"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Nervous Nellie And COVID–Scared Out Of Her Wits And No Place To Run

Mary Barker had always been a Nervous Nellie, afraid of her own shadow since she was a little girl.  She worried about crossing at crosswalks, looked in both directions, waited for the light to turn a solid green, and then – and only then – would she step off the curb.  She was afraid of swallowing a fishbone and even after her mother had squished the salmon into an orange pulp, squeezing and fingering it to be sure there was flesh and flesh alone, she picked at it around the edges.  It took her far longer to eat than the rest of the family who at first were polite enough to wait until she finished before getting up from the table but soon got impatient and simply pushed their chairs back and left, leaving dutiful, obedient Mary to complete the painful ritual of eating from the edges in, poking at the each successive clot of fish, and finally forking in the last fragments of salmon bits.

“No more fish”, shouted her father at the end of a particularly laborious meal.  A lovely bluefish, caught that day from the Atlantic, filet and grilled on the Weber, was chopped, mangled, and mashed before his daughter would even look at it.

She always sat in the Emergency Row of the school bus, in the right rear backseat of the car (the one farthest from the impact of a head-on crash), and in the back of the auditorium.  She covered her mouth and nose when she got close to someone speaking, washed her blouse with soap and Clorox every evening to disinfect it, practiced the best escape route from her bedroom to the outside in case of fire, said only one prayer at night (“Bless me, O Lord, and keep me safe”).  Getting through her own perilous, treacherous day was more than enough to hope and pray for let alone having to worry about others.

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Fortunately she grew out of most of her worst phobias and risk-aversion, but the essence of extreme caution remained.  She never got over her fear of flying, the Beltway, infected cuts, and street cats; but managed well enough to be considered for promotion and reward in her job.  Outwardly she gave no signs of her generalized anxiety and social hypochondria, made reasonable excuses to avoid the Bay Bridge, I-95, and loud musical venues; and was liked and welcomed by her colleagues and acquaintances.

Image result for images Bay Bridge chesapeake

Sex and a satisfying love life were far more difficult to achieve, however.  There was always that niggling fear that her partner ‘had something’ or would take her to unsafe, loud, crowded clubs; undercook the meat, or drink intemperately.  She was cute, lively, and engaging; and men found her eccentricities appealing if strange.  There was always a break-even point for her – when she knew it was time to head for shore rather than risk sticking with a leaky rowboat – and in every case, however different, she knew what it was and when to cut bait.  As she got older the break-even point moved closer and closer to the beginning of the affair, so relationships had no chance of maturing let alone lasting; but at least for the time being she was happy enough with serial one-offs, particularly if the men were sexy.

She was never sure how she survived the AIDS epidemic back in the 90s.  She was convinced that she would get the disease and die a horrible disfiguring death; and was one of the very last to get the message that you could not get sick from doorknobs and air kisses.  She was a nervous wreck during those years, afraid of everyone who came within ten feet, scrubbing every last bit of clothing and her hands until they were red and raw, staying out of movie theaters and swimming pools, and buying the most expensive indoor air purification systems available.  

Unfortunately she grew up in the Fifties when the polio epidemic was at its height, no vaccine was available, and misinformation about transmission was rampant.  Her mother was among the most vigilant of her community and became obsessive about the disease.  If it hadn’t been for truancy laws she would have kept Mary home from school; but she made her daughter take the maximum number of allowed absences before truancy became an issue.  Polio is a disease spread by fecal matter and is not airborne, so most of the precautions taken by parents were unnecessary and punitive; but that did not deter Mary’s mother who became a scouring witch.

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As fate would have it, just as she was about ready to retire and lead a comfortable, monastic existence in her cabin in West Virginia, COVID hit.  All her hopelessly erratic and irrational fears of disease borne of her experiences with polio and AIDS came home with a vengeance. She felt vulnerable, unprepared, and angry.  How could this happen to her again?  The same fear of contagion, the same oppressive isolation, the same brutal scrubbing of hands, clothes, furniture, and doorknobs; the same fear of proximity and panic over crowded spaces once again hemmed her in.  The hardwired psychological errors programmed into her behavioral DNA which she had tried so hard to ignore or dismiss were up again and active.  Her fears kicked in again as they had decades ago, only this time her defense mechanism was as badly tattered as others’ immune systems. 


Early on in the epidemic, low on staples, and left to fend for herself as delivery services bent and cracked under the unfamiliar load, she prepared to go to the supermarket.  She wore two masks, goggles, surgical-quality gloves, and a raincoat; and even then hesitated before crossing the threshold.  What if…what if…what if….? she wondered as she dithered before the door.

Now by this time in most people’s lives – a time well past retirement age when there are but few, sparse, bare, years of existence remaining – one begins to prepare for the end, turning to religion or stoicism before it is too late.  Forget the past, what you have or haven’t done, love affairs missed or ended badly, mistakes made, opportunities taken, profits and losses realized; and get ready.  This preoccupation with the end of one’s life usually shunts aside any more pedestrian concerns – leaky roofs are notoriously never fixed, dinners get microwaved, and tax issues become someone else’s problem.  Not so for Mary Barker. Would that she could shunt and marginalize her fears of dying from COVID.  Unlike many of her friends of the same age who said that they refused to be sequestered, isolated, locked away from family and friends.  If surviving COVID meant incarceration, locked down in a gulag, then they wanted no part of it.  Better to die while living rather than to wrinkle, shrivel and die alone.

It all boiled down to this – fear of dying and staying alive at any and all costs.  It was this unspoken, hidden, but persistent fear that had fueled her paranoia for years.  So that was it, she said to herself.

Mary was not alone in this ahistorical fear.  It was an ancillary of the Law of Unintended Consequences.  Now that we can live to 100 and thanks to modern medicine, traffic laws, and a measure of civility we can expect to live that long; we are terrified and obsessive about keeping the death from the door.  Back in the days of the Napoleonic Wars when Russian and French troops clashed in monumental battles, tens of thousands of soldiers died in a single day.  Tolstoy in War and Peace describes the mayhem of the Battle of Borodino.  Amidst a hail of cannonballs and a withering fusillade of musket fire, Russian soldiers were almost happy.  If one had to die before age 35 (the average life expectancy of 1800), then it was far better to die a heroic, honorable death on the battlefield than a painful, slow one from an infected foot at home.  Life was not conditioned only by staying alive but by considering, accepting, and even welcoming death.

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Even though Mary had had an Aha! experience and understood the nature of her fears, there was little she could do about them.  it was far too late even after a miraculous epiphany to change.  She would have to act like a recovering schizophrenic.  “I know the people I see on my front porch are not real;  so as real as they seem, I will just ignore them”. Easier said than done, of course, but at least she tried.  “Too soon old, too late schmart” was an old Yiddish expression which also applied.  Not that it makes any difference to your dying or your life after death, but it helps to know what’s what.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Antifa, BLM, And Defund The Police - Nine Hundred Rounds A Minute And The Law Of Expected But Ignored Consequences

Now let's get the kids and pack up the car
Take that vacation we've been waiting for
Drive across this country, leave our worries far behind
Sing in four-part harmony to "Sweet Adeline"

'Cause I got these books and maps from Triple 'A'
And we'll visit friends and sites along the way
Bring the bikes and toys and diapers, pay the neighbor's sons
Call to stop the mail and honey, don't forget the guns

Don't forget the guns, you know exactly what I mean
Bring the pistols, bring the Uzi and the old AR-15
We don't look for trouble but by golly if we're in it
It's nice to know we're free to blow 900 rounds a minute

Image result for image ar-15

Cheryl Wheeler’s song ‘Don’t Forget The Guns’ has never been more popular. Anti-gun advocates see irony, satire, and the absurdity of the American gun culture.  Second Amendment defenders see a popular expression of what they have known for a long time – America has always been a violent place becoming more so – and that the need for armed self-defense is more necessary than ever.  Forget the cover to the playbook – that the Second Amendment is all about hunters’ rights.  The music is all about the pistols, the Uzis, and the AR-15s. 

This is a time of radical political upheaval.  The deaths in police custody of a number of black men have sparked riots reminiscent of those of the late 60s during which the centers of Washington, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Newark were torched, burned and vandalized.  A routine traffic stop in Watts, a black inner-city neighborhood of Los Angeles, in which stepbrothers Marquette and Ronald Frye were pulled over by a white California Highway Patrol officer while driving their mother’s car, quickly escalated.  Marquette failed a sobriety test and panicked as he was arrested; and a scuffle broke out between him and one of the police officers. Ronald joined in, followed by the boys’ mother.  The police attempted to arrest all three but the crowd which had gathered became abusive and violent.  By later in the evening the riot was in full force, with rocks, bottles and more being thrown at the buses and cars that had been stalled in traffic because of the escalating incident.  News of the incident spread quickly throughout the country, and soon similar violent street protests ensued. 

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White Americans were shocked and disturbed.  Lyndon Johnson had just signed the Civil Rights Act five days before, and they had assumed that a period of racial harmony was about to begin.  They were unprepared for the outbreak of indiscriminate violence, attacks upon police and National Guard troops, and the random vandalism against public and private institutions, shops, and offices.  At the same time radical black activists like Stokely Carmichael, Rap Brown, and other members of the Black Panthers as well as Malcolm X publicly rejected the peaceful, non-violent philosophy of Martin Luther King; and threated even more violence and mayhem if white America did not pay attention. White America was put on notice.

The country in the mid-Sixties was far more conservative – even under the Presidency of Johnson – than it is now.  Although LBJ championed the cause of civil rights, welfare, and poverty reduction, it was within a collaborative, bi-partisan environment; and before radical white liberal progressivism was even thought of.  J Edgar Hoover, an arch-conservative and very hostile to black radical activism, moved to neuter the Black Panthers.  Members were exiled, arrested, and removed from public life. 

Image result for Images J Edgar Hoover

Black militancy never disappeared, however, and gained recognition within the now more general 60s social revolution, highlighted by largely white anti-war protests.  The decade of the Sixties after 1965 was one of turmoil, dissent, dissatisfaction, and dramatic social reform; and the repercussions of that open-ended political era are felt today.  Progressivism was born of the anti-social movements of the era, and after the Vietnam War ended and civil rights legislation took hold, white liberal activists took on women’s rights, gay rights, and ethnic rights.  The police, military, secret services, and the FBI were increasingly cast as the enemy of the people and impediments to their legitimate struggle for full equality.  Within the last few years, the culture of inclusivity and identity gave minority groups free rein.  It was racist and abusive to even assume that white, middle-class values should be applied to them.

It is no surprise that the urban violence of today resembles that of 1965.  In fact it is surprising that it didn’t happen sooner.

Just as the black activists of the Black Panthers and their white liberal and black supporters were energized by the Watts and Newark riots – shows of force, anger, and solidarity – so today’s Black Lives Matter and their white liberal supporters are equally energized; and have felt that time is right for systemic social change. Not only should police be chastised, warned, disciplined, and fined; they should disappear.  A socialist, Utopian state of populist rule should be created where citizens govern and police themselves.  Not only should the police be disbanded, but capitalism itself should be broken and replaced by an economic system more congenial to and supportive of the oppressed.

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Most Americans are appalled by these events.  It is one thing to question police tactics; but another thing entirely to leave cities to the very vandals who are destroying them.  It was one thing to understand and sympathize with the plight of minorities whose economic and social progress has been far slower than anyone had expected and hoped; but another thing to scrap the system of enterprise and opportunity which has for two hundred years promoted prosperity, individual growth, and social strength.

Which brings us back to Cheryl Wheeler and ‘Don’t Forget The Guns’.  Arms sales not surprisingly have risen dramatically – so much so that there is now a shortage of ammunition.  Although progressives see this phenomenon as another expression of white racism, others see it as a natural reaction to the Law of Unintended Consequences; or, what do you expect when the police are defunded, disbanded, and eliminated at a time when urban crime is at its highest level in decades and when the streets are filled daily with violent protest?

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America is fundamentally, collectively, and historically both a violent and individualistic nation.  The Wild West was a lawless, violent place where arming was the only way to assure some measure of safety and protection; and if the law was to be taken into individual hands, and if judgments were to be subjective and arbitrary, then arming made even more sense.  If liberal Democrats win the elections of 2020 and the extreme progressive platform on which they are running becomes reality, then a call to arms will be evident, immediate, and expected.  Progressives are rushing ahead with idealistic, impossible, divisive, and inflammatory programs, the consequences of which will be damaging and destabilizing.  Defunding, neutering, and eliminating the police will surely lead to more crime not less; and more violence, more disrespect, more incivility, and more mayhem.  Buying pistols, Uzis, and AR-15s is not the unexpected consequence of such policies and programs but the expected one.  Progressives who claim that white America is backward, ignorant, and retrograde are in fact encouraging the same code and principles of the Wild West they claim to hate.

Oh riding along we'll follow the signs
Over the mountains under the pines
Up to Boot Hill where they got what they gave
In the land of the free, you've got to be brave

Don't forget the guns, you know exactly what I mean
Bring the pistols, bring the Uzi and the old AR-15
We don't look for trouble but by golly if we're in it
It's nice to know we're free to blow 900 rounds a minute

Bring the pistols, bring the Uzi and the old AR-15
We don't look for trouble but by golly if we're in it
It's nice to know we're free to blow 900 rounds a minute

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Systemic Nonsense–The Hysteria Of The Wokest Of The Woke

Betty Farmer was convinced that she had expunged the last trace of her own systemic racism until a quick, unrelated search on Ancestry.com revealed that her great-great grandfather did not only own slaves but was a Southern grandee who had owned, bought, and sold at least a thousand slaves for and from his Georgia plantation.  How had she missed this critical piece of family history? More importantly, now what?  It was one thing to call out Uncle Harry, a loudmouthed Trumpist, for his racism – Harry after all could listen to her screeds and defend or justify his beliefs in real time – but what about a long-dead relative whose legacy was permanently on record?  How much penance, denial, and refusal would it take to expiate the guilt?  How much abject obeisance to her progressive handlers would be required for them to keep her in the fold?

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At first she thought she could keep the family skeleton in the closet, but the Internet being what it is, leaks not only happened, but always happen.  A cousin who for years had resented Betty’s hammering of family heroes for their greedy capitalism, misogyny, and homophobia and who had been pulled out of line for her own racial ignorance and indifference, had got a hold of a printout of one of Betty’s searches and went with it.   The slave-owning, Confederate flag-waving, Simon Legree story of the Farmer family was out of the bag, public, and sensational.

It was one thing to tear down a statue of Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis; but another thing entirely to remove the Hon. Hiram W. Farmer from the records.  Betty became obsessed with the man, his family, and Rosewood, the 1000 acre cotton plantation along near Augusta.  The grainy photographs of him with his daughters, all decked out in crinoline, ribbons, and fancy hats,  Seeing Negro servants behind and attentive to them and elegant men standing on the steps of the mansion  beneath the tall Georgian pillars of the 25 room, elegantly furnished antebellum home, looking out over the tonsured and manicured lawns made her cringe with guilt and shame.

“What can I do to make amends?”, she asked LaFarge Johnson, the local representative of Black Lives Matter in her home town of New Brighton who simply sneered and dismissed her with a “Nothing”.  Not only was she a systemic racist by upbringing, community, and education; she had racist blood in her veins and nothing short of a revolutionary transfusion would rid her of that taint. “Defile their graves”, he said. “Pull up and topple their gravestones. Spit on hallowed ground”.

And so she obeyed and found the ancestral Georgian home and the Farmer plot under a grand magnolia overlooking the river and fertile bottom land nearby.  “Here lies Hiram Farmer, father, patriot to the Southern cause, Christian, and true believer” said the tombstone; but she hesitated.  Defilement of her own personal history would hurt and add to the already ponderous guilt she bore.  Wasn’t there some other way, she wondered, a way to honor her dead ancestors and protest what they stood for?

Image result for images brutal slavery overseer

Absolutely, unequivocally ‘No’, said LaFarge, using spicier and more unaccommodating street language. She simply had a longer row to hoe, racially speaking, than others.  In religious terms, it was 100 Our Fathers, 50 Stations of the Cross, and 1000 Hail Mary’s just to get off the mark. 

Another Black Lives Matter brother had a better idea.  She would make the perfect poster child for the Movement.  Who could be more convincing than a descendant of slave owners who renounced completely slavery, the South, and American history before 1965? Compliant and tearful, she stood before conventions of white, liberal, equally guilt-ridden BLM supporters and beat her breast in a thousand mea culpas imploring them to renounce their systemic racist sentiments.  “If I, the descendant of slave owners can renounce my family, my legacy, and my history can do it, so can you”.

She was a great success.  She conjured images of great-great-grandfather Hiram beating black men, sodomizing black women, and whipping black children; rose to theretofore unrealized oratorical heights, and yelled, “Black Lives Matter” again and again until she was hoarse.

LaFarge wondered how many other repentant white folk there were within reach.  If Betty Farmer had been gifted to him for the asking, there could be others.  Like a pimp on 125th Street, hustling for trade for his stable, he scanned his white supporters and asked them with Biblical reference, “Who among you is innocent?"  Once again, he used much saltier and hip language, but the message was clear.  Any white person with a questionable past should step forward and be known.

Robert L. Mouselle, a Yale academic had been on the front lines of the fight for racial, gender, and economic justice since the early days of the civil rights movement  There was no liberal cause that Prof. Mouselle did not espouse.  He and his equally committed wife, Leona, had championed every fight for social reform that had come across their desks.  The problem that Bob Mouselle had had to overcome was his storied American heritage.  

Mayflower | History, Voyage, & Facts | Britannica

Although his maternal ancestors had come over on the Mayflower and his paternal family had settled Jamestown; and although his great-great-great grandfather had fought against the British in the American Revolution; and although his great-grand uncle had been given a silver star for bravery against the British in the War of 1812; and although his great maternal grandfather was a Colonel, aide to General Sherman in his march to the sea, his history was tainted and in need of reform. 

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While most Americans would have been proud to have had such a rich American legacy, his academic associates were suspicious.  Wasn’t the War of 1812 simply a reason to ‘repatriate’ Choctaw and Chickasaw allies west of the Mississippi? Weren’t his New Bedford militiamen formerly slave traders in the Three Corner Trade?

In fact, as irony would have it, one of Bob’s ancestors not only participated in the Three Corner Trade, but was one of New England’s biggest slave traders.  He profited enormously from the sale of Africans to the Caribbean and from the rewards of the collateral rum and molasses trade.

So Bob, more fraught with racial guilt than Betty Farmer – Bob was a scion of the progressive movement and Betty was only a handmaiden – went on the hustings with LaFarge Johnson to denounce America’s slave-holding past and serve as the perfect example of how systemic racism could be expunged.  If Bob, with his patriotic American heritage could call out his compatriots and denounce America, then the message would get across loud and clear.

Bob, a professor at Yale, made no bones about his progressive, reformist agenda; and for his English literature classes, he chose works not for their artistic merit but for their political import.  He was a Deconstructionist’s Deconstructionist.  Every line from Chaucer to Faulkner was parsed, reviewed, and taught to make a point – racism and anti-social, imperialist thinking was pervasive, historical, and inevitable.  University administrators were delighted to see such an outspoken advocate for black justice, gay rights, and ethnic pride. 

Whether by happenstance or Movement insight, Bob and Betty were put on the same docket.  Not that they would speak on the same platform, to the same crowd, or in the same venue; but they were an independent vital tag-team.  BLM were delighted to have two generationally different, gifted and passionate speakers.  Both had the credentials BLM was looking for.  Although there were many well-known supporters of the movement, they did not have the historical weight of Bob and Betty.  Noam Chomsky and many other older liberals were Jewish immigrant/refugees; and while they could speak to prejudice and oppression, they could not do so within the American context.  Direct descendants of slave owners meant something which the shtetl never could.

400 years' anniversary of slaves arriving in America - does it ...

Betty and Bob never met, but both would have been delighted at each other’s wokeness.  Bob demanded compliance from his Yale colleagues and thanks to his energy, passion, and credentials even the most diffident of Associate Professors signed on to his radical socialist agenda.  As before, if an American blue-blood, heir to a historical legacy dating from the Mayflower, could be so passionately insistent on taking down the American citadel, so could they.

Betty rallied the minions.  If a simple hometown girl with patriotic roots could switch sides, color allegiance, and political philosophy in pursuit of a woke, righteous cause, so could they.

Betty’s cousin- the one who discovered and displayed her cousin’s slave-owning, racist past – never budged an inch.  She was proud of Hiram Farmer, not necessarily for his slave-holding, but for his cavalier tradition, his insistence on cultural sophistication, gentility, manners, and respectful honor of the past.   She, unlike her woke cousin, was able to look holistically at her forbears.   What was the sum of their lives, their accomplishments? Certainly not just additive numbers in a social column.

The two squared off at Easter and Christmas dinners, stared each other down, but out of respect for Aunt Elizabeth and the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, said nothing.   They each had gone their own ways.  Poor, innocent, gullible Betty had been co-opted by the an-historical forces of BLM, shanghaied from a storied American family by an inchoate mob.  She had been forced to reject her heritage, her family, and her history; but she was complicit since the flaccidity of her character had always led her to unsavory places.  BLM was a convenient cover for grievances which had nothing to do with racism but community dysfunction and social desuetude; but Betty was too na├»ve, gullible, and susceptible to see it.

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One can only admire Betty’s cousin who refused to be cowed by demands to disavow her heritage and feel sorry for Betty who out of  a consequential insecurity of character and a desperate need to belong hooked her wagon to whatever popular juggernaut that happened to push its way through the crowd.

Such is the spectrum; but it is hard to wonder at the hysterical nonsense of the wokest of the woke, and at those who ignore history, disavow parentage and legacy, and assume a righteous but never-earned place at the American table.  This too will pass.  American fads are notorious and play themselves out within months if not years; but meanwhile it is taking its toll.  It is twisting the good sentiments of Americans like Betty Farmer, taking the intelligent likes of Bob Mouselle out of circulation, and forcing Betty’s cousin into a defensive activism she never sought.