Happy Birthday, Estonia!

I missed a very important anniversary recently. On February 2, 2020, Estonia turned 100 years old. But their independence was declared (but didn’t actually “take”) on February 24th, 1918, so by that count, I guess you could say that today they are 102 years old in spirit.

Yeah, I know. You probably go months or years without thinking about Estonia. But to its 1,328,360 people, I’m sure this anniversary was a big deal. It’s no mean feat, being the 153rd largest country in the world, especially when you border Russia.

Estonia is not even 3/4ths of the size of the State of West Virginia, but hey, at least they’ve got universal health care and free education for all, so they’re a heck of a lot more civilized than we Americans are. Something I didn’t know is that its territory includes 2,222 islands as well. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Don’t get me wrong. It hasn’t been easy being an Estonian throughout history. Since the place thawed out and human settlement reached the area 13,000 years ago, it has been occupied, fought over, or at least invaded by Scandanavian and Germanic tribes, the Danes, the Germans, the Russians, the Swedes, and the Polish-Lithuanians, with all the devastation and famine such wars and occupations can cause. Then Russia stood on their neck, basically, until around 1850, when people started looking around and saying, “Hey, we have a national culture and identity, here.”

After decades of struggles, crackdowns and revolutions, World War I, and invasions back and forth between Russia and Germany and Russia again, And that unsuccessful independence declaration in 1918, Estonia and Soviet Russia signed the Tartu Peace Treaty on February 2, 1920, and Soviet Russia “permanently gave up all sovereign claims to Estonia.” Happy birthday!

But you knew it wouldn’t be that clean cut, didn’t you? Of course not. Constitution after constitution, the Great Depression, and then, blam, World War II, which placed Estonia back into the Soviet sphere of influence, causing it to be officially occupied by them. Again. Whew. I’m tired, just reading this, aren’t you?

Then came a period of oppression, deportations to Siberia, and war, where part of Estonia was captured by Germany. Then the Soviets invaded. Again. And the Estonians didn’t want to be on either side of this conflict, and therefore got caught in the middle. The Estonians resisted the Soviets after the war, so the soviets responded with a campaign of Russification, which encouraged Russians to settle the area. By 1989, Estonians only comprised 62 percent of the population.

So why do we consider 1920 to be the establishment of this poor battered country? Because many Western countries considered the annexation of Estonia by the Soviets to be illegal, and so a government-in-exile was established. Their independence was restored on August 20, 1991, and that’s a national holiday to this day. But they also celebrate February 24th as their independence day since that was the date they first declared independence in 1918. The last of the Russian army left Estonia in 1994. If I were them, though, I wouldn’t rest very easy, because, well, Putin, and clearly they can’t count on help from Trump.

Through it all, though, Estonia has trundled on, and has even managed to develop a very strong IT sector. Estonia is where Skype was born. And it was the first post-Soviet republic to legalize civil unions, too. Good for them!

So I’m thinking, if any country needs birthday wishes and a slice of cake, even if it is belated (or not, depending on how you look at it), it’s Estonia. Happy birthday! You sure have earned it, a thousand times over.

Estonia

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Waging War

Inside my body, an epic battle raged. A bacterial infection had invaded, and for the past three weeks, it had threatened to take over. And it had been a very near thing.

This had been the weirdest cold I’d ever experienced. I had a sore throat for only 20 minutes. I never had a stuffy head or nose. Every time I took my temperature, I never had a fever. The congestion settled into my upper chest for the duration, which caused me to cough, sometimes so hard that it triggered vomiting. When I talked, I sounded like Brenda Vaccaro.

But the absolute worst part was the battle that was waged in my head. Vertigo. The ground was like a storm-tossed sea. When I’d move, everything around me seemed to lag about a second behind. And I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t remember things. I couldn’t concentrate. It exhausted me. It scared me. All I wanted to do was sleep.

I started to worry that I had a brain tumor, but didn’t have the energy to do anything about it. If only I could sleep, I’d throw up a white flag and let the invading hoards take over. Whatever.

In my muzzy-headed dreams, I watched from a distance, looking down over the chaotic battlefield. They had orcs and goblins, and ringwraiths and trolls. My brave little hobbits were hard pressed to keep up. There was much growling, much bloodshed. It seemed that all was lost.

But then, at the eleventh hour, Gandalf appeared, shouting, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” and cast a z-pack upon the shoulders of the balrog.

The invading hoard screamed in agony. The hobbits cheered. The tide had turned and everyone knew the good guys would win. The music swelled. All hail modern medicine.

It took another long week to clear the battlefield of bodies. Even now, vultures still peck at the scattered remains. But, oh, the sunrise in the distance is a beautiful, beautiful thing to behold.

battle

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Flags Scare Me

The first flags were battle standards used during conflict. In times like those, especially when battles were bloody and fought face to face and you were usually slaughtering your neighbors who looked just like you, it was rather important to indicate whose side you were on.

Think about that for a minute. We have to be able to tell each other apart in order to kill the right people. Because if we were all running around naked and flagless, we would all essentially be the same. In which case, what the hell are we fighting for?

Good freakin’ question. What are we fighting for? I think the last war that was waged even tangentially for moral purposes (rather than purely for greed or racism or religious zealotry or the quest for the control of oil) was World War II. So, yeah, we need those flags, man, or we can’t separate ourselves. Us vs. Them.

Flags are the ultimate symbol of polarization. Either you’re on our team or you’re not. And if you aren’t willing to play by the flag flyers’ rules, then get the hell out. Love it or leave it.

It’s very comforting to be a member of a group. You’re accepted. You’re part of the norm. You’re just like us.

But in order to form a group, you have to be willing to believe that all of your members feel the same way about things. And, hey, you’re a good person, right? So if everyone in your group is just like you, then you must be the good guys.

What does that say about those who are excluded from that group? They must be bad. That only makes sense.

And we (“we”) wonder why we can’t all just get along.

On the anniversary of 9/11, I saw a Facebook post that waxed nostalgic for 9/12. It talked about stores running out of flags to sell because they were being flown everywhere. It talked about us all being Americans before anything else. It talked about us being united.

I remember it quite differently. I remember fear and paranoia and confusion and anger. Yes, I remember flags everywhere. Flags defiantly flown. I remember people getting beat up if they looked the slightest bit Muslim. I remember my employer trying to force me to wear a flag pin, and feeling as though my livelihood would be threatened if I didn’t jump on the bandwagon. I remember not knowing what this angry, enormous mass of “we” was going to do.

That scared the hell out of me. It still does.

I don’t even like rooting for sports teams. I don’t like turning anyone into a them. The only “thems” in my life at the moment are Trump supporters. I don’t understand them. The level of hate they demonstrate terrifies me, because I know that to them, I’m the them.

http _orig06.deviantart.net_404b_f_2008_153_1_5_flags_of_the_world_by_condottiero
So many thems.

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Know Before You Go

This is a cautionary tale for those of you who love to travel. Do your homework beforehand. Read as much as you can on the destination. Because I’m here to tell you there’s nothing more frustrating than getting back home, only to discover that there was something awesome to see there that you completely missed.

I used to be much more organized. Now I’m much more of a lazy fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type person. In other words, I haven’t been heeding my own advice, to my detriment.

Recently, I wrote about my delightful visit to Vashon Island. Much to my horror, while researching for the blog post, after the fact, I learned that there is an iconic tourist destination there that I had totally overlooked. It is the bicycle in the tree.

bikeintree

The most romantic version of this legend is that a boy left it chained to a tree and then went off to war, and that either he never came back, or when he did, he discovered the tree had grown around the bike. While that’s a poignant notion, I doubt it is true, because it’s clearly a small child’s bike.

When I found out I’d missed this amazing landmark, I was frustrated. Little did I know, I’d be going back the following week! Sadly, the bike has been vandalized since someone took the above picture. (Why do people do that? What possible satisfaction can they get from taking the front tire and handlebars off a bike in a tree? I don’t get it.)

Anyway, the point is: do your homework before you travel. You’ll be glad you did. I’m a much more well-rounded person for having seen the bike in the tree.

bikeintreeandme

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Mean World Syndrome

People alive today have access to more news and entertainment than any human being in the history of the planet. If anything major happens in the world, we are all able to find out about it almost instantly. We’ve come a long way from the days when a hurricane could hit Long Island without any advanced warning for its residents. Surely that’s to our benefit, right?

Yes and no. We also have more access to misinformation and exaggeration, and our ability to think critically does not seem to be keeping apace. That means that many of us believe that the world is more dangerous than it actually is. This is called mean world syndrome, and it’s a serious problem.

If you don’t believe that your attitudes are shaped by the media, then you haven’t been paying attention. Without its influence, there’s no way that someone so deranged and unqualified could be in the White House. Without it, none of us would feel the need to keep up with the Kardashians. (For what it’s worth, I’ve never felt that need. But then, I don’t have a TV in my house, either.)

If it’s any comfort at all, according to this Public Radio International article, the world is a much safer pace than it used to be. War deaths have dramatically decreased. We just hear about them more often. We all work fewer hours each week. There is less poverty and homicide, and more democracy than ever before.

And this article from Psychology Today also states that violence against women and children has decreased worldwide. We are more likely to die of old age than in a hail of bullets.

And, lest we forget, the average life expectancy for the residents of this planet is now up in the 70’s, as opposed to age 48 back in 1950. That’s pretty remarkable, don’t you think? So stop what you’re doing, look about you, and breathe. It’s going to be okay. Odds are pretty good that you won’t encounter any lions or tigers or bears. Oh, my.

dorothy

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Stop Wishing for Peace on Earth

Whenever I’ve had the opportunity to make a wish, my stock response has been to ask for peace on earth. With world peace, I thought, everything else would have a much better chance of falling into place. If we could direct our energies elsewhere, surely we’d focus on the greater good, right?

Well, it was a nice idea. Unfortunately, wishing has yet to make it so. And the older I get, the more cynical I become. I no longer think most of us prioritize the greater good. Most of us just want good for me and mine.

So I decided to reverse-engineer my thought process. Why don’t we already have peace on earth? What causes war?

That’s easy. Greed. Desire for cheap oil so we can maintain our destructive lifestyles. Desire for land that never belonged to us in the first place. Desire for riches that someone else has accumulated. The view that women are chattel and men make good field hands. Desire to make a profit from the military industrial complex. As long as this greed exists, war will exist.

I’d even go so far as to say that Greed is what causes the six other deadly sins. Think about it.

Pride is feeling good about what you have, or the ways you are superior. Greed is what caused you to strive for those things.

Lust stems from the greedy need to have the best mate all to yourself.

Envy is greed unfulfilled.

Gluttony is greed that is so fulfilled that you can’t seem to stop yourself from feasting upon it.

Wrath is the feeling you get when your greed is unsatisfied.

Sloth sets in when you either become so exhausted by your greed, or you are reveling in the fact that you’ve gotten what you’ve greedily taken from others.

In this age of corruption, especially in the halls of power, greed should be viewed as our greatest enemy. So from now on, when I make a wish, it will be for the death of greed. Surely then we could know peace.

peace

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Nature Doesn’t Clash

I have a friend who is an artist, and when choosing his color palette for any given creation, he looks to nature for inspiration. He’ll take a leaf or a flower petal, for example, and put it under a microscope, and then use the colors he sees there. I think that’s a brilliant idea.

If you want the ultimate arbiter of good taste, nature is it. First of all, it’s been around a heck of a lot longer than we have. It knows how to play the game. It doesn’t like short-term trends. I can’t think of even one example of a natural thing that irritates my sensibilities. I definitely can’t say that about humans on an average day. (Nature wouldn’t be caught dead in sandals with knee socks.)

Nature also doesn’t wage war, shut down the government for selfish reasons, or pollute itself in the name of greed. It sees no need for firearms. If anyone were to support health care for all, it would be nature.

While nature can seem arbitrarily cruel, it definitely looks at the big picture and the long term. These are qualities that modern man seems to lack, to our everlasting peril. The more we ignore nature’s warnings, the more we will suffer. Nature is patient. Nature will win. The question is, will we be around to see it?

Painted Hills Oregon
Painted Hills, Oregon

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Compassion

Compassion, defined as the “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others,” is something you either have or you don’t. At this moment in history, perhaps more than any other, it is obvious that no fence-sitting on this issue is acceptable. Pick a side. Own it.

One shouldn’t have to have experienced tragedy to feel compassion for others who are experiencing it. The human brain has evolved enough to allow us all to imagine situations that we have not gone through ourselves. Compassion can be learned. It should have been modeled for us by our parents if we were raised in a functional household. Religions spend a lot of time focusing on this subject as well. “Do unto others…” is all about compassion.

But part of it is also instinctual. If you see someone smash his or her thumb with a hammer, it should be natural to wince and think, “That’s got to hurt.” It would be normal to have that thought even if you’ve never held a hammer in your life.

So when I hear that the White House’s budget proposal would defund Meals on Wheels because “it’s not showing results”, I am horrified. I immediately think of one 75 year old invalid who wouldn’t otherwise eat a healthy meal. I think of the fact that she has so little human contact, and looks forward to this visit each day. I think of how she’s been able to stay out of a nursing home at taxpayer’s expense because she’s still independent enough to manage as long as someone checks on her daily.

When I hear that the White House wants to take money away from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Parks Service, I am appalled. I think of the future generations who will not know the beauty and health that is provided by a sustainable planet.

When I read that guns can once again be placed in the hands of the mentally unstable, I am horrorstruck. I cannot imagine what possible good this will do for society, but I certainly can anticipate the tragedies it will create. I also ache for the families of past victims, who must be devastated by this outrage.

When I hear that people want to pour even more money into our already over-bloated military budget, I am revolted. I think of the death and destruction and domination and pain and anguish that is the end result of every single war, no matter how justified we think that war may be.

When I read about immigrants, illegal or otherwise, who are ripped away from their families, and/or prevented from trying to break the chains of poverty, I am ashamed. I think of my own family history and wonder what would have become of me if my ancestors were beaten down by this same heartless stick.

I really don’t understand people who don’t have compassion. I didn’t realize until recently that there are so many of them out there. And many of them claim to be religious. What am I missing? It sickens me.

compassion-857765_960_720

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Congressional Boot Camp

In theory, members of congress represent the will of their constituents, but in practice that hasn’t been the case for quite some time, with few exceptions. They know it. We know it. Their decisions are based entirely upon their personal ideologies, and that of their financial backers. To hell with the people. We, the people, mean absolutely nothing to them.

It always astounds me that politicians are elected and paid to pass legislation on issues that they know absolutely nothing about. How is it possible for someone to sit in judgment on topics that are completely outside of their realm of experience?

Here’s a thought. If we dismantle the fundraising mechanism for congress, if we cap the amount of money one can spend to run for office, level the playing field, as it were, prohibit contributions by corporations, and make all funds go through a general pool so that no politician can determine the source of the proceeds and therefore is beholden to no one, then the public will be running the country once again.

This would also free up a lot of time. Congressmen spend the bulk of their time in fundraising activities. If this were no longer an issue, there would be greater opportunities to do the things that they should have been doing all along: familiarizing themselves with the issues they are weighing in on.

For example, how can people vote about whether or not to go to war when the vast majority of them have never set foot in a war zone? Before they can vote on such an important issue, they should either have to live in a war zone for two months, or send their children to fight on the front line.

Don’t think waterboarding is torture? Before you can say that, you should have to experience it yourself, and also subject someone else to it.

Against abortion? I’ll take you seriously once you’ve adopted a crack baby with fetal alcohol syndrome.

Making policies that impact the homeless? Sleep on the street for a month. Preferably in winter.

Weighing in on immigration? Let’s take everything away from you, surround you with people who want you dead, and kick you out of your homeland. Then we’ll talk.

All this could be avoided if everyone in congress possessed one quality: empathy. The ability to imagine what life is like for others, particularly the less fortunate. The concept that just because something isn’t a problem for you, that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. Until you have some moral authority, as far as I’m concerned, you have no authority at all.

End of rant.

1280px-occupy_portland_we_the_people

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Peace Day

If I were getting a masters degree in world history, my thesis would be an attempt to answer this question: Was there even one day in the recorded history of mankind when no one on the planet was at war? I’ve honestly wondered that my entire life.

Of course, you’d have to create a firm definition of war first. For example, America may have tried to call the war in Vietnam a police action, but I’m sure those covered in napalm were pretty convinced they were at war. Perhaps “non-peace” would be a better term.

By that definition, it would be easy to eliminate huge swaths of time. World Wars I and II. Civil wars. Revolutions. Invasions. Pogroms. Genocide. Hostile occupations. Coups d’etat.

After that, you’d be left with a patchwork quilt of time frames, and you’d have to look at each country and/or culture’s individual history. I’d suggest you go with the big and/or influential countries first. America. Russia. China. England. They are the troublemakers. They’d eliminate a bunch of dates on your calendar. (Of course, reconciling the various calendars so that we’re sure we’re discussing the same day would be an additional challenge.)

Then perhaps go to the more tribal areas of the globe. Whenever you create a scenario that is “us” vs. “them”, you are sure to have conflict. Should we count terrorist activity? If people are getting killed, I’d say yes.

I guess my point is, humans in general are a violent species. I want there to be a day that we can all look to and say, “See? We are capable of peace.” Just one day. I need to know that day exists to give us all hope that it’s really achievable.

I hate to say it, but I doubt we’ll find it.

human_peace_sign_crop

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