How Can I Keep From Singing?

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I have been fortunate so far during this pandemic. My family has not contracted the disease, my income has been steady since I am retired, and both of my sons in neighboring states are still employed. In fact, my older son quit his job due to concerns about the morality of keeping his bookstore open to walk-in traffic, and ended up getting a better job in a management training position. So it seems like the height of arrogance to mention what this pandemic is taking from me.

I am a singer. I have always been either in church choirs, choral groups, or even belting out songs on stage. For over 50 years, singing has been an integral part of who I am. But. With the corona virus, that has come to an abrupt halt. For how long, I don’t know. See, when you sing, you also spray. I see little drops on the music sheet as we go through the pages of scores. You accept the fact that you will spray others, and others will spray you. Before the advent of this virus, that was of little consequence. You accepted it, just like you accepted the shoulder-to-shoulder experience, especially when you have the opportunity to sing a major choral work with an orchestra accompanying you.

Now, it is apparent that choral singing is a breeding ground for exposure to the virus. Many have seen this report  from the CDC that showed 87% of singers in a community chorus were infected after two weekly rehearsals in the Seattle area after community transmission began. As a result, both my wife and I have had to reconsider our involvement in our singing groups. When our church goes back to live services, it will likely be without choral singing. Quite simply, there is no way you can provide adequate spacing in space-limited choir lofts to ensure a lack of viral transmission. Since I have always considered my singing to be a significant part of my service to our church, and a reason why I continue to be a church member. Now? What will take its place in my soul? As the hymn says, “How can I keep from singing?”

Similarly, to be a member of the local symphony chorus will also come into question this year. We already lost a performance of Carmina Burana this spring when the symphony cancelled its remaining concerts. The chorus will likely come back in September, and during a normal year, we would begin work on the major piece (Mozart Requiem) scheduled for next spring, while preparing our own music for a chorus concert around the holidays, along with the music to share with the holiday pops concert with the West Virginia Symphony. We’ve already decided that we will likely miss the fall season, with the hope that conditions have changed enough by this winter that we will be able to participate in the spring. Since we’ve sung the Requiem several times, it is not a matter of learning the notes, but bringing the parts back into active memory so that the singing becomes natural and nuanced. We can do that just with rehearsals after the first of the year. But the decision to forego the fall semester comes with a deep sense of regret. We are in the target demographic for this virus, and although we’ve been spared the crisis of larger cities, the virus is opportunistic, and loves to spread through exactly the type of gathering we participate in. So even if we avoid catching the virus, it still is exacting its price from us.

A Quilt For All Seasons

Anne's quilt

I’m turning this post over to my wife, Carrie, who wanted to share a little bit about the quilting  process, and how it is healing emotionally. Let me just say that this is the first quilt she has made in a long time that was not blessed by our cat Napoleon, who died in early December. Napoleon blessed the quilts by laying on them as Carrie put on the binding.

 

I am a quilter. Pictured here is the quilt that I have sent to my niece Anne, who is a 2020 high school graduate.

I had been working on this quilt since back before Christmas. While it was in progress, shortly before Christmas, something very distressing happened to me. (I don’t want to go into details).  One afternoon, I carried that distress one afternoon to my sewing machine.

Before I go on, let me explain a little about how this particular quilt block is constructed. You start with two contrasting squares of fabric, sew them together in a certain way, then cut them in a certain way, press open, turn,  re-sew, press, cut again, turn again, sew one more time to finish the block. Laying them out in rows and sewing the rows together forms the all-over pattern pictured.

So that day, as I watched the blocks form in front of my eyes and saw their beauty, the distress I was feeling just seemed to melt away. A couple of hours of doing this and a great happiness replace the distress.

So, I guess the moral to this story is that we all need beauty in our lives. Whether is doing something visual, like quilting, or making music (which I also do), the human spirit needs beauty.

Quilt closeup

Finally, I know that a comforter from Target is just as able to keep my niece warm when she is able to go to college, but a quilt also covers her with love and lets her know she is not alone.

This is why I quilt. And, indeed, quilting is one thing that has kept me sane during the social distancing.

Long Time Coming, This Virus Crisis

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So, we are now in the world flavored with corona. A world where many still claim that the virus is no worse than the seasonal flu, and that there is absolutely no reason to accept economic damage due to a stated need of preventing an exponential rise of cases from completely overwhelming our medical capabilities. These deniers of all things uncomfortable to them refuse to accept any evidence that hasn’t slapped them upside of their heads with a 2×4. They may be a small fraction of the total population of the US, but they speak loudly, and are prone to simultaneously demonstrate many of their rights, as they parade with placards, guns, and the incongruous mash-up of the US flag and the Confederate battle flag. The images of unmasked faces spitting their hatred towards state legislators will be engrained in the history textbooks of the future as they describe this episode in our nation’s narrative.

These bloviators are encouraged by their cult leader, who speaks in the Twitter language. This is a strange language, where thoughts are compressed to bullet points, and ….. becomes the joining conjunction. I can foresee a future library where these masterful expositions of momentary blips of what passes for thought, are portrayed as the speech form of the future. Forget writing meant to last longer than the moment. That is so elitist! Instead, we need to speak directly to the common man, bypassing the superfluous filter of the media. For too long those people have held sway over the agenda of this nation. No wonder we’ve become the laughingstock of the world, pretending that we cared about anything other than gross economic growth. For the sweet nirvana of growth is the only thing that matters,.

It is truly amazing that this nation can be brought from the “Greatest economy in the history of the world,” within two months to a basket case where people line up for miles in cars in order to access a food handout. One might say that the apparent prosperity we enjoyed was an illusion, sustained by the necessary labor of those we now celebrate as the indispensable ones. You know, those who we truly valued by paying wages that precluded any ability to save. Instead, we encouraged overconsumption by the easy availability of credit. Credit for vehicle payments, credit for mortgages, credit in the form of credit cards that ensnare millions into a life of making minimum payments, credit traps like payday lenders. All it took to pierce this illusion of prosperity has been a simple little invader, the tiniest subdivision of life.

The hollowing out of the economy has taken decades. Every so often, we saw what could go wrong with the increasing financialization of our economy. The practice of using junk bond financing in order to make hostile bids for existing stable companies got a little too brazen. Michael Milken, one of the early users of this technique, found that using insider trading in conjunction with the purchasing of a company worked even better, and eventually he was charged and convicted of securities fraud back in 1989. It is not a surprise to learn that he was pardoned by President Trump in February 2020. But it has not been the actual effect of the technique that has caused the most damage to this nation. No, it has been the modification of corporate behavior as a response to the vulnerability exposed from corporate raiders which has inflicted the damage and greatly increased the inequality we have in our nation.

Once corporate boards realized they were liable to be attacked by outside financial wizards, they took many of the actions those wizards would inflict on their victims. No longer was it beneficial to play a beneficial role in the local economy by paying more in wages, and supporting the local economy through donations. Nay, now all that matters is to reward the stockholders. When you combine that with the opening of China, and its legions of low wage workers and its ignoring of environmental restrictions, you saw company after company outsource production to this new savior of the world’s economy. This nation could survive by doing the design work, and the marketing and sales for the products returning via container ships. Component cost is the sole determinant of what is good. The lower the component costs, the more gross margin can accumulate on the final product.

The next piece in this financialization nightmare came about when computer technology made it possible to arbitrage taxation rates among the various countries. If you establish a subsidiary in a low tax location, then use it to move product from one country to another, you can take some vigorish off the top and allocate some of the supply chain profit to this new entity. Now all nations became engaged in the race to the bottom for corporate taxation rates, since all were liable to be victimized by this new technique, and were likely to see taxable profits disappear from their shores.

Then layer debt onto this structure. Not debt for new facilities, for opening new markets, but debt to directly reward the shareholders and corporate executives by enabling the buyback of shares and goosing the stock price. All are happy (except for those who lose their jobs when business does turn down and the debt repayment leads to bankruptcy of the company).

Of course, there are those people who do not fit into this new world so neatly. They are those who have to provide their labor in a single location, who cannot leverage their skills across the globe. People like those who remove our trash, and serve us coffee, and wait tables or bartend, those who provide health care services, those who are in the first responder ranks. As we’ve seen in these past two months, they are the ones who stitch together the threads of society. Without them, we unravel. That is why this original stand at living in quarantine was so important, since we saw in other nations and in New York what could happen when one essential part of this structure became at risk. When health care workers are overwhelmed, the entire health care system becomes dysfunctional at the very time it is being depended on by so many.

But in the corporate environment we live in, every action has its down sides. By closing the health care facilities to discretionary procedures, only a fraction of the personnel employed at these facilities were needed. Therefore it is the nurses and orderlies and service personnel not engaged in the ICU who became expendable, and were furloughed. So we see the extreme irony of health care workers joining the army of the unemployed at the same time as we are depending more heavily than ever on health care workers. Similarly, as assisted living facilities and nursing homes were co-opted by for-profit companies, the need for profit resulted in fewer and fewer resources being available in the front line of these facilities. For the investors, what was important is that the facilities paid their rents for their buildings, which were owned by corporations separate from the health care companies. Thus, we see deaths concentrated in these facilities as they become overwhelmed by the flood of illness.

When even pandemics are viewed through a partisan lens, it is very likely that no real structural change will happen if and when we return to “normal” lives. Even if the power in the Senate and the White House change in the upcoming election, we know that a substantial minority in this nation will never accept the legitimacy of the government. Somehow, we must break the hold of the personality cult that has poisoned the minds of so many, so much so that they ignore all signs of incompetence and mental illness in their leader. It remains to be seen whether the death and illness caused by this virus will suffice to loosen the bonds of this confederacy of dunces.

Existential Threats Revisited

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Back in 2018, I wrote about existential threats to humanity, or at least to the way of life we have enjoyed. In that post Where the Wild Threats Are , I highlighted seven threats that face humanity. Two of those threats are very germane to the current situation in which we find ourselves. I expanded them into separate posts that I wish to revisit now. They are The Bugs We Fear and the Rise of Willful Ignorance .

In The Bugs We Fear, it covered the overuse of antibiotics leading to reduced effectiveness of those critical medicines, and the increase in viral diseases that we may be prone to. Additionally, the post talked about the increased resistance to vaccinations from those who fear the vaccine more than they fear the disease. Even now, when the entire world is straining to develop an effective vaccine against COVID-19, you see more and more people suggesting that the whole purpose of this virus was to enable the evil globalists to activate their diabolical plots to depopulate the world, and enable a need for a new vaccine that would incorporate the “Mark of the Beast” via nanobots, or some other advanced technology. Once the vaccine is in place, all of us will be mandated to show our proof of vaccination or infection, or else we will not be allowed to participate in society. It is disgusting to see this entire episode of a global pandemic decried as a deliberate attempt to subjugate the world’s population and institute a one-world government, but that is exactly what many people are claiming at this time.

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Which brings me to the second post that is appropriate to revisit. The Rise of Willful Ignorance discusses the attitude of dismissal towards experts and anyone who dares to show expertise. Unfortunately, the actions of the US administration towards the oncoming pandemic showed how this attitude can result in orders of magnitude more collateral damage than if we had heeded the warnings of experts and actually taken effective action before it was too late. Since science presents a reality that cannot be bullied into submission by a personality cult, it has been the scientists at the Federal agencies who have had to deal with the petulance of the leader of this nation. And then when the leader ponders aloud totally ignorant ideas like using oxidizers or disinfectants internally, prompting spikes in calls to state poison control hotlines, it only shows how deeply the willful ignorance runs in this administration. Because the appearance of a disruptive pandemic would wreak havoc in the crowning glory of this administration (the best economy EVER!), the pandemic had to be hushed up. Until the actual rates of infection grew too large to ignore, that is what our leader tried to do. He tried to willfully ignore the existence of this inconvenient new truth. In a pandemic, days matter. The weeksand months that were lost in denial have borne fruit in the enormous number of infections we’ve suffered.

Existential threats are just that. They provide a threat to our very existence, or to the foundations of our society. When you combine two of them as this crisis has done, it becomes a perfect storm and the strings that have held together our society are becoming unraveled. Now we are conducting a gigantic experiment upon ourselves. Can we end up relaxing our mitigation efforts before we have the tools to quickly determine the infection status of all individuals? If we do, and the virus asserts its preeminence over humanity again by successive tsunamis of infection, then the damage done to our economy will be magnified several fold. And the original tolls of hundreds of thousands dead in this country will come true. It was only through the extreme measures we’ve taken that has caused the predictions of the number of dead to be reduced. I fear the unbridled rush towards reopening the economy will result in secondary outbreaks of the virus, and this time, we will not have the will or means to combat it. We’re already in a weakened state from the first onslaught.

May we hope to gain wisdom from our struggles against this horrible disease. And imagine how we would fare against an even more potent microbial adversary, like the ones that used to sweep over civilizations and reorder human relations and economies for decades. The economy we’ve built is too fragile to sustain many more attacks. We will all learn what is to follow in the viral aftermath.

 

It’s Called Exponential Growth, Stupid

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The world and universe we live in operates according to scientific principles. That governs things like the rates of infection from a virus humanity has never before encountered. The response from humanity to exposure to this new virus is similar to when Native Americans were exposed to viruses like smallpox where there was no community immunity. It decimated the native population.

When this sort of illness is unleashed upon our population, mathematical relationships and principles become extremely important. In this case, the two figures are the infectivity rate, or Rowhich is the number of people that each carrier of the virus may be expected to infect, and the mortality rate, or fraction of people who will die once they contract the virus. In the journal Nature, this chart shows how the new virus stacks up against some of the other diseases feared by mankind.

Nature chart

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00758-2

This chart shows that the infectivity is estimated to be both much higher than the seasonal flu, and that the death rate is far, far higher. Higher even than the 1918 pandemic flu which was the last time humanity faced a global pandemic. Given these estimates, and observing the exponential growth in infections, it is the height of folly to believe that we will be able to “open up the country for business” in just over two weeks.

But that is what is being peddled by those who value money more than life. We face an enemy that has the potential to inflict more casualties than all the foreign wars the US has engaged in, during the timeframe of a few months. This wave of potential chaos sweeping across our nation’s health care infrastructure will finally open the eyes of this nation to the raging incompetence of the current administration.

It is certain that this administration has deliberately taken an approach that is aimed at protecting the popularity and electability of this President instead of focusing on the public health crisis we face. And now the evil is oozing out of those on the right on a daily basis, resulting in people saying that the “cure” (social distancing, closure of businesses), will have worse effects than the pandemic will cause. Thus we rescue our economy at the potential expense of millions of victims if we relax our social controls.

Only in an administration where the leader is violently anti-science would such virulent nonsense be allowed to be even breathed as potential policy. Only those who value the economy over the lives of so many future victims would dare to utter such folly. But that is the world we live in at present, where the fear of the deep state has overwhelmed the ability to respond to a real crisis that will not be bullied.

The real pity is that even with the duplicity and incompetence of this President on daily display, support for him is actually growing. Maybe part of that is a desire to pull together, and take common action against an invader. Maybe the naming of this virus by its location of origin is playing at the xenophobic gene, allowing us to turn against that country and all of its residents. Why blame our lax and inadequate response to this virus on the actions of our leaders when we can blame the Chinese?

It is not the bluster and false statements coming from this President that will decide the final outcome. Even if we do everything perfectly, and are able to slow the curve, we will likely have hundreds of thousands dying from this virus. But if we yield to the voices of incompetence and evil, and relax our vigilance just at the time when it matters most, we will be smothered by millions of bodies as the coronavirus tsunami withdraws from our shores. The difference between these future courses will be directly determined by the actions that our leaders take over these next few weeks and months. May we have the wisdom to choose the right course.

Only a Cold

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I caught a cold last week. It showed its ugly presence on Saturday, with spasms of sneezing, a sore throat, and a developing cough. In the four days since that time, I’ve persuaded myself that it is not the dreaded new disease (no fever or chills), and that the disease is receding as I would expect it to. But its appearance even in the time of increased precautions against viral invaders shows that the new virus can be just as sneaky and opportunistic.

It is amazing how quickly the world has changed. Last week at this time, we were still looking forward to taking a trip to Key West for some hedonism. That was before I saw a cumulative display of disease cases day by day since January. When you see for yourself that the rate of reported cases was increasing by 12% per day, the numbers came alive for me and told me that if we ran the risk of taking a trip, we were not going to have a good time. Even if we safely ran the gauntlet and did not catch the disease, our time of relaxation would be ruined by worrying about making it back in one piece.

Having a background in math and statistics made it clear to me that we are in a global exercise we’ve not gone through since 1919. When a new virus emerges and passes into the human population, one that no one has immunity to, and one that appears to have a significant mortality factor, you have to watch it closely in order to gauge its infectivity and its effects. What is ironic is that China and the US shared an initial response to belittle the potential harm that this virus posed. In China, this resulted in the doctor who raised the initial alarm being censured by the Chinese state, prior to the time that the doctor succumbed to the disease. In the US, the potential for an epidemic was ridiculed by the President and his favorite press sources. We heard about the Democratic hoax that was aimed at bringing down the President. Even today, as of March 17, you can see a post by Dr. Ron Paul decrying the response to this epidemic as being overblown. In both cases, China and the US, precious time was lost in responding to the emergence of this disease. They will only take this disease seriously when family members are stricken by the pneumonia this disease can cause, and those family members are turned away from all hospitals because they’ve had to ration respirators and only those under age 80 will be treated. That’s the decision they are making in Italy, having to ration their available slots to the younger population.

It is a bit jarring to hear myself described as elderly, but since I’ve now crossed the age 65 divide, I now fall into the target demographic for this virus. So far the effect for us has been canceled concerts and canceled trips, and a lack of church services. The chorus we’ve been working on for months, a performance of Carmina Burana scheduled for April, has not been canceled formally but since no one can rehearse for it, it is on borrowed time. Our children are out of the house, and though one son is working in retail and will likely take a hit, we are able to help him out if needed. If we are not hit ourselves by the virus, we will weather the storm relatively easily.

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But for the economy of the world, we are now seeing the issues caused by the streamlining of supply chains by linking to non-domestic sourcing of parts. For decades now, the maxim of running public corporations solely for the maximizing of return to the shareholders has caused businesses to rely fully on foreign partners, either for finished goods, or for creating semi-finished goods that get completed elsewhere in the world. Quality improvement processes preached the benefits of lean assembly lines, since excess inventory hid systemic inefficiencies. So more and more businesses performed global integration of their supply chains. That process worked well until there was a supply disruption at the original point of manufacture. If the ultimate goal is to have product available to sell, then some inefficiency may be needed to allow for supply chain interruptions.

The disruptions in supply chains will continue to ripple through the world’s economy for months to come. Add to that the immediate disruption in the lives of service providers who will be laid off from their retail and food service jobs in the coming weeks, and we have the potential for a huge decrease in economic activity during the year. Already the governments of the world are generating proposals for helicopter money to be shoveled out and spread across the land. All of it with money borrowed from our distant descendents. This crisis has the potential to turn into a debt implosion, with the destruction of much of the seemingly secure capital in the world through waves of bankruptcy and discharge of debt. Will this black swan event be the one that causes the world to fundamentally reset its economic system? Growing economic inequality and growing dependence upon government debt to sustain the illusion of economic growth are at the point of totally collapsing. When no one can keep the appearances up, what happens to the world?

The barren shelves in the stores and the anecdotes about pitched battles for the last shreds of toilet paper have shown us how close we are to unraveling as a civilization. As long as we had sports, and access to material goods when desired, and good restaurants to pig out at, then we were happy. But let us have one week where demand outstripped supply, and we see how thin the veneer of civilization is.

I figured that the tone of this post is so much bleaker than most of my posts, that I needed to leaven it with a reminder that there is still beauty in the world. The pictures are of my daffodils that have burst into glorious flower within this past week. Every year I have a couple of weeks of peak daffodils. This is their time, and a reminder that spring is coming, and better times are ahead. I leave you with a delight of daffodils. Stay well in the days ahead.

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Emmanuel Parish, Cumberland – A Gem

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The church on the hill. The hill that used to be where the fort stood back in the French and Indian war days. The fort where they dug trenches for the troops to walk through without risk of drawing enemy fire, trenches that were simply covered up by the church built above in 1850. Emmanuel Parish church in Cumberland Maryland has a history that can simply not be matched by many churches in this country.

Imagine a church located up above the hardscrabble town down by the river. Just across the river, a few hundred yards away, was Virginia. It was a common path for those traveling the underground railroad to take advantage of the tunnels underneath the church. Even though Maryland was a slave state, just a few miles to the north was the famous Mason-Dixon line and the free state of Pennsylvania. Today, the tunnels serve to store electrical switchgear, and the guts of the HVAC system. But always with an ear towards the past, and the footsteps of those who long ago passed through these trenches on their way to a hoped-for freedom.

My family was able to hear about the history of this church and learn the stories from its docent, Ron Growden. It was wonderful to hear him tell the stories and hear his descriptions of the church and its wonderful Tiffany windows and altar. As in many older main-line Protestant churches, the wealth of the church in the past still shines through the memorial gifts given long ago. Only this time, the gifts were manifested in three large stained glass windows commissioned from the Tiffany company. A scene showing the adoration of the shepherds was built, with the window aimed to capture the sun from the east, intended to direct the morning light of the sun  through the image of the Christmas star above the stable. Subtle shadings of blue in the Virgin’s dress were made by increasing the thickness of the glass, making the garment come alive.

Adoration of the shepherds

In the rear of the church, the windows represented the second coming, with angels carrying horns matched by the trumpet en chamade pipes extending perpendicular to the rear wall.

Second coming Tiffany

But for me, the real highlight of the windows was the one depicting the story of Rizpah. Though I am relatively familiar with the bible, I was unaware of her story. How she was a concubine of Saul, and had bore him two sons. How when David took over the throne, he gave Rizpah’s sons up with the other male descendents of Saul to the Gibeonites, and they tortured and killed them. Then Rizpah stood guard over their corpses both day and night to prevent their bodies from being desecrated by animals. In the depiction in glass, her image was borrowed from the statue in New York Harbor, and she held a torch in her hand that lit the ground around her and on the bodies of her sons suspended from crosses. The light that emanated from her torch was golden, and soft, but through Tiffany’s artistry, it becomes a striking focal point for the wall. It is difficult to turn your eyes away from the Art Deco influenced glass portrayal of a strong woman.

rizpah

Though the church has an extensive past, and the money available to the church in the past was evident in the art work made available for future generations, the present state of the church is similar to many other old main-line Protestant churches. Ron told us about the efforts to make the church part of a National Park Service site to commemorate the underground railroad, which would help to off-load some of the support costs for the building. But when we came back to the church the next day on Sunday morning, the morning of the annual meeting for the parish, the attendance was only slightly more than what we experience in our own parish church in Charleston, West Virginia. St. John’s Charleston shares a long history as a flagship downtown church in an Appalachian city worn down by deindustrialization. It too has vivid portrayals in stained glass, although it does not have anything like Tiffany windows to share. But the attendance at services continues to slide, and it seems like the type of religious service it offers is less and less desired as our nation continues its secularization.

Our son was outed at the church that day. He is actually an organist, and has lived in the area for over three years without having revealed that side of his skills to the community of organists. That is a community that is very welcoming, since there are fewer and fewer young organists coming along. Whether he takes advantage of the opportunity and begins an association with this church, I don’t know, but it never hurts to give a gentle guiding touch in a direction that his parents think will help him in his future life.

I wish to express my appreciation to the church and to its website, for the pictures used in this post. The church’s website is https://www.emmanuelparishofmd.org/

July 2023 – A Possible Future

earthquake Though many things had slowed down in the past three years, the media onslaught did not. The news continued to assail its consumers, though now it teemed with stories about the Navy forcibly turning back Chinese relief supplies from reaching earthquake-stricken California. Stories ran about the ongoing fallout crossing the Pacific from North Korea, where huge areas still smoldered after the retribution for the squib nuke that landed near Seattle.

The round-up of dissenters continued apace in much of the rest of the US. Those who failed to consent to making a public profession of support to the Great Leader, awaited the knock on the door, often in the middle of the night. Many who had never seen the need for a gun, were scrambling to procure any kind of protection against the onslaught of supposedly legitimate law enforcement, and the masses of supporters in red hats who believed anyone not in complete agreement with them, was sub-human and deserving of torment and death. It was no longer a matter of winning the next election to reverse the direction of the country, it was a recognition that there would be no next election, that the current regime was instituting a measure of hereditary succession, thus ensuring that only the reality desired by the Trumpistas became the actual reality.

Still, the true realities of the economy occasionally stirred above the shouting of the party in power. Auto manufacture in the US never recovered from the supply chain disruption wrought by the original coronavirus outbreak. Indeed, the degree of economic international interdependence developed over the past few decades, became unraveled at breathtaking speed once it proved impossible to rely upon just-in-time inventory methods. Yet it was proving impossible to reconstruct the same supply chains domestically since no US based company had the resources to build the network of suppliers within this country. But the exhortations from the regime continued, and Potemkin factories were proudly displayed as being the answer for all to see.

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It was the huge quake striking California that really proved to be the death knell for the economy, and the country, to a large respect. The verbal warfare that had been waged between California government, and the Federal government, went hot immediately afterwards. An Executive Order implemented a travel ban into and out of the State of California. The POTUS declared that since they didn’t buy into his administration’s efforts, they could just recover from this disaster themselves. Pictures of the devastation flowed out despite the efforts of the administration to embargo even the knowledge of the extent of the death and damage. The worst came when international efforts to provide succor were turned back by the vessels of the Navy, firing upon the Chinese vessels. Small sailing vessels began to emerge from the coastline and headed both north to Oregon, and south to the Baja as desperate people tried to extricate themselves from the humanitarian disaster.

In Washington, one would never know of the extent of the disaster. All members of Congress had either professed allegiance in huge public ceremonies, or they were summarily dismissed and replaced directly by the President, using the façade of requesting suggestions from the Republicans of each state. The bureaucracy lumbered on, dissension crushed within its ranks. Still, all of the power, and thus the money, flowed through the government. The swamp grew larger and larger, its fetid maw swallowing all of the offerings proffered by the rest of the nation.

The rest of the world wept. Wept for those in California who were trying to recover from their natural disaster. Wept for those in North Korea who were killed in the initial deployment of nuclear weapons. Wept for those in both Korea’s whose lives would be forever altered due to the fall-out. But maybe most of all, wept for the country that used to be the symbol of freedom around the world, now irreversibly turned to the dark side and held under the sway of one man who believed himself better than God.

A Note In Farewell

Brothers Katamotzov  Blinky and Napoleon

He was a gentle giant. Napoleon Dynamite Kitty came into our family nearly 15 years ago, when our neighbor across the street alerted us to the existence of two kittens who had taken up residence in the engine block of his car that was about to be junked. He and his brother (later named Blinky) had apparently been abandoned and found a bit of shelter inside the car body. We took the two black cats in, and after receiving a clean bill of health from our vet, they joined our other two cats, Attack and Meezle. Unfortunately, the former alpha cat Attack was never able to adjust to the stress of having this usurpation of her domain, and she developed nervous system problems. So much that we ended up having to give her kitty valium for several months. But her problems persisted, and she eventually had a stroke and died just before the next Christmas.

We never knew if it was that he was looking for Attack, but Napoleon went missing right after we buried Attack in the back yard. He just flat out vanished. We put an ad in the paper (back in those ancient days when the classified ads still meant something). On New Year’s Day morning, we received a call from someone who said he thought he’d been feeding our cat. We checked the map, and though it was several miles away by road, it was only over the hillside and less than a mile away. So we hauled ourselves out of bed, and searched the area where Napoleon was spotted. We came away empty handed, and my wife and younger son eventually went on to church, where our then 11 year old son prayed for Napoleon’s return during the prayers of the people.

It was the following Tuesday, and my wife was in the den, when motion caught her eye. A black form was coming down the neighbor’s driveway, and making a beeline for our door. Carrie went into the living room, saw that Blinky was asleep on the sofa, and went to open the door. Napoleon came right on in, trying his best to tell her all about his horrendous adventure. He went directly downstairs from there and commandeered the cat feeders. We never knew for sure, but we suspect it was this period of deprivation that caused him to begin to bulk up. He was always a big cat, but he grew into quite a chonky cat after that, weighing over 25 pounds at the high point of his weight. We eventually went to an automated feeder to keep the amount available to them at a reasonable level, but since we had other cats, we couldn’t dial back the food by that much.

The one time you could really tell that Napoleon and Blinky were brothers was when they went downstairs to the basement together. They moved in synch, differences in body mass notwithstanding. You also could see their familial relationship when they fought. Every so often, one would begin to groom the other. The grooming grew more and more aggressive until we had a full-fledged KWF (Kitty Wrestling Federation) match going on. Napoleon, being larger, usually won these matches.

The brothers liked to tag-team hunt as well. Out in our yard an endless supply of voles, mice and chipmunks lived, and we often could see them pairing up against a hapless critter, until either they tired of the chase, or the animal became an extra meal. Carrie quilted a wall hanging of two cats in a room with a fish in a bowl, and I provided the title of the Brothers Katamotzov Pondering Their Next Crime. Blinky and Napoleon were the Brothers Katamotzov.

Napoleon had his way of demanding lap time. I would be in the den working on the computer, when I felt an insistent head butt on my leg. Looking down, Napoleon would be looking up at me, going “Aren’t you going to go someplace where I can join you?” Then I would get up and move to a recliner, and this fat blob of a cat would race across the room to jump up on my lap. But I am not pretending that Napoleon was my cat. No, he was definitely Carrie’s cat. While my lap time was in the morning, hers was in the afternoon, and he blessed innumerable quilts that Carrie made. He would sit patiently on her lap while she sewed down the binding, putting up with the periodic movement of the quilt as she turned yet another corner, and had to readjust the quilt. Napoleon would fall asleep, paws outstretched to provide a bit of purchase against the edge of the loveseat. It was even better when Carrie decided to join him in a bit of a snooze herself. I would come downstairs only to see the two of them providing each other warmth and fellowship.

Both boys developed thyroid issues at the same time. We had noticed that Napoleon was losing a bit of weight, what we didn’t realize was that the weight loss was due to an overactive thyroid. We faced the choice of active treatment, including the possibility of killing the thyroid glands with radioactive iodine, or active pharmaceutical treatment, or a passive approach of adjusting their menu to provide only food that did not contain iodine. Such pet food does exist, at a cost of over $50 for an 8 pound bag, and a similar amount for a case of 24 cans of wet food. We elected that option, since by this time we only had the two brothers with us, and we could easily control the food choices. What was difficult was weaning Blinky away from table scraps. He had grown used to sharing our meals, and could be quite insistent in requesting his share. What we compromised on was giving the boys a bit of a can of their special food at night. Soon the begging for table scraps was greatly reduced, but both cats grew to expect and love their extra meal at night.

As they grew older, they became less adventuresome. A few years ago, their supremacy in the neighborhood was challenged when our neighbor across the street got married, and as part of the package deal, an indoor/outdoor cat named Harold was part of the entourage. Well, Harold did not recognize the neighborhood pecking order. In fact, it took Napoleon getting little notches out of both ears before he ceded his local reign as top cat. Both brothers decided it was better to stay inside than to challenge the interloper.

Both boys were due for injections this September. Just before they went in, I noticed that Napoleon seemed to be breathing differently. Shallow, with more frequent breaths. So I brought that up when we were at the vets. A quick x-ray later, and we discovered that the lungs had filled up with fluid and he was only breathing with the bottom portion of his lungs. We had fluid drained the next day, and he improved, but the x-rays now revealed shadows on his lungs. The vet said that it was likely cancer, but that we could help deal with the symptoms with lasix and an herbal preparation that dealt with excess lymphatic fluid. Otherwise, we could try invasive treatment at a veterinary hospital 150 miles away, where he might be subjected to chemotherapy or surgery. For a 15 year old cat, that would not be fair to put him through that. We agreed to the fluid draining and to squirt pharmaceuticals into his mouth. The first round of fluid was relatively clear, and Napoleon’s breathing improved significantly.

 

But it was only a little more than a month later that we could see him laboring again to breathe. We took him in again, and could see still more fluid in the x-ray. This time, the fluid they took out looked turbid, with reddish color hinting at blood as well. We had to leave him for a couple of days while we visited our son in Richmond, and it was with trepidation that we returned that weekend, not knowing whether Napoleon made it through the time alone. He had survived, and was just as loving as ever. What was different was that he now needed assistance to get up onto the sofa. He was weakening before our eyes. Our next appointment was the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, and that weekend, he blessed two quilts, one for Andrew our younger son, and one for a great-nephew. But on that Tuesday, we took him in knowing that he likely would not be alive when we came back. The x-rays revealed that not only had fluid filled the outside of the lungs, but there was now fluid inside the lungs as well. Very shortly he would have drowned on dry land. We asked for a few minutes to call our sons so they could say goodbye. One never knows for sure what an animal is thinking, but he rubbed his head against the phones where familiar voices appeared. Then they took him back and gave him a sedative, before bringing him into the room with us for the final injections. His end was peaceful, and I could not help but think that we were easing him across the rainbow bridge, rather than trying to hold on for another few days of life that would have been increasingly stressful and painful. That’s the one thing I noticed, is that he never seemed to be in pain. For that, I will always be grateful.

Farewell, our gentle giant Napoleon. His brother Blinky still soldiers on, but we realize that we may be on borrowed time with him as well When a cat gets to be over 15 years of age, you never know when something will come up that marks the end of your time with your faithful companion. Enjoy them while they are around.

 

Thomas Beckett and Donald Trump

3 dollar bill

“Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” This statement, changed slightly over the centuries, was attributed to King Henry II of England in 1170 A.D. While not explicitly ordering someone to go out and murder the Archbishop of Canterbury, that indirect request caused four knights to travel to the cathedral where they murdered Thomas Beckett. It is perhaps the most famous example where actions were brought about due to the statements of a powerful man. Yet no one could hold the King as being directly responsible for the death. After all, he did not order anyone to commit the act. Still, the statement of this monarch was directly responsible for blood to be spilled.

Over the history of civilized man, the desires of the monarch have been put into action by those who wish to curry favor with those who hold power. It has been an implicit meme in our society, made resonant with all of the portrayals of the mafia kingpin whose utterances of a desire are carried out in deadly spays of lead. Yet the kingpin could claim clean hands, since his hand did not touch the gun that applied the fatal touch.

So now, with the current administration, we have a President who excels in indirect commands. You will not find his fingerprints on a decree requiring the Ukraine to publicly announce the commencement of investigations into allegations of malfeasance by those who wished the Don ill back in 2016. You will not find his voice recording explicitly stating that if the Don heard the dulcet magic phrases referring to the commencement of investigations, the Don could make life for Ukraine so much better. No, in the manner of those Mafia Dons of the past, this Donald made his wishes known by indirection. And since he did not explicitly state his must-haves, he could proclaim that his conversations were “perfect”, and that he had done nothing wrong.

So thoroughly have his sycophants adjusted to life under the sway of this man, they race to face cameras where they chant the magic phrases of “no quid pro quo, conversation was perfect, nothing to see here, move along.” The division of the country along party lines continues, and within the chamber that will serve as jurors, no one expects enough defections to result in the removal of the charlatan occupying the office of the Presidency. The sole question is whether enough Republicans will vote to convict to result in a bare majority of Senators agreeing that the egregious acts of this President deserve the ultimate constitutional rebuke. The entire nation will get to see the leader of the Supreme Court serve in a constitutionally-proscribed role as the Chief Justice. And we will get to see whether anyone even gives a crap about what is being discussed before them.

The one statement that Donald Trump made back in 2016, that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose any of his supporters, still rings true. Seeing all of his adoring throngs at yet another of his campaign rallies, watching interviews of these supporters either crying at the thought of the unfairness of Donald’s persecution, or wax indignant about the unfairness of the process of impeachment, gives a glimpse into the mindset of those who still believe that this President is working on their behalf.

I never believed, as I grew up and learned about US history in school, that I would ever see an administration simultaneously so completely incompetent and corrupt. To those who believe that the unraveling of the decades of regulation is good, it is my sincere wish that you get to enjoy the fruits of environmental degradation in the years to come. I took part in the very first Earth Day. As I recall, we went around alleys in our city of Lincoln and helped to clean some stuff up. But that was back when Lake Erie was a dying, fetid pool of water. That was when a feeder stream to Lake Erie had enough hydrocarbons on its surface to burn. That was barely 20 years since deadly smog enveloped a town along the Monangahela river. My father-in-law was going to college only a few miles away from that environmental disaster. I was proud that through the combination of technology and regulation, we’ve been able to get to the point where the air and water in this nation are much cleaner than they were. But this President and this administration obviously views all environmental laws as an unjustified taking from the businesses which would flower once again if only they were freed from the dictates of Washington.

It has been said by those who apologize for this President’s behavior, that we must judge this President by what he has done rather than by what he says. So, with that in mind, let me recite a few of the accomplishments of this administration.

  • Abandoned diplomacy by leaving many positions in the State Department unfilled, and denigrating many remaining employees as not being sufficiently faithful to the President.
  • Appointing many to Federal judgeships who were either designated as being unqualified, or appointing those whose positions lie at the extreme of the conservative spectrum.
  • Abandonment of scientific principles by pulling out of international agreements aimed at solving environmental problems.
  • Allowing meat processors to undergo self-inspection, with the role of Federal inspectors reduced to oversight, thus unleashing future disease outbreaks in the consuming public.
  • Implementing simplistic and incapable policies to control immigration and asylum on the southern border, resulting in the imprisonment of families and enforced separation of family members, with no plans to enable these families to reunite.
  • Undergoing naive diplomatic efforts (since we obviously don’t need diplomats) thus worsening the situation in both Iran and North Korea.
  • Ensuring that those who were defrauded by for-profit educational institutions remain on the hook for the funds borrowed for their bogus education.

I could go on reciting the wonderful accomplishments of this administration, but at this time I do not see the point. For each of the points I list, there are some who say, yes, that is exactly what I wanted our Federal government to do. I wanted it to get out of the way of business and for us to reduce our involvement with international agencies. All I can say is that I hope those people enjoy their salmonella-enhanced diet, while former allies abandon us in future disputes, and while North Korea spreads its nuclear tentacles over the Pacific Ocean. And while the enhanced fires burn across our country, spreading smoke and dust into the lungs of hundreds of millions, those same people can dip their toes in the flooding along our eastern coastal cities that now occurs in synch with the lunar cycle. Maybe a little salt water intrusion will let them know that they indeed made the correct choice back in 2016.