an explanation, and if you wish justification, of riots. My white friends spoke about Dr. King in peaceful terms, equating him to Ghandi. That’s the MLK they want to remember. In his thirty nine years on Earth, he was imprisoned thirty times. I have been imprisoned, but I’m a white guy. Imagine MLK in a backwoods jail.

Some people said this quote is an explanation of riots but not a justification for them. The same people accused me of Justifying violence when I explained it to them. Same words.

An explanation comes from President Lyndon Baines Johnson. “What did you expect? I don’t know why we’re so surprised. When you put your foot on a man’s neck and hold him down for three hundred years, and then you let him up, what’s he going to do? He’s going to knock your block off.”

A justification comes from President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

Comprehending White Privilege is not “White Guilt.” It is an evolved state in which blame is not placed. Being aware of white privilege just helps me avoid using it. Hell no, I use it all the time, but not across racial lines. A friend shared this list, about what white people can do safely and black people can not.

I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery).
I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothamSean and #AtatianaJefferson).
I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride).
I can have a cellphone (#StephonClark).
I can leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards).
I can play loud music (#JordanDavis).
I can sell CD’s (#AltonSterling).
I can sleep (#AiyanaJones)
I can walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown).
I can play cops and robbers (#TamirRice).
I can go to church (#Charleston9).
I can walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin).
I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party (#SeanBell).
I can party on New Years (#OscarGrant).
I can get a traffic ticket (#SandraBland).
I can lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile).
I can break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones).
I can shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford) .
I can have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher).
I can read a book in my own car (#KeithScott).
I can be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover).
I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese).
I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans).
I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood).
I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo).
I can run (#WalterScott).
I can breathe (#EricGarner).
I can live (#FreddieGray).
I can ask someone to put a leash on their dog when it is required in the public park we are in (#ChristianCooper).
I CAN BE ARRESTED WITHOUT THE FEAR OF BEING MURDERED. (#GeorgeFloyd)

I know the last is true, I have been arrested, and was comfortable with the belief that justice would prevail. If I had been black, last year when the police responded because I was having a psychotic break and had firearms at home, I would not be writing this. Rather than a mental hospital I would have gone to the morgue. I had no fear as I opened the door and came out with my hands up, lasers bouncing off the walls.

Back to Dr. King. Had he not been assassinated, I believe he would have continued pursuing non violent change. His successes would have brought us to a place of understanding, unlike today. Does it feel like it is worse than in the sixties? It does to me, but I recognize one reason is because we are (more) integrated. It hits closer when your neighbors are being discriminated against. Angry Black men are in our offices, not off in a ghetto.

As I said in the last blog, there is no magic switch which will end racial tensions. It is painstaking daily work, often one step forward two steps back. It hurts. I absolutely hate it when my friends cling to their lack of compassion for “outsiders.” Because that is where racism originates. A fear of people who are different. Children of different races play together until an adult tells them to stop.

They say they are twins

They say they are twins

 

Don’t tell them to stop.

 

 

Lives Matter

It really is horrible when someone has to remind you their life matters.

In 2013, following the acquittal of George Zimmerman for hunting down and murdering Trevon Martin, a group called Black Lives Matter (BLM) was established. The next year it was a battle cry among protestors after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York city.

Brown’s death was when other people started replying “All Lives Matter.” Michael was not an innocent, but Eric Garner was.

The difficulty, of course, has always been the language. Americans like clear binary choices, if Black lives matter then other lives do not. The idea of a non-zero sum game is the last to occur.

There is no way a person with even average intelligence could deny that as a race, Black people have had a hard time in America. They arrived as slaves and although their plight has improved, the average Black person is less well off than the average White person. This is changing, ever so slowly. I am somewhat unique, working on projects that will not be completed in my lifetime; when discrimination has been going on for centuries, many can’t understand why it continues.

Systemic changes require generations. Yes, allowing thirty years per generation indicates over five generations have passed since the emancipation proclamation, I would say it took a good three of those before the idea that slavery is wrong sunk in. I submit that the beginning of “equality” was in 1964. We are two generation in and it is not as bad as it was, but there is still distance to be traveled.

Protestors don’t think that way. They make demands for things they want now. As we learned over and over again, you cannot legislate morality. There is no switch to flip that will change everyone’s minds. Our grandchildren need to see us doing things to believe them to be normal, so they can emulate them when they are adults.

Having spent a good part of my life in Law Enforcement, I have a good idea about what Police officers think. Again, I don’t speak for all Police Officers, there are over a half million of them, with different backgrounds. To suggest there are no racist officers is as naive as suggesting all police officers are racists. It is a difficult job, in which one is constantly evaluating threat values. Not everyone is cut out for it, and it appeals to people who are not cut out for it. Take your impression of the perfect officer and probably twenty percent meet it. How well do you do your job? The fringe of corrupt officers is small, but they make the news.

Realistically, if as young people like to say “All Cops are Bastards,” the streets would be littered with dead black men. In reality, it is likely that racist officers kill a black man once every month. One is too many, but it is not happening every day every where. Due to our systemic racism, black folks feel intimidated by Police. We all know how bullies respond to people who are intimidated, they intimidate more. Some officers take advantage of that, not all racism ends in death. One bad officer can contaminate an entire squad; you don’t know who is behind the flashing lights. As illustrated by the recent murder in Minneapolis, one officer committed the murder, three others did not stop him. My thoughts are they did not believe the officer was killing Mr. Floyd, and lacked the integrity to stop mere brutalization. Personally, I believe they are all accomplices and should be charged as such. They failed to prevent a crime.

Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. They should not be mutually exclusive, and I don’t believe the majority of people on each side of the issue believe them to be. It would be better if both slogans ended with the word “too.”

As the COVID19 quarantine progresses, a number of edgy white people started complaining quarantine was oppressive. American White people, you have no clue as to the definition of “oppressed.” Oppression can be as innocuous as watching media that does not include your race. When I look at a magazine rack, there are few Black people on the covers. Television is starting to exploit that, there are several black centered sit-coms presently, the most effective showing Blacks and Whites interacting. The best I have seen is the comedy “The Neighbors,”  which is something of a reversal of “All in the Family,” with less vitriol. The heart of America is starting to laugh at themselves through seeing the plight of a white family in a Black neighborhood, and realizing they used to be like that.

Oppression is having a realistic fear of interacting with the police. White Privilege is being able to call the police because a Black man asks you to put a leash on your dog, claiming he is threatening you; all the while expecting the police are as racist as you are. Oppression is a police officer killing a black man while three others look on; not fearing reprisal. White Privilege is the ability to walk into the state building heavily armed, threatening to kill the governor, while police stand idle as protestors scream in their faces. A Black man doing the same would be shot at the door.

Oppression is complaining that a Black man protesting that oppression is critiqued because he isn’t doing it the right way. Particularly when you protested the war in Vietnam. Protests are supposed to make you uncomfortable. Doctor Martin Luther King once said “Riots are the voice of the oppressed,” yet when Black people protest they are met with derision, tear gas, and gunfire. It is simple to disrupt a peaceful protest with tear gas, escalating the event into a riot.

Recently, a friend of my partner posted the image below with the caption “Which knee offends you the most?” Responses included several who missed the point and said “Both.” Colin Kaepernick was protesting oppression, George Floyd was dying from oppression. One person stood out, making racist comments; as it turned out, he owned a restaurant. I contacted the restaurant and spoke with his daughter, who gave the “We’re not racists, we employ several Black people” line. This is the generational issue I spoke of earlier. She had grown up admiring her father, she couldn’t see the racism. I advised her that he happened to distinguish himself in front of a group of activists, endangering the business that supported the family; if he cared about his family he wouldn’t stand out as a racist when his profile showed his business. I do not wish to damage his business further by naming it.





I am well aware of my privilege. More so since making friends with people who are oppressed. Once you become aware, you can no longer pretend it doesn’t exist. I have no fear when I see a police car, and have called for police assistance without fear. I can conduct my life without fear of people working to deny my place in society. When something happens, I look for the cause rather than assume someone was trying to get at me because of my race. When I had firearms, I had no fear of displaying them and being accused of violent intent.

We are on the cusp of true equality, those opposed stand out as abnormal by white people, and as evidence of all white people still being racist by people of color. This may be the toughest part of the battle, extinguishing the remnants of racism. I believe my grandchildren will live in a world without race issues, but I don’t expect it within my lifetime.

 

What doesn’t kill you

My life has presented me with several opportunities to either die or learn something. We all get to face that these days, there is a pandemic and conflicting information about how to stay healthy.

 

I may be a bit old, but I don’t think some of the things that I know are no longer valid. Airborne viruses travel from person to person, staying away from someone infected is a great way to avoid infection. We were aware of this when I was a child, but for some reason people are fighting for their right to infect (or be infected by) others.

COVID19 is new, but it is still a virus. If it is on your hands, washing them removes it. If it is in your lungs, wearing a mask will slow (not stop, just filter) it from from spreading; if you don’t have it in your lungs, a mask will slow it from arriving.

Sodium hypochlorite (bleach) is toxic. There is not a recommended dosage. Ingesting it might kill the virus, but it will also kill you. Just because it sounds like hydroxychloroquine, it is not. Hydroxychloroquine is a drug for malaria. It is not aspirin, and is available for Malaria patients. Using other people’s drugs not only prevents them from taking them, since they aren’t prescribed to you, you do not need them. Prescriptions are written by people who spent an extra four years in Medical school, plus three to seven years in residency; not by some yokel on the internet. A recent study published in Lancet concludes it is related to increased deaths in COVID19 patients.


We all knew these things as we raised our children, even the anti-vaxxers know, that’s why they put their kids in “Measles Parties,” so the kids will pick up the disease and build immunity.

We have no Constitutional right to spread disease, in fact quite the opposite. The preamble to the constitution includes the words “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” The general welfare includes general health.

The anti-anti-safety groups are having a field day pointing out the utter stupidity of ignoring health guidelines and its evolutionary consequences. If natural selection is at work, the disease advocates will be removed from the gene pool, or at least reduced. Sad, it seems wrong to laugh at a drowning man.

A vaccine for COVID19 is about as likely as a vaccine for HIV. Yes, it’s been over forty years and no vaccine. Regardless, the anti-vaxxers are already insisting they will not avail themselves to a vaccine. Other conspiracy theorists are claiming the vaccine will be used to implant microchips, allowing for tracking of Americans. Oddly, those folks all carry cell phones which record their every step.

There is no point in blaming anyone for the presently 342,000 deaths world wide. For the most part, humans have stopped blaming people for naturally occurring phenomena (with the exception of climate change). One typically ignored fact about quarantine is the absence of pollution, it only took a few weeks for the world to get over our mess; wildlife is returning to cities, smoggy skies are clear.

Los Angeles

Everywhere.







 

 

Through this quarantine we have learned how to do things that were considered impossible before. School can be accomplished online (incidentally eliminating travel fatalities), jobs can be accomplished from home, voting by mail has become popular (removing any excuses for not voting), telemedicine has come into existence. The government was able to find several trillion dollars for bailouts, when a universal healthcare plan was too expensive at a tenth of the price.

One thing I always admired about Americans is the “We can do anything” attitude. We can. Today, a minority of Americans can’t even protect themselves from a pandemic. The important thing to remember when watching news reports about people resorting to violence when asked to wear a mask is that the news shows the oddities; if everyone did it, it wouldn’t be news. 

COVID19 has provided an environment in which self protection is woven into group protection. If one does not care about one’s own health, one may choose to use protection to protect their loved ones. Too much of this is similar to the AIDS crisis, when we knew that when we had sex with someone, we were being exposed to every person that someone had been with. We curtailed AIDS by controlling ourselves, wearing protection and knowing our partners’ history. We can curtail COVID19, if we work together at being apart.





The Quadrenniel Equation

 

As America’s leadership races to the drain, we are once again faced with that difficult question. Of the 328,200,000 citizens in America, who would we like to be President? In what has been explained as a positive process, we allow nature to take its course and let survival of the fittest choose the candidates.

Unfortunately, being the fittest in popularity contests is not the measure required of a fit President. Of late we have dropped the pretense of who is most popular. Elections have largely become an opportunity to vote against a candidate. Since my return to the East coast, each gubernatorial election in New Jersey has been driven by a campaign to remove the incumbent.

Last time was a moral dilemma, people on both sides of the aisle “held their noses and pulled the lever.” This time there are a different set of senses offended.

The poorly named “MeToo” movement brought some change to public sensibilities. The most wonderful example of it working just the way it was supposed to was the Al Franken case. He said “Believe all women,” he was accused, he stepped down. No fiasco.

This year, we have Donald Trump, who has openly admitted he doesn’t know when he is in a locker room, and suggested that a proper greeting is to grab a woman’s genitalia. Mr Trump has been accused of a variety of sexual misbehaviors, and been involved in many undisclosed settlements. 

He’s also a megalomaniac and starting to act a bit dictatorish.

From the opposing party, we have Joseph Biden, a doddering old fool who was often hidden from public view when he was Vice President. He enjoys touching women. He doesn’t know there is a time and place for enjoyment. Throughout his career he has been known as “creepy Joe” for the way in which he oversteps boundaries, sniffing hair and inappropriately touching women. Recently, a harsher accusation of rape has surfaced.

Now the MeToo folks are sweating. Both candidates are offensive for the same reasons. If only there was someone else running for President. There are about a dozen alternative party candidates, and not one of them has been accused of rape. Nonetheless folks are losing it.

If there was ever any evidence required to justify the label of “Rape Culture,” this is it. The two choices for President have both been accused of Rape. And nobody is talking about it. Biden was in the lead with just being creepy because he said “Believe all women.” Except Tara Reade. Now supporting Biden is supporting an abuser.

I’ve heard a few passionate defenses about how important it is to get Trump out of office, from people who know victims of rape. More of that “Most important election of our lives” stuff. The cognitive dissonance is unparalleled. We all want people to live up to their stereotypes, and just as I could not believe that women voted for Bill Clinton or Donald Trump, I am dismayed at the women supporting Biden.

Trump “may” reverse Roe v Wade, and there is no question he will make an ass of himself, and America, many times. But in supporting Biden, you are supporting an abuser. So this is a question of morals. Is an election more important than a rape? How cleverly are you going to bury that question in November?

One of the issues I have with folks is that there are certain matters which are digital to me. There are no nuances or redeeming qualities, they are black or white. I call these things “values” and can often be rather old fashioned about them. Old fashioned as in “consistent.” Biden doesn’t get a pass because Trump is an asshole. Abuse is abuse.

So, what to do?

Either don’t vote in the presidential election at all, or choose a candidate who hasn’t raped anyone. Is it really that hard?

But then Trump will win!

Maybe, and you will not have to explain to your daughter why you voted for a rapist. Which is more valuable?

Wash your hands of COVID19, not personal responsibility. Anything can happen in Washington, what is more important is what happens within you.

Silly Squabbles



I’ve touched on this subject before, and recently it has run the drama meter on social media well past twelve.

A friend, in the sense of the internet, has displayed a psychotic break recently. It started with paranoia about her place in a group, her threat to dissolve it and the reformation of the group under a new name. Then she claimed ownership of symbols representing the group, down to the three colored flag (This is a bisexual group, not Belgium).

She’s been threatening legal action against everyone today, so I’m sure I’ll be on the receiving end of a tweet any moment.


The prize?

 



 

 


From Wikipedia “[Michael] Page describes the meaning of the pink, lavender, and blue (ratio 2:1:2) flag as this: “The pink color represents sexual attraction to the same sex only (gay and lesbian). The blue represents sexual attraction to the opposite sex only (straight) and the resultant overlap color purple represents sexual attraction to both sexes (bi).

Page describes the flag’s meaning in deeper terms, stating “The key to understanding the symbolism of the Bisexual pride flag is to know that the purple pixels of color blend unnoticeably into both the pink and blue, just as in the ‘real world,’ where bi people blend unnoticeably into both the gay/lesbian and straight communities.

The flag is used in different aspect ratios. 2:3 and 3:5 are often used, in common with many other flags; biflag.com named 3:4 as the “exact … proportions” of the “original Bi Pride flag”

The stripe colors and widths, from top to bottom, are pink (40%), purple (20%), and blue (40%). The exact colors given by the designer are: PMS 226, 258, and 286. Their approximate HTML values are #D60270, #9B4F96, #0038A8; their approximate RGB values are (214,2,112), (155,79,150), and (0,56,168), respectively. It is not patented, trademarked, or service marked”


Emphasis mine.

Kind of crazy? Yes, for a group known for crazy, this is as good as it gets.

In our daily lives, Bisexuals endure a barrage of prejudice. In our own organizations we endure prejudice from our own, what was initially meant to be an umbrella description has devolved into (at this moment) five different groups (Bi, Pan, Omni, Poly, and Queer). Within the gay community, we have always been pariahs, and the straight community gives us all their hate for gays plus an extra measure for not making up our minds.

Now, as we are beginning to see acceptance from the straight world, we refuse to be satisfied. We have a symbol that represents us, please pay us to display it.

Actually, “we” are doing quite well, thank you. “We,” the bisexuals of the world, come from everywhere, and we trust small groups to represent us because we seldom remember that we are one hundred fifty million globally. Unfortunately, small groups tend to have little bureaucracy. One of the larger, BiNet USA, was operated by a single person, who has divorced herself from reality. An acquaintance of mine but an actual friend of Janice’s, turned into Donald Trump, making her personal battles public by voicing them on Twitter.

She broke, not Bisexuals.

As sad as this disintegration is, I can’t help laughing. The antics have been crazy, but crazy people are not funny. The group reaches beyond its membership, this is something of a blow to the bi community. A “safe place” has burned down.

Bisexuality is about unity. To its very core, bisexuality eschews exclusion. So you might see how confusing this all is.

The bottom line is a friend had a breakdown and took the reputation and much of the virtual infrastructure (including the twitter account, Facebook group, and social media presence) of BiNet down with her. We need to worry about the broken human, who has the potential to recover. But the protest art has been fabulous, bisexuals tend towards the artistic.

Part of being bisexual is seeing the beauties in both sides.

You are what you eat

 

 

Bats are very helpful to humans

 

The first time I came across this story was in 1984. We stocked periodicals from every group involved in animal welfare at the shelter, and I think it was in something by PETA; a story about a Korean family going on a picnic with the family, lighting a fire, and cooking the dog. Every nuance was used to pretend the dog was the family pet. Followed by an appeal to make eating dogs a crime.

My initial reaction was one of disbelief. On a planet with inadequate food, someone was trying to forbid a particular protein. The opinions of my colleagues varied, we were working in an animal shelter so that could be expected. The issue came up a few times in the intervening years, but has made an ugly reappearance during the COVID19 pandemic. 

In an odd juxtaposition of images, I saw Paul McCartney demanding that “wet markets,” the open air butchers who provide various proteins in China should be closed with footage of actual markets, a story of food being destroyed in America because it couldn’t be harvested or delivered, and a story about people putting together open air markets to fill in for the shortages in America which looked ever so much like the markets in China. 

I am only guessing, but I suspect most Americans have ever seen their food outside the grocery store. That neatly packaged hamburger at MacDonald’s was once a living breathing cow, who was killed and then cut to pieces, many of which were ground up to produce “hamburger,” which was then pressed into quarter pound servings of precisely the same shape and size. The majority of people have never killed an animal, prepared the meat, and eaten it. I would not be surprised if more than half of the people had never handled raw meat.

We as a species originated on this planet, our evolution is tied to the consumption of protien, animal protien. We are, by many measures, the apex predator of planet Earth. How can we judge any other human for their choice of protien? Of the theories as to the origin of COVID19 is that because the virus is attuned to bat DNA, it occurred naturally and was transmitted when humans ate bats. An alternative theory is that the virus was created in the level four bio-lab using bats. Either way, the fact that some people eat bats is not morally pertinent to a worldwide pandemic. Hating Chinese people (and by ignorant extension anyone of Asian descent) because the virus came from their country has no effect on the virus at all.

People eat weird things. Some folks think food should not be cute. Others draw the line with familiarity, you don’t name food, if it has a name it’s a pet. Some folks believe that some animals are magically elegant and should not be consumed. Others see all meat as murder, yet allow the consumption of fish. When I was in Belgium, a restaurant  we went to had horse (Paard) on the menu. I ordered a steak, it was great. The next day my wife’s cousins who raise horses were not impressed. I can’t fathom Escargot,  but Emma loved it.

When it comes down to it, the animal does not matter. If you are going to eat a dead animal, the species of that animal (with the exception of Homo Sapiens) is of no consequence. Shaming people for eating small mammals is no different than shaming people for eating mushy peas. Discriminating against an entire culture, and through ignorance an entire race, is not acceptable. We can see that when we are different colors, why not when we are different national origins?

As this virus and our response to it reshape our world, we may find ourselves trying different foods. An important lesson from Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school (SERE), has never been forgotten; “do not waste any form of nutrition.” Once you’ve convinced yourself that you will never starve as long as there are cockroaches, a bat looks like Filet Mignon.

Now, a nation waits in line for food. Food banks are popping up everywhere. When will non-traditional foods show up at these banks? Rabbit would be a natural first, they’re already raised for meat, not always with our knowledge. I recall waiting for a bus outside a Chinese restaurant, and in the garbage was an empty box from a rabbit farm. Must be cheaper than chicken.

Prepare yourself. Of the locally available wildlife, I have eaten just about everything (no bats or fox yet). You will have the opportunity to try something new. Or, you can choose to go hungry.







Isolation

This thought occurred a few weeks ago, and has been coming up quite a bit lately due to COVID19. Everyone dies alone.

In the bright light of reality, this has always been true; in order to let go of life one lets go of the world. Surrounded by friends and family, in that last moment, we are alone. With quarantines and social distancing, we are no longer surrounded by friends and families. That time between letting go and changing dimensions is not greeted with a heart satisfied by the warmth of family. A cold empty hospital room is the last recorded memory of thousands, now tens of thousands, of lives.

Funerals, once a family retreat during a time of grief, are a thing of the past. Social distancing becomes of obvious need when you are burying a person who contracted COVID19 at a family funeral. Fears of enormous numbers of dead have played across everyone’s paranoia, from Soylent Green through Ωmega Man. The idea of riffing Charlton Heston films could fill a weekend, in the new parlance; tomorrow. When loved ones disappear into the medical complex fear of what will eventually happen is simply an extension of fear of the unknown.

What we may not have considered is that even though COVID19 is now the highest daily cause of death, total deaths, (you know, all those people who die in the darkness everyday), has doubled. We haven’t reached plague status, with carts collecting the dead. A stressed sytem (Mortuaries) gives up and just tosses bodies into mass graves? Unlikely, although there will be some changes to society that last longer than our memories of 9/11.

The suggestion that shaking hands will go the way of smoking cigarettes has already been suggested, and I suspect other casual contact will diminish as well. After generations of substituting television for parenting, many are willing and even desirous of substituting virtual contacts for real contacts. Many do it already. There is no crystal ball, but the possible changes could go anywhere, and being on quarantine we have plenty of time to travel those roads. I think of how the nation “came together” during previous disasters, how it fell apart just as quickly, yet some things remain. This time we come together by staying apart.

It is getting close to the tenth anniversary of Emma’s parting, and with all that unoccupied mind I have been thinking of her very much. In addition there have been other anniversaries in the household, the very concept of “time” has been turned inside out, causality is taking a beating, but coincidence implies uniqueness. Coincidence is common, we are far more connected than we allow ourselves to consider. Our societal evolution is moving in a different direction, less actual interaction, a redefinition of “actual.”

I doubt anyone will have the opportunity I had, to stay with Emma until I was the only one there, until she said “I can’t fight anymore,” letting go the world, so she could drop the weight of life. At least not for a while, quarantine will end eventually; but will staying with the dying come back into custom?

I think of my life only last year, parties with no prohibitions, and wonder what happened to those people? They were the type to party in defiance of quarantine, an odd paradox of probable viruses to contract. Will that level of closeness become natural again? Maybe not to me, but I’m certain it will for others. The world is changing in many ways, ways we do not consider, ways we might not notice until their consequences are upon us.

I was in a television show; Janice and I were hired as extras for a scene in the program “Dispatches from Elsewhere” on the AMC network. It was long before the show premiered, we had no idea if we would be interested in the final product. As it turns out, we may be the only ones who are interested. This will definitely be remembered in history as a “quirky” series, and it is still unfolding. I am fascinated by the reflection of the “real” world; the viewers I have interacted with may as well be unknowing actors with the show being a camera of their own life; equally unaware.

I found amazing, of many things, the “extra” effect, recognizing you really are just a face in the crowd. We were paid for ten hours, fed lunch, and in some cases made useful contacts. From all those hours on set, the rehearsals and filming, our scene takes about two minutes of varying points of view. If you take from that two minutes the moments when the camera was on our unique presence your heart has beaten twice. I believe we slowed it down to counting hundredths of a second in order to see any part of our bodies.

On film it looks even livelier, larger than the respectable crowd we shared the day with, and then it is pointed out to me. There. That edge of a flag? You’ll notice from the stripes it is a Philadelphia Pride flag. You were the only one present with such a flag. There. Those fingers holding the corner of the flag? Those are your fingers. That is the part for which you were paid ten hours of standard wages. And there are hundreds of thousands of fingers in the picture, each belonging to someone who thought they were the center of the universe at that moment.

Our perception of isolation is tied to our self image. I live in fairly large condominium, on an upper floor, surrounded by trees. This is how I choose to live. I do not feel isolated. Anne Frank lived in a dank back room in Amsterdam half of this size with three times as many people for two years. Times might get hard, but that is how we know when things are better; this is one crazy ride. Washed into numbness by the persistence of inquisitiveness, many seek details that hide the overwhelming beauty of the moment.  We forget that in the end Anne Frank died of Typhus in Bergen-Belsen.

When we die, we live on through the memories we have provided to others. Maya Angelou said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” In my lifetime, I have watched as recordings progressed from pencils on paper through electrons arranged in patterns. Monuments to life have withered, most lives archived as a box of dust. All that will remain will be ethereal, and our physical isolation will result in memories of patterns of electrons, any evidence of twenty first century life will evaporate in an electromagnetic pulse.

It took the Taliban to destroy monuments that had lasted fifteen hundred years, Buddhism didn’t care. There is more to Buddha than his physical image. As our lives vanish from tomorrow’s history, we will continue to exist. In a dimension with different properties branched from a dimension with entirely different properties, three or four times, we exist.

In the ways we made each other feel.







Splendid Isolation

As we isolate due to COVID19, various comments about the level of isolation we experience have been making the rounds. One in particular was a measurement of levels, one being “I haven’t changed anything,” to five being “total lock down.” My personal response was that I am at level four, or level one; I don’t go out much to start with.

The reactions to isolation are largely based on our pre isolation lives. The twenty four hour party people can’t go very long without an audience. Those of us who prefer to be left alone are in a state of bliss.

One irony of quarantine is that I now have to go to the grocery store. I used to have groceries delivered, but when everyone suddenly tried to have their groceries delivered the system was overwhelmed; I could not schedule a delivery. Ordering groceries for pick up is suddenly frustrating, shortages cause items to be out of stock by the time I complete the order. I leave home with several pairs of latex gloves and a container of Clorox wipes. I put on a pair before I leave the car and wipe the surfaces of carts and other devices (such as the self checkout). Then I remove that pair of gloves before entering the car, and drive to another store which might have items the first did not. Re-glove, repeat. Full shower and change of clothes after coming home. The stores are relatively empty, so distancing isn’t a problem.

At home we’re listening to more music, the television is fairly depressing with its reports of COVID19 prevalence, one thousand dead here, two thousand dead there, a party in New York State, nearby states rejecting New Yorkers. Individual responses have run the gamut, and stupid people are just not entertaining. We spent the early days of the quarantine watching films about pandemics.

One wonderful and/or awful thing about America is its spirit of independence and do it yourself attitude. It is wonderful to see people finding solutions , it is awful seeing people spread bad information. Among those spreading bad information is our president, who has contradicted doctors in favor of the economy. We don’t end quarantine on a financial calendar, we end it on a medical calendar. This is going to hurt. It is going to hurt everyone. We do better by exercising compassion for those without choices.

I see this pandemic, and the resulting quarantines, as a measure of our spirits. One does not quarantine oneself in order to avoid catching COVID19, one quarantines to avoid spreading COVID19. Incredibly self centered people violate quarantine to have parties, risking not only the lives in attendance, but the lives of everyone with whom they have contact.  I would like to believe this is evolution in progress, removing self centered people from the population. Those with compassion for others are far more likely to survive.

As with most events in America, suddenly everyone is an epidemiologist. This is a new virus, we cannot count on it behaving like other viruses. It is from the family of viruses that caused SARS and MERS, we already know that treatment for those viruses do not translate into treatments for this virus. The only weapons we have are the actual epidemiologists who are working directly with this virus. Have we not been using social media long enough to recognize false information? Again, perhaps an evolutionary moment, as we are freed of the burden of the gullible idiots among us.

Our “leaders” are showing their true stripes, in many cases to no surprise. Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, displayed his self-centeredness when he took to the air complaining that his state, hit hard at the moment, could not have all the ventilators in existence. I would like to see his supply of toilet paper. The president has reverted to his childhood of bullying, allotting supplies to states with governors who are nice to him. Several voices have claimed that “old people” (the initial high risk group) would be willing to die to save their children. It doesn’t work like that, we are not bargaining with death. I would certainly trade my life to save one of my children from an eminent threat, so please don’t call me heartless when I say I would not roll the dice with a virus. We have learned that all ages are susceptible, yesterday an infant died of COVID19. There is no favored age range which we may sacrifice to save everyone else.

Ethics are being debated, as healthcare systems are stretched beyond capacity. This is why we quarantine, to avoid stressing our healthcare system. Triage is a basic element in healthcare, seeing the effects of triage is more than some people can handle. Every trip to the emergency room already undergoes triage, the guy in the car wreck gets treated before a doctor spends time on your broken toe. End of life triage is not a popular subject, but it has always been here. When resources are limited, so are responses. Italy had to deny ventilators to patients over sixty. We will do something similar here. We have fewer hospital beds per capita than Italy, to deny we will run out of hospital beds is foolish.

Recently in Philadelphia, the city requested the owner of an abandoned hospital (Hahnemann, closed a few months ago) to allow the city to use the space for overflow patients. The owner wanted a ridiculous amount for the privilege of using his worthless property.  The hospital stands empty. Some of us believe the owner will find a room in Hell.

The optimist within begs me to see all of this as a growth spurt, as humanity is reminded the value of being humane. Growth hurts, but in the end we are better developed. In the interim, we get to watch the evil we are trying to rid the world of take the spotlight.

We will come out of this better if we learn to cherish good rather than blame evil. Take this time of isolation to learn something, a new instrument or language, reflect on your values and relationships.

 

 

And most importantly, wash your hands.

 

 

 

 

How many Jews?

I am always amazed at those who fail to see the damage of the Holocaust. This was a major historical event that took place in some of our lifetimes, but the majority see it (rightly) as history. History, that boring class you could never see the point of.

In a survey taken in the United Kingdom, five percent denied it took place (illegal in many countries), while a slightly larger group feels its extent has been exaggerated. I found those numbers disappointing, until I read the next line “In the survey, 45% of those polled said they did not know how many people were killed in the Holocaust, while one in five (19%) believed fewer than two million Jews were murdered. The actual figure was six million.”

The actual number is close to twelve million. Six million were Jews, the others were just marginalized groups who have few mourners. Gay, Disabled, Unpopular were all reasons to be sent to what we now call “Death Camps.” Some of us view the Holocaust as enveloping World War Two, which included the deaths of seventy five million, about three percent of the world’s population. It should be no surprise that the 1918 Flu pandemic is hardly remembered, which “only” killed fifty million.

In the midst of a major culling of humanity, six million Jews were forgotten because they were a reminder of the twelve million humans the NAZIs killed in the shadow of the seventy five million who died in the war. They were not part of the seventy five million, they were in addition to the seventy five million.

Each one of those people was related to someone, although in many cases the relative was another of the six million. Some people only know that a branch of their family ended, others know stories of an individual. This was a large percentage of the entire Jewish demographic, which tends to be only two percent of the world population. Yeah, I was rather taken aback a few years ago when I found just how small the Jewish religion was; I always had thought is was around fifty/fifty Christians and Jews. Every Jew was touched in some way.

So no, the deaths of the relatives of what is now one hundred seventy six million people will not just go away. Sixty percent of the Jews in Europe, one third of all Jews in the world, and people forget? Even if it wasn’t taught, there are people who never heard about the losses of the Second World War?

I can understand isolation. Today, when a plane crashes, it is only on the news if Americans were on board. Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 would not have gained the public’s eye had not three Americans been among the two hundred fifty eight passengers. So when a religion you are not connected to is wiped out by people who you don’t care about, why would it stand out in your mind? The same is true today as small civilizations in South America are decimated by corporate interests.

One element about COVID19 has stood out to me. It is a disease the majority of people will not experience directly. Like the Holocaust it will predominantly be experienced indirectly. The precautions we take are not really for ourselves, even if you do contract the virus, the odds are on your side. The precautions we take are for others, who would be much more sick and possibly die if they contract the virus. This is the very core of the concept of “Public Health.”

Presented with a disease most people won’t be affected by, will they choose to vaccinate? In an average flu season, sixty thousand Americans die, yet only forty five percent of Americans get a flu shot. We all wear our seat belts and still thirty eight thousand Americans died in automobile accidents blast year. Will we take precautions for something we can not see? It would not be cynical to say “no,” it would be realistic.

All my life, I have been hearing about self sacrifice, giving of yourself to the benefit of others. I have not seen many examples. Perhaps due to the lack of examples, the public mood has moved to a “what’s in it for me” perspective. The nobility of self sacrifice is often denigrated. Issues lack importance until they are knocking on the door. COVID19 is tapping on the window. Bright glowing signs indicating we save ourselves by saving others go unnoticed.

In the end, those lost to COVID19 will never come close to the loss of Jewish lives in the Holocaust; but they may be remembered more. They will be people we know, our peers. Jews remained insulated after the Holocaust, the stories spread decades later as survivors influenced the world. I recall saying to my late wife, “You will be remembered.” She is, because I speak of her. All I needed was for someone to listen.

Six million human beings were killed because they followed a religion. That should be enough. The fact that six million more were killed because they were deemed to be “impure” should shake anyone who has ever doubted themselves. It does not make the Holocaust “random,” the people killed were killed because the state chose each of them, as individuals. The largest targeted group were Jews, would it be different if tomorrow the targeted group was Muslims? What if you lived in a country where your religion did not fit the majority? There are sects which call themselves “Christian” yet behave in abhorrent fashion, what if the state decided that Christians (in general) were a detriment to society?

Listen. Speak. Share the stories about what happens when a government is out of control. Share the stories about what happened to other people when no one cared about them.

Or be a super hero and just care about people different from you.

Cramming for finals

We live most of our lives feeling safe from the terrors of the world. If there were ever to be a problem, we would just roll with it and change the channel on television.

Life itself is the final examination. As I watch the panic around COVID19, I am amused by those not alarmed. COVID19 is a threat to old folks (like me) but younger people will experience nothing more than symptoms of a cold in most cases. This does not mean young people won’t be affected. Infrastructure is falling, all those work from home ideas that were too difficult to accommodate for disabled people are now being forced on all of us. Schools close not so much to protect the children attending, but to protect teachers and to inhibit the spread among children, almost all of whom have a parent or even a grandparent at home who would be at risk if they were exposed.

I watch the scroll of school closings on the bottom of the screen and wonder why they don’t just point out which schools are open. Every school in my county is closed, why list them individually? Philadelphia is resisting, even though many of their teachers are quarantined in Montgomery County; they claim the problem for students not receiving meals without daycare. Yes, you heard that right, The School District of Philadelphia has openly identified itself as “daycare.” Malls are closed, small businesses are closed, are these people being paid? Are we looking at a crises in thirty days when a large percentage of people cannot pay their monthly bills? As young people bemoan the weight of student loans, will the class of 2020 start off with bad credit? Some changes are going to have to take place, or an entire sector of the economy will fail.

I heard about my friend Sergey, he is lucid but unaware of the circumstances, very tired with another surgery scheduled for Monday. I can’t visit him, the hospital is closed to visitors. There are many ways to measure the impact of COVID19.

We are in crisis. Maybe the virus will not make you sick, maybe if it does it will be easy to survive, but the virus has affected you. Sports have simply been cancelled, and those contracts are being honored. All those people making less than forty thousand a year are not quite as comfortable. Those making twenty thousand are pretty much screwed. We’re talking about eighteen percent of wage earners. One in five people destitute. We thought we had a homeless problem before.

We are showing what is important to us. The same government which could not afford a healthcare for all bill because it was too expensive found one and a half trillion dollars to support the stock market. It worked for thirty minutes before dropping back to its fall. Thirty minutes. No point in crying over what could have been funded, just the knowledge that they can afford what they want to.

We are being tested. Put that in whatever frame of reference you want. The question of whether or not we as a species are graceful enough to vaccinate against diseases that are not likely to affect us directly was answered with what I consider a failing grade. Maybe COVID19 presents us with the question of “Do I care enough about other people to wash my hands and avoid contact?” The excuse of “It doesn’t affect me” has been re-framed. It affects all of us in one way or maybe many.

The callous declarations of youth should not be discarded, nor taken at face value. They are, after all not fully developed, and by that I mean to develop sensitivity to others, it helps to have a brain that is fully developed. In humans that happens around the twenty fifth year. They are a generation that has never fought for anything, that has no concept of struggle. Protesting for Marriage Equality may have been the most effort these people ever put into an issue, but I don’t recall any front line casualties in that fight. Life and Death have different meanings to people who have experienced them first hand.

The loss of one million Americans is a big deal. Anyone who acts like it is not should be quarantined from humanity. Diseases we normally feel take too many lives, take fewer than the projected mortality of COVID19. For perspective, only about three million people die in an average year. That is of all causes. The top two, Cancer and Heart disease, kill about one million people every year combined. An easy way of envisioning the factor of risk was posted by a friend the other day:

I keep seeing people, especially younger ones, say “most people that get it are fine, I’m not worried” or some variation of that. I get that we like to feel invincible. However, we’re not. There’s a reason for all this preparation, cancellation, so called “panic”.

To make the consequences of this virus more clear, I came up with an analogy in the form of a game. I’ve done my very best to base this game wholly on probable statistics as released by the WHO and CDC.

To start this game, we have to assume that you have contacted coronavirus.

Now, grab a two deck of cards. Remove the ace of spades from one deck and both aces of clubs. This leaves 101 cards. Each card is approximately equal to 1%.

You must draw one card.

If you are under 50 and healthy, if you draw the remaining Ace of spades, you must flip a coin. Heads you live, tails you die.

If you are under 50 and have heart disease, asthma, diabetes, cancer, or respiratory disease draw one card. If you draw any of the 8 kings, you’re likely dead.

If you’re 50 to 70 years old and healthy, draw one card. If it is any of the five aces you’re likely dead.

One last group, though there are others. If you are over 70 and have any of the conditions listed earlier, draw one card. If that card is ANY Spade or ANY Club, you’re likely dead.

Here’s the worst part. Statistically, if you had to draw a card because you have coronavirus, you have to make 2 or 3 more people draw.

My mother is 75 and has asthma. My grandfather is 99. Hell, I’m 56 and am a smoker (about to try to quit) and just had major dental work.

You may survive the game, but tell me, which of your loved ones are you willing to make play?

I pretty much quit gambling in the nineties, I bet on a horse race in Australia that was being broadcast, my horse had a good twenty yard lead coming into the stretch. Feeling victorious, the jockey stood in the saddle, then promptly fell off the horse. That’s why the horse was fifteen to one, the horse was good but the jockey wasn’t.

We can look at this as a two week vacation in the wilderness, if we can afford two weeks with no incomeWe can look at this as a “hoax,” an overblown non-event, if we are at low risk. We can look at this as a dangerous pandemic which will touch each of us in some way, if we are compassionate about the losses of others. We can look at this as Death chasing us again, if we are at high risk. We all have one thing in common.

We have no choice, we have to look at this.


 

Warning shots

Quaint Jenkintown

 

There are some components of me that appear to be incongruous with each other.

I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, even though I do not have the right to possess a firearm. I think everyone should own a firearm, because I believe everyone should understand firearm safety. When I did own firearms, they were for the most part kept unloaded in a safe; ammunition was in a locked container in another closet. “For the most part”, I did have a weapon available at all times. I do not now.

I am a life member of the National Rifle Association (NRA). I support “common sense” gun laws when they actually reflect common sense. Just because gun confiscation sounds like common sense to you does not make it so. I support open carry, in the belief that an armed society is a polite society. Evolution takes place rapidly.

If you have ever seen the television program “The Goldbergs,” you’ve seen my neighborhood. I live in the town it is set in. Really, it is set in Jenkintown, referenced repeatedly, I live in Elkins Park, a few hundred yards away. Forty years later. I don’t expect to meet Ozzie and Harriet at the Wa Wa, but I certainly didn’t expect Archie Bunker. We have a community page on Facebook, people post experiences, the Chief of Police stops by occasionally with an alert or information. It sure feels like Mayberry.

The other day, a local resident reported to the group (no one else) that his dog woke him at 0500, and his “Black Belt” wife went downstairs to investigate. They found a young woman (20 years old, long brown hair, white, thin) sitting on their porch talking on her cell phone. The dog continued barking and jumped at the door, so the woman ran away.

I know what it is like to leave my door unlocked. I live in a high rise so I still do most of the time, I trust my neighbors. I would like to believe that people feel comfortable around me, safe. Apparently, that is not a common sentiment.

The overwhelming responses were of fear and defense. As if this wasn’t just a vulnerable stranger seeking refuge in the darkness but a sinister spy, casing the neighborhood. One woman bragged that she wouldn’t have that “problem,” she was getting her permit for Concealed Carry of a Weapon (CCW) and would shoot them. When asked by a neighbor why she would kill another human being for sitting on her porch, she replied “There is such a thing as a warning shot.”

Before I go any further, THERE IS NOT. There is no such thing as a warning shot, and in my attempt to remind her of the basic rules of firearm safety she said she didn’t need my “opinion.” I can only pray the background checks for her CCW are as vigorous as when I applied. Of all the characters I might expect to see, Annie Oakley was not on the list.

In a thread that included references to communist invasion, Annie was the scariest.

My support of the second amendment runs deep, I see it as the final check in our system of checks and balances. “Blah Blah do you think you can take on the Army?” As a matter of fact, yes. I am no longer allowed to keep weapons, but there should be some lying around from the naive making forward assaults, and I don’t believe the Army will be a formidable threat to its relatives and neighbors. I am a survivor (It’s in the title of the page), people expecting life to go back to normal, to just show up at their office the Monday after the “revolution” are likely to fare poorly.

Now that I know I have Annie Oakley to protect the neighborhood, I am not resting better. I understand why I am not allowed to possess a firearm, and concerned that she is (she may not be, there is no data). I had one little psychotic break, and have little memory of more than twenty four hours. During those hours I had access to what most civilians would refer to as an armory. When they confiscated my firearms, the police were impressed. Had I wanted to do damage, I was well prepared. There is an ever so remote chance I might have a second psychotic break. It’s not worth the risk, I should not have firearms. This does not mean that I automatically think no one else should, but owning a firearm is a responsibility. There is nothing funny about bravado rooted in calibre.

These events make it difficult to support safe firearm ownership. I am often embarrassed by activists on my own “side.” I am still annoyed by the poor arguments around the issue, both pro and con.

We live in a society in which even mentioning politics can result in physical violence. Religions are misunderstood by practitioners, sharing a message becomes impossible. Why? Because for decades mothers told their children “Don’t discuss politics or religion.” The familiarity with the subjects withered, but the gut reactions remained. “Pro-Life” activists assassinate doctors. The same can be said about firearms, they have become alien to the average American. Most people have no idea what to do with a firearm, so begging on common sense don’t. Even very small firearms, say the rim-fire .22 calibre, can be deadly. If you don’t understand that uncontrolled trajectories can result in wounds you could never made on purpose, don’t touch a firearm.

Even if (or maybe because) you are thoroughly anti-gun, teach your children gun safety. In doing so you will learn it yourself. You will know what to fear, and what not to fear. Knowledge is power. Fear (as Frank Herbert so beautifully observed), is the mind-killer.

Don’t be afraid.

Catering to illegal activities

 

I am so very pissed off right now. It appears everyone received a Medicinae Doctor in the mail, and mine never arrived.

Sure, I know the basic stuff, but the ability to diagnose without examination has been denied to me. I’m still maintaining my vaccinations and taking prescription medicine while the truly healthy folks are burning candles with the scent of Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina. Medicare doesn’t cover them.

Store shelves are vacant of supplies for washing hands. Good thing I developed the habit as a child, and always have soap and water on hand.

I had my routine checkup the other day and my doctor asked if I had any questions about the corona virus. My doctor, a man who knows everything about me, asked if I had any questions; I was a bit put off. “You know I only drink Belgian beers” I replied.

He had another patient, about my age, who chose never to have a flu shot. The patient was rather proud he never had contracted the flu. During his checkup he had a number of questions about the corona virus. The doctor had asked him “What if I told you there is a virus that came to America which has already killed twenty two thousand people, and I have a vaccine for it?” The patient was surprised, “You have a vaccine for corona virus? I thought that was years away.” The doctor said “No, corona virus has only killed twenty Americans, I have a vaccine for the deadly virus, also known as a flu shot.” The patient was not amused in any way, and refused the vaccination.

My girlfriend belongs to a “menopause discussion group,” in which women discuss their issues with the progression of menopause. People who describe symptoms which fit textbook profiles of a malady, are told to try peppermint oil rather than seeing a physician. One thing I remember from my neurologist when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis is that I should not automatically blame any problem on MS. I can still get cancer or tear a muscle.

When Emma had cancer, the well meaning M.D.s out there gave her a variety of alternative therapies to explore. As apposed to hospitals as she was, she embarked on a path of radiation and chemotherapy, followed by surgery, then more radiation and chemotherapy. To their credit, no one said “you should have consumed more asparagus juice” after she died, but one friend said “so she went through all that for nothing?” No, those therapies gave her an additional eight months, no one lives forever.

Recently Philadelphia has danced around the idea of “safe injection sites” for heroin addicts. It is amazing how much local residents understand about addiction. The first, and most common complaint is that by providing safe injection sites, the city is catering to illegal activities (the hardest criticism came from people who need opioids for their condition and are affected by DEA recommendations to reduce dosages; when I was looking into employment at DEA an M.D. was not required) . The missed point is that by using the word “addict,” we are not talking about recreational use. We are talking about people who fit the American Medical Association (AMA) definition of “diseased.” Heroin addiction is no different than Cancer, it is a disease.

Other arguments were about the center being near a school (find a place in Philly that isn’t). They did not seem to grasp that a safe injection site would result in fewer needles on the sidewalk, they would be used and destroyed at the site. As far as “catering” goes, it would very likely be the only exposure addicts would have to actual health professionals, folks who gained their knowledge through schooling as opposed to the grapevine. These professionals would be guiding the addicts towards treatment to end the addiction, and would notice signs of other diseases common to intravenous drug users. For some reason those against preferred dead junkies in the playground.

A theoretical rise in street crime was presented by these criminologists. In fact, the increased police presence around such a center would make the neighborhood safer. Drug dealers would be likely to stay a bit farther away. The natural surveillance of officers seeing who came and went would provide intel for apprehending criminals, with or without a formal surveillance program.

The center withdrew, to the neighborhood’s relief. There are no plans for another site, building in an area where addiction is rampant poses problems for the safety of staff and supplies. If only the folks in South Philly could recognize how rampant heroin abuse is in their own neighborhood already. The center would have prevented it from becoming more like the Kensington area.

I will be wearing gloves when I attend a rally in Harrisburg next month. I’m pretty sure that will be more effective than eucalyptus oil, but smearing myself with garlic would probably work. It’s natural acidity is a proven antibiotic, and folks stay a bit farther away.

Since even the president knows more than the medical profession, I can’t quite figure out why I pay, from my Social Security check, for Medicare. The incessant chant from the masses is “We know Better than Doctors, they’re trying to kill us.” Why are both my taxes and my bank account funding medical services? I have a hunch there might be something behind this “medicine” stuff, something they’re not telling us. They do go to special schools for this nonsense, it sounds like a conspiracy.

It is a conspiracy. Total strangers meet at a special schools, and take oaths in a foreign language, “Primum non nocere.” If people could just figure out what that means, they could stop suggesting fruit diets to those with cancer.

Binary society

 

I gave some thought to this title. I considered “Digital society,” but that does not really convey the meaning I’m looking for. We have moved to a digital society from an analog society in the sense that nuances are seldom considered, things either pass or fail the judgements that are placed on them; but the pass/fail barrier is reached through a binary process, components can only be a single digital response, one or zero. When I say binary I am not talking about the code, in which 1/2/3 is expressed as 1/10/11, I am speaking of the digital logic of yes or no.

If you are X then you are Y. Not a little X and not much Y, once X turns from zero to one, Y equals one.

If you are a Republican you are racist, greedy, selfish, uncaring (sometimes reduced to hateful), and hypocritical. Not one or a few of those, all of those. If you are a Democrat you are pro-choice, socialist (sometimes reduced to communist), bleeding heart, hedonist.

The point you might have missed in that paragraph is the very basis of the decision is rooted in the assumption there are only two choices. (Hidden shocker, THIS is why we will never have a viable “third party.”)

Humans, and Americans in particular, have difficulty considering alternatives; life becomes one all or nothing decision after another. As one of the most basic insights into the phenomena, consider the average number of limbs on a human.

You thought “four,” with the logic people are people, I’m average, I have four limbs. The actual number is 3.97. As your brain tries to consider the specifics about that 0.97 limb, you are distracted by the equations for the various combinations of limbs possible. That took a little more time than just stating “four,” efficiency is antithesis to creativity. That may sound ironic, as part of my tours for a winery, I would compare efficiency to “lazy,” the easiest way to accomplish one’s goals. When a life goal is taking a selfie, efficiency is lacking in merit.

The origin of my thoughts today was an exchange on social media between a reader and a journalist whose career mirrored newspapers. In the reader’s defenses to her blatant radical sexism, she stated “Women are an enormous majority, I don’t understand how anyone can be anti-woman.” Now let me list the order in which the errors in that statement affected me.

First, I know that percentage is close to fifty (the actual number is 50.8). Second, I realized if there were more than two possibilities, 50.8 percent could be interpreted as “enormous.” Third, I realized mentioning that there are more than two possibilities would derail the conversation, the subject would become sexuality. Fourth, is anyone actually “anti-woman”? This sequence took less than one second.

I’m pretty sure, even with every possible variation, 50.8 percent can not be judged as enormous. Transgender people and various genetic deformations may create dozens of possible demographics. Sure, there are far more “women” than “intersex” people, but the default position is there are two possibilities, a trans woman is a woman, a trans man is a man. This of course blossomed into sexual orientations, and all the infinite ways we restrict a spectrum to a binary issue.

I grew up monogamous. As far as I knew, the alternative was toxic, destructive to participant’s souls. In being a faithful husband, I was betrayed. For revenge I betrayed my next wife. Neither time did I feel clean, I felt degraded, objectified. My third wife was perfect, life was perfect, then she died and I knew perfection existed, and was not restricted; I could love again. Somewhere a group of women gathered under the old moon to take their turns building me up and then cutting me off at the knees. Then I met a woman who was polyamorous.

Two old straight folk on the streets of NYC


Polyamory was a third choice, not binary. It helped me in seeing how many choices there are out there. I had always been bisexual, and I met the most incredible bisexual polyamorous woman in the world. The fact that when we went out, we looked like a straight couple was not lost on us. We were both bisexual and understood things are not always as they appear. So now we live in very cozily in a relationship that appears to be “monogamous” and “straight”. That’s not three choices, that’s like twenty seven.

American society only supports two choices. Give them three and you will be denigrated, give them twenty seven and you can be excommunicated.

Deep inside I believe Homo Sapiens is in the process of evolution. In the same sense I can separate the Old Testament God and the New Testament Jesus, I can separate the Binary human from the Spectral Human. Often the trait is not acknowledged, it may not effect the involved individual in any way they notice. One easy way to see from the outside is to observe their beliefs. How many positions are black and white, and how many are grey? If you are a spectral, you will be able to see where on the spectrum they are, depending of course where on the spectrum you are.

I rejected much of this thinking in my youth, feeling comfort in black and white. I didn’t have to think, leaving my mind clear for other pursuits. The efficiency of the growth process later yielded to a comfort in multiple dimensions, up/down, left/right, forward/backward, color, volume, tone, and infinite measurements.

I am not suggesting that anyone try to change who they are. It does not work, as evidenced by hundreds of “conversion therapy” clinics. You can stretch your mind no further than it is capable, there may only be four lights, you see what you see.

 

There are certainly more than two


The question might be, “What color are they?”

 

Dow Jones is a unicorn

The Dow Jones average, which some people use as a measure of economic health, is a make believe number, It represents the value of a number of stocks if you sold them when the measurement was taken; by the time you read it, it has changed. Stock values are much like the prices of the paintings in my house, they are worth whatever someone will pay.

Is this 3’X4′ painting worth $40,000? The artist offered that just to get it off the market in 1982

In the big crash of 2002, everyone was talking about how much they lost (I actually gained 0.01). Those people retired ten years later and had not lost a thing. It had almost doubled its closing price of 2002, increasing over two thousand points. Over the last three sessions, it has dropped three thousand six hundred ninety two points, almost equal to the entire index in 2012. But the closing price is in the range of twenty five thousand now, large sweeps are actually small when looked at as a percentage.

The first Dow Jones average, of 26 May 1896, was 40.95. By 1929 it had gown to a high of 381 following several years of “bull” markets. With the Great Depression outside the window, someone had the foresight that the values were inflated and took a step back in October. Panic ensued as the market dropped 23% to 299 points. To match that drop today the market would have to fall over five thousand points in one day.

This fall is being blamed on COVID19, the corona virus. In response, the president formed a task force consisting of the Vice President, who thought the cure for AIDS was prayer and that smoking wasn’t dangerous, and the secretary of the treasury. Because the President of the United States knows what is important to the people. A healthy stock market. I would have chosen someone with a medical background to head the task force, but those voices have been muted, requiring clearance from the Vice President before making any statements which contradict the official line. But the Secretary of Commerce says the virus could bring jobs to America. There must be a shortage of undertakers. As the president does not believe the virus is a problem (In contrast to every other medical authority), he failed to provide the most important precaution; wash your hands.

Sorry for the detour, the point was that the stock market, and the Dow Jones Average, is a confidence game. When investors lose confidence, the market drops. A company that is growing can see its stock price fall if the CEO makes an unpopular remark, or because its name is similar to a virus. Corona Beer is down 4% this week.

The stock market remains a good investment, it always rises; except when it doesn’t. Long term investments are safe, unless that term ends during a crash. Short term investments, day trading for example, exists for the enrichment of those who can see those odd remarks and play with the effect they have. For the majority of us who don’t spend our lives reading the Financial Times, those little daily jumps up and down can seem disastrous.

I took a few days off and the average has bounced back. The money “lost” was by people who sold short, those who bought at the low point got some real steals. Those that just sat back and watched neither “won” or “lost,” they just stayed in the game.

In conclusion, the Dow Jones is meaningless, the average of make believe numbers. Don’t let it affect your blood pressure. Just wash your hands.

The Fairness of Life

Dr. Sergey Ryabichko, Helena Demkina and myself at Havana in New Hope



I haven’t written in about a week, my depression has been kicking in due to some triggers I have chosen to embrace. I started a few articles and may finish them, but something just hasn’t been right.

This morning, I woke up early to take Janice for an MRI. There was a message on my phone from a friend, who acts as a medium between me and my last girlfriend, Sam. I had only thought I was depressed.

My dear friends, Helena Demkina and her husband Dr. Sergey Ryabichko had been in an automobile accident. Helena had died from massive head injuries, Sergey was still in surgery.

The wedding Party, from left; Blake Cash, Samantha Carroll, Helena Denkino, Sergey Ryabichko, Yuri, and Amina



Right after my brain injury, Sergey and Helena had come to live with me. I had a large home and rented a room to them as Sergey completed his doctorate at Princeton University as a geneticist. They had arranged to rent the room while they were still in Russia, they arrived late in the evening straight from the airport. I had been renting out an extra room for a while, after the brain injury I needed to rent another room, which Sam and I prepared. I painted the walls with a disfigured arm; I know I did it, I have broken memories of it, I just can’t figure out how I did it without the use of my right arm.

They were a lovely young couple, after a few weeks they admitted they were not married. It was about that time I got Helena’s name right, with her accent I had thought it was “Eliana.” They were both slight of build, and very gentle in their ways. Sam and I fell in love with them, they were angelic, always smiling, their love for each other brightening the room. Part of my injury had been my loss of fluency in language, although I was still writing articles in English I don’t recall how I managed to complete them. Sam has told me I spent a week or so immediately following my accident speaking Flemish exclusively, now I struggle with all languages and am not entirely confident with English. I had asked my brain surgeon what I could expect to come back to me, and how to improve my chances. She told me to practice speaking with natives, and I had no idea how I would ever find natives with whom to practice. In that first year I had one tenant from Iran who spoke Farsi, two from France, Sergey and Helena, a Japanese and a Korean. I didn’t speak Japanese or Korean, but I wasn’t sure. It was a lovely time of remembering who I was.  

 

Gifts from Russia


Sam was familiar with a couple of Russian grocery stores in Philadelphia to which we brought Helena. She was excited from the moment we pulled into the parking lot and she saw the Cyrillic writing on the store. She would put her wrists together and clap her hands, laughing with joy. We came home with everything she was missing from home, and quite a few of mine and Sam’s favorites. They took a trip home at one point and returned with some incredible wheat vodka, or paint remover, it was hard to tell; it was one hundered and eighty proof I believe.

Sergey was working intense hours at the laboratory, often traveling when there was no public transportation; walking the mile and a half through the snow. The timing of his cultures was precise; he was immensely dedicated, making sure he was there for each process. Helena took an English course during the days, and would sleep on a schedule to match Sergey.

When the officiant finished, a nervous and wide eyed Helena said “Can we kiss now?”



In the Summer, they were married in my yard. Sam and I found an officiant and two of their Russian friends came for the ceremony. At the end of their lease they went home to Russia, then returned to Princeton a few months later to complete Sergey’s studies. They rented in another home, but still kept in touch and dropped by a couple of times. We would pick them up and take them to dinner and other events; one time we met one of Sam’s other boyfriends in New Hope, they made no judgements.

 

My original caption in 2016, “A glimpse of the sparkle that makes Helena so wonderful to live with”


Helena spoke about how Sergey had taught her to drive in Russia, but she wasn’t very interested in driving in the States. The last time I saw them they had purchased a car and had Driver’s licenses in New Jersey. Those thoughts swirl in my head now, wondering what happened. I have managed to survive about every type of wreck imaginable in my life, the thoughts of Helena’s last moments brings tears to my eyes. I don’t think I ever saw her express so much as discomfort, I can’t picture her in an accident. She had some severe stomach issues when she lived with us, the only way we knew was that Sergey told us, and we took her to the hospital, still smiling.

 

Our last meal together, celebrating Sergey’s doctorate and National Tequila day


The last I heard from them they had returned from another trip home to Russia, and even though we hadn’t spoken in almost a year they had a gift for me, a mink ushanka, from the Soviet era.





I invited them to join Janice and me at Havana in New Hope last summer; my friends had put together an Electric Light Orchestra tribute show; but at the last minute they called to say they couldn’t make it.

The first thing Janice said to me this morning, as she noticed I was reacting with sadness, was “Life isn’t fair.” Life is infinitely fair, fractally fair, as you break it down it is made of units of fairness. The ups and downs of life choose us all with equal fairness, sorry for going Biblical but Matthew 5:45 says it all. “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” I know these things, but when I say “It can happen to anybody” I never think that my friends and loved ones are “anybody,” I am “anybody.”

Helena in New Hope, “That’s the most gigantic salad I’ve ever seen!”



I have lost friends and loved ones before, for some reason I find myself crying as I write. I have only felt this way once before, as I wrote of Emma’s life.

A friend said to me “May her memory forever be a blessing,” those words have never felt so meaningful. I am forever blessed with her memory, the world isn’t quite as bright without her. I’ve been searching for information about Sergey’s condition, when I have it I will add it here.

I have news on Sergey, it’s been a week since the accident, and he’s conscious and lucid. He has not asked about Helena, and they’re waiting until he is a little more stable to tell him. I’m planning to visit him in the hospital next week. UPDATE Due to COV19, the hospital will be closed to visitors as of tomorrow (13/3/20) so I will not be able to see Sergey until the mass quarantine has been lifted.

Additional update. Sergey sent a message to me on 30 March. He sounded in good spirits, and was aware of Helena’s fate. He had good news, her organs saved seven lives. Now we have to get through quarantine.

Update 26 May 2020: Sergey is home, says he still has surgeries ahead but they are elective, which I take means cosmetic. He is COVID19 positive, but has no symptoms.

Age of majority

Social drinking is allowed

There are a variety of opinions about the age of majority. It is the age at which you are no longer a minor, and a part of the majority of the population. That is a relatively “ageist” concept, any age below fifty would qualify by that definition. The importance of the age of majority is that it is when you are considered an adult, so it seems a bit odd to some folks that we have at least two different ages of majority recognized in America.

At eighteen you can sign a contract, buy a rifle, vote, and enlist in the military. You can’t buy tobacco products, alcohol, or a handgun until you are twenty one. The age at which you can marry depends on the state you live in, and the age at which your brain is fully developed is generally recognized as twenty five; which is also the age to which you may remain on your parent’s health insurance. Perhaps you can see the disparities here.

Arguments continue over what age constitutes being a child, such as when it is appropriate to charge a person with a crime as an adult; i.e. an eleven year old who premeditates murder. Depending on one’s point of view, an eighteen year old can be a man if he is committing a crime, or a child if he is the victim.

Conflicts are natural. When I was younger the voting age was twenty one. The age to enlist in the military (as well as to register for the draft)  was eighteen. The argument to alter the voting age was “If they’re old enough to fight in war, they should be allowed to vote on the positions that send them to war.” It was a reasonable argument, so rather than raise the age to enlist to twenty one in the midst of the Vietnam war, the voting age was lowered to eighteen. The war ended, but people who are seven years away from brain maturity are still allowed to choose national leaders. I haven’t seen any improvement in the choices made.

Ruger LCP .380 MSRP $349.00

The other day, I heard a similar argument. The state of Kentucky is considering a bill that would allow eighteen year olds to purchase handguns. “If they’re old enough to go to war, why can’t they have handguns?” was the argument from many gun owners and veterans I spoke with. There is an incredible difference between an M16 and a .380 pistol, and as far as I can remember, there was zero handgun training when I was in the military. The people who complain when anti constitution people argue without knowing the subject were doing the same.

Ruger AR15, MSRP $799.00

 

The age to buy a handgun was raised in 1968, as part of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 with the stated purpose of eliminating “Saturday Night Specials;” cheap pistols one could pick up without any background check. Anti-constitution people routinely confuse the AR15, the most common hunting rifle in America, with the M16, a fully automatic weapon of war.

 

An actual M16, sale price $31,399 plus licensing fees, assuming they are allowed in your state

 

If the bill in Kentucky should pass, an eighteen year old who could pass a background check and come up with about $500 for the pistol, ammunition, and a little time on the range could have a handgun. Cheaper guns are available, I received a .380 free when I joined a private shooting range in the 80s. The argument that they could be “sent off to war” is blatantly false, the first argument is that there is no draft, the military is a volunteer service. In addition, joining the military is not at all common. Seventy one percent of young people are ineligible for service, recruiters are missing goals, and the percentage of young people in the military is far below what many people believe it to be. Sharing this information with rabid gun rights enthusiasts resulted in replies suggesting I am on drugs.

What we, as a society, need to recognize is that age alone is not an indicator of maturity. I have known intellectually and emotionally mature teenagers, as well as immature and reckless grandparents. Our measure of maturity should not be based on our lives, we matured long ago. The world today is different, and it changes every minute. That is what we are supposed to have learned through our years of exposure.

Whatever ability, or “right,” is restricted by age may have millions of different reasons for the restriction; ranging from logical to ridiculous. The most logical path to me has to do with brain maturity, an easily measured arbitrator. Of course it does not apply to some people, nothing applies to one hundred percent of the population. Making the age of majority twenty five would be very inconvenient for most of America, but it would certainly be the safest route. Any age restriction assumes the tacit agreement that the years of restriction include education about the subject restricted. And that is where we as a society fail.

“Hot Topics” are avoided, resulting in shouting matches rather than informed discussion. Religion and Politics are more confused today than they were in my childhood, largely because they don’t get discussed. Even people who feel they understand a topic can be horribly misinformed. I strongly support the Constitution, and routinely find myself in arguments with people who claim to be on my side of the issue. One example is the legislation in Kentucky, held within a pro gun group. I was the only person against the legislation out of nearly four hundred responses. It hurts to realize that I am dissonant in an echo chamber made up of people I thought were like me. It makes me feel like the people I defend are not worthy of my efforts, they really are “gun nuts.”

The age of majority should be synonymous with the age of reason, but there is no way such a concept could be legislated. The majority is unreasonable.

 

 

Standards

 

Dutch political poster. “Believe no poster. Inform Yourself”

 

 

I have been presented with a number of issues relating to the welfare of others. Universally I can see how American citizens are better off than most other populations. We have one right, secured from our government in its first documents. We have the right to complain.

Free speech does not imply educated speech, which in many ways is the point of our first amendment to the constitution. There are no standards, anyone can speak. It is our individual responsibility to discern truth from opinion. It remains our responsibility to determine the value of various opinions. For the most part, humans lean towards the definition of the borderline personality (severe leanings result in the label of “Borderline Personality Disorder”); thinking in a “digital” manner, black or white, good or bad, etc. Another faction of people understand that there is a grey area, yet that often leads them to believe that only three positions exist, black, white, and grey.

In my days as a photographer, I preferred studies of grey. Colors are often disputed, what I call purple you may call pink, yet the color of the object doesn’t change. The cones in your eye may produce a different sensation than mine, but the actual color remains the same regardless of the name we give to it. It does not have to be a matter of perception, we may have learned the names of colors from different teachers. Grey is not quite as easy. Grey is standardized, named by its reflection of light. Eighteen percent grey is referred to as “medium grey,” it is a photographic standard. It may be the shade that comes to mind when you hear the word “grey,” or anything that is neither black nor white.

A grey scale, drawn with pencils by my friend Vince Natale

 

Colors, including grey, give us visual standards. Words are radically different. Combinations of words are far more complex than combining colors, yet the same style of logic, “Black or White,” is applied. Good or Bad, Right or Wrong, Love or Hate, are all things we recognize as opposites, but should also recognize as spectra. Adding to the confusion is the popularity of creating new words, or new definitions of old words, the exact same script can mean different things to different people. The fact that a sense of humor is subjective causes even more confusion.

What is a joke? Is it funny (and again to whom?), is it satire (with what intention?), is it merely camouflage for hatred? Far too many times I have heard what I interpreted as an attack excused as “I was only joking.” I just can not find demeaning other human beings as anything resembling a joke. For my black and white contribution, forgiving hatred as a joke is merely expressing the same hatred yourself.

Our world is not black or white. There is good within bad things and bad within good. Much of the interpretation revolves around who is benefiting, and who is being persecuted. The love of my life was connected to the Mafia. She did not see the Mafia as “good guys,” but she did see them as acceptable. She began to see the level of conflict when one of our dear friends, a Lebanese woman who filled a maternal role in our lives, suggested that Hezbollah was a good organization, “just like the Mafia, helping out poor people.” Emma could see the parallels being drawn, she heard her own excuses for “her people” being used by our friend for her people. Emma was a very black or white thinker, she cut most of her ties to the Mafia. When the issue came up at family gatherings she would not participate.

In my experiences in the LGBTQ world, I am a Bisexual. the word “bisexual” gives the immediate impression of the root “bi,” or “two.” These days, such a definition is seen as restrictive, offensive to those not covered by the historic definitions of sex. These people (Pansexuals) believe that because they do not feel restricted to only two sexes, people who are bisexual are separate, lesser for their restrictions. Before I go any further, let me explain how wrong the belief is. The history of the LGBTQ population did not start in 1979, but that is when it became more acceptable to speak about it. By 1990, the presence of those of us who are not strictly attracted to one sex was recognized. The world is not populated by people who are heterosexual and homosexual, the spectrum includes many variations. Some homosexuals are only attracted to members of their own sex, some are not. The term “bisexual” was adopted by these outsiders and expressed in The Bisexual Manifesto. Within that document, is the conclusion “Nothing should be assumed about anyone’s sexuality.” The Pansexuals have made assumptions. Also within that document of thirty years ago is “Bisexuality is a whole, fluid identity. . . don’t assume that there are only two genders.” Personally, I prefer the label “Queer;” everyone can understand that word means “different.” To me, the issue of bisexuality v pansexuality is an extension of every other prejudice; assuming another group is inferior. There is no difference between these two groups, other than the egos involved.

When we look at immigrants, almost everyone imposes their own prejudices. Mine is fairly simple and straightforward, derived largely from my own sponsorship of an alien. She didn’t like the word “alien,” saying it wasn’t used in other countries. She had learned English in England, where “buitenaards” was translated to her as “Foreigner.” Other dictionaries translate it to the word “alien.” She was a white person from Northern Europe, her naturalization did not take long.  At her swearing in ceremony there were new Americans from all over the globe, one had been in America for thirty years; that does not mean she had waited thirty years to get through immigration. I had a German roommate at one time who had been in America for thirty years and had no desire to become an American.

I see a legal path to citizenship, and people not willing to undergo the process. Failing to follow the legal path is illegal, therefore those people are illegal immigrants. There are many sad stories told about illegal immigrants, some of them are true. Many of the people attempting to immigrate are well educated, the majority is not. Facing the hurdle of the Department of Homeland Security (which now handles Immigration) can be difficult for someone who cannot write in their own language. There are thousands of reasons people choose to illegally immigrate, but it is still a choice, a decision. So I do not have immediate sympathy for people unwilling to follow the legal path. Does that make me “bad,” or “heartless”? I am somewhere on the spectrum, and probably the worst judge of my self.

As we progress through this election cycle, you will hear many judgements. Consider that an exceptionally small percentage of the people making these judgements are qualified in any way to do so. Is the person saying that Biden is senile a doctor? Is the person saying that Sanders is crazy a psychiatrist? The list is endless. As the Dutch political poster above says, believe no poster, inform yourself. Use your standards, not someone else’s description of their standards. Their grey may be your purple.

 

 

 

Proper sentencing

Justice delayed is justice denied, but what exactly is justice?

Our judgemental society demands justice on a regular basis, largely because most people do not feel that justice has occurred. In addition, they do not truly wish for justice, they want revenge. It helps to understand the meaning of the word “Justice.”

Our old friend Merriam Webster defines justice as “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.” Simply put, justice is a process, not a result. People crying for justice most often want punishment, and most of the time they want a punishment which they define as “just.”

Donald Trump received justice in the form of an impeachment. He was found not guilty by a jury of his friends, which may not appear “just.” Had he been found guilty, there are many punishments which do not include being removed from office, and require that the defendant possess a conscience, one that includes the quality of shame. In truth, had he been found guilty and not removed from office, how many would feel that “justice had been served”? How many would be satisfied if he was censured?

Punishment largely depends on the person being punished. My partner tells the story of the worst punishment she ever delivered to her five year old daughter. She made her place her life size Barbie in the “time out” corner. Her daughter was horrified and behaved well for the following ten years. At one point I was incarcerated, and faced what could have been a substantial portion of my life behind bars. Perhaps because I am an optimist, I was not horrified by the prospect. I intended to write in my solitude, perhaps drawing inspirations from my fellow inmates. A suicidal person may not be deterred by a death sentence. At what point is the punishment of a life sentence recognized by the prisoner? On the first or last moment?

Life in prison is largely thought to be the most severe punishment. People tend to look at prison as an awful environment, a daily punishment. Many prisoners do not share that view. In my short time behind bars I saw the new prisoners arrive every day, and it was more like a reunion. Recidivism was the norm, everyone knew each other. This was not always a good thing, my cellmate recognized someone who had threatened him with violence previously.

Length of sentence is a factor, not because of the days inside, but because of the world outside. The common prisoner is not well educated or skilled, on release they may not be able to qualify for employment in a world that passed them by. They may not be able to function with the level of technology we take for granted. They may have lost loved ones, who continued their lives and became involved in other relationships; or children who aged, denying the prisoner their childhood. In determining length of sentence, much more should be considered than just the crime. A twenty year old sentenced to thirty years has had their life removed. A seventy year old sentenced to ten years may have well been sentenced to life. A life sentence does not necessarily mean death in prison.

The proper sentence for someone who has caused a death is often believed to be the death penalty. This is more “eye for an eye” than practical punishment. Those against the death sentence suggest life imprisonment, with the belief the prisoner will feel the guilt of their offense for the remainder of their life. If they feel no guilt they at least have the punishment of being removed from society. Today, a death sentence is unlikely to result in death, and the life sentence leaves many believing they will be released, either because of societal changes or appeals.

We form punishments based on what we fear, not what the criminal fears.

Harvey Weinstein was just found guilty in two of the five crimes he was accused of. He has lived under accusal for over two years, once charged he was allowed freedom with restrictions such as an ankle monitor. During this time, he has been removed from his company and watched it face bankruptcy. He has been unable to work, and with any luck unable to sexually violate other women. He wasn’t the picture of health to begin with, although I believe his apparent “disabilities” were falsified in the interest of leniency by the court. The man who once said “You’ll never work in this town again” will more than likely never work in that town again.

What would be a just punishment? Regardless of the comfort of his prison, it will never come close to his mansions. He will eternally carry the label of “Rapist,” although that has not slowed Roman Polanski much. With minimum sentences he will be in his mid seventies when he is released, assuming his health does not fail. His life, from what we see as his point of view, is destroyed, but is that enough? What if he’s an optimist?

Friedrich Nietzsche warned of the inherent dangers of prosecution, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” The truth within this is most often denied, which he also spoke of, “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.”

Finding the proper punishment requires understanding the monster who is being punished. We consider these people noble because they have not become monsters themselves. Yet when they do not mete out the punishment we desire, we consider them monsters.

We all peer into the abyss, the result is most often known only by ourselves.

The value of Intel

Julius Caesar and his advisors

 

While many people lacked surprise at President Trump’s removal of Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Joseph Mcguire, I was appalled. Shooting the messenger can be a bad move, poking your eyes out is worse.

The DNI coordinates the various agencies in the committee, creating National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) that are as insightful as possible. The position was created in the aftermath of 9/11, when the president was overwhelmed by competitive and sometimes conflicting intel. Don’t be surprised, each agency has its own value to prove, sharing intel between agencies has always been dicey. I’m going to use the names you are familiar with rather than the nicknames they have. The FBI is charged with a counterintelligence mission, thwarting foreign intel. The FBI is only authorized to operate within the United States. The CIA is charged with intelligence gathering, their theatre is strictly outside the United States. The intel of one is crucial to the other, yet they are in competition with each other to produce results.

There are seventeen major agencies that you may be aware of, and over twelve hundred that you are probably not aware of, each chasing their own prescribed threats according to their specialties. There is very little respect among them, each believing they are the best, sometimes thwarting other agencies to remain so. You are no doubt aware of situations in your own experience in which one law enforcement agency refused access to another, it works the same in the intel community.

By removing the DNI, Trump has created an environment of fear within the community. “Don’t tell the boss bad news or he’ll fire you” can be deadly. Prior to the Cuban Missile crises, the Kennedy administration belittled Nikita Kruschev, and publicly stated that he would never bring nuclear missiles to Cuba. At the time, intel was presented to the President by the United States Intelligence Board, which provided an estimate that the Soviets were unlikely to base nuclear missiles in Cuba. The current consensus is that the Board knew that the Kennedy Administration would discount any other conclusion because it had already publicly dismissed it. Intelligence officials and White House advisers knew that bringing forward an estimate contrary to the Administration’s position could damage their careers or weaken their influence in future debates. Sound familiar?

It took the death of U-2 pilot Rudolf Anderson Jr., and the subsequent words of Airman 1st Class Michael Davis; “Major, take a look at this, I think you’d better call the colonel” when he saw cigar shaped tubes in the photographs, to provide the fortitude required to brief President Kennedy with the truth. (Full disclosure, Airman Davis was a member of my wing, the 544th SIW; I’m still rather proud).

Trump has denigrated the intel community before, but removing the DNI because he didn’t like the NIE is reminiscent of Caesar ignoring the call to beware of the Ides of March. We can only hope the results are personal to Trump rather than the downfall of our nation.

The president has created the visage of a ruthless tyrant. That may have served him well in the corporate jungle, but as a world leader he looks more like Kim Jong-un. Fear of reprisal destroys the community, and there is every reason to believe he will be lovingly sabotaged. Without intel there is no insight.

Every president has had intel blunders, even after 9/11 Obama ignored NIEs about Russian cyber threats, setting up Secretary of State Clinton’s cyber naivete. But dismissing the DNI and replacing him with a civilian with zero experience is insane.

Your impression of spooks may be formed by James Bond or Jason Bourne. My experience is radically different. The point is to not stand out in a crowd, just accomplish your mission in silence. In that silence we are often forgotten, which was the purpose from the beginning. In doing so, we have no glory, only medals locked in a box somewhere. The public probably shouldn’t even know who is the DNI, our service is clearly labeled clandestine. Michael Davis wasn’t recognized for over fifty years.

You should seriously question a president who publicly denigrates the community.

 

Resistance

 

On 18 February, a young Lutheran woman (Sophie, 21) and her brother (Hans, 24) were distributing pamphlets at the university they attended. It was night, so they were just leaving stacks of pamphlets in the hallway. Although Sophie had initially been a party enthusiast, restrictions on her freedom, such as being forced to teach kindergarten in order to be admitted to the university so she could study biology, caused her to speak against the party and the socialist government it had formed. A janitor saw them and called the police, who came and arrested them.

Like any activists, they had wanted their group to appear large and spoke of their movement as popular. Two others from their group had also been arrested. They were seen as enemies of the state and were questioned for four days, culminating with their trial, for which a special judge had been sent from the capital. They were found guilty of treason. They bravely faced their fate, Sophie saying “Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?” After their trial, they were allowed to see their parents. Sophie smiled stoically, not showing any fear. Their mother offered Sophie some candy, which she accepted saying “Gladly, after all, I haven’t had any lunch!” Magdalena Scholl, told Sophie to “Remember Jesus” as she left.

Later that day, they accepted their sentences. Death by guillotine. Seventy seven years ago today.

The party which they had been protesting was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, also referred to by it’s acronym, NAZI . The woman was Sophie Scholl. Their resistance group was called “The White Rose.” Over the following year several other members of their group met the same fate, for the crime of nonviolent resistance, writing and distributing pamphlets.

Today, I and millions of others wear a white rose (that’s mine above), as a remembrance Of Sophie and nonviolent resistance.  We resist different things, but we do so without violence. In my lifetime, I have been in several resistance movements, starting with the civil rights movement of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said “We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade with our words, but if our words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts.” Dr. King was assassinated fifty two years ago. While violence has been used in pursuit of my various goals, it has been a last resort. As one of my colleagues said in the eighties, the conversation is over when you start shooting.

Champions of peace and nonviolence rarely die in their sleep. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was with his grandnieces in the garden when he was assassinated at age 78. He had been accepting of Muslims and was blamed for their violence.  John Winston Ono Lennon was assassinated as he returned home by a madman who wanted to be famous.  Bantu Stephen Biko was assassinated by South African police by way of twenty eight days of beatings.

Nonviolence is routinely met with violence, a sad irony. Most people picture “resistance” as the French resistance of World War Two, romanticized by Earnest Hemingway in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Little is said about places like the village of Chambon-sur-Lignon, which successful disguised the presence of five thousand refugees.

Hermine “Miep” Gies, the Dutch woman who helped hide a fifteen year old Anne Frank until betrayed by a neighbor, is not often recalled as a member of the resistance. Nonviolent resistance is quiet, acts of violence grab the headlines. The millions of LGBTQ+ people who have led successful lives under the radar are seldom thought of as a resistance members, because they resist the accepted norms of society by merely existing; when they are discovered they routinely pay with their lives, or at very least their social standing and vocation.

Most everyone has heard of “Pride” without recognizing its origin. The LGBTQ+ Pride movement originated in New York City, springing from the ashes of days of riots. Today millions gather for Pride events, proud they can be who they are without being victimized, seldom recognizing the brutality of the straight factions their forebears encountered. Today calling a trans woman “just a man in a dress” is seen as bigotry, when in my youth it would have been seen as victorious recognition, the alternative being death by beating.

Sophie Scholl was not the first person to resist tyranny, nor the last flame of an old idea. People have been resisting since Abel displayed his faith before his brother, who killed him with a rock. People continue to resist tyranny today all over the world. Resisting the President of the United States by revealing illegal behavior was met by an insistence to know the resister’s identity. No one thinks the President was going to shake his hand; that tyrant consistently destroys anyone who opposes him, calling for violence from his supporters or worse from foriegn governments.

Resist, even if it is only by your life continuing under oppression.

 

S

The system of party politics

 

In America, we call our design of a democratic republic a two party system. This is to differentiate ourselves from the former Soviet republic, which operated what they called democracy with a one party system. With only one candidate in an election, the choice available gave the impression of choosing a leader. At least that is what Big Brother told us to think. We still think we have two choices, so I suppose well placed propaganda is working.

Other countries, such as Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Taiwan, Philippines, and South Korea, operate with a multi party system. In these countries no single party wins a majority of votes, so no single party is in power. Parties build coalitions in order to legislate. People learn to work together.

In America we do have “Third Parties,” candidates who do not agree with either of the two parties. “Third” is a misnomer, in 2016 there were sixteen “third” parties; a better word is “alternative” candidates, because they present an alternative, whichever sub-group they represent. Our two parties have changed over the years, changing both names and philosophies. Republicans in 2020 would not recognize Republicans of 1860. I can’t tell the difference between Republicans and Democrats today.

The benefits of multiple parties include better representation. Look at the Democratic Party in 2020, split into factions of “Social Democrats,” Progressives,” “Traditional (without understanding the tradition of forming the KKK) Democrats,” and other fringe groups who still feel the need to vote for Democrats. All those people, at their various points along the spectrum, have a single “choice” at the polls. The majority of them will not vote for the candidate they want, instead they will vote “against” the Republican candidate. This fits the definition of “divisive” quite well. If they were multiple parties, each party would have the “strength” of their constituents; the percentage of votes, and elected positions, would reflect the actual positions of the populace. Coalitions formed between the various parties would better represent all the people.

Our two party system has devolved into the one party system we fear. Donald Trump was a lifelong Democrat, until he saw the opportunity of running as a Republican. Michael Bloomberg has been a lifelong Republican, until he saw the opportunity to run as a Democrat. Both parties include people who use the party to get elected without supporting that party’s ideals; “Rinos” and Dinos” are Republicans in name only or Democrats in name only. The one thing almost all Americans can agree on is that all politicians lie. Yet they cling to the “two party” system.

Alternative parties rarely get meaningful votes, in 2016 they received about 5.7% of the total, enough to “spoil” close local races. Because the overwhelming number of voters believe no third party candidate can win; combined with the instinct to “pick the winner” rather than vote their beliefs, people who might have voted for a third party chose a member of the two parties, no matter how repulsive that candidate was. Large numbers of Americans of both parties stated they “Held their nose and pulled the lever” for the candidate of their traditional party, because neither candidate represented their traditional party. The contest was won by the person who the majority hated the least. Looking at our process from arms length, has it ever appeared odd that in a country of over three hundred twenty seven million people, there are only two qualified to be president?

What it takes to end this is for voters to act as if they believe in the democratic process. In 1992 Ross Perot captured 18.91% of the popular vote, not enough in any single state to win, but he did come in second in two states. If the Electoral college had operated on percentage of votes in the state rather than winner take all, he would have had a few electoral votes. We, as Americans, need to vote for candidates who represent our desires instead of voting for the candidate who we hate the least. If twenty percent of Americans voted for the fictitious party “Healthcare for all,” twenty percent of the government would be pressing legislation for healthcare for all. The coalition of “Healthcare for all,” “Free college for all,” “monetarily disadvantaged,” and “Mandatory Vaccinations” might represent a majority, and the desired Healthcare for all could make its way through a congress split into sixteen separate parties.

Our election this year once again provides a perfect opportunity. In a projected Trump/Bloomberg contest both Republicans and Democrats will be in the difficult position of actually having to think about which candidate they dislike the most. I implore you to consider the third party candidates, of which there are presently eleven. One commentator recently said a smaller shit sandwich is still a shit sandwich. If a reasonable number of Americans decide they don’t want to express support for any shit sandwich, the possibility of multiple parties will be recognized. Our electoral process will be on the way to actually representing the people of America.

Just as in 2016, I am fairly certain that I don’t want either the Republican or Democrat candidate as my president. Since I will be unhappy either way, I will be voting for an “alternate.” Which alternate I choose will be decided in October, when I have had time to research them in more depth. You can be certain I won’t be voting for Vermin Supreme, he sounds too much like the major party candidates at first glance.

It’s Sunday, why not try a sermon?

I have never been one to hide my beliefs (well, when traveling abroad I have been known to refer to myself as Canadian). I was raised as a Christian, Southern Baptist, and my pastor when I was very young preached that we should examine something before pledging our lives to it. So I did. I left the church, but I did not leave God.

I read the Bible, cover to cover, and did not see any of the people I saw at church. I understood who Jesus was, and what he was trying to teach, and saw few of his messages reflected in the teachings of “Christian” religions, and when they were, it was merely lip service. I could see them in other religions, and examined those more deeply. In the end, sometime in my twenties, I decided to follow Jesus’s teachings, calling myself a “Zen Baptist.”

Of all religions, I tend to be more critical of “Christians;” they have the instruction book and don’t follow it. This morning, I had to correct a member of my Belgian Beer Enthusiasts group for berating a Buddhist. The other member had posted a picture of his wife, a Buddhist, and the Christian went on about how she was going to have trouble getting into heaven. Determining the fate of someone’s soul is not the duty of a Christian, that job is specifically held by God. Rather than get into a prolonged discussion, I just reminded him that it was a Beer group, he could share his religious views elsewhere.

I have often said “If you can read a Stephen King novel, you can read the New Testament.” There really is no excuse not to read the teachings of a group with whom you aspire to spend eternity. Yet the majority of Christians have only opened the book to read a verse along with the congregation on Sunday. They have no sense of context. Many will repeat the phrase “Judge not” with their own interpretation of what it means. For one thing, it is only the first two words of a sentence. The full verse, recorded in the book of Matthew as the first three verses of the seventh chapter are “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” The message is you will be judged by the standards to which you hold others.

These are the reasons a good friend of mine rejected Christianity. He would say “There are too many contradictions.” What he meant was the practice often contradicts the lessons. I have heard Priests admonishing their parishioners to carry the love of the service outside the doors of the church, questioning how they could commune with each other in church and then curse each other in the parking lot. Christians often do not follow in Christ’s footsteps. Maybe if the Priest championed reading the Bible rather than the snippets included in the mass they would have a better feel for what Jesus had been saying; but of course that might allow them to read the ninth verse of the twenty third chapter of Matthew,”And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.

I am also an American, and hold the Constitution as an instruction manual on how to operate the country. The first amendment has taken quite a beating lately. It reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This is where the idea of separation of church and state comes from.

Our current president does not appear to have read the constitution, or just feels as if he is not bound by it. My own thoughts lean towards the latter. The organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) is a watchdog group which focuses on the First Amendment, protecting the populace from government intrusion in religious matters; they have been very busy lately. When I suggested this group to my father, who tends to feel Christianity is under attack, he flatly refused. My father is a good man, but he can not quite get the idea that the same rule which prevents government funding of proselytizing the Christian faith also prevents government funding of proselytizing Islam; it is in fact the very core of the First Amendment. Fairness is not appreciated by someone who feels they are under attack, even when they represent over seventy percent of the populace.

I don’t expect anyone to believe as I do. I have little way of knowing, because I make no attempt to drag others into my beliefs. I met one the other day, he happens to be a doorman at my building. He usually carries a bible, and is very quiet. I asked what religion he followed, and in his quiet way he said “I don’t, I follow the teachings of Jesus.” It felt nice knowing I am not alone. I am exceptionally tired of all Christians being portrayed as the one third of us who are evangelical as they most certainly do not believe as I do, nor do they follow Jesus’s words. In Matthew’s tenth chapter, Jesus says in the fourteenth verse “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” Simply put, if someone doesn’t want to hear you, shut up and walk away.

What troubles me most is the vast number of Christians who propagate ideas which have no basis in the words of Jesus. I repeatedly hear I should not judge all Muslims by the actions of Daesh, but most folks judge all Christians by the actions of Evangelicals. It can be difficult, I tend to judge all Atheists by the actions of their leaders, but some of them are nice people.

 

 

 

Conflicting interests

I am pro-life, and also pro-choice. You may ask “How can you reconcile those two positions?” Let me tell you.

I don’t like abortion, yet I recognize its necessity. When looking at Roe v Wade, the court stated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides a fundamental “right to privacy” that protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose whether or not to have an abortion. This right is not absolute, and must be balanced against the government’s interests in protecting women’s health and protecting prenatal life.

As a bisexual male, the argument “You can’t legislate morality” has been my response to morality laws all of my life, because it is true. Abortions did not begin in 1974, they became legal. They became licensed and regulated. They became safe. Banning abortion only causes women to seek out illegal abortions, which more than likely will be second or third trimester abortions, endangering both mother and child.

Yes, I said child. I, along with the majority of scientists, believe that life begins at conception. Abortion is taking a human life. If one lacks the maturity to recognize that fact, one is clearly not mature enough to raise a child; it could be said such a person lacks the maturity to create a life. Yet children are created by the immature on a daily basis.

“How can you justify the taking of life?” In the same way I can justify killing enemy combatants on the battlefield. It is intellectually dishonest to think that good people do not sometimes do things which are not totally good. The health and welfare of the growing child must be weighed against its right to life. A woman unprepared for the responsibility of raising children is a poor choice as a parent. The child is worse off, and the mother is as well. If children could be taken and placed in loving families, taxpayers would be paying for the child rather than both of them. Life in the police state which would make that possible has few admirers.

I do not use the phrase “Pro-abortion” because I am not. There are many abuses of abortion. I knew a woman when I was younger who had three abortions in the space of one year. In my opinion, she should have been sterilized. She used no prophylactics, knowing she could always get an abortion. There are certainly many more abortions taking place than would be desirable, most “pro-choice” folks would agree. In addition to the inability to legislate morality, there is no way to legislate common sense either.

I remember a walk to the pharmacy on a cold winter day when my condom had broken to get the morning after pill. Not everyone wants to have a child at fifty. There are circumstances in which every precaution has been taken, and they failed. My youngest son was conceived through an IUD. An estimated forty percent of pregnancies are unplanned, which is not to say they are unwanted; none of my children were planned.

The impact of a child on an unprepared woman can be devastating. An already poor mother is not enriched by another mouth to feed. A homeless woman does not have better chances of finding a home with a child. A damaged relationship is not improved by a child. The revelation of a sexual assault can tear a family apart. We can require sex education for every child, just like we require education in history. How many days was William Harrison President? Education does not imply the information is absorbed.

Roe v Wade allowed for restrictions, so take a minute and think about how they affect a pregnant woman. Unless a woman has a menstrual period determined by a Swiss clock, she may not be aware she is pregnant for well over a month. If it is her first pregnancy, or if she is in denial that she could be pregnant, it could be eight to twelve weeks before it becomes obvious. There goes the first trimester.

If the woman lives in Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota or West Virginia, there is only  one abortion clinic in the state, and Missouri is doing its best to make that number zero. It is highly unlikely that clinic will be nearby, adding more considerations. Does she have transportation? Can she disappear for the time required?

“What about late term abortions?” What about them? Late is a bit vague, but 1.2% of all abortions were performed after twenty one weeks, 91% were in the first trimester, 27.9% were non-surgical (drug induced) and there are no figures for the morning after pill. The horror stories about late term abortions (the only ones in which the fetus is recognizable as human) are a very small number of abortions, and they are already only performed when the life of the mother is in danger; not because of any law, but because of medical ethics.

On the other side of the coin, “pro-abortion” people do exist. Often these people have never made the choice themselves, and are using abortion as a political football. While many women are able to have meaningful lives and contribute to society because they were able to abort a child which would have destroyed their lives, very few celebrate their abortions. Those who do get a lot of press because they are unusual.

“Why not just adopt out the child?” If you think ending a life is a difficult decision, how easy do you suppose it is to let go of a child once it has been in your arms? I know a woman who gave her child up for adoption. Despite promises to the contrary, she was not given any information about her child’s placement. After many years she found him, he had been raised in horrible conditions and had been in trouble with the law. He did not want to hear from her, blaming her decision to try to give him a better life as a decision to curse his life.

How can I be pro-life and pro-choice? Because I believe life should be a choice.

 

 

Something Positive

I realize that along with my increased writing output, I have been hitting a number of “negative” articles. Today is a return to the more positive events I have experienced recently.

 

Janice and Blake at a Japanese festival

 

About this time last year, I met Janice. Our relationship was supposed to reflect our polyamorous lives; I had a primary partner and she had other partners. We both intended for her to be “just a girlfriend,” a secondary partner. It didn’t work out that way.

Janice sensed from the beginning that I was different, our first date was not in a hotel room, we went to dinner at a nice Barbecue place in Trenton. She said she wanted us to progress slowly because she thought I was “special.” We had met online, she had an OKCupid account which I came across. Her profile was quirky, in the field titled “You should message me if. . .” she went through a couple of turns, concluding with “I’m the only bisexual Atheist in <town name> New Jersey, just Google me and find me on Facebook.” I found the challenge fascinating.

I found her and we started talking, I had wanted to take her out on Valentines day, but she had another date. We were able to schedule a date when she would be dropping her daughter off at the train station, so we met there in Trenton on 28 February. I really liked her, a number of uninteresting dates with women over the last few months gave me a baseline with which to measure interesting dates. This was clearly interesting.

Our next meeting also fit our polyamorous lifestyles. My previous primary (Sam) had expressed an interest in swinging, so we went on a triple date, Sam and I, Janice and her date, and another polyamorous couple, at Berlin News Agency (BNA) in New Jersey. BNA is not “wholesome” in any way, my description would include the word “sleazy.” In the brief moments before she stomped out, Sam could see the connection between Janice and I. It had been a tortuously slow evening, Janice later said that once Sam left things started happening. Not my first experience where that was true.

Sam stomped out of our three year relationship over the next few weeks, I purchased her portion of our condo from her, and Janice started spending more time at my place. We lived about an hour away from each other, and we quickly were living together, we just didn’t have a permanent address; we would be either at her place or mine, but we were always together.

With an art installation we purchased for my place

2019 was probably the most wonderful year of my life. Janice and I went on fascinating adventures. We went back to BNA a few of times and attended a couple of swinger parties; Janice was a star and was developing a following so we cooled away from those events. We went to concerts and cultural events, bought art for the condo, and attended a Phillies baseball game.  We went to a nudist camp in the Poconos, a drag show in Delaware, and the Pride parade in New York City. We met each other’s friends, which usually worked out well.

Usually. As with any dynamic couple, we are not clones of each other, we have differences. I prefer a quiet life out of the spotlight, Janice has been more involved in activism. She was the PR coordinator for a web based Atheist group, a leader in a first amendment group, and active in Bisexual awareness groups to name a few. Our diverse friends did not always mix well, and created more than one argument between us. Janice is lovely, with a smile that lights the room; I don’t care for the light, and have often done my best in the shadows. Janice has a harder time distancing herself from people she no longer has anything in common with, because she sees most people a unique human beings, which is the common thread regardless of differing, and sometimes opposing, views. My family has been less graceful, unaccepting of Bisexuality, Atheists, and in most cases Democrats.

We have shown each other facets of our beliefs outside of stereotypes. I am not the typical conservative old white guy, she is not the typical left wing activist.

NYC Pride parade, one of the pictures that horrified my father

In October, her place in New Jersey became uninhabitable (long story), so she moved to my place full time. Her mother in law from her first marriage (Connie) lived with her, and I invited her to come along and take the extra bedroom. Janice’s children and I have always gotten along, we’ve taken them to concerts with us. I have had a few relationships with women who had children, this is the first time that aspect has gone well.

Early in our relationship, and much to my annoyance, Janice referred to me as “an older gentleman” to her friends. She is ten years younger than I, I’m just put off by the phrase “older gentleman.” It turns out she finds the term “Social Justice Warrior” offensive, so I would call her one in order to show that not quite accurate descriptions can be annoying.

Janice is disabled, far more than I am. A week ago she was unable to walk, so I took her places in a wheelchair. Her disabilities spring from a childhood of multiple abusers, and a motorcycle wreck in the 90s, I only have Multiple Sclerosis and a Brian Injury. Connie is in her 70s and a stroke survivor. We all care for each other depending on who is the healthiest at the moment.

Not every step has been roses, and I am thankful I have been through enough to not expect them to be. It is ever so heart warming to be with somebody whose heart needs mine as much as mine needs hers. We still fancy ourselves as polyamorists, but monogamy is working out well.

 

At The Woods, an LGBTQ+ nudist camp

 

She was the first to say she wanted to spend the rest of her life with me. Nothing has been more comforting; I want to spend the rest of my life with her.

May you have a Happy Valentines day as well.

That time of year

There are certain cycles that make you feel good, the Seasons each have their joy, either by arriving on ending.

I see other cycles, just as certain. The election of the President of the United States presents its own set of internal cycles, this year one has been a bit early. My friends, the people I trust, have left civility behind as they become partisan gargoyles. People whom I have chosen to call friends, the hundred or so that have remained admirable for years, sometimes decades, have left, some never to return. This brings me no joy. Rather than watch, I distance myself from the hatred.

Last time was particularly ugly, and there are no indications this time will be any better. I was ever so close to leaving it behind last time, prepared to the last detail to emigrate, and the opportunity was snatched away at the last second. I don’t have any reason to expect a similar opportunity to present itself, so I’m stuck here for the entire show, like Alex in “A Clockwork Orange.”

 

At least for Alex it was only a movie

 

I know it is only a seasonal madness, or at least I hope it remains so. Each cycle builds on the last, at some point it has to destroy the very union it was designed to support.

A decent, intelligent man thought it was funny to share the identity of the purported “whistle blower” in the Trump impeachment fiasco. A kind and thoughtful woman graphically compared Trump’s acquittal to the rape of justice. I know these people to be good human beings, but these are not the actions of good human beings. Protecting the identity of witnesses protects everyone. When that trust is denied, how many potential witnesses look the other way, perhaps witnesses who would have protected you, or revealed an improper act in which you would (now will) be the victim? When you equate a partisan play with rape, what do you think actual rape victims have suffered? Well, on second thought, actual rape victims watch the system betray them, with trials based on popularity rather than reality, so maybe there are some similarities; I just really did not need to see that image.

This is too much like the annual surprise when frozen precipitation falls from the sky; people believe it has never happened before and are therefore excused from knowing how to deal with it. Four years is a long time for a person to remember anything when they can’t remember how to drive if there is snow on the road. I forget my friends are human, and react to competition in the way of most humans.

And “competition” is precisely what national elections are. Sure, all the candidates talk about their superior moral stands, most of us understand that politicians have no morals. Most folks are interested in “what can you do for me” far more than any empty promises about human rights. The depressing thing about intelligence is recognizing the election has more in common with the Superbowl than “Mr. Smith goes to Washington.”

This year I find myself in the uncomfortable position of understanding the motives of Donald Trump. Not the paranoid fantasies about his personal hatred of the environment, or claims of undiagnosed mental illness, but an observation based judgement of his character. He is a vindictive bully. Remember his first year with the rotating cabinet? Why is anyone surprised that he fired the assistant who testified against him? He views people as either useful or trash. The character of his committed supporters reflect that trait.

So this year, in response to a vindictive bully, the Democrats are waging a war of pettiness. “Impeached” will forever be on his resumé, but he made it clear in 2016 his resumé was unimportant to his goals. His childish behavior has been met as a challenge to find who could be more childish. For an observer such as myself, this is a bounty of material for critique, I would be happy if this was not such a crisis. We are coming apart at the seems, it is no time for a pie fight.

I enjoy social media, and I use it to promote my writing. The problem is it becomes an echo chamber, diverse ideas are not readily accepted. I have had to block a few people who were rabid partisans, on both sides, but mostly I get blocked; again from both sides, predominantly from the left because I have had more friends on that side. Either way, my group of friends narrows itself to only include people who think as I. No one seems to accept the concept of an impartial observer.

So I have distanced myself from social media, passing through now and then to comment. I still post my blog articles, and intend to return in the winter; unless the fury over the results persist. Voting has changed from expressing support for a candidate who shares ones ideas to picking the winner. More so than Republicans, Democrats are incredibly poor losers, yet Trump has done his best to prove me wrong; I just hope his supporters are less like him in this aspect. This is just one more reason I support ending our two party process in favor of multiple parties. Perhaps that would allow more diverse views to remain pockets of small groups, rather than trying to please everyone with two possible choices. The system is beginning to mirror the Soviet Union’s idea of voting, everyone votes but there is only one choice. Americans have yet to discover their two choices are merely two sides of the same coin.

At any rate, there may be a choice which I find appealing within the Democratic party. Currently I favor Pete Buttigieg, but then in 2016 at this time I was supporting Gary Johnson. The last time my choice won was 2004.

 

Choose well this year, vote for a candidate who best reflects you; and on 4 November, try to remember it is not all about you.

Privilege

As with most issues, the concept of privilege tends to be overblown while containing a measure of truth.

Donald Trump is not a member of the NAZI party, but some of his actions mirror their actions. Do not forget that NAZIs tied their shoes, tying your shoes does not make you a NAZI. Some factors apply in using the stereotype, many do not.

An article on Buzzfeed well illustrates that point. One single factor does not signify privilege, it is the cumulative amount of factors. I don’t think Buzzfeed has any more credibility than Psychology Today, but the survey, all by itself, is useful as a learning experience.

How Privileged are You? provides insight into what constitutes privilege. I have always felt offended when accused of “White Privilege,” because it has been based on the fact that I am white. I am more than just white, although hate groups such as Antifa don’t really care about facts. Physical assaults, verbal assaults, and prejudices have been based on supposition.

Not everyone is interested in learning. When my partner posted the survey on Facebook, for the purpose of comparison, most of her friends took the survey and compared their scores. One decided to go on a rant about Buzzfeed, shooting the messenger and in the process also the message. No, the results of a survey are not a diagnosis, but sometimes the act of sharing it can display prejudices you were not looking for. An excellent representation of this effect is “Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.”  That quote comes from the 1978 film “Superman.” Most people do not consider superhero movies the source of deep philosophical observations; those people also fail to learn from “War and Peace.”

The first lesson in the survey comes with the first question, “Are you White?” I was a bit put off with that opening, then I considered that it was one factor out of one hundred. My total “score” was twenty nine, “underprivileged.” There were questions that seemed faulty, “Have you ever been called a Dyke” and “Have you ever been called a Faggot” should have been a single question. One of the many questions that should have been there is “When you see a rack of magazines, are the majority of people on the covers your race?” As I said earlier, anyone expecting a certified diagnosis from an online test is foolish. This survey should only be used as a comparison among peers, just don’t let Antifa see the results, a score of one would be adequate for them to burn your house.

As mentioned, I am white. I was born in the South. I am a Christian. None of these things make me a racist, but I accept that they are three points out of hundreds that would make me so. I learned over fifty years ago the difference between correlation and causality, and try to apply it to every interaction. As I aged and was exposed to dangers which could be life threatening, I found that in some instances correlation is sufficient. I don’t need to know what is in that backpack with wires hanging out, but I don’t need to kill the person carrying it; I can walk away. Responses require circumstances with which to justify them.

There are many factors which constitute an individual. It is often said that Hitler liked dogs, but that alone does not make him a good person. He also facilitated the deaths of over eleven million people, and while that alone may not make him an evil person, the methods he used to accomplish that goal certainly add up to that conclusion.

Our society, drenched in information, continues to celebrate single issue decisions. The quickness of determining the state of that decision is frightening. I can see an indicator and immediately know what it means, most people cannot. A friend recently posted two photographs in comparison. One was a color image of Donald Trump reaching out to shake the hands of supporters, the other, a black and white image of Adolph Hitler doing the same. My reaction to the implied statement they were the same was that I couldn’t think of a single celebrity who has not reached out in a similar fashion. Then, as others noticed inconsistencies, it became clear the photo of Hitler had been altered (there was an American flag in the background, a person dressed as Lincoln, and Hitler had no feet). Simply noting that this was not only a poor comparison, but it was also falsified, made me a Trump supporter so she immediately blocked me. The simple observation that if what one party is doing is despicable, mirroring that behavior is not excusable, brings me back to explaining to children “He did it first” is not a defense for doing the same thing.

I’ve been noticing a snowball effect, that right along with knowledge, maturity is rapidly declining at a geometric rate. Double standards are celebrated as “necessary.” Moral standards are as rigid as cooked spaghetti. I am overwhelmed with the examples provided by an intolerant population and a rogue president. Literally overwhelmed, I can not finish typing a blog entry without several examples of my thesis occurring, and not just because I type slowly. Noting these issues results in hatred rather than self reflection.

In many ways, the survey on privilege was contrary to my core beliefs. Confidence is seen as a privilege, questions such as “I have never lied about my sexuality,” “I have never tried to hide my sexuality,” and “I am always comfortable with P.D.A. (Public Display of Affection) with my partner” imply that comfort with who you are is a privilege. While I agree that living in fear is an indicator of lack of privilege, paranoia is an indicator of lack of psychiatric help. I have had physicians refer to my “Texan stoicism” as a defect.

Give yourself the privilege of being comfortable in your own skin.

The hive mind

I remember a conversation with a colleague in the summer of 2006. He was talking about a new resource, “Twitter,” with which you could ask a question of any nature, and if anyone within the “hive mind” knew the answer they would respond.

I loved this man as if he were my son, and I mustered all the enthusiasm I could; “That sounds great Carlo, let me know how useful it turns out to be.” What I was thinking was “You’ll get the same results by shouting your question into the subway.”

Fourteen years later my partner considers Twitter a news source. It is, indeed, a lane on the “information highway” (a term acknowledged as meaningless before it was even popular); people answer questions and pass judgements, but there is no certification suggesting they “know” the answer. You could randomly tap phone lines and receive answers of equivalent veracity.

Sometime in the 1990’s reality started its move to the backseat and “diverse ideas” took the wheel. I recall applying for a position on a “diversity council” sometime in the 2000’s. The requirements included being “a diverse employee” and I certainly was a member of that group, different from anyone else. It turns out I wasn’t, they were not looking for someone different than themselves, they were looking for a “woman of color,” indicating they were all white men who could not specify which color other than white they wanted this diverse person to be. They certainly were not interested in my observation of that fact.

Twitter is without question a news source, a conduit through which one might derive the news, but its accuracy is on the level of conversations overheard on an elevator. The individual discerns the credibility of the reports, based on what image the reporter chose to use as an avatar, or claims to be credentials. The information highway is indeed a channel through which most of the information collected by the human race flows. A similar description could be applied to a sewer.

Raw information, everything that is known about the Earth for example, includes the information that the Earth is flat.

In fact, since the birth of the internet, totally wrong information has flourished, largely because only one answer to a question is actually “correct.” If one were to ask “should I vaccinate my child?” the answers (including “why don’t you ask a doctor instead of the less educated masses) would range from the precisely accurate to the drug induced surreal. You guess which is which.

I fathered four children between the late 70’s and the late 80’s. When the anti vaccination documentary Vaccine Roulette was released in 1982, a young Sergeant told me I must watch the report on NBC news “if I cared about my kids.” I considered my knowledge of the Sergeant, an attention seeking loudmouth who regularly stated or implied he was a “company man” (bizarre in the sense we were all in the community and knew he had never been with the company), and decided to watch the program anyway. Immediately I could see the flaws, over blowing consequences by using raw numbers rather than statistics, failing to mention the enormous benefits, playing on visuals of ailing children. Heartstrings were grabbed by two hands and connected to a locomotive.

Millions were convinced that vaccinating a child was life threatening for the child. I made an extra effort to have my children’s vaccinations complete, there were going to be well meaning vectors of disease everywhere.

That was almost forty years ago. Yesterday there was a report of a child dying from the flu, because its Mother had decided not to vaccinate it against the flu; then when the child contracted the flu from its unvaccinated siblings, the Mother refused to treat it with antivirals. When the child showed the “initial symptoms” of the flu, including a seizure, rather than seek a doctor’s advice, she sought out an antivaxx group on Facebook. When none of the suggested natural remedies had any effect on the virus, rather than seek a doctor’s advice she asked the group again. Not one answer suggested seeing a doctor. A four year old boy in Colorado joined sixty eight other children who have died of the flu so far this season; evolution is proven as those disease vectors and the pro-disease ideas which ended their lives never have the opportunity to reproduce.

I might ask how to clean a cast iron pot on Facebook, but if my child had a seizure we’re going to the hospital.

You, more than likely, know nothing about me. If my words resonate with your common sense, I pray that you investigate further to verify them. Would you take my medical advice, and apply it to your children? Apparently, fifty nine percent of you would. People do not take the flu seriously because “No one dies from the flu.” I take the flu seriously because one of my earliest exposures to information on the subject was my Grandfather’s story about coming home from world war one and burying his brother (by himself, mortuaries were packed with the dead) during the 1918 epidemic.

In 1918, fifty million lives were lost to the flu (one fifth of the world population). Comparatively, twenty million were lost to World War one. Today, epidemics are measured by the percentage of total deaths caused by a factor, 7.2 is the threshold. The current rate of mortality in America caused by flu (which produces a cause of death known as pneumonia) is 7.1. Compared to the Spanish flu, today’s deaths are minuscule; but with a century of medical advances they should be much closer to zero. You might say “No one dies from the flu,” so far this season “No one” equals twelve thousand American lives. Yes, I still take the flu seriously.

The hive mind is concerned with the Corona virus, which has an even lower mortality rate, while ignoring the near epidemic flu virus. The wisdom of the hive mind has suggested the virus can be avoided by not drinking Mexican beer, as well as suggesting the virus is a deadly world pandemic. Neither is correct.

Perfectly safe, unless you were looking for a real beer

 

Don’t be a drone. Escape the hive and think for yourself.

Recognizing Big Brother

 

Some things stick in your mind, you can see them forming before others because the horror is too great.

The holocaust is an example of how evil can spread through a society, so the label of NAZI is thrown at anyone who appears to be authoritarian, or antisemitic. Unfortunately it has spread to include “anyone who thinks different than me,” diluting its horror. In our mis-educational system, how many graduates go forward thinking thirteen million people were killed by old men playing golf?

When college kids carrying tiki torches are compared to the Schutzstaffel, the horror just isn’t there.

 

George Orwell’s “1984” disassembled mind control. Most folks think the work was prophetic, but in fact it was a memoir of the fascist states of the early twentieth century, written after their culmination in 1944. Orwell had seen it happen, from seedling to rotting fruit. We have all seen the process, frozen at certain points in its development in various societies, yet we fail to recognize as it takes hold around us.

As a writer, language is of utmost importance to me. Words are my life. The variances, homonyms, synonyms, and multi-entendres are my life blood. Word meanings change over time, but the immediate alteration to fit a political misuse is far too reminiscent of Newspeak. Combined with deliberate misinformation, “reality” is no longer how things exist, but how they are meant to be judged.

I was never much for euphemisms, I prefer to be understood and avoid barriers. It does seem to put people off, I worked at an SPCA shelter where I killed dogs. I got out of the habit of saying “Euthanized” because most of the people I dealt with didn’t know what it meant. They were already upset, why make it worse by using a word they did not understand?

As I have been around a lot more LBGTQ+ people this last year, I’ve been a little shocked about the sensitivity to words. I am Bisexual, a term defined in the Bisexual Manifesto of 1990 (not to imply that Bisexuality was invented then), Sometime around 2000 folks started using the word “Pansexual,” then it became a prejudicial word. People who call themselves Pansexual today state that “Bisexual” is non-inclusive, because it only refers to two sexes or genders. Read the manifesto kids, “Pansexual” is the divisive term, as it claims Bisexuals are Transphobic (By the way, attaching “phobic” to everything is ridiculous, if you are prejudiced against something you are probably not afraid of it).

Often it seems when people are particular about the words used to describe a group, they are not the people described, but people who awarded themselves the mantle of Pronoun Police. As I looked deeper, sometimes it is only the Pronoun Police, and not the people being described; people from the orient tend to prefer “Oriental” to “Asian.”

Common in the news these days are stories about “Religious Freedom.” More often than not these are instances in which followers of one religion wish to force their point of view on followers of another religion. The constitution of the United States speaks clearly that there is to be no state religion, what many refer to as “Separation of Church and State.” As Americans we are free to choose whatever religion, or lack thereof, we wish. We have no right to impose our views on others, yet a fair number of people believe they are empowered to discriminate against people with differing beliefs. While many of our founding documents are developments of Abrahamic principles, it is still quite easy to see the differences in the Abrahamic religions.  A statute favoring a Christian point of view (or one ascribed to Christianity) does not support a Muslim or Jewish point of view. Freedom of Religion is best expressed as “Freedom from Religion;” we shall have no inquisition. An individual has no more right to impose staff led Christian prayer than they would to impose Sharia law.

This morning, we were discussing Death with Dignity. There has been a lot written about this, most obviously not by those who have practiced it. I was told that “suicide” is not the proper word, because suicide is an irrational act, those who rationally choose to end their lives, and fit certain medical criteria, have not committed suicide. So I read some of the things written, and they are all about providing euphemisms other that the actual word because it causes shame. I know these people mean well, they are speaking to and about the survivors, relatives and friends of the deceased. I was told the word “suicide” shames people who have made a difficult decision, implying they were irrational. After a quick look at the dictionary, followed by more intense probes into the word, I was unable to find any reference to the rationality of the person choosing to end their life.

It is difficult to talk about this without giving the wrong impression. I have no intention of committing suicide. However, the possibility exists that my Multiple Sclerosis may take a turn for the worse, or that any other event might make my life unlivable. Should that occur, I will thoughtfully decide whether or not to continue living. The very last thing in the world I would want to happen is to have control of my life taken from me while a panel decides if I am rational. When it is time, it is time. It is a difficult decision, and calling it anything other than what it is insults the sui, the individual who is taking action. I have known others that made the choice; one last stand of self.

The issue of abortion is buried in inaccurate descriptions. Both sides wish to make their points emotional, so we now live in a world where “Women’s health services” mean abortion clinics, and nothing else; a further erasure of the real world differences between men and women. About one of every four women will have an abortion in their lives, it is, much like suicide, a difficult decision. Because women who have had abortions are shamed for their decision, very few of those women talk about it, so those who do appear to be freaks. They can be dismissed because they have spoken about their “unusual” experiences, they are considered meaningless or extreme because “I don’t know anyone who has had an abortion.” You probably do, but your attitude is so judgemental they never told you about it. The pain, which they continue to experience, is amplified by the failure to console them.

Along that line of language, a local real estate agent is trying to alter my borough’s requirement of a Certificate of Occupancy prior to the sale of a home. He has manipulated the subject, using people whose experience was overwhelmingly expensive. In one case a woman was unable to afford the repairs required to make the home habitable, so his latest rant assaults the borough for ignoring women’s rights. He has framed the ordinance as “immoral,” because the expense of making a home habitable may exceed the value of the home; relying on the local school district’s failure to educate to provide him with supporters. The man who owned my last residence insisted that property values only go up, so he was asking for his purchase price plus ten percent. I bought a nicer condominium in the same complex for one third of his asking price; I am surprised a real estate agent does not understand the real estate market.

With that last example, I am suggesting that practice of corrupting language is not a venture only applied to large organizations. I have seen it used by governments as well as individuals. My first exposure to this type of propaganda was in the Air Force, when I tried to explain an issue to my father; he could not see my side of the issue. Then I realized that in English, my complaint sounded ridiculous. I had gotten used to speaking in Air Force language, I knew what the disguised words actually meant. The collapse of language sneaks up on you, you don’t always realize what you are saying sounds very different to someone expecting common meanings.

 

Rebel.

 

Resist Big Brother. Do not conform, do not participate in the denial of your right of free speech.

The Holidays

 

Which Holidays?

From our earliest social constructs, we learned to mark the seasons. Of greatest importance were solar positions, the Solstice was the end of the shortening days. The days would grow longer, but the cold was not yet at its deepest depths. The Solstice was a symbol of hope, there would still be bad days, but the direction was warmer.

As we developed religions, it continued to get cold in the winter. Religious holidays, messages of hope, gravitated towards similar events. The birth of Jesus was celebrated on the Solstice, The Faith of the Maccabees is celebrated over an eight day event around the same time. Kwanzaa, a totally fabricated modern holiday, is celebrated over a seven day period at this time of year.

As time progressed the actual dates of the celebrations changed, Constantine separated from the Solstice and the birth of Jesus was celebrated on the 25th of December. The calendar itself has changed a couple of times as well.

“Happy Holidays” applies to most people because we are all celebrating the same thing, Hope. We may give it different names and attributes, but on the darkest day humanity looks forward together. While sniping at each other for celebrating the wrong way.

Earlier this year I was reading about a religious leader who had been asked to deliver a non-denominational prayer. He responded he would not, non-denomination meant no denomination to him. In many ways I agree, while we all have so much in common, a prayer is directed to a deity, within the constructs of its religion, according to a particular denomination. At which deity do you direct a non-denominational prayer? A blessing to one may be a curse to another.

We are at our best when we recognize our similarities, and at our worst when we deny our differences. We are different individuals with unique DNA, our thoughts are built on disparate influences. The best we can do is accept each other, which should cause us to understand ourselves better.

I have learned a good deal from listening to people who do not share my beliefs. Sometimes what I learn reinforces my beliefs, sometimes it challenges them, but it is always refreshing to discuss beliefs which have not crossed the line in my partner’s mind into “facts” which are simply a matter of faith. The only thing I have been able to learn from people who believe their articles of faith are facts is that they do not understand what a fact is, and often do not understand what beliefs are either.

Use this season and its gatherings to learn about people who think differently than you, rejoice about your similarities and respect your differences.