A check-in based upon today's letter to my friend, Bernard


An obese Goeth shoots starving Jews
I am 5'10" and my weight fluctuates from 168 to 180, often within weeks. Peggy says I look dumpy at 180, plus I need to keep my weight down because of knee pain, but it's hard to do. Part of the problem is narcotics in that they tend to make a fellow hungry and they also make it harder to pass stools. As for drinking, since I live with chronic pain and not a little depression, it's increasingly hard to stay away from liquor because it at least gives me a little respite from what I would sometimes call intense misery. Yet, as I'm sure you know, a person isn't supposed to drink and take antidepressants (not to mention narcotics, sleeping pills, and nerve pain pills), so I worry a good bit about my health, and I feel guilty knowing that such things that very well cause me to die prematurely, leaving Peggy on her own.

Your book about the Holocaust has arrived--thank you. I can't imagine a man making his career writing about senseless brutality, but it's good from a historical standpoint that he does. While browsing genealogy books at the public library recently, I saw one entitled My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me. The grandfather in question was Amon Goetz (the camp commandant of Schindler's List fame), and the granddaughter was half black, so she might very well have been right about him shooting her. I had given no thought to the impact of notorious Nazis on their descendants, so I found the one-third of the book that I read interesting in that regard, yet I can't recommend it because I didn't like or respect its author.

I don't know how I lost her, but I once had a German blog friend who grew up in post-war Germany, and who described the men of her father's generation as sullen and angry. Indeed, what could they say except that they fought on the side of evil and lost? Given the misery they brought to the world, the depression of their descendants matters little to me. I can understand why those descendants feel as they do, but since millions upon millions of people were murdered by their fathers and grandfathers, I'll reserve my sympathy for others. The older I get and the better I understand suffering, the more compassion I have for the victims and the less for the perpetrators. Psychopaths who hunger for power--men like Putin, Trump, Kim Jong-un, and al-Assad--bring nothing but needless pain to the earth, and for what, so they can feel powerful during their few short decades of life? If I could, I would shoot them down for the mad dogs that they are, not that a quick death would be adequate justice. 



I know that in writing as I do, I must also sound heartless, but is it not true that to have sympathy for evil people makes one a party to their crimes? What I have written also comes from my intense dislike of Jennifer Teegue, the author of the book I mentioned. I considered her narcissistic, a woman who could put on a good show of sympathy but who was devoid of any real feelings for anyone but herself. She wondered in the book whether there was an inheritable aspect to being the descendant of someone like Goetz, and I thought that, well, given that I see you and your maternal ascendants as being unable to feel the pain of anyone but yourselves, maybe there is.

As for the genealogy, I've been neglecting other things for it. It seems that the further I go back in time, the less interest I have, what with the number of grandparents doubling with every generation. Once I got to 32-great-great-greats, the names started running together even while, once I got to the almost useless censuses of 1840 and earlier, my ability to learn about their lives decreased. I have learned much, though. For instance, Peggy and I come from a long line of rural people, and while I knew that rural families, at least, used to be big, I had no idea how big. It's not even unusual to find people with ten kids, and, given the high childhood mortality, that's not counting the many who were born and died between censuses. I was also surprised to learn that nearly all of the ancestors I studied lived in but two counties in Mississippi (on my mother's side) and two counties in the Appalachian Mountains of Alabama (on my father's side). I should think that if, on my mother's side, I visited Choctaw or Attala County, Mississippi (or, my father's side, Dekalb or Jackson County, Alabama) every third white person would be my cousin, yet I didn't know this until the last few weeks.

I also noted that most of my ancestors were dead before my age of 68, that nearly all of them listed their occupations as "farming" or, in the case of the women, "keeping house." Few were well-educated, and most were barely literate. Some people on my side--and on Peggy's side--had a few slaves, but not enough to make them rich (some slaveholders owned hundreds of slaves). With this knowledge comes the will to believe that, if my ancestors did it, it surely couldn't have been that bad (which is how the descendants of Nazis think). I know this is silly, but that's the feeling. I also found that I had several relatives who fought on the side of the South during America's Civil War, and I was more appalled by their willingness to fight to preserve slavery as by their actual owning of slaves because I can't imagine the defense of slavery as a justification for the loss of 600,000 lives (the Civil War is still the costliest in America's history.) When I was a boy, Southerners still held "Yankees" in contempt (the South referred to the Civil War as "The War of Northern Aggression"), but I gather that Southern contempt is now based more on religion and politics than geography.
Alcoa Transport, Sunk Oct 2, 1942
One of the treats of my study has been finding photos of long dead relatives and World War I draft registration cards that listed my ancestor's physical characteristics and contained their often childlike signatures. I also found my father's war records and a photo of one of the two merchant ships that he was on (the SS Alcoa Transport) and were sunk by U-boats. Six men died on that ship, and I so wish my father were here to talk to because I would love to know that if the Alcoa Transport was the ship he told me about on which men died for a cargo of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Unfortunately for me, World War II draft records have yet to be released, as have censuses since 1940, which means that recent history becomes harder to trace than earlier history, at least on the more reputable genealogical sites.

The reason I started studying Peggy's genealogy is that her father is still alive. For her part, Peggy cares much less about such things than I, although she was moved when I found the original custom's record of her family's 1959 return from Spain (where her father was stationed in the Air Force) on a truly beautiful Lockheed plane called a Super Constellation. Yesterday, her father told us that, while over the ocean, he looked out the window to see that one of the props had been feathered, but that he kept this information from Peggy's mother, who was morbidly afraid to fly. That's the kind of information that one could never learn without living relatives.

I'm sure I told you that my DNA study indicated that my ancestors were nearly all British and Irish, and that have no American Indian blood (I had thought I was at least 3/16), but a higher than average amount of Neanderthal blood and a little West African blood. I'm happy about my Neanderthal ancestors, but simply puzzled about the black ones (it sounds like rape to me, but then that could be true of my Neanderthal ancestors as well). It's a hell of world, and then we die.

Separating Genealogical Fact from Fiction



For instance, my father told me that my great grandmother’s brother, John, fought for the Confederacy, was court martialed, and sentenced to be shot. At the last minute, he inadvertently gave a secret Masonic sign, and it saved him. After the war, John became a 32nd degree Mason. Here is the true story in my own words as presented by researcher Dara Sorenson based upon James Nisbet’s book Four Years on the Firing Line:

John Countiss was raised on Sand Mountain, Alabama, and enlisted as a private in the 21st Georgia Infantry during the Civil War. He attained the rank of captain, but in 1863, just before the Battle of Gettysburg, he was court martialed for disobedience, lost his commission, and was expelled from the military. Instead of going home, John fought so bravely at Gettysburg that he regained his commission on the recommendation of every officer present. A year later, he was wounded in the second battle of Winchester when a bullet lodged beneath the skin of his forehead. After being treated, he went back into battle. As I discovered through additional research, Uncle John received a Confederate pension from the state of Alabama.


Great Grandma Lizzie 
Another interesting story that I uncovered concerns my maternal great grandmother, Lizzie, who died three weeks after her son, Russell. Most of the following account was written by a daughter-in-law, but I’ll put it in my own words and add information from other sources: 

On June 21, 1911, Lizzie looked from her sickroom window to see her thirteen-year-old son become enveloped in flames while cleaning clothes with gasoline. She rolled him on the ground, but he died on the scene, and she died thirty-two days later in the Mississippi state mental hospital. The Kosciusko, Mississippi, newspaper reported her demise as follows:

“The death of this estimable lady is painfully sad. It will be remembered that only a few weeks ago, while on the bed of affliction, she lost her youngest son in a most tragic manner and never recovered from the blow. She was taken to the Sanitarium at Jackson and placed under eminent specialists by her husband, but got no relief, and death claimed her Sunday morning."


Grandpa Jason
Eight years later, her son, my grandfather, Jason Black, shipped out from Mobile Bay on the merchant ship, Pascagoula. Researcher after researcher reports that he died at sea the same year, but I can find no evidence for the claim (amateur genealogists are notorious for their non-critical acceptance of information obtained from other genealogists). The nearest I’ve come to proof is Jason’s seaman’s certificate from August 19, 1919, and the fact that seven U.S. Navy ships went down three weeks later in a hurricane off the Florida Keys. 

Much to my surprise, Jason’s grandfather—my maternal great grandfather—owned slaves. I say “much to my surprise” not because I thought my family was better than that, but because I didn’t know they had the money. However, given that both sides of my family lived in the South for generations, I suppose I should have been more surprised if they hadn’t owned slaves. In fact, one of John Brown’s men at Harper’s Ferry was an escaped slave with my surname, although I haven’t gotten far enough in my research to know if a relative owned him.

A Respite from Outrage




I find that I can’t write about Trump without giving up writing, a state that I have never experienced and never expected to experience.

I, who used to cry so easily, cry less and less as I grow old, and when I do, it’s nearly always because I, who have no ear for music, have been touched by one of two instruments—the bagpipe or the electric guitar.

 
I sobbed today as I lay in bed with Peggy listening to Steve McDonald’s version of Loch Lomond. So much sweat poured from me that I had to change the cover. I
’ve been crying for more than an hour and see no end in sight, but even this is better than three months of powerless outrage.

Debility; A Tragic Scene at the Pharmacy; Demonstrations


I went to my internist, Kirk, yesterday with the following short-list of symptoms that have gotten so bad that it’s hard for me to stay out of bed: general unwellness, headaches, nausea, worry, anxiety, trembling, depression, fatigue, increased pain, and severe insomnia. Such symptoms could point to numerous diseases, so he ordered blood tests.

Since I was there anyway, he gave me my monthly narcotic prescription early and said that he’s going to start filling it for 90 days, which will save me going both to him and to the pharmacy every month. I already have to go to his office four times a year for a narcotic evaluation plus I have to be available on 24-hour notice for urine screens. It really pisses me off (ha) that, after eight years on narcotics, the hoops that I have to jump through just keep getting higher thanks to America’s drug cops.

As usual, I had to wait a half hour at the pharmacy during which a skinny and jittery woman name Karen came in to pick up a prescription for tranquilizers. When the pharmacy tech said insurance wouldn’t pay for it, Karen started yelling, jerking her body, and slapping the counter. She said she was desperate, that insurance fouls her up every time she tries to fill a prescription, and that, “I know I’m psychotic, but I’m all alone, and no one knows how hard it is to be me.” She said a lot more, but because she had a speech impediment I couldn’t understand it. I wanted to help, but I didn’t know what to do, and when the right words don’t come unbidden, I remain silent for fear of making the situation worse. A pharmacist told Karen that she was scaring people and needed to calm down, yet I considered it obvious that the only person anyone had cause to fear for was Karen herself. When she finally left, she seemed near collapse and kept saying, “I’m so sorry; I’m so sorry; “I’m so sorry,” but no one responded.

I looked for her when I left the store, but she was gone. I wish I had asked her on the spot how much the goddamn drug would cost and maybe paid for it. Anyone can be broken, but if you’re broken in America, you better have money.

So what’s Trump solution? As is his custom, he contradicts himself regularly, but his longest running solution is to give everyone a woefully inadequate income tax credit that they could use to buy insurance. But what if a person has no income or only makes minimum wage (and, alas, receives no benefits) at McDonalds and therefore doesn’t owe taxes? Or what if a person can
t afford to wait until the end of the year to be reimbursed and is obliged to choose between food and insurance?

Actress and activist America Ferrera told the crowd at the D.C. Women’s March this morning, “A platform of hate and division assumed power yesterday,” and I thought she was spot on. Yesterday, another demonstrator said of Trump, “I don’t care what things he was going to offer me. He was such a soulless piece of shit that I wouldn’t have voted for him anyway.”

Exactly. Even if Trump had outlined specific solutions to specific problems (something beyond, “Believe me. I’m going to fix it. Everything is going to be great”), how can his supporters deny or minimize the significance of his pettiness, immorality, vindictiveness, megalomania, and predatory dealings with anyone from whom he wants something? 


Do all of those millions of Christians who voted for Trump really believe that Jesus would have done the same? I would like to think well of Christians, yet to know that millions and millions of them claim, on the one hand, to hold love for their fellow humans beings as their chief value after love for their deity, and then, on the other, to see them turn around and vote for a man like Trump, strikes me as a case of such rank hypocrisy that I can scarcely believe what I’m seeing. Supporting Trump isn’t a choice; it’s a sickness, a depravity. It irreconcilably pits Christians against the values expressed in the Sermon on the Mount by the very man whom they claim to worship as their Savior. This election has caused me to despise with my entire being the dominant face of religion in America. All of my prior criticisms of the church are as nothing compared to the contempt I feel now.

Why WOULDN’T America's Christians support Trump?


After all, why should they object to a bigot who used his four bankruptcies to stiff his workers; put his name on the fraudulent Trump University and other products with which he wasn’t involved; and, while contributing nothing to charity, funneled other people’s money into a charitable foundation that he used for his own benefit. After starting his run for president, he encouraged his supporters to assault people; changed his core beliefs on demand (sometimes in the same day); indulged in constant name calling (“Lying Ted,” “Little Marco,” “Crooked Hillary,” etc. etc. etc.); threatened to sue anyone who criticized him; admitted to sexually assaulting women (“Just kiss. I don’t even wait… You can do anything… Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything”); made one unstantiated claim after another; and is too dimwitted to complete a train of thought.

So why wouldn’t millions of Americ
a’s Christians vote for Trump? “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” Christ said, but while conservative Christians accept Old Testament “science,” they don’t hold with their Savior’s insistence upon virtue. For example…

They disobey Christ’s ethical standards while supporting a soon-to-be president who encourages the denigration of gays, blacks, women, transgenders, immigrants, Moslems, secularists, liberals, and environmentalists.

Their pastors endorse conservative politicians from the pulpit although laws governing the behavior of tax-exempt organizations forbids it (Google: “Pastors Flout Tax Law With Political Sermons”), yet their Savior commanded obedience to the law.

Their Bible tells Christians to put their hope in Christ, so whence comes their unquestioning trust in a man who says, “I alone can fix this” (“solve this” “understand this,” “figure this out”)?

When American Christians are sued for having broken the law by placing religious monuments on municipal, state, and federal lands, they belatedly claim that the monuments were intended as “war memorials.”

When federal or state law denies Christians the right to make religious observances a part of government functions, they ignore the law, because they know they can get away with it unless someone complains, and few people have the courage to endure the death threats, job loss, social isolation, and vandalized cars and homes, that come from complaining.

When federal law demands that Christian owned businesses provide birth control benefits to their employees and provide all people with equal access to their services, they simply ignore the law until they can get their state legislators to pass a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (21 states have done so) that gives them the unique right to oppress others.

All of the things I have listed are commonly done. In its dominant face, the Christian religion is in no way an asset to this country. It’s dishonest, power hungry, and manipulative. It is an enemy to compassion; it doesn’t help anyone but itself; it is rabidly opposed to the government helping anyone; and it regards any limitation on its ability to oppress others as oppression. It is fascism under the guise of Godly benevolence.

If Christ exists, where is he when his people are betraying him? How many millions have been imprisoned, tortured, and killed in his name while he remained silent, and where is he now that his American followers have put their salvation in the hands of a psychopath who can neither utter a sentence nor write a Tweet that isn’t filled with hatred and lies? No one is a greater enemy to Christ’s admonition to love than are the Catholics, the charismatics, the evangelicals, and the fundamentalists, people who profess to put their trust in the Lord of Love but whose real allegiance is to the Lord of Cruelty and Filth. Again, why wouldn’t America’s Christians vote for Trump? He represents them perfectly.

Upon an esteemed relative who voted for Trump


Al is an evangelical Christian of unwavering integrity, kindness, and noblesse oblige. The worst thing I can say about him—indeed, the only bad thing that I could have said about him prior to the recent election in which he voted for Donald Trump—is that he allows no one to become intimate with him. If this were different, perhaps he and I could talk about his vote, my desire being to understand what would motivate a man who takes ethics seriously to vote for someone who wouldn’t recognize honor or decency if he tripped over it.

For instance, Al is humble; Trump is a braggart (“I’m, like, a really smart person”) Al is mannerly; Trump’s a boor. Al believes that people should be treated equally; Trump mocks the disabled and his contempt for Hispanics, Moslems, women, and black people, has earned him the loyalty of Nazis. Al is generous; Trump gives nothing to charity, and spends money that others donate to his own charity on himself. Al assumes personal responsibility; Trump blames others for his failures. Al has no interest in wealth; the greed of Trump and his family is insatiable (his daughter tried to sell the bracelet she wore on 60 Minutes). Al dresses modestly, lives in a modest house, and drives a modest car; Trump writes his name in block letters and is enamored of resorts, limousines, gold-plate, and a Boeing 757 with his name writ large on the fuselage. Al treats women as equals; Trump called his own daughter a “piece of ass,” and admitted to grabbing women by their crotches (when the women confirmed it, he threatened to sue them for defamation). Al pays his bills; Trump is a cheat who has declared bankruptcy four times, and promises to run the country like he runs his businesses. Al tells the truth; Trump lies as readily as he breathes and says that the press is composed of “deceitful, dishonest, liars” when they ask about it.

“Believe me,” Trump says about all manner of things, and his followers obediently believe him, evidence be damned. Global warming is a Chinese conspiracy, he says. He would have won the popular election had Hillary not arranged for three million illegals to vote, he says. The crime rate is exploding; the economy is in shambles; I saw thousands of Moslems cheering when the Twin Towers fell; all twelve of America’s intelligence agencies are lying about Putin having helped him win the election (he asked for Putin’s help); America is the most heavily taxed nation on earth; our employment rate is 42%; we can end gun violence by selling more guns to more people; and on and on and on. Why would anyone with even half a brain believe lies that are completely unsubstantiated or contradict known facts? Al is awfully old, so maybe he’s becoming senile…

To answer this question for the majority of Trump supporters, consider who voted for Trump. His supporters were primarily poorly educated Christians whose religion claims that it’s a virtue to believe physically impossible and glaringly contradictory claims about God, so isn’t it conceivable that they might taken the same approach with a demigod named Trump (just as Jesus claimed to be the only savior of their souls, Trump says he’s the only one who can save their physical bodies from terrorists). In any event, in determining which politicians to support, they place the bulk of their considerable store of credulity at the behest of males who are angry, charismatic, macho, and avowedly Christian, although the Christ in whom they believe is more akin to the scornful, intimidating, self-congratulatory, and perpetually angry Fox talk show host, Bill O’Reilly, than the soft-spoken Christ of the Bible. Such Americans mistake anger for strength because they are themselves frightened people who feel weak except when they’re angry, so serves Trump
well to inflame their anger, and by so doing negate what little intelligence they possess.

Maybe this is why it doesn’t seem to phase Trump supporters that tens of thousands of voting station attendants and government officials would have had to secretly conspire to enable three-million illegal immigrants to vote for Clinton (which just happens to be the amount by which Trump lost the popular vote). Likewise, if an alt-right website tells them that Hillary Clinton is running a child sex-trafficking ring out of a D.C. pizza parlor, the “news” goes viral, the owner receives hundreds of death threats, and a North Carolina man walks into the parlor firing his AR-15. Clinton characterized Trump supporters well when she said that half of them are a “basket of deplorables” and added, “I am sick and tired of the negative, dark, divisive, dangerous vision and the anger of people who support Donald Trump.” Indeed, these are frightening people who adore a mean-spirited psychopath who encourages their own meanness.

The only surprise about such people is that there are so many of them, it being not at all surprising that their numbers are greatest where the control of the Christian religion is greatest. When Trump bragged that he could murder someone on a Manhattan street in broad daylight and still be elected, it wasn’t meant as a compliment to the mental capacity of his followers. Like Hitler, he has gone from being a joke to being taken only too seriously, and like Hitler, a man who mocks the disabled or declares a judge unfit based upon his ancestry is well on his way toward building camps and handing out yellow stars. Such is the man for whom Al voted. Gentle Al, modest Al, reasonable Al, voted for a loud-mouthed demagogue who encourages violence and criminality to the point of offering to pay the legal expenses of those who are assaulting his enemies. Again, the only explanation I can offer for Al’s choice is that he is beginning to show signs of age-related credulity. I say this because, although I posit religion as one explanation, how can religion alone explain why a kindly and ethical man would vote for a vicious and unethical candidate? After all, it
’s not uncommon for people to be superior to their deity.

Another puzzler is why would the very regions of the country that are the most prone to flag-waving and support for military intervention in the (supposed) defense of the Bill of Rights, vote for someone who promises an end to the freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights with the exception of “the freedom to keep and bear arms,” which means more to Trump’s disciples than all of the other freedoms put together. Maybe this is because, without their guns, life is just too scary to contemplate. As for the other freedoms, take the freedoms of speech and of religion, for example. The only speech or religion that Trump
’s supporters appear to value is their own as can be seen in the constant barrage of death threats they levy against anyone who angers them (gays, liberals, Moslems, journalists, etc.) Then there’s the freedom from government persecution—which they define as the government’s efforts to secure equal rights for anyone they dislike. When Catholics and evangelicals speak of freedom, what the mass of them have in mind is the freedom to force everyone else to either pretend to believe like they do or face persecution if they refuse, and Trump is on their side.

Trump and his followers hold their
government in contempt simply because they haven’t been able to use it, to the extent that they would like, to force the rest of us to kowtow unto them, so it’s no surprise that he has appointed his billionaire confederates to head the very agencies that those confederates are pledged to destroy. This is but one of endless examples of Trump using the system to destroy itself, but since he won the election by appealing to the worst instincts of his supporters, it’s no surprise when they support such acts of bad faith. Still, the world of Republican politics contains numerous surprises.

For instance, Trump’s supporters insist that people like myself are being unfair to our soon to be president by our unwillingness to “give him a chance,” advice that strikes me as on a par with suggesting that a parent give a child molester the chance to babysit. But the greatest surprise of all is that the very people who are the most harmed by conservative policies are the same people who voted for Trump. They are poor in money (many hold minimum wage jobs, and the Republican Party opposes any floor to what they can be paid), poor in education, poor in opportunity, unable to afford medical insurance much less medical bills, and many of them live in states that receive more from the government in social programs than what they pay into it in taxes.

If anyone needs government help, it’s these people, but they hate being reminded of their inadequacies, but, more importantly, they hold that the Republican Party is on God’s side (or, perhaps, that God is on its side
). To whit, the Republican Party (or, at the very least, numerous Republican politicians): denies evolution, the Big Bang, global warming, the 4.5-billion-year age of the earth (which is inconsistent with Biblical genealogies), and all other scientific discoveries that are inconsistent with a literal interpretation of the Bible. It wants Old Testament “science” taught in schools; opposes abortion if not birth control; claims that stem cell research violates God’s law; favors “trickle down economics” (the belief that the rich are our friends, and the richer they are, the more they can help us by hiring); prefers a theocratic oligarchy to a democracy; wants to bankrupt the public school system by diverting tax money to religious schools; and supports the oppression of everyone who doesn’t look and think like a white, Bible Belt, Protestant Republican (it’s a fiction to imagine that Protestants who despise other Protestants are really tolerant of Catholics whose church they refer to as the Whore of Babylon). 

As many, if not most, of Trump’s people see the world, they are God’s chosen, and both they and God hate everyone who doesn’t look and think like they do. When they chant “Make America Great Again” their vision is a return to September 1929, when things were indeed good for what they would call “real Americans,” and who better to lead them into the past than the man who built New Jersey’s Taj Mahal, and then stiffed everyone who was naive enough to think they were going to get paid? Of course, when Trump-inspired disasters come to America, Trump will do as he always does, which is to deny responsibility. “Believe me,” he will say, “Hillary Clinton was behind this,” and his followers will no more think to doubt him than they would think to doubt Old Testament science because, after all, their reasons for trusting in the best thinking of the Bronze Age are on an equal foundation with trusting in a president who appeals to the same kind of thinking that surfaced in the formerly tolerant nation of 1920s Germany.

One of my friends said that what I need in regard to the apotheosis of Donald Trump is a hefty dose of love and tolerance, but at the risk of sounding as angry as a Trump supporter, I say love and tolerance be damned because they look too much like
acquiescence. When a five-year-old is at the wheel of the car, a good bit more than love and tolerance is required, and so it is now that Trump and followers are running the country. Nothing but disaster is going to come from these people, and, I fear, there will be violence on the part of those who oppose them. I say this because America only respects two things: wealth (America has been an oligarchy for years) and violence, and while few people have Trump’s billions, anyone can get an assault rifle. As for those of us who have no wealth and no stomach for violence, we can but hope that we will still have a country in the year 2021 when Trump’s four years are up—and that’s assuming that he hasn’t amassed enough power to hold onto the presidency in the manner of the Congo’s Joseph Kabila. One of the things I’ve observed about power is that those who assume it usually do so for selfish reasons, and that they have neither the wisdom to use it for the good of others, nor the willingness to relinquish it unless forced to do so.

News and Views



Our beloved Bonnie
My cousin, Carrie, who lived 450 miles away from me at the foot of Lookout Mountain, Georgia, gave me her cat when she became allergic to him. He ran away soon after I got him back to Mississippi, and I thought it better not to tell Carrie. Eight months later, she called to tell me that she had heard a scratching at the door, and when she opened it, her cat ran to where his food bowl used to be.

One summer afternoon I was walking across the backyard when I passed my blue heeler, Bonnie, walking in the other direction. “Hello Bonnie,” I said and continued on my way through the shut gates that separated the front yard from the backyard. When I got to the front yard, Bonnie was lying in the sun, sound asleep. Now that she is buried in the backyard, I sometimes look toward her grave hoping to see her.


Scully and Ollie

Yesterday I awakened to Peggy threatening to strangle our kitten, Scully, for wrecking her Christmas decorations. Peggy has always been able to have a perfect “Christmas house” despite many dogs and two other cats, but Scully has put an end to that. We can’t even keep her out of rooms, cabinets, and closets by shutting their doors because she’s so good at slipping past us and hiding until we’re gone. Ollie and Brewsky have done less damage in their entire lives than Scully can do in a day. “If you weren’t so beautiful,” I tell her, “you wouldn’t have any good points,” but I don’t really mean it.

Sassy and me with Mother’s shadow
St. Vinnie’s had a half price book sale last week (hardcovers were $1.25 and softcovers $0.65), so I bought 17 books about cats and three about dogs. This puts me up to sixty-two cat books. 

When I was seven, my parents and I were in the front yard raking leaves when a car turned around in our circular driveway. My dog, Sassy ran at the car and got under its back wheel. As the driver sped away, Sassy ran to me and died in my lap while gazing into my eyes. I lost so many pets to cars that I came to expect it. My father was forever bringing abandoned litters home from a roadside dump (my mother would feed them with a baby bottle), so we were never short of dogs.

One day, a stray dog came into our yard, and my father lured him to a bowl of water and bashed his head in with a galvanized pipe. Dad alternated between kindness—as when he rescued puppies—and cruelty—as when he gave me a .22/.410 and let me wantonly kill small creatures when I was eight. He also had me decapitate roosters with a butcher knife every Sunday. Because I was so little, it took me awhile to saw through a rooster’s neck, but when I was done, my father would cast the bird a few feet away and blood would fly while, to my delight, the rooster “danced.” My transgender father was a walking contradiction, and since he was my only role model, I became confused, and it didn’t help that I grew up in the Deep South, which was itself a contradiction between Christian charity and racist cruelty.

The first creature I ever killed was a songbird that I shot out of a pecan tree within an hour of getting my first gun. I felt so guilty when I saw its shattered body that I tried to justify the killing by asking my Granny to cook the bird for me. Because, as she sometimes said, she loved me more than anyone she had ever known, she painstakingly removed the shotgun pellets and fried the tiny bird. I felt like Daniel Boone as I sat at the kitchen table all alone eating my quarry. After that, I left the creatures I killed to rot where they fell.

A few years ago, I wrote about killing dogs as a member of a humane society (I
’ve written about many of the things in this post before because they’re so often on my mind), so I won’t go into it again except to say that there is nothing I have ever done that I feel worse about. I have since avoided humane societies because if I were constantly exposed to the neglect, callousness, and brutality that my species shows to other species, I would become so angry that I would want to turn my gun on us. My highest respect doesn’t go to those who help people, but to vegans who help nonhumans, but I’m not a vegan, and I do little to help any creature.

Most of what I do to make the world a better place comes from my resolve to be kind to humans and other animals. I talk to strangers; I tell store clerks that I appreciate their help; I praise employees to their supervisors; I open doors for people; I say hello to those whom I pass on the sidewalk; I offer to help people who are having car trouble; I let other drivers change lanes or exit driveways; I give money to panhandlers who play music or sell homemade greeting cards; and I try to remember to listen more than I talk. It doesn’t matter if someone strikes me as admirable or despicable, I’m going to be kind to them because I can never know what’s in a person’s heart or what burdens they’re laboring under. I have sometimes judged people harshly for their ragged clothes, nose-rings, facial tattoos, or saucer-like earlobe rings , only to have those very people do me a kindness.

I also rescue lost dogs when they’ll let me, and I pet nearly all dogs, but my greatest satisfaction comes from winning the trust of a dog who wants my affection but is afraid to receive it. Such dog
s’ people invariably thanks me for this, the story usually being that it was an abused rescue animal who needs people like me to convince him that the world isn’t so bad after all.

Cats tend to be either off or on when it comes to being petted by strangers, and many is the time that Peggy and I have fantasized about stealing an especially friendly cat because it worries us that such cats are vulnerable to cat haters. I suspect that it would be for such cats’ benefit if, instead of petting them, we rebuked them, but we never do.


I started my kindness project when I finally accepted the fact that I’m never going to be a Big Gesture person, so if I’m going to make the world better, I have to do it through small gestures. One advantage of this is that I am forced to pay attention to people other than myself. I don’t doubt but what suicides have been prevented through little kindnesses but, at the very least, energy and optimism can be restored to someone who is drained. 

I only remember two occasions—out of hundreds—when I was rebuffed. On one of them, a man resented me opening a door for him, so he stood back and refused to go through it; on another, a woman seemed offended when I joked about how long a check-out line was. Usually, the worse that happens is that someone doesn’t thank me for something I do for them, although I have a friend, Jake, who was called an asshole when he opened a door for a woman. This was years ago, and I sometimes wonder if the woman ever felt bad about it. By showing goodwill, I nearly always receive goodwill, and doing little kindnesses is surely a gift from which I get more than I give, there being almost no cost to myself.

A new cat shelf and sundry thoughts about cats and dogs




Our old cat shelf was store bought and would only hold one cat comfortably, so we built this one (which looks like it’s leaning but it’s not). Despite our efforts to keep blind cords away from Scully, she shredded the one in the living room so badly that, the blind being old anyway, we just bought a new one. So it is with cats—one must expect a certain amount of damage.

I’ve been missing dogs this week. It started when I was lying in bed and looking down the hall at two of our cats and remembering the twenty years that I looked down that same hall at dogs. For some reason, this created in me a longing, and even a sense of betrayal, which seems ironic in that this is the worst time of year to have a dog in Western Oregon due to the almost daily rain, mud, and chilly weather. How often have we taken dogs walking in the rain when neither they nor we wanted to go, and how many hours have I spent standing on the porch at midnight waiting for dogs to go potty while they stood motionless in the rain surveying their surroundings. And then there were News Years and Independence Day when they would be too afraid to go potty because of the fireworks, a situation that lasted for weeks as one idiot after another fired off an occasional incendiary. We turned to cats for good reasons, and I’m not sorry we did, but a cat does not substitute for a dog.
 

I had dogs all my life until our last one died in 2012, but I never read entire books about dogs like I’ve been doing for months now with cats. Perhaps this is because I felt an affinity with dogs that made it unnecessary to study them, whereas cats are ever a mystery. They’re caring creatures of deep emotion, but I can never escape the feeling that they regard their intimacy with Peggy and me as important but optional. Their closeness to one another is quite another matter. They spend hours a day sleeping together and bathing one another, and Brewsky and Ollie are so protective of Scully that anytime she cries, they rush to her side. They’re actually so devoted to Scully that I’ve wondered if they would threaten me if I pretended to attack her, which is exactly how our heeler used to behave when I playfully attacked Peggy or the neighbors kid. Unfortunately, I have no way to test the extent of Brewsky and Ollie’s devotion without the risk of convincing all three cats that I’m dangerously insane, and maybe getting myself hurt in the process. Cats simply can’t take a joke the way dogs can. I’m not prepared to say that dogs have a sense of humor, but they’re at least easy to calm down, whereas a seriously pissed-off feline is, as they say, “a cat of a different color,” and that color is brimstone. I’ve read of strong men fleeing before the wrath of an angry housecat, by which I mean a cat that, sometimes for no apparent reason, turned on one or more people with murderous intent. 

Peggy and I have often discussed getting a dog, but with three cats, it’s hard to imagine it being a good idea because we would be even more tied down, and because it’s doubtful that the cats would like having a dog (our only hope would be to get a puppy because adult animals are more tolerant of babies than of other adults). Then too, there would be the vet bills, which have become way more expensive than they once were, it being commonplace to walk into a vet with a trivial problem and leave $200 poorer.

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow, between the crosses row on row...




Upon the occasion of Canada's Remembrance Day and America's Veteran's Day, I offer this tribute to two great nations and two great Canadians. John McCrae, the physician who wrote "In Flanders Fields," was among the thousands who died there. Leonard Cohen, the musician who read the poem, died yesterday. 

"In Flanders Fields" is one of the dozens of poems that it has been my privilege to memorize and to ponder when I am unable to sleep.

In consolation


Republicans now have the presidency and both houses of Congress, so they can do whatever the hell they please, and the rest of us will just have to live with it. I find this is a hard row to hoe, but it would be a lot harder if I had been among those who trusted Clinton. Some thoughts…

I voted for Jill Stein, so I’m one of those people who are being blamed for Trump’s victory, the argument being that a vote for anyone but Clinton was a vote for Trump. Yet, this persistent demand that everyone vote for the lesser of two evils can only result in the country never having more than two major candidates, both of them on the side of Big Business. Besides, I mistrusted Clinton so much that I couldn’t even be sure but what she would be a worse president than Trump. For one thing a vote for her would have carried with it the certainty of war, war, and more war, it being well-known that she was much more militaristic than Obama.

As much as I deplore Trump and nearly all of his policies, I liked some of his stances. For example, I consider his idea of a “wall” on the Mexican border to be absurd, but I agree that illegal immigration is a serious problem, and I had every expectation that Clinton would encourage it rather than control it due to her emphasis on helping illegals rather than deporting them for being the criminals that they are.

I hate “political correctness,” and Trump represents a hard and well-deserved slap in its smug and mean-spirited totalitarian face. I’ll give an example based upon my last point. Thanks to PC, America went from using the term “illegal aliens,” to “illegal immigrants” to “non-documented workers,” and finally to “immigrants,” thus denying any distinction between someone who wades the Rio Grande in the middle of the night and someone who spends years working through America’s painstaking immigration process. Another example is that PC won’t engage in dialogue with those who don’t knuckle under to its values. It instead fires them from their jobs, hounds them from their schools, demands their public censure, and labels them, among other things, as racist, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-immigrant, and that catch-all word hater. Even a devoutly PC person can get in trouble with PCers if he or she is found guilty of some “subconscious microaggression” with no defense being possible. PC’s worst nightmare will soon be its president, and, despite my own abhorrence of Trump, I can’t help but smile.

I finally gave up any thought of voting for Clinton when I heard her vilify a cop who had shot a black man the day before. Clinton couldn’t have known that the shooting was unjustified, yet she chose to pronounce that cop guilty without a trial and by so doing, she supported others in insuring that the cop couldn’t get a fair trial, the PC assumption being that when a cop shoots a black person, the shooting constitutes proof that the cop is a racist who probably joined the force so he or she could have a license to murder minorities. I hold people like Clinton partially responsible for the rising hatred of police and for cops being shot dead while sitting their cars.

Although I’m more liberal than conservative, I hate liberal smugness, and Clinton was the poster child for it. When I picture of Trump, I picture anger and intimidation. When I picture of Clinton, I picture insincerity and smugness.

I don’t want Moslem immigrants coming here because Islam inspires oppression and violence. Where Islam exists, the rights of women, gays, and non-Moslems are scorned. I don’t even care how wonderful a given Moslem is, he or she belongs to a religion that opposes human rights, and the more children that person parents in America, the greater America’s risk of Islamic violence and oppression.

If, through our membership in NATO, America is going to risk nuclear war with Russia while protecting some little Eastern European country that most Americans can’t find on a map—assuming the’ve even heard of it—then the very least that our NATO partners can do is to pay the share they pledged to pay for NATO membership. Millions of Europeans detest America for its militarism, yet American militarism is the only thing standing between them and Russia, and what do we gain for protecting these parasites? I agree with George’s Washington statement in his Final Address (the speech he gave upon retiring from public life): “It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world…”

I agree with Trump that this country should come first, and I believe this means, for one thing, cutting off all foreign aid. If a person borrowed money to the point that he had no hope of ever repaying it, and he gave that money to poor people on the other side of the world while his own children were wearing rags, going without medical care, and sleeping under a leaking roof, I would consider that person an idiot, yet this is exactly what America does. I know we don’t do it simply because we care about the poor, but rather in order to buy the friendship of the leaders of the poor, but I say screw those leaders because if we minded our own business instead of trying to run the entire world to our satisfaction, we wouldn’t need their friendship.


I’m scared shitless to have Republicans running my country, but I would have felt unsafe if Clinton had won. When Peggy put the cats to bed last night at 1:00 a.m., she turned on the TV for a moment and saw that Trump had won. She went to bed but was too upset to sleep, so she got up at 3:00 and turned it on again in the hope that she had misunderstood. When she realized that Trump really had triumphed, she stayed up until 5:00 watching the election results and becoming ever more scared. Because what I would fear most—in the short-term—is nuclear war with Russia, I actually feel a little safer with Trump, at least in that regard. Why is that a country that is forever praising peace, forever saying that it is working for peace, and forever chastising others nations for going to war, is itself constantly at war? The ONLY president I would feel optimistic about would be one that got us out of these goddamned endless wars, each of which leaves us poorer and less safe than when we got into it. I’ve heard insanity defined as doing the same stupid thing with the magic expectation that it will yield a different result, and that pretty much defines America. A vote for either major candidate would have been a vote for war, and I can at least feel good that I didn’t vote for even more young Americans coming home lame or in body bags, their lives sacrificed for nothing.