my day so far

Woke up. Always a good start.

Checked the perimeter (by which I mean the cat and I stood for a minute or so looking out at the back yard). Light breeze, sunny. The breeze made a small greyish feather skitter across the deck. The cat watched it with a sort of philosophical detachment until it blew off the deck. The cat lost interest and wanted fed. The perimeter was secure. I fed the cat.

Poured myself a large cold brew coffee. During the summer months I drink nothing but cold brew in the morning. Summer is basically over; tomorrow I’ll run out of cold brew and will return to hot coffee. Read the news. Donated another small sum to the Houston flood relief, this time to Operation BBQ Relief — a group of caterers, restaurateurs, and competitive barbecue teams that respond to disasters and feed victims and responders.

Edited the stuff I wrote yesterday. I always begin a writing session by editing the previous day’s work.

The cat complained about the lack of attention. Gave the cat some Laxatone, allegedly tuna-flavored (though how the hell would I know?), to reduce the odds that she’ll hack up a hairball someplace where I’m bound to be walking barefooted.

Thought about that feather. Not a particularly interesting feather, but I’d enjoyed the way the breeze made it sort of wiggle-waggle across the deck. Wasn’t a major flight feather; Maybe one of those smaller feathers from the upper part of the wing. Googled ‘types of feathers’  Discovered the feather the cat and I observed was probably an upper wing covert feather, which I’m told overlay the secondary flight feathers and serve to smooth the airflow over the wings. Nice.

 

Wrote maybe two or three hundred words.

Thought about the term covert, so researched the etymology, which was about what you’d expect. It comes from the Old French covrir which meant ‘to cover, protect, or conceal’. Made me think of a television show, Covert Affair, of which I watched the first episode a million years ago — mainly because it starred an actor with the improbable name of Piper Peribo. I remembered her name from a brilliant Christopher Nolan movie called The Prestige, though I couldn’t for the life of me remember what role she played. In the first episode of the television series, she played a CIA trainee who spoke a couple dozen languages and so was made a field operative. It was pretty awful. I never watched another episode, but I still like the actor’s name. I’ve no idea if she’s done anything else.

The improbably-named Piper Perabo

Picked up the cat’s dish and clean out the leftover Laxatone. The cat has disappeared to wherever the cat disappears to.

Wrote maybe dozen paragraphs, mostly dialog. Dialog is easy. Doesn’t take long.

Still thinking about the feather. Figured there was probably a website somewhere that cataloged feathers. Googled ‘feather atlas’ and hey bingo, there’s actually a feather atlas. Told myself I would NOT get distracted by looking at bird feathers. Did NOT get distracted by bird feathers. Got distracted by this:

READ THIS FIRST: Feathers and the Law.

Feathers and the Law — four words I’d never expect to see together. Totally clicked on the link, which opens a window with a few other links and begins with this alarming warning.

Feathers are beautiful and remarkable objects.  If you find feathers in nature, appreciate, study, and photograph them, but leave them where you found them.  It is illegal to take them home.

No fucking way is that illegal. Is it? Yes, it is. Sorta kinda. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 makes it illegal to hunt, take, capture, kill, or sell migratory birds or any part of a bird, including feathers, eggs, and nests. Of the 900+ bird species in North America, more than 800 are considered migratory. We’re talking birds like crows and mourning doves and chickadees — and it’s actually illegal to take their feathers.

This feather (not the actual feather mentioned) is TOTALLY illegal. Probably.

Of course, in reality, the government is only really interested in protecting a few endangered species, but you can’t expect a wildlife enforcement officer to be able to distinguish between the covert feather of a barn swallow and the covert feather of a Gunnison sage grouse. So the law covers just about all the birds and puts the burden of proof on the poor sumbitch who picks up a feather to prove it’s NOT from one of these protected species.

Got a wee bit distracted by the feather atlas.

From the Feather Atlas

Got interrupted in my distraction by a phone call reminding me I have a doctor’s appointment on Friday.

I confirm that I’ll be there, but I’m not actually thinking about the appointment. I’m thinking that somewhere in that illegal feather business are the bones of a story. But it’s not the story I’m working on, so I close every goddamned window on my computer and bang out another hundred and fifty words or so.

The cat reappears and wants fed. It’s noon. I haven’t had breakfast yet.

Ate breakfast, caught up on the news, Melania Trump wearing stilettos while touring the flooded parts of Texas. Wrote this.

My day so far.

 

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no effect at all

Last night Comrade Trump once again inflicted himself on the public. He read a speech (and damn, it’s physically painful to watch that guy struggle with the written word — and it’s pathetic how often the written word exceeds his ability to read it) in which he gave a vague outline of an approach to the colossal ongoing fuck-up in Afghanistan.

But let’s ignore the excruciating delivery of last night’s speech. Let’s also ignore the lies and bullshit peppered throughout the speech (though the lies and bullshit are deserving of attention). Let’s just look at Trump’s central point:

We will break their will, dry up their recruitment, keep them from crossing our borders, and yes, we will defeat them, and we will defeat them handily.

Yeah, no, none of that is going to happen. We won’t break their will. The British didn’t; they fought three wars against various Afghan factions over a period of 80 years — from 1839 to 1919 — and never broke their will. The Russians didn’t; they fought a really brutal war against the Afghans for almost a decade — from 1979 to 1989 — and never broke their will. The U.S. has been fighting in Afghanistan since 2001 — nearly sixteen years — and we haven’t broken their will yet. It just ain’t gonna happen. We need to accept that reality.

And no, we won’t dry up their recruitment. An ongoing war that’s often depicted as a war against Islam is, by its very nature, a self-sustaining recruitment campaign. The fact that Comrade Trump his ownself reinforces the notion that it’s a war against Islam only bolsters their recruitment. We need to accept that reality too.

And no, we won’t keep them (whoever they are) from crossing our borders. Even if we enact some truly abhorrent and draconian immigration laws, it’s impossible to fully protect the borders of the U.S. The border with Mexico is about two thousand miles long; the border with Canada is about twice that. And those are just the land borders. Getting into the U.S. is even easier from the sea. One more reality we need to accept.

Acceptance doesn’t mean we should give up. It just means we need to set realistic goals. It’s stupid to make public statements that we’re going to absolutely do something we absolutely can’t do. So no, we won’t keep them from crossing out borders, we won’t dry up their recruitment, and we won’t break their will. All of which is to say no, we won’t defeat them either, no matter what Trump might say.

There are a LOT of reasons why the U.S. can’t win a war in Afghanistan, but there’s one overarching reason — and it’s actually something Comrade Trump alluded to in his speech (well, the speech somebody wrote for him). He said the U.S. cannot allow our Afghan enemies to:

…believe they can wait us out.

But they already believe they can wait us out. And they’re right. They can wait us out. The same way they’ve waited out every attempt to invade and conquer the region over the last couple of thousand years. There’s a reason Afghanistan is known by historians as the ‘graveyard of empires’.

Alexander the Great invaded it some three hundred years before the Common Era and managed to hold parts of it…for a while. Genghis Khan did the same in the 13th Century and managed to rule parts of it…for a while. Tamerlane did the same a century later, and the Mogul emperors after that, and the Sikhs after that. They all held various bits and chunks of the territory…for a while. Then the British noodled in, and we know what happened to them. Then the Russians. Now the U.S. is there.

Same shit, different invader. In almost every invasion, the Afghan tribes have been outgunned, out-technologied, out-resourced, and often out-fought. But they’ve never been out-waited. Never.

Why? Because they’re operating on a radically different understanding of time and place than the invaders. They live there. They know the invaders, regardless of who they are or where they’re from, will eventually want to leave. The simple fact is the Afghans don’t need to win; they only need to persist. If it takes a generation or two of low intensity guerrilla warfare until their enemies get fed up and find a reason to go home, they’re okay with that. They’ve done it before.

“Afghans will secure and build their own nation, and define their own future.”

That’s from Trump’s speech, and it’s a classic case of stupidity fed by willful blindness. The Afghans have been securing and building their own nation for a couple thousand years. They are defining their future. Right now that definition includes killing U.S. and NATO troops and booting us out of their country. There’s yet another reality we need to accept.

Trump read a speech — he read it very badly, not that it matters — and that speech will have as much effect on the outcome of the Afghanistan conflict as his troop increase. No effect at all, except to extend the pain a bit farther into the future.

The world has changed, of course. The U.S. isn’t going to suffer any apocalyptic Retreat from Kabul, we’re not going to face any Battle of Maiwand. We’re just going to face a slow episodic bleed — and the bleeding will be contained within the small proportion of the citizenry that volunteers to serve in the military. Which means most folks won’t care.

So there it is. No effect at all.

on the question of punching nazis

So, dude, punching nazis…okay or not?

In general, punching anybody is pretty rude. So in general, I think given the choice between punching somebody and not punching somebody, not punching is the default and preferred choice.

Yeah, okay, in general. But dude, does that apply to nazis?

This is not a simple question. You have to consider…

Dude, totally a simple question. Punching nazis…yay or nay?

There is a longstanding American tradition of punching nazis, but we need…

Wait, hold on, you’re not capitalizing nazis in this pretend conversation. Shouldn’t it be Nazis? 

I’m not an orthographer, if that’s a word, but I’m gonna say that if you’re talking about a member of the Nazi party, then you’d capitalize it. Otherwise, no. All Nazis are nazis, but not all nazis are Nazis.

Okay, then. Doesn’t matter, both are eminently punch-worthy. But dude, should you?

Well, some folks will maintain that violence is never the answer…that you can never entirely justify…

Really. Stop pissing around. Nazis. Punch them? Not punch them? C’mon.

Right. Okay. If there’s a nazi handy and you have an arm that has a hand attached, and if that hand is capable of making a fist, you should probably at least consider punching the nazi. Whether you do or not, that’s a personal decision. But at the heel of the hunt, you should always want to punch nazis.

Okay, good, but what do you say to those folks who say punching nazis makes us just as bad as the nazis?

To those people I say, “Nuh uh.”

Because…?

If you punch a nazi, will that nazi still want to exterminate Jews?

Yes.

If you don’t punch the nazi, will that nazi still want to exterminate Jews?

I get your point. Okay, then.

statues & memorials

I really wish things were simple and obvious. I sometimes really wish there was no need for a nuanced understanding of…well, of anything. At times I really wish the world wasn’t complex and complicated.

Except, of course, I don’t really wish that at all. The world is messy and irrational and down at the bone, I like it that way. But lawdy, it does confuse things.

So then, let’s go ahead and talk about war and statues of Confederate generals and war memorials and what should be done with them. Let’s start with this: when it comes to war, there are essentially three groups of people involved. There are the politicians who declare war, who develop the policies of war, who determine the political goals of war. There are the officer classes, who are in charge of actually prosecuting the war based on the politician’s policies and goals, who determine the strategies used by the armies and the broad range of tactics to fight the battles. And then there are the poor bastards who fight the war — the ordinary people who have nothing to do with strategies, who have little or no voice in the politics, but who do the fighting and the killing and the dying. This is true of all wars in all the nations of the world over the entire scope of history.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee — this must go.

Why is that important? Because it’s important to distinguish between statues and memorials. Statues are built to honor the specific politicians and the senior officers who start the wars and prosecute them. Memorials, on the other hand, are generally built to honor the nameless mass of soldiers who get mutilated or killed fighting those wars.

For the last several years there’s been a movement to remove and/or destroy statues honoring Confederate politicians and military officers. Over the last few days we’ve seen that notion expand to include essentially all symbols of the Confederacy. Statues, memorials, flags — get rid of them all.

Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, War Criminal and Indian Killer — should this go?

I totally understand that feeling. I just disagree with it. Well, I disagree with chunks of it. I have no problem with removing the statues of Confederate leaders. I don’t want to see them destroyed, but I think it’s a fine idea to remove them from public land and place them either in storage or in museums. Destroying statues of people we dislike or whose beliefs we disagree with — that’s what ISIS does. It’s vengeful, it’s small-minded, and at heart it’s an attempt to color over the past. Remove them, and if they must be displayed, display them with context.

The problem, of course, is where you draw the line once you decide to remove the offensive statues. Which statues do we keep; which ones do we remove? Clearly, the statue of William Tecumseh Sherman in Manhattan would have to go. Even if we ignore his scorched earth actions during the Civil War (which would make him a war criminal by modern standards), his actions against native Americans after the Civil War were horrific. And what about the statues of John Brown, the abolitionist who believe a violent armed insurrection was the only way to insure the end of slavery? His cause may have been just, but should we ignore his extra-judicial murders? Should we remove his statues? I don’t know.

Civil War memorial — do we remove this? Is it Confederate or Union? How much does the answer matter?

In any event, I’m adamantly opposed to removing/destroying Confederate war memorials. Or any war memorial, for that matter. Soldiers enlist for any number of reasons, but they don’t necessarily fight for the reasons cited by politicians to start the war. The U.S. fought a war in Vietnam to stop the spread of communism; how many of the troops on either side really cared about communism? Both of my older brothers fought in Vietnam, both came back damaged; neither of them really had any notion of communism as a political system. They enlisted for the same reason I did: it’s what the men in my family have always done. We were raised to believe we have an obligation to serve — the nation, the state, the city, the community.

Civil War memorial — do we remove this? Is this Confederate or Union? How much does the answer matter?

I mention Vietnam for a couple of reasons. One, obviously, is because there are Vietnam war memorials all over the U.S. They’re not there to celebrate a war against the expansion of communism into Asia; they’re just there to honor the fact that people fought and died — even if the cause was wrong, even if the cause was pointless. I also mention it because I used to live in D.C. and I’ve visited the Vietnam memorial dozens of times. I always tried to visit in on the day my oldest brother was wounded, the day some of his buddies were killed. But I also visited it once with a fellow graduate student, a Vietnamese-American woman. I knew she’d been born in Vietnam, but I knew nothing about her history. I just assumed she and her parents had immigrated to the U.S. during the war. In fact, she’d immigrated as a child with her aunt and uncle; her parents had both died, killed by U.S. troops. She didn’t tell me how or why they were killed; maybe it didn’t matter if they were collateral damage in a bombing or whether they’d been involved in the actual fighting. The thing is, she blamed the death of her parents on the war itself, not on the troops.

Civil War memorial — do we remove this? Is it Confederate or Union? How much does the answer matter?

The statues of Confederate politicians and generals were (and still are) political statements, honoring the men (they’re all of men) and the cause they fought for. Their removal is justified and warranted. The memorials to the soldiers who fought, on the other hand, are an acknowledgement that ordinary people die in wars. I see them as a reminder that war — even a just war fought for valid reasons — is wasteful.

Does it matter if they cause they died for was just or unjust?

I know a lot of folks will disagree with me on this. I’m okay with that. This is just my opinion, and I recognize that other folks will have different and equally valid opinions. Like I said at the beginning, the world is messy and irrational. I like it that way.

I only wish there were memorials dedicated to all the civilians, the true innocents who die and suffer in war.

 

many sides

The president — and man, I cannot tell you how it sickens me to refer to that colossal lying fuckwit as ‘the president’ — said this in response to the violence in Charlottesville yesterday:

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides.”

Fuck you. Fuck you from many sides. Only one side decided to gather at Charlottesville to champion hate and white supremacy. Only one side arrived carrying firearms and wearing military gear. Only one side carried flags made infamous by genocide, and flags made infamous by lynching and church-bombing and racial assassination. For that matter, only one side wore MAGA hats. The truth that only one side instigated the violence is so obvious that to dispute it is, in effect, to support and promote the violence. Which is exactly what the president did. So fuck you, Trump, fuck you and your lies about many sides.

There was only one side that Made America Ashamed Again. That side could be represented by Vanguard America, a group devoted to what they call ‘American fascism.’ Those polo-shirted fuckwits toting tiki torches and shouting “Blood and soil” on Friday night? They were chanting the motto of Vanguard America. This group advocates one side supremacy. Given the power, they wouldn’t allow many sides to even exist. The Vanguard America manifesto specifically calls for an:

America based on the immutable truths of Blood and Soil. A multicultural nation is no nation at all, but a collection of smaller ethnic nations ruled over by an overbearing tyrannical state. Our America is to be a nation exclusively for the White American peoples who out of the barren hills, empty plains, and vast mountains forged the most powerful nation to ever have existed.

The most powerful nation, there’s the clue. Not the greatest nation, not the most civilized, not the most free, not a nation of many sides, not the most open or the most welcoming nation. The most powerful. You know who wants the most powerful nation? People who are afraid. People who are afraid and want to dominate those they’re afraid of. People who hate. People who drive muscle cars (of course, it would be a muscle car) into a crowd of peaceful protesters.

James Alex Fields, the driver of that car, was associated with Vanguard America. They deny he was a member, of course, despite the fact he was photographed with the group yesterday, carrying a Vanguard shield and dressed in their usual Vanguard-emblazoned white polo shirt and khaki pants. Have you noticed how often groups that espouse the belief that only one side is legitimate tend to wear uniforms?

Blood and soil. Only one side at Charlottesville was eager to spill blood on the soil.

Me, I like a many-sided world. I love a many-sided world. I may not like or agree with some of those sides, but a many-sided world is a healthier, a more vital and a more interesting world. Yet the only time Trump and his hate group supporters refer to many sides is when they’re trying to diffuse responsibility, when they’re trying to spread the blame, when they’re trying to dodge their own culpability.

Trump is culpable. Not for the racism or white supremacy or hate itself, but for nurturing and encouraging racism and white supremacy and hate. He created a petri dish of racial resentment and gender hostility and class rage that spawned what happened over the last couple of days in Charlottesville. He didn’t drive that car into the crowd, but he helped create an environment that made it possible for James Alex Fields to do it.

 

in which i explain why i call him comrade trump

Hey, you guys! Remember when something like forty-seven hundred different United States intelligence services said Russia interfered with the presidential election and Vlad Putin said, “Nuh uh” and Donald Trump believed Putin? Is Trump a fucking idiot or what? (Hint: he is a fucking idiot.)

And remember just a few days ago when the U.S. Senate voted 98-2 to sanction Russia for interfering with the presidential election, and Donald Trump said, “Oh, c’mon, stop picking on Russia, leave Brittney Putin alone!” but signed the bill anyway on account of he’s a weasel? And he did it in private, which is really really unusual because Donald Trump just loves to sign things in front of an audience? Remember that, you guys?

And also too, you guys, remember like a day or two ago when Brittney Putin decided to expel 755 people from the American embassy and consulate staff in Russia on account of the U.S. Senate voted 98-2 (ninety-fucking-eight to two!) to sanction Russia for interfering with the presidential election, and Donald Trump totally thanked Brittney for punishing the U.S. embassy in Russia?

You guys, listen you guys, people ask me, they say “Hey, Greg, why do you call him Conrad Trump?” and I have to explain it’s not Conrad, it’s Comrade, and then they want to know why I call him Comrade.

You guys, this is why I call him Comrade Trump. On account of he’s deep in the pocket of Russian oligarchs, on account of he’s smitten with Putin the Strongman, on account of he was elected only through the assistance of the Russian government, and on account of given a choice between standing up for the U.S. or sitting in the lap of Russia, Trump always — every fucking time — chooses Russia.

Every. Fucking. Time. So, that’s why. In case you were wondering (you were totally wondering, weren’t you).

uncomfortable confessional crap – part two

I have this Fitbit thing on my wrist to remind me to get up off my ass periodically and move. When your work involves sitting in front of a computer and putting words in a row, an activity tracker is pretty handy. It’s set up to keep track of all sorts of stuff, most of which I don’t keep track of — how much liquid I drink, how much food I eat, how many calories I burn.

It also keeps track of how much sleep I get. Which isn’t much. On average, around five and half hours a night. On average, that’s the key. Sometimes it’s less than five hours, occasionally as much as six and a half. Last night, according my Fitbit thing, I topped out at four hours and five minutes.

Nightmares. Everybody has them. I had them last night. Not the standard nightmares. You know — being chased, being trapped, being stalked, falling from a height, the universal nightmares everybody shares. Last night I had the sort of nightmares that you earn. The nightmares that grow out of stuff you’ve seen, stuff you’ve done, stuff you were afraid to do but did anyway, stuff you don’t really think about but is always there lurking in…I don’t know what it lurks in. Your subconscious, I guess. Doesn’t really matter what it’s lurking in; it’s the lurking that matters.

Sometimes the nightmares are weird replays of stuff you’ve done or seen. More often they’re about the moments leading up to the stuff you did, the stuff you saw. Those are the worst. It’s the awareness of what’s coming and the inability to halt it or turn away.

I don’t have those nightmares very often anymore. Three, maybe four times a year. A long time ago I had them weekly. They’ve gradually abated. I’ve also gotten better at interrupting them, which sounds a wee bit crazy. Somehow, when I’m asleep and the nightmare begins, it’s like I can tell myself “Dude, this is that nightmare…you know, that one where you have to break the transom over the door and crawl through and then after you fall there’s that awful bit with struggling and the jagged, broken bit of metal and all that hot slippery blood…you know this nightmare and you can skip it tonight,” and then I usually wake up and everything is okay.

But every so often one gets away from you. When you finally wake up and turn on a light, all you can do is reassure yourself that it’s just a nightmare. Sometimes you can go back to sleep. More often, though, you don’t. It’s not that you can’t go back to sleep; it’s more that you’re afraid to. If you go back to sleep, it might happen again.

But here’s the really crazy part. I’m okay with that. Like I said earlier, I earned those nightmares. My life now is quiet and calm and peaceful. Most days my biggest concern is what I’m going to prepare for supper. But I spent about fifteen years doing really interesting stuff, stuff that was intense and demanding, stuff that mattered. If I think about the stuff I’ve seen and done that could figure into nightmares, I feel I’m getting off fairly light. So if the cost for all that is the occasional nightmare, then I’m okay with that.

Note: I started to title this post ‘Uncomfortable Confessional Crap’ because…well, it’s uncomfortable for me to talk about, it’s confessional, and really who gives a crap about it? But the title sounded familiar, so I checked and found I’d used the same title almost exactly three years ago. So, part 2. I may do another uncomfortable confessional thing three years from now.