Friday, September 25, 2020

Seeing the World We Want to See

Reality can be harsh. Change can be difficult. Life can be unfair.

Many people today want to deny that the coronavirus is a problem. Or that it even exists. They want life to be as it was only a few months ago. No masks. No hand sanitiser. No "social" distancing. Kids in school. People at work. Shopping. Sports. Movies. Travel wherever we want. No sickness and death.

I'd like that too. I miss being able to hug a friend. I still instinctively go to shake hands when meeting a new or old friend. I cringe when people stand too close to each other, talking (expelling droplets) without masks. I miss the occasional conference where hundreds of people are exchanging ideas, and I move from one conversation to the next with intelligent people who have fascinating stories. I especially miss the dances in the public square with friends from several nations gathered around the perimeter tables, enjoying life.

But wanting normal does not bring normal back. The only thing that will bring back normal is for everyone to follow the guidelines to minimise infectious spread, and a viable vaccine that is trustworthy and effective. The more people resist the basics of smart hygiene, the longer the virus will persist and the more people will die. I'm trying every day not to be one of them, even if I don't like the routine much.

I also understand the desire to not have strangers parading around your neighborhood, protesting, breaking windows, spraying graffiti. Some are mere troublemakers, including astroturfers, taking advantage of legitimate grievances and peaceful protests to spread their own version of infection.

But tear gas and rubber bullets won't fix the underlying problems that triggered the original grievances. And if we don't address the root of the issue, the embers will just re-ignite time and time again. You might as well dig that underground bunker now.

In my rose-coloured world, there would be no thug dictators (or dictator wannabes), no senseless wars creating millions of refugees, no banking crooks hoarding most of the wealth while politicians wink-wink, no climate change laying waste through fire and flood, no surveillance state monitoring our every move ... and yet, that's the world we live in. So we must deal with it the best way each of us can. Denying reality doesn't change it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Dystopia Accelerated


I've been dreading the Nov. 3 election in the United States, fearing the worst - an inconclusive result, a possible constitutional crisis, likely violence in the streets from the losing side (or those who claim to be so aligned, including anarchists who simply take advantage of the chaos). But what I fear most is a Trump re-election and four more years of fascism-driven policy changes which will further erode the democracy and free society which once represented the American ideal. Not to mention simple things like clean air and clean water.

My timeline of despair was just fast-forwarded by the not totally surprising death of RBG and the prospect of the unholy trinity of Trump-Barr-McConnell severely tipping the balance of the SCOTUS for a generation or more.

Even if Trump loses the election, and Biden becomes president for awhile, the worst damage will be done by a partisan conservative court, as well as the hundreds of judges appointed by Trump (including about 100 which rightfully belonged to Obama but which were deliberately stalled by the Turtle.)

At best, a Trump nominee should only be changing a 4-5 court to a 5-4 court, had McConnell not blocked Obama's nominee in an election year. Now the hypocritical Kentuckian is ignoring his own precedent when it suits his nefarious purpose.

Every Republican senator who blocked a vote on Obama/Garland's nomination who now allows an election-year vote is a traitor to truth. (But then truth has always been a rare commodity in Washington.)

An American friend used the word "gutted," and that pretty much describes how I feel.

All hope is gone that the US will ever be the fair society it once aspired to be.

With Barr pulling Trump's strings, and cheerleading by FoxNews, Hannity, Levin and others who are getting rich off spewing hatred, the scenario I see, if Trump somehow manipulates the election into four more years (voter suppression, voter intimidation, court challenges heard by friendly judges, etc.), I think tens of thousands, maybe even millions of indignant Americans will take to the streets in protest. They will be met by overwhelming force from Barr's Gestapo and even, illegally, the US military forces. Tear gas and rubber bullets won't be enough - I can see them using grenades, mortars, machine guns, and flamethrowers to quash any disturbance. Get ready for American law enforcement and soldiers (aided by Betsy Devos' brother's mercenaries and self-styled white supremacist militia) to kill fellow Americans until all dissent is stamped out.

And get ready for Trump & Co to use all those wonderful surveillance tools that Mark Zuckerberg and other software companies have been fine-tuning ... to monitor every move you make, at least those who have ever publicly voiced opposition.

In four more years, the USA will be unrecognizable from what it was just four years ago. The economy will be in shambles (though they'll lie about the stock market numbers). There will be no healthcare except for the rich. Ordinary people will not be allowed on the street without having to produce identification and justification. Schools will become indoctrination camps. The arts will completely wither. Blacks, hispanics, and gays will be further oppressed. Old people will die in droves as their Medicare and Social Security "entitlements" are cut or eliminated (sort of a "thinning the herd" mentality.)

I'm sorry, but I don't see any saviors on the horizon. Not Biden. Not Harris. Certainly not Pelosi or Schumer. There is not a single elected person in national government who can be consistently counted on to say or do the right thing. Not. One. Damn. Politician.

At its base, this is the fault of the American people. Who voted for Trump. Or who didn't vote at all. Who were too busy making money to realize that their kids were getting a dumbed-down education, and therefore lack knowledge of history and civics, the critical-thinking skills to see through the steady stream of bullshit, and the backbone to stand up and speak out against the onrushing evil.

1984. Animal Farm. Handmaid's Tale. Choose your fictional dystopia, and this nightmare will be worse.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Craving Cold

I like my beverages cold. Coke Zero, juice, beer, wine. The colder the better.

Last summer, I asked Jonathan at Côté Place in Argelès if he had ever had anyone request ice for their beer. "No," he replied in a curious drawn-out version of the word. "Well," I said, "consider this a first." Sure, it watered it down some, but the beer was nice and cold on a very hot day.

Our Italian-American friends who lived in Argelès for a year or so, now Nice, had us over for karaoke and served the beer in a large frosted mug. It reminded me of the A&W Root Beer frosted mugs at the drive-in when I was growing up. My reaction to the mug was so positive, next time they took the 20-hour ferry ride between Barcelona and Naples they brought me back two of the mugs as one of the simplest and best gifts I've ever received. (D-L carries one mug with two hands so as not to drop it.)

Oftentimes, ice forms from whichever beverage I'm drinking. And the coldness generally lasts the entire meal, unlike an ordinary glass in which the liquid quickly moderates toward room temperature.

I'd been looking for similar mugs for our place in Geneva, but most of what you find in Switzerland are decorative steins. I wanted just a plain, super-thick, glass mug.

My stepdaughter and wife to the rescue. They found mugs online, had them shipped to Boston, then re-shipped to Switzerland.

I am a happy puppy. With a chilled throat.

Friday, September 11, 2020


I am not Black. I am not Hispanic. I am not Asian. I am not Jewish. I am not Handicapped. I am not Gay. I am not Female. I am not a Refugee fleeing a war or an unsafe country. I am not Poor.

As a White Male, I will never experience the kinds of discrimination and baseless hatred experienced by people in these groups.

Earlier this week I read a Facebook post about a Black man in the Myrtle Beach area of South Carolina, an appliance repair specialist with his own business. Despite driving a van with his business name on the side and wearing a work uniform, he is stopped several times a year by police simply for being Black. He long ago stopped making service calls after dark.

Like many White folks, I have Black friends, people I know via business or socially or both. I have Hispanic friends, Asian, Jewish, Gay, etc. I know them by their character and their accomplishments, but have rarely thought about their experiences when they are not in our presence. It is sobering to think that they might fear for their lives or their families' lives on a daily, hourly basis, that they may be harassed, beaten, killed by some ill-trained policeman or racist redneck. At best, they are frequently subjected to dirty stares - simply for being different from the staree.

When Bob Woodward asked Donald Trump about White Privilege, the response was: "You really drank the Kool-Aid, didn’t you? Just listen to you. Wow. No, I don’t feel that at all."

Don't feel that at all. Not an ounce of empathy nor compassion.

Trump is the epitome of White Privilege. He grew up in a wealthy, albeit dysfunctional, family, and has spent his life squandering his father's money and millions more he's scammed out of banks and investors. He has never even been anywhere near the lives of the poor, the middle class, the average American, and certainly not the lives of Blacks, Hispanics, etc. The only reason he deigns to be around anyone in a less-privileged group is for however he thinks they might benefit him.

Those who refuse to acknowledge or even recognize the systemic racism and discrimination in the world are the essence of the problem because it is that blind indifference that allows it to continue.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Why do Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen Serve?


Dueling blog, D-L:

When I made a reference about the Vietnam War - when my daughter was a teenager in the early 90s - she asked, “What’s that?” She was born in the American bicentennial year, 1976, just a year after the fall of Saigon, the end of the US surrender to China’s neighbor and protectorate. The teachers at her high school apparently ignored the shameful episode in their curricula, despite its recency and significance to the country.

Vietnam was a defining era for my generation. It raged from the insertion of a few “advisors” by Eisenhower and JFK to the massive surge by Lyndon Johnson in the mid-60s, about the time I became a teen. The draft was reinstituted in 1969 so more American boys could fill the body bags. In the draft lottery – the kind you lose, not win – my birthday came up as No. 8; it was virtually guaranteed that I would be called.

My preference was to be a pilot (my Dad was a pilot in WWII), but in the 60s they required non-corrected vision (no eyeglasses or contact lenses), so I was prepared to enlist in the Navy, even though I’d never been on a boat bigger than a canoe, rather than become a ground grunt traipsing through the jungle.

Fortunately, I received a student deferment when I was accepted into college, and by the time I graduated four years later, the evil Henry Kissinger was manipulating the final genuflection.

Years later, in DC, I visited the Vietnam War Memorial, the massive black wall with more than 58,000 names of the dead (70% volunteer, 30% drafted) etched in the mirror-like granite. At first, I was struck by the variety of names and the multiple ethnicities they represented – men, boys mostly, from literally all walks of life who believed the propaganda that we had to stop the communists over there before they could swarm the homeland and turn us into slaves. We know now that it was all built on lies, as were Iraq, Afghanistan, and other conflicts that are launched for political and financial purposes.

The young men who enlisted or were drafted didn’t realize they were unwitting cannon fodder. They believed they were fighting for their country and their families, for freedom. They certainly weren’t doing it to make money.

As I scanned the Memorial, I suddenly came upon a name I recognized. It was the name of someone I knew. Not a close friend. May not even have been the same person. But I involuntarily choked up. Now the names were flesh-and-blood, or once were and now no more. Lives ended far too soon.

Years later, I visited the cemetery in Luxembourg where General Patton is buried, together with five thousand of his fellow soldiers. A couple years ago, Donna-Lane and I went to the beaches of Normandy which were the sites of the D-Day invasion of France, now 76 years ago; we wandered through a nearby cemetery with about 9,000 graves, searching for the crosses of twin brothers who had died in the sand, soldiers from Texas, New York, Massachusetts, and others about whom we had learned a few details.

If you are alive today in the Western world, it is because brave men from many nations fought against the tyranny of dictators.

I simply do not understand how any human being with even the slightest amount of empathy and compassion can fail to be moved by rows upon rows of crosses, sprinkled with an occasional Star of David. Suckers? Losers? No, heroes.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Stale Pretzels

It’s almost transition time again. The shift between Geneva and Argelès sur Mer. Or in this case, back to Switzerland.

It can be a hectic few days as we try to do everything we want to do and see everyone we want to see in our little village in the south of France. Once more, maybe twice, to the beach with Sherlock. Another round of golf or three. Eat at a restaurant we’ve missed (and were avoiding while the tourists were here.) Buy a couple things to take with us that we cannot get in the other place, or are cheaper. Figure out which papers to take for projects or official business (a bit more complicated when border crossings are limited by virus circumstances). Do we have any books which need to be returned to the English library? Oh, French lesson books too, as I have another exam to take.  Stop buying groceries and eat up what’s in the cupboards (like the stale pretzels I’m munching on as I write) and frigo so it can be cleaned and turned off. Borrow a ladder and take down the sailcloth that somewhat blocks the sunlight and heat coming through the huge skylight in the dining area. Make sure there’s enough in the local bank account for any automatic payments while we’re away. Vac and wash the car and fill the tank with “essence.” Clean the bathroom, kitchen, bedrooms, den and patio so it’ll be inviting when we return. Make sure the electricity is off in the “Nest.” Take the glass bottles to the recycle pit.

This time, there’s an added deadline. Marco, the Van Gogh of ASM, is painting a huge mural on the large wall in our patio. He was set back a bit the past couple days by overnight rains, but thinks it should only take 2-3 more days to complete. It’s not critical; it could be wrapped up when we return, but it would be nice to see it finished and enjoy an apero surrounded by the village scenes he’s creating.

The transition is made easier by keeping clothes, food, and dog treats at both locations. At one time, I wanted to get a second car so we could leave one in each place and take the train back and forth. But at the moment, with the virus, it’s safer to be in the bubble of our voiture, even if it is an 8-hour drive. (Would still like to get a Miata or Triumph, convertible of course. Second teenagehood.)

We’re leaving ASM earlier than we originally planned because we think we may end up in a 10-day quarantine when we arrive in Switzerland. We need to allow the time, just in case, so when we emerge from self-isolation we’ll be able to keep the medical appointments which were pre-booked.

We’ll be back as soon as we can, transitioning in reverse on the other end. First thing I’m going to do is buy some pretzels.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Ad Hominem Ad Nauseum

When people aren't thoughtful enough to come up with a rational, coherent argument, they often resort to name-calling. They either lack the information or intelligence to counter what you've said, or they're too lazy to do so.

More and more, I've noticed, connections on social media are defaulting to superfluous one-word attacks: I have been called a troll, ignorant, brainwashed, senile, a Democrat, socialist, communist, marxist ... mostly by Trump cultists. Which is humorous considering that during the previous election I was accused of being a right-wing Trump acolyte when I posted anything critical of Hillary.

Trump is the champion of name-callers, though his epithets are not particularly creative: "nasty" is a favourite when attacking strong women; "loser" is another meaningless phrase (which no doubt represents his greatest fear). He gives derogatory names to his opponents, expecting to denigrate them, but only serving to diminish himself (and those who retweet him).

I long ago vowed never to run for political office. I had seen campaigns from the inside, and realized today's style is to dig up all the mud you can on a rival (from your own party during a primary, then presenting a united-front veneer by attacking the other party in the general). If there is no dirt to be found, simply make it up. I.e., lie. Loudly and often, because everyone knows that shouting and ALL CAPS validates your message. At some point, walk it back, though the "if I offended anyone" pseudo-apology and retraction gets buried in the noise of the next Big Lie.

It helps reinforce your prejudices if you get all your news from one biased source, or constellation of similar sources. Also easier to pick up the name-calling talking points through constant repetition.

I suppose it's my fault for monitoring a wide-range of media, from the alt-right (Fox, Daily Wire, ...), thoughtful long-form reads like the Atlantic and New Yorker, investigative reporting such as the Independent and Consortium News, admittedly left-leaning traditional journals (Washington Post, New York Times, Boston Globe), available TV news (CNN, BBC, France24, Swiss RTS1), and non-Western voices such as RT/Russia Today and Al Jazeera. By nature, and by training as a professional communicator (whose work is carefully scrutinized by readers), I tend to be skeptical of unsupported statements and especially bluster and blatant falsehoods. So I occasionally challenge questionable posts (from any source) ... foolishly forgetting that most of those in that publication/channel's echo chamber believe everything they are spoon-fed. Queue the ad hominem attacks - how dare I challenge the dogma!

I have a few friends and colleagues who will occasionally push back on something I've posted, maybe because I didn't read thoroughly enough the story I shared. I truly appreciate it because they do it in a reasonable "have you thought about ..." manner, and I'll sometimes agree with their point and make adjustments.

By the way, my favorite pejorative is the wonderfully Irish "eejit," which I picked up watching the series Ballykissangel. "Eejit," at least to me, conveys a lengthy, comprehensively descriptive meaning about both the person to whom it is addressed and their statement I am reacting to. One of these days, I'll expound on that. (I'm still not over Assumpta's untimely death).