Be Careful What You Wish For

I understand why some people are longing for some rose-colored memory of what the past used to be like. A time when no one had to lock their doors and all the birthday cakes were made from scratch. A time when we were all content in our respective places, supposedly.

The present, for many of us, sucks. I can see why people would like to think that all of society’s ills could be cured by going back in some time machine to a period of former glory.

Nothing ever seems as awful in retrospect, after we’ve survived it. No one can truly remember the pain of childbirth, for example. If they could, we’d be a planet full of only children.

So many people wanted to Make America Great Again that they didn’t stop to think about the consequences. Now the past has rushed up to smack us in the face. We’re experiencing a pandemic not unlike the Spanish Flu of 1918 with no end in sight due to an utter lack of leadership, and 108,000 Americans dead at the time of this writing. We’re seeing unemployment like the Great Depression of the 1930’s, and are embroiled in riots like those of the 1970’s.

All those things were bad enough on their own. We get to go through them all rolled into one. Yay us.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired.

good old days

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The Consequences of This Pandemic

I can’t shake the feeling that this pandemic is going to change the world in ways that we don’t even anticipate. What will life be like after the dust settles? What will we have learned?

I must admit that I’m loving the reduced traffic. I’m hoping that many companies will realize that yes, in fact, they can continue to do business with a lot of their employees telecommuting. And will this habit of consolidating all one’s errands into a single day rather than rushing out whenever the mood strikes have any staying power? Fingers crossed.

What will the psychological impact be? Are we raising a generation of agoraphobics? Will we ever get past the increase in depression? Will anyone ever feel that they had a chance to properly grieve those they’ve lost during this age of social distancing? Will there be a spike in divorces? A spike in unplanned pregnancies? Will we ever lose our quarantine weight?

As horrible as this is to say, I suspect that the tragic decrease in baby boomers due to this virus will reduce pressure on senior care facilities the world over. I suppose that can be interpreted as a good thing. At least from that perspective, if not from any other.

The economic impact is still hard to gauge. Will we bounce back quickly, or will the consequences be dire? Is the age of small business completely over? This pandemic seems to be killing small shops, while package stores are thriving. I know as a landlord I’m feeling the pressure, and I fail to see how my poor tenant will ever catch back up.

And what of travel? Will we ever be able to comfortably travel overseas again? And have we lost our taste for large concerts and sporting events? I know I’ll never feel quite as comfortable sitting cheek by jowl with total strangers again.

Now that we’ve seen nature bounce back ever so slightly due to our inactivity, will we appreciate it more? Will we care for the environment as we should have all along? Having realized what a cesspool we’ve made of the planet, will we make more of an effort to clean it up?

These things are but the tip of an enormous COVID-19 iceberg. But just as with the Spanish Flu a hundred years ago, a hundred years from now people will have all but forgotten what we have gone through and how things were before this pandemic washed over us like the invisible tsunami from hell.

Out of curiosity, I decided to read the Wikipedia page about the consequences of the black death. Other than the few minutes it took for our teachers to instruct us of its existence back when we were in school, most people don’t really think of the black death, and yet it changed the world permanently in many profound ways.

Here are some of the scariest and/or more fascinating bits of this Wikipedia article:

  • Historians estimate that it reduced the total world population from 475 million to between 350 and 375 million. In most parts of Europe, it took nearly 80 years for population sizes to recover, and in some areas more than 150 years.

  • The massive reduction of the workforce meant that labor was suddenly in higher demand. For many Europeans, the 15th century was a golden age of prosperity and new opportunities. The land was plentiful, wages high, and serfdom had all but disappeared.

  • Christians accused Jews of poisoning public water supplies in an effort to ruin European civilization. The spreading of this rumor led to complete destruction of entire Jewish towns, and was simply caused by suspicion on part of the Christians, who noticed that the Jews had lost fewer lives to the plague due to their hygienic practices.

  • Renewed religious fervor and fanaticism came in the wake of the Black Death. Some Europeans targeted groups such as Jews, friars, foreigners, beggars, pilgrims, lepers and Romani, thinking that they were to blame for the crisis.

  • Much of the primeval vegetation returned, and abandoned fields and pastures were reforested.

  • The Black Death encouraged innovation of labor-saving technologies, leading to higher productivity. There was a shift from grain farming to animal husbandry. Grain farming was very labor-intensive, but animal husbandry needed only a shepherd and a few dogs and pastureland.

  • In England, more than 1300 villages were deserted between 1350 and 1500.

  • After 1350, European culture in general turned very morbid. The general mood was one of pessimism, and contemporary art turned dark with representations of death. The widespread image of the “dance of death” showed death (a skeleton) choosing victims at random.

  • The plague was present somewhere in Europe in every year between 1346 and 1671.

What can we learn from the aftermath of the black death?

  • Clearly, our knowledge of medicine and viral transmission has greatly increased, and our ability to communicate is much better, so COVID-19 will not take as many lives as the black death did. That’s a huge relief. But perhaps these numbers should be used to remind us of the importance of social distancing, hand washing, and the use of masks.

  • It would be wonderful if this catastrophe brings about a narrowing of the income gap between the rich and the poor. We definitely need that to have a healthy society.

  • I fear the scapegoating and violence that is already happening. This time it’s focused on Asians and immigrants, and it’s absolutely insane. As if anyone is responsible for the existence of a virus.

  • I hope we see major environmental impacts, in a positive way, and that we don’t all revert to our previous bad habits.

  • I am seeing evidence of all kinds of innovation, and I find that encouraging. I hope we keep that up.

  • There is a very good chance that COVID-19 will return year after year after year, just as the black death did. I hope we come up with a vaccine soon, but I suspect that when we do, we’ll be getting COVID shots every year, right along with our flu shots. This is not a virus that will simply disappear after a few months.

Welcome to the new reality. May we all survive and be made all the better for it. Anything less will be an absolute horror.

dance-of-death

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The Other Shoe

My whole life, I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop. That feeling intensifies when things are going well. Because I can’t have the nice things. I’ve never had the nice things. At least, not for long.

Sooner or later, everything seems to turn to sh**. If I’m braced for it, I can usually handle it, and come out the other side. I’m nothing if not a survivor. But if that darned shoe takes me by surprise, then that would be bad. Really, really bad.

I remind myself of Nelly, a wonderful dog, who flinches every time you reach out to pet her sweet head. She knows all about what having it bad used to be like. She learned early that flinching can soften the blow. How do I explain to her that I love her, and I’ll always love her, and I’ll never hurt her? She deserves to be petted and cuddled and adored. I want her to be able to own it.

I deserve the good stuff, too. I know it. And here lately I have been experiencing it. And I enjoy it. Mostly. But I can’t seem to get out from under that mental shoe of mine. It’s always there, stinking up the place.

I think there are a lot of people out there, walking around with a shoe in their heads. Please be patient with us. We may not show it well, but your goodness really is appreciated. Probably even more than it would be if we were one of those lucky shoeless people.

one shoe

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The Current State

Okay, so I have several theories about our current Grabber-in-Chief, and each one is scarier than the last. Specifically:

  • He’s a little boy who delights in kicking ant hills so he can watch all the little ants scurry around in panic and fury. Why else would he change his views so radically, from one moment to the next, without any reasonable explanation? Even his own staff does not know what the heck he’s going to do, or who he will fire, next.

  • He is so far gone, mentally, that he doesn’t have a clue about what he’s doing. He’s completely unhinged. He’s loopy. Mad as a hatter. He’s off his nut. Brace yourself, folks, because there’s nobody flying this here plane.

  • He’s the purest, most distilled form of stupid on the face of the earth. He makes W look like a genius. He has absolutely no concept of the consequences of his actions, and is utterly incapable of seeing that he needs to rely on expert advice. Never before has this country been expected to bask in the murky waters of such unprecedented incompetence.

  • He is evil incarnate. He doesn’t care who or what he destroys, as long as the end result is personal profit. He has no moral compass whatsoever. We are doomed.

Duck and cover, people, because my worst fear is that the real answer is: all of the above.

mushroom cloud

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Stupid, Stupid Boy

So, it’s fairly certain that one of the biggest fires in Oregon at the moment was started by a 15-year-old boy playfully throwing a smoke bomb into a ravine while hiking in the woods. To hell with burn bans. The world is one big video game! Woo hoo! If we destroy everything, we just hit the reset button, right?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The vast majority of the crime and destruction in this world is perpetrated by boys between the ages of 15 and 24, regardless of race or religion. It’s like they take out their brains and set them on a dusty shelf in the back of their closets for a decade.

I know that’s a sweeping generalization. I’m sure there are plenty of good kids wandering around. But from a statistical standpoint, I wouldn’t bet the farm on any of them. When it comes to violence, theft, graffiti, traffic accidents, bar fights, rape, DUI, and general stupidity, the numbers bear me out.

I hope there are consequences for this kid. I hope he has to help fight this fire. I hope he has to walk through the devastated landscape afterwards and see what he’s done. Somehow, someone has to get through to him.

He won’t be in the stupid stage forever. How will he feel in his 30’s about what he did? This may sound strange, but I hope he regrets it quite a lot. Because that will show that he has developed some sort of a moral compass, as painful as it will be for him. If, on the other hand, he laughs it off, is allowed to get over it, or becomes angry and bitter and stays stuck in his stupidity, then heaven help us all.

forest-fire

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It Hurts When I Do This

Everyone has probably heard a version of this joke:

“Doc, it hurts when I do this.”

“Then don’t do that.”

Simple, yet effective. And it’s also a source of profound frustration for me, because I’d be that doctor if I could. It’s often the most obvious solutions that are never employed. I want to shake people, sometimes.

For example, here in America we export 1.1 million tons of potatoes, while we also import 1.4 million tons of potatoes. When I think of the fuel costs alone, I want to screech. We do so much harm to the planet by not eating locally and in season. And there’s absolutely no reason for it.

And there are so many creative ways one can ruin one’s life. What fascinates me is that turning point moment — The first time someone takes heroin, for example. What could possibly go wrong? Sheesh.

Is it really so hard for all of us to contemplate consequences? Can we possibly be this short-sighted? Are we incapable of thinking in terms of cause and effect?

Apparently so, or there wouldn’t be so much resistance to the mounting evidence of global climate change.

Apparently so, or no one would have voted for Donald Trump.

It’s as if society at large is at the maturity level of a boy who thinks it’s fun to light his farts on fire.

We should be able to do better than this.

consequences

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Just One Step Ahead

I don’t think I’d be very good at chess, even if I found someone with the patience to teach me how to play. I find it very hard to strategize. Thinking 3 steps ahead seems to confound me. If I were on Survivor, I’d be the first one voted off the island.

Having said that, I am extremely good at thinking one step ahead. I can anticipate accidents waiting to happen and take steps to prevent them. I can also figure out the immediate consequences of my actions.

It never ceases to amaze me that more people aren’t good at this. If they were, here are the kinds of things they would be thinking:

“Maybe I shouldn’t stop and chat with someone right in the middle of the grocery aisle, because other people are trying to shop.”

“I really need to make it a point not to throw my cigarette butts on the sidewalk, because some poor non-smoking schmuck is going to have to clean them up.”

“Actually, I shouldn’t be smoking in the first place, because my loved ones do not want to see me die a horrible death.”

“If I abuse this child, he’s going to have problems as an adult.”

“If I drink (or text) and drive, someone else might get killed.”

“It is a good idea to spay or neuter my pet to avoid generations of suffering strays.”

“If I don’t vote, or I vote for a third party candidate, Donald Trump might win.”

“If I don’t pay my taxes, infrastructure and support agencies might not exist when I need them.”

“It’s probably not a good idea to come to a dead stop on a drawbridge when a 2000 ton gravel barge is bearing down on it.”

To me, thinking one step ahead comes easily. Apparently this is rare, though, because I see people not having the thoughts above all the time. And it renders me speechless.

2000px-iceberg_and_titanic_en-svg

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You Don’t Have to Believe in Global Warming

It must be awfully stressful to be a climate change denier. If you fall into that category, I have to admire your tenacity, your grit, your firmness of conviction. Especially in light of the fact that fewer and fewer people agree with you.

According to a Gallup Poll in March, 2016, 64 percent of Americans are extremely concerned about it, up from the all-time recorded low of 51 percent back in 2011. And 65 percent of us believe global warming is caused by human activities.

And scientists (the ones who study these things, after all), are even more definitive. According to Wikipedia, “A survey found 97% agreed that global temperatures have increased during the past 100 years; 84% say they personally believe human-induced warming is occurring, and 74% agree that ‘currently available scientific evidence’ substantiates its occurrence.”

No one likes to be a member of an ever-shrinking group, but hey, you are entitled to your opinion. And opinions don’t have to have anything at all to do with facts. For example, I am of the opinion that cranberries are torture devices that get trotted out every Thanksgiving. You don’t have to agree with me.

Even so, I’m sure we can find some common ground. For example, most of us should be able to agree that we need to take care of the planet on which we live, for ourselves and for future generations. It’s the only planet we’ve got, right? We can all agree that our actions have consequences, even if we don’t agree about what those consequences will be.

So it’s official. I will no longer judge you harshly for being of an opinion that flies in the face of science. I will no longer ridicule you for having a belief that is so foreign to my own. Don’t you feel better already? I do. What a load off our minds. Group hug!

But in exchange, I’m going to double down on you if you neglect or abuse the planet. Just as I would be wrong to go out and destroy all the cranberry bogs, so you would be wrong to negatively impact the earth. Fair’s fair.

If you aren’t willing to stand on that common ground, then I can only conclude that your agenda is far more nefarious, and you might want to take a hard look at your level of selfishness, laziness, and greed. In that case, you’d feel a whole lot better if you simply come clean and admit that it isn’t that you don’t believe in global warming. It’s actually that you don’t give a shit.

But I’d like to have more faith in you than that. I think you can believe what you will and still do what you must. Your actions mean much more to me than your thoughts. Especially if you’re choosing to be thoughtless.

the_planet_earth_by_technoking

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Methinks It’s Time to TRexit

When Donald Trump first entered the political arena, I actually had to giggle. I assumed it would be a passing phase, and one that would make the tedious presidential election a bit more entertaining for a brief period, much like Ross Perot did. But, as with all trolls, the more you feed him, the stronger he becomes.

I have to admit that I actually used to watch The Apprentice. Trump is entertaining in small doses. I’d watch him be unbelievably arrogant, make quick, irrational decisions, and say shockingly sexist and idiotic things, but in the end, no real harm was done, and he was only a small part of the program, after all.

But is that what we really want as the leader of the free world, for at least 4 years, with absolutely no ability to turn him off? Now that he’s been allowed to run hog wild, we’ve already gotten a taste of how arrogant, insufferable, and mentally questionable he is. Do you really want him in charge of the nuclear codes?

And if you think Obama gets no cooperation from Congress, imagine how Trump will do. His own party doesn’t even want to endorse him. In fact, most Republicans are doing their best to distance themselves from this loose cannon.

I get why he’s gotten this far. Really, I do. We are all sick and tired of what’s become of our politicians. We don’t feel represented, we feel used. Trump is, if nothing else, a wake-up call for Capitol Hill. It’s like saying, “You want to screw us over? Well, SCREW YOU!!!!”

That feels good. No doubt about it. But as the people of Britain can tell you, there’s such a thing as cutting off your nose to spite your face. They voted for BRexit to send a message, albeit a racist and xenophobic one, and now they’re already beginning to suffer the consequences. It’s safe to say that if that vote were held again, the results would be remarkably different.

I think it will be the same if we elect Trump. The day after, the only people who will be truly happy will be the caricaturists because the man is ripe for parody. Some parts of him are too big. Other parts are too small. His hair is a color only found stuck to the bottom of a school boy’s desk, and he looks like a cross between Little Lord Fauntleroy and Tweedledum.

The man is the epitome of all the worst things about humanity. And oddly enough, everyone seems to know that. Now is definitely not the time to use your vote as some sort of a joke. The consequences could be dire.

Tweedledum
You’ve got to admit, the resemblance is striking.

Good God, He’s at it Again.

Just when you think that Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty can’t wander any further out on the lunatic fringe, he does just that. This time he ranted not about homosexuals or AIDS or hippies (Are there enough hippies left to rant about? Apparently so.) but what he appears to consider the most evil creatures of all: atheists.

It seems that this silly, ignorant old man equates atheism with a lack of morality. As far as I can tell, his message boiled down to this: without a belief in a judging, Christian god, you cannot be afraid of consequences, and therefore can run wild and give in to your baser instincts.

But here’s what really gave me the willies about his speech: he showed the world exactly what his instincts would be, and even for someone as desensitized as little ol’ me, who is a true crime documentary addict, his scenario was chilling. I won’t go into detail about it. You can read it here if you’re so inclined. But suffice it to say that his violent, sadistic story would make the most diehard serial killer gasp. It takes a special kind of twisted imagination to come up with a plot like that. I wouldn’t want to run into this guy in a dark alley, just in case his god was off duty that day.

I’m not an atheist, but neither am I a Christian. I have never equated my moral compass with my spirituality. In fact, this recent study shows, and history bears it out, that religion doesn’t make people more moral.

I always strive to do the right thing, not because I fear going to hell, but because, well, it’s the right thing to do. I don’t behave decently out of fear. I behave decently because I’d like to think that others will do the same. Otherwise we could not have a functioning society. You can believe in the golden rule without believing that the bible is the voice of god.

If anything, I think that the more you are taught to question, the less dogmatic you are, the more moral you will be. If from birth you are force fed the concept that there is only one right way, and all other ways are wrong, it would be so much easier to stray from a path that you consider to be righteous, and once you’ve done that, once you decide that you’re a bad person, all bets are off. On the other hand, if you are taught to think for yourself, to consider your options, and to realize how your actions will impact those around you, you will be much more apt to care about the consequences of your behavior.

Yes, there is evil in this world. It spans across all religions and every philosophy. Some people are just sick, and I think Phil Robertson’s latest speech demonstrates that he’s one of those people. That’s all there is to it.

Phil Robertson