COVID-19 didn’t lay America low; it simply revealed what had long been forsaken. As the crisis unfolded, with another American dying every minute of every day, a country that once turned out fighter planes by the hour could not manage to produce the paper masks or cotton swabs essential for tracking the disease. The nation that defeated smallpox and polio, and led the world for generations in medical innovation and discovery, was reduced to a laughing stock as a buffoon of a president advocated the use of household disinfectants as a treatment for a disease that intellectually he could not begin to understand.
It was a proud sack you carried. The biggest balls I’d ever seen on a dog, not that I’m a connoisseur of dog’s balls or anything. They were big balls for the spare size of your body; and they warped your behavior, those giant balls. They made you do things that you didn’t understand and we didn’t appreciate. They were a vestige of a wild life, a life you would never be able to live.
The wolf that was your forefather chose the easy path. Or was it the hard path? Symbiosis carries its own cost. Surrendering your individual wants and needs to the group, relying on the group to keep you alive just as you try to keep the group alive. Taking the food and shelter in exchange for the limitations on behavior, the ungentle hand of the master.
The warping of your bodies to fit the whims of the selector. No longer the natural selector that bred you to be the cunning pack hunters that you were. Now your genes serve the human guide, molding you to his wayward specifications and needs. Sometimes small and lean, sometimes large and menacing, always the protector and defender of the group. Your services paid for with blood and pain and the sacrifice of your own genetic path through time, now forged anew, melded with the genetic path of the human animal.
Was that a wise choice? Who can say. But the generations of sheep herders and drovers that molded your form to fit their specific criteria for what makes up a good dog could not have understood what it was they were doing to you other than bending you to their will and their desires. You stand there today not quite natural and not quite unnatural. A testament to the malleability of the genetic code that rules all our lives.
Like your absent tail that we would have let you keep, your absent balls represented a liability that we could not afford. The liability of the tail that was docked because generations of sheep herders docked the tails of new pups, tails being just one more liability that a working sheepdog could not afford, dwarfed in comparison by the liability of testosterone enhanced viciousness and territoriality. The urine smell of marks on household furniture. The vain pursuit of the breeding imperative, a cross that you would bear all your life if we left you whole and complete. The additional litters of puppies in a world already drowning in flawed dogs without loving homes, measured in balance with the whim of male vanity. The desire to see your pet be the embodiment of your own male virility.
(Look at those balls!)
To be able to measure both paths and weigh them in your own mind. To know both the life without fulfillment, dying one day in the future knowing that you have failed to produce the offspring that nature foolishly demands of you, even though the world doesn’t need more dogs right now. Knowing that life and also knowing the life of unbiased devotion to the pursuits that your form suits you to. That one pure devoted life versus the life of frustrated pursuits curtailed by the master forced to be harsh in the face of your intransigence. Your insistence on pursuits that you will never be allowed to fulfill. To be able to judge which life carries the most real satisfaction, for yourself. Which would you choose, given that choice?
Do not hate me, my faithful companion. I beg this of you. Like the sheep herder that set your forefathers on the course that led you to me, I simply do as I think best, never really knowing if what I think is best really is the best. Am I missing something, myself? Is there some part of me that was taken away by people who felt they knew best what my course in life should be?
I cast myself backwards in time with the inner eye of imagination. I see horsemen on the plains. Nomads that knew no roof other than the endless sky. Living day to day by the skill of their hands, shaping bows and arrows the way they shaped their dogs and horses. Even they had masters. Tribal leaders that corresponded almost directly in their own way with the leaders of your forefather’s wolf packs. The most capable. The most charismatic.
The last wild men in Europe. Taking what they wanted from sheepherder and farmer alike. Taking from town folk and their rulers when they dared stand against them. Taking and taking again until they are hemmed in, strapped down and civilized right along with the rest of the human race. That force of civilization then launching outward, suppressing native populations across the world, trammelling all the wild men with the curse (or blessing?) of civilized life.
Did we cut off our own balls when we civilized ourselves? Was it more manly to take what was wanted than to work and barter and pay for it? Who now living can say?
In that life I would last mere moments, even if I had been born to that life. Too many flaws. Too much of a burden. Much better is the life I have today, even with all its insufficiencies. It remains life, the most precious of gifts bestowed on the unthinking universe. To be allowed to admire its vast arching complexity. The universe knowing itself even if only in one small way. What will all those small ways add up to? I’m glad I have this life. I hope that you are glad to have your life, as limited as we have made it for you.
How would you tell me, if you could tell me? The kisses and butt shimmies that pass for tail wags for you make me believe you are happy, but are you really happy? Would you have preferred the short life but a merry one, the life that a teenage me almost embraced? Had a different door opened, I would have gone there and been long gone by now. In that last fleeting moment of consciousness would I have thanked the universe for my brief moment in the sun or cursed my bad genetic luck for saddling me with such a miserable existence?
I will never know. I have but this life, and you have but your own life. If you could speak would you grumble about how your absent balls still itch? Or would you have already moved on to the next contemplation? Where has that tennis ball gotten off to again? Can we go for a walk now? I hope that the latter is true.
Do not hate me, my faithful companion. I acted in what I thought was your best interest and my best interests together. The best plan that my flawed human consciousness could conjure up, with what little resources I have to offer to both you and I at this late date. Yes, let’s go take that walk now. It is the least I can do for you. We can find that wayward tennis ball when we get back.
What we are going through right now is easily comparable to other times in history. The 1918 flu pandemic for example, the commonly mis-labeled Spanish flu, has been rolled out in several podcasts. This episode of Throughline goes into the recorded history of the 1918 flu.
The Second World War was compared to the 1918 flu, as is illustrated in the quote I used to start this article. I was made aware of this comparison by listening to John Barry in this episode of Why Is This Happening?
What isn’t remembered is the pervasive fear. I know it isn’t remembered because I lived in San Angelo for more than a decade, and yet I have never heard this story before.
…when San Angelo had a breakout of polio in 1949 – the hardest- hit town per capita that year in the U.S. – it was horrifying in scope for the city of 50,000. Sixty children in San Angelo came down with polio in one summer. Many died. Movie theaters and swimming pools and public gatherings were shut down. Travelers passing through would roll up their windows so as not to breathe the potentially contaminated air. They wouldn’t even fill up a low tire at the gas station for fear of taking the virus with them. Some residents refused to talk on the phone with anyone, believing that perhaps, somehow, polio could travel through the phone lines.
This kind of fear gripped Texas every summer for years. Parents would not let their children swim or go to summer camp or do anything in groups in an effort to keep them safe. Houses were kept spotless and were scrubbed top to bottom to kill all the germs. In fact, Wooten told me, “When mothers lost a child to polio they suffered added anguish because they felt they would be judged as bad mothers and poor housekeepers. They would explain to reporters that ‘they had always kept a very clean house and didn’t understand how this could have happened.’ ”
…even without the orders to shelter in place, people would still not be going out and participating in public events as if there wasn’t an active pandemic. The fear would keep most of us inside anyway. That is the sensible side of your brain talking, in conditions like we are facing right now. Listen to it when it makes sense for once.
I had to go looking to remind myself who it was that had written that great song that I loved. Who was it that the coronavirus killed the other day? That guy? That guy who sang a song about being there when someone needed you? Wasn’t that the song? I had to not only remind myself that his name was Bill Withers, but I had to then recognize the chorus line so that I would know the song title.
Lean on Me. Yes. That song. That guy. Bill Withers. Him too, then? One more grandfather we let die because we can’t be bothered to spend some of our precious treasure to make sure that there are procedures and tests and quarantine measures and hospital beds and whatever else that we need to invest in so that we can stop disease from spreading unchecked through our cityscapes. How many more will we lose? Will it be worse than AIDS this time? Will it hurt more this time than it hurt when Freddie Mercury died and I had to listen to friends spit on him and call him faggot?
I think the large Holocaust memorial here [in Berlin] will always remain abstract. You have to make the decision to visit it. But not with the stumbling blocks. Suddenly they are there, right outside your front door, at your feet, in front of you.
The artist Gunter Demnig has placed almost 60,000 “Stolpersteine” cobblestones across Europe. The first 50 were placed in Berlin in May 1996. Illegally. Now, it is the biggest decentralized monument in the world.
I was thinking of posting the memorial image below again today on Facebook, as I have for the last few years, because it is once again the anniversary of Sophie Scholl’s death sentence.
…but those really aren’t her final words, except that they were in one of the last letters she wrote before the death sentence was carried out. What her final words were remain undocumented. That she died at the hands of people who thought she did not belong, is documented. So I’m creating this post in memory of her on this date. In memory of all the holocaust victims, with the sincere hope that we don’t have to start installing stolpersteine in the US in order to mark the spots were the brown-skinned people we arrested and hauled off to their deaths used to live, because people in this country continue to deny that it has happened here, and continues to happen here.
We know their story well, these students who wrote the Leaflets of the White Rose. We know their bravery, their utter courage, how they wrote death-defying words that led straight to the guillotine.
Yet we hardly know them at all. We focus so tightly on their noble deeds that we overlook who they were. We’re listening so closely for those awe-inspiring retorts as the students stand before Judge Freisler that we miss the wonder of the debates that stirred them to act.
When we begin to step back to “see” them better, to grasp the whole of their work, we find that our widened lens is capturing people we don’t know at all. There are new faces, new voices, new perspectives.
Before long, we realize there is so much more to “resistance” during the Shoah than just White Rose, more even than White Rose plus 20 July 1944 plus Rote Kapelle plus the Kreisauer Circle and the handful of other groups that have made their way into the literature.
Every new story we find – whether it is Helmuth Hübener and his friends, or Helle Hirsch, or the BMW leaflet writers – demonstrates how much there is still to learn about the strength of character of so many unknown heroes.
Once that camera lens pans the landscape of thousands of courageous individuals, our spirits are lifted. We understand that even in the darkest of days, there were those who stood up for justice, those who did the right thing no matter the cost.
The Center for White Rose Studies has dedicated its resources to uncovering those stories. We began with White Rose, but we are actively documenting as many heroic acts (and heroes) as we can.
We believe that these biographies will inspire and encourage young people in 21st century America to live lives characterized by integrity and the pursuit of justice. We believe that, because we know how the stories have affected us.
One of the comments under that article puts forward the fantasy that the South would try to secede again. It’s a quaint idea, that the South would be dumb enough to secede from the Union en masse exactly like it did in 1860, setting the United States on a path of self-destruction that would see it reborn like a phoenix out of the ashes of what went before. That Southerners as a group still see themselves as preserving their peculiar institution, something they share in common that would cause them to think they had the numbers on their side to win the day and persevere in the face of the revulsion of the rest of the country.
They had grounds to think that in 1860. The world clamored for their cotton and tobacco and sugar. Commodities that required huge, cheap labor forces to plant, maintain and harvest. Slavery made that possible, and they saw themselves as irreplaceable and that England or France would support them in their war against the Union.
However, in today’s United States, nothing like slavery exists to unite Southern oligarchs into a force that might think they could win a war against the rest of the country, and the rest of the country still has the world’s greatest military machine on its side to put down any insurrections that might emerge in these troubled times. The bad outcome is more certain now than it was in 1860. Anyone with a lick of sense knows this and so won’t be rattling the sabers of succession this time around.
Don’t get me wrong, those people do exist. I’ve had fellow Texans propose this idea to me, many times. It’s a common enough joke, save your Confederate money boys, the South will rise again! Those people are the same people who think that Texas can divide itself into five states (it can’t. Or rather, it already has) They are stuck mentally in a time and place that probably never existed. It is a reinvention by our grandfather’s generation (as the history lesson I started this article touches on) a myth that has outlived its usefulness and is now more of an embarrassment than any kind of real movement.
The same brother-in-law that inspired me to write,
The same brother-in-law that voiced those veiled racist statements summoned the ghost of the Confederacy the last time we spoke,
You know there is another civil war coming.
I know nothing of the kind. The South won’t leave. They aren’t that stupid and they weren’t that stupid in 1860, either. But the South not leaving is not the same as the US continuing. Yes there is hope, as Heather Cox Richardson explains in her Facebook article. We can overcome. That doesn’t mean we will overcome. How many people thought that the USSR would cease to exist, before it did cease to exist? As long as there are people living in Texas, there will always be a Texas. Ditto for the other coastal states, because coastline yields ocean trade and trade is the lifeblood human social existence. But the US as a political entity can and will end if we don’t act to preserve it.
Make no mistake. The majority of Trump voters wanted to bring this country down when they voted for Trump in 2016. The wanted an end to the status quo, the status quo of the wealthy dictating policy at the expense of workers and the poor. The status quo embodied in the person of Hillary Clinton. Right or wrong they saw their votes as ending that status quo.
How do I know this? Because I was one of them until 2008. In 2005 I qualified for disability and was gifted with the ability to continue existing as a side effect. It took three more years for me to come to grips with my own short-sightedness. But I swore that I would never vote to bring down the system again after casting my last vote as a libertarian in 2008. In 2012 I defiantly voted for Barack Obama while all my libertarian friends were shouting about how bad he was. I ate a big bowl of crow and I went on with my life, understanding that the United States government isn’t just a system. It is people living their lives, and they have the right to continue living their lives.
When Hillary Clinton pulled out a win in 2016 I put on a brave face and voted for her anyway, knowing that Texas would never go for her. But I wouldn’t vote against her. I knew what Trump was. Right or wrong, Hillary Clinton was the only way forward.
Enough people were angry, and enough people wanted to tear down the system at any cost. Their numbers were just enough in three key states to swing the election into Trump’s hands, and the rest is the history that we’ve lived through over the last three years.
This is how I know that my kind Uncle Joe will not be the president we need for the future. Don’t get me wrong, I will vote for him if he is the Democratic nominee. I know how the US political system works. Joe Biden is the past. The loveable part of our past, but the past all the same. He is the status quo come back to promise us hope and change again if we just vote for him.
The angry people will dismiss him as a presidential candidate because of this. They won’t willingly embrace the legacy of the Democratic party and all the baggage that comes with it. They may just stay home, or they may hold their noses and vote for him like I did for Hillary Clinton in 2016, knowing what kind of president that Trump is already.
Most of them will not vote for Trump again. The tide is turning and you can feel it in the air if you stop and listen to the wind. But that doesn’t mean he loses, and that doesn’t mean the United States continues to exist. Without the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of Americans on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, the United States would have died in the years between 1860 and 1865. In much the same fashion, but hopefully with a lot less blood spilled, the United States can and will cease to exist if we don’t give our full measure in her defense today, tomorrow and every day between now and the November elections.
Make no mistake, we are in crisis. We are beset with enemies both inside and outside of the country, all of them focused on keeping us from exercising our birthright. Our birthright? Creating a government of, for and by the people of the United States of America. Creating a government of the people for probably the first time in our lives here in the US. What will that government look like, and will there be a government at all? We are the only ones that can determine that, if our interests are to be served.
The Republican Party … was literally shattered into fragments, and we had no fewer than five Republican Presidential candidates in the field. In the place of two great parties arrayed against each other in a fair and open contest … the country was overrun with personal factions. These, having few higher motives for the selection of their candidates or stronger incentives to action than individual preferences or antipathies, moved the bitter waters of political agitation to their lowest depths.
President Martin Van Buren, writing about the election of 1824.
His book is a free Kindle book. Read the whole thing.
I listen to every episode of Throughline (on NPR) that comes out. I haven’t missed an episode so far. All of them have been worth the time to listen, but this week’s episode provided an insight on a modern figure that we Americans and other free peoples of the world should take the time to learn more about.
…because if we don’t counter his plans for us, what happened to Moscow and Chechnya and Ukraine could well happen in your town/state/country soon.
January 26, 2020.
The Russian language has an especially rich word for a person skilled in the act of compromise and adaptation, who intuitively understands what is expected of him and adjusts his beliefs and conduct accordingly: prisposoblenets
I became convinced that the most edifying, and important, character for journalistic study in Russia is not Putin, but those people whose habits, inclinations, and internal moral calculations elevated Putin to his Kremlin throne and who now perform the small, daily work that, in aggregate, keeps him there.
Saratova at one point quotes a Russian movie about gangsters led by their circumstances into a life of crime: “It’s not us who are broken, it’s our life.” Ultimately, Between Two Fires is a good book about Russia, but a great book about ethics, choice, and coercion — and to read it is to be reminded that one of democracy’s most important freedoms is the freedom to be good.
“I felt my eyes swelling as though they would burst from their sockets, and the veins on my temples were dreadfully distended with pressure of blood upon my head,” Brown wrote. “I felt a cold sweat coming over me that seemed to be warning that death was about to terminate my earthly miseries.”