Idiots and Geniuses

Prompt: Timely

flower sun

It had been a rough day for the leader of the free world. God damn it, people just didn’t appreciate him. Though many did, lots of people did not. It got confusing sometimes.

Some people said he was incompetent, weak, unqualified. They knew nothing about him and anyway those people were contradicted by others who lauded his policies, decrees, and attempts to shake up the status quo. But the critics annoyed him. He was not incompetent, but a success. He was not weak, he was a powerful man. He was not unqualified, he was a billionaire.

Obviously he relied on staff to guide him, though they were not really as astute as he was. Sometimes they irritated him with their unreasonable expectations. How was he expected to remember everything?

He had made promises which caused people to cheer and exalt him. He had an image to uphold. He knew that ultimately he did know best. He could surround himself with idiots or geniuses, it didn’t matter. He had confidence in himself. He might not have all the facts, he might not have the experience, but he had confidence and smarts.

There happened to be a person who followed him everywhere, always. This person had a device that connected him to two people who had control of the “keys”.

There were always two highly trained people who were each armed with a key and a side arm, always awaiting instruction. If they were given the order, they would simultaneously turn their keys so that ICBMs, or nuclear missiles, would immediately be launched. The key-holders were trained to understand the implications of nuclear treaties and the politics of nuclear weapons. It was important that foreign, and possibly hostile, nations understand that when the order was given, nuclear weapons would in fact be launched. This was and is the deterrent to nuclear war.

Ok, this particular head of state might not know everything about political fine points and international treaties but he knew when a business or a country had to be tough. He was steady in his confidence, even when confused. He fought this fogginess of mind in every meeting and every speech, trying to be as aggressive and single-minded as he always liked to be perceived.

It was late one night and he was up with his television and Twitter feed, and he hadn’t slept for awhile, and had had furious and passionate and confusing meetings with other politicians, and had lost face with one or more foreign dignitaries, his popularity ratings were down, some influential people called him ineffectual— and there before him on the news and trending on Twitter, was an uncompromising act of disrespect by a foreign nation towards the country. More than that, there were personal attacks on him, the leader, and boasts of power and punishment. People on TV called them dangerous, a threat that could not be ignored.

He couldn’t remember exactly but there were other reasons he was angry, really angry, completely justified reasons, even if he couldn’t articulate them.

All he had to do was call on the person with the keys. This person, who would be nearby, would provide the information; the key-holders would be called and told to activate.

They would then immediately launch one or more nuclear missiles.

There were— are— no intermediaries here. The president of the United States has completely unchecked power to launch a nuclear attack, whether defensive or preemptive. No one at all has the power to intervene.

This is fact.

There are apparently bills being introduced that would dilute the dependence of America’s nuclear defence on ICBM silos and which would require congressional approval for a preemptive nuclear launch, which currently is not a prerequisite. These bills have not been supported to date.

As tensions build in Syria and their ally, nuclear power Russia; and potential nuclear power North Korea continues to strut and provoke, recent US displays of unstrategic power by a president who many think is at best inexperienced and at worst mentally unstable, continue to be variously praised and unexamined.

Hug your kids and your friends, right now.

Boom

Prompt: Prudent

View of Budapest at Night

When Hungary was still under Soviet rule, my friend Bethany and I paid a visit to her family members as part of a backpacking trip in Europe.

We had very little information about the country and virtually no one spoke English (and our Hungarian vocabulary was limited to the word “good” —, pronounced “yo”, which we mistakenly thought meant “yes”. ).

Bethany’s distant aunts and uncles and cousins mostly lived in a Budapest suburb, and they duly showed us the sights of that most impressive and grand city. Saint Stephen’s Basilica and many historic plazas and works of architecture. At one point an uncle took us to a wonderful lookout with a sweeping view of the Danube River, the lights of the bridges and upon its shore twinkling as the sun started to set, and told us a long and emotional tale, introducing us to the river as if it were a long-lost lover. Of course we had no inkling of the meaning of anything he said, but his speech brought tears to our eyes.

We visited other relatives who lived deep in the countryside, where you took a magazine on your visit to the outhouse, and not to keep up with the latest trends. A massive sow shared space with the outhouse. This was the largest pig I have ever seen (still) and I think now how unfair it was that she was in such close proximity to a human waste dump. She would hardly get the best impression of her captors, and no doubt had little respect for them, even when they emptied the slop can for her dining pleasure.

These rural family members were round— very fat in that jolly way that some people have. This was because their diet revolved about potatoes, white bread, and lard. Dinner might be mashed potatoes, fresh-baked bread with lard to spread upon it, cabbage, and a small piece of mutton.

They had a movie night in this country village, and Bethany and I attended the outdoor showing of a movie, perhaps a romantic comedy, not in English, as we sat in folding chairs under the stars. After the film the younger people of the village crowded around us as we walked back to the farm. They were excited and enthusiastic, and so were we, and I don’t know why. By this time, however, being clueless was my constant state, and it was rather relaxing.

Back at our base in Budapest, a young, rather dour “cousin”, Anna, offered to take us to a kind of club one night. Armed military personnel continuously stopped all of us on the street and in the club itself and asked for ID. Anna was extremely nervous when this happened. Anyway, it turned out Anna was a bit of a slut, since all the guys knew her and she was thrilled that the excuse of taking Bethany and I out for a little excursion gave her an opportunity to flirt and make out and make plans for future rendezvous. We thought Anna was pretty wonderful.

One night towards the end of our visit, we watched the news on television with Bethany’s “uncle” and one of the lead stories was coverage of a military parade in Moscow. Thousands of soldiers, hundreds of tanks, and a bold display of bombs and possibly nuclear weapons paraded before the crowds lining the streets. Bethany’s uncle pointed to the weapons on the screen, and said to us, complete with hand gestures: “USA… boom!”

USA… boom! This was the one bit of comprehensible conversation we had with anyone in Hungary. Of course times have changed. We now have wise and prudent governance in both America and Russia.*

USA… boom!


*As of April 3, 2017, no we don’t.

Seriously

Prompt: Seriousness

frank-zappa-eat-that-question

“Civics was a class that used to be required before you could graduate from high school. You were taught what was in the U.S. Constitution. And after all the student rebellions in the Sixties, civics was banished from the student curriculum and was replaced by something called social studies. Here we live in a country that has a fabulous constitution and all these guarantees, a contract between the citizens and the government – nobody knows what’s in it. It’s one of the best kept secrets. And so, if you don’t know what your rights are, how can you stand up for them? And furthermore, if you don’t know what’s in the document, how can you care if someone is shredding it?”

Frank Zappa, 1991.

Problem Solved

Prompt: Tremble

dog-with-butterfly

The only way to find out who had abandoned the dog was to follow it on its quest to return home.

That’s what Maxine was doing. She first tried to stop the creature, a wet, cold, straggly retriever mix that was unceremoniously dumped from a moving car on a remote road, on one of the iciest winter mornings of the year. Maxine, well-fed and healthy, was making her way from her country family to her city family.

The young dog, a male, might once have had a beautiful coat, clear eyes, and a steady gait. Now he was a trembling, weak, and unwanted beast. He immediately started to walk back in the direction in which the black car had disappeared. Maxine sniffed and nudged. She could smell blood and pain. The retriever was so traumatized that he ignored her and blindly plowed through the snow and ice.

It took several hours. Maxine was uncertain how the puppy survived. His pace was slow, and Maxine found her paws grow painfully frigid and her bones ache from the cold.

The black car was parked outside a small bungalow. All the curtains were drawn; the sidewalks uncleared of snow. The dog made its way to the front door, scratched at it, and when there was no response, he curled up into a ball, pressed hard against the traces of warm air leaking from under the door.

It took Maxine a half hour to get to Bernard’s, and he was horrified when he opened the door to a shivering, ice-covered bitch, but Maxine had no time for tender care. Andrew was there too, eating as usual, but at her relentless insistence they both got their coats and got into Bernard’s taxi. Maxine guided them to the bungalow.

“He chews up the carpet and the walls. He shits on the floor.” said the man who answered the doorbell, as he used his knees to prevent the animal from entering the house. “Sure I disciplined him, he doesn’t learn. I have to work, I can’t watch him every fucking minute. Stupid fucking thing could of just fell asleep and died out there, problem solved.” Bernard stared at him. Andrew draped a wool blanket over the puppy. The man said, “Report me? What for? What proof? Fuck off.”

Maxine lunged at the man, teeth bared, grabbing him firmly between the legs. His cry of shock and pain was muffled by the layers of powder snow accumulated on the porch, in the yard, and in the street. Andrew picked up the blanket-wrapped dog in his arms and carried him to the car.

Now the man was curled up into a ball on the threshold to the house.

“My dog? It wasn’t her,” said Bernard through clenched teeth, speaking loudly all the same, in order to be heard over the shouted threats. “Report me? What for? What proof? Fuck off. If you can.”

Andrew started the car, and when the heated air flooded the interior, the dog, exhausted, fell asleep.

 


  • Support your local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or an equivalent organization in your area. This allows them to promote animal care education, hire qualified staff, gives them the means to pursue animal cruelty offenders, to pressure authorities to make meaningful laws, and to enforce those laws. 
  • I support the BCSPCA. Please Google to find an agency near you.

Smug Pilots

Prompt: Resist


Hello Wednesday,

The word of the day is resist.

What is there to resist?

 

cartoon-plane-hands-up


cartoon-indian-wall-pilgrims


 

What can you do to resist? If you live in the US, you can make weekly or daily calls to your representatives in government, at all levels; get involved in organizations that reflect your values; participate in protest marches; contribute financially to organizations that resist, or those that are adversely affected by policy changes; support an independent press; and remember to resist peacefully. Outside of the US, there are organizations and marches that you can join to resist global fascism, and you can still contribute financially if you are able to groups in the US like the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and to independent American publications that are not afraid to truth-tell. Make your views known to your elected representatives. Resist bigotry and racism on every level, loudly but peacefully.

Sometimes I find the situation in the US so distressing that I have to take a physical break, and this often involves deep breathing and an actual effort to calm down.

Humour helps too.

cartoon-red-state-marriage


Peace!

~~FP

Surrender

Prompt: Yellow

I got a chest x-ray, and the next day took it to a room empty of reading material, including posters on the wall, where I sat alone for almost two hours. The room was painted a whitish yellow. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to be thrown in jail in an empty room and suffer from lack of stimulation of any kind, this would not actually show you. It was bad, but only lasted two hours. Still, it’s like sipping sour milk. You don’t need to drink the whole glass to know it is vile.

Then a doctor, recommended for such examinations, asked me to undress and to put on a green paper robe which opened at the back. He told me to touch my toes. He had me lie down, and he lifted the hem of the paper robe so he could look at my genitals. He was conducting, he said, an inspection to see if there were any visible signs of disease.

Personally, I think the doctor was a pervert. His voice was too level, too pandering, too apologetic. He knew he was being a pervert. He liked to gaze upon people’s genitals under the guise of a necessary medical procedure which purported to eliminate those with sexually transmitted diseases from being granted permission.

Previously, I’d submitted my fingerprints for distribution to civil, state, national, and international authorities, filled out detailed forms tracing my every move and activity for the whole of my life, and been interviewed extensively by indifferent men and women.

Many people were friendly and helpful. Others, like the doctor, took advantage of people in vulnerable situations.

Now, this was what I experienced when I wanted to live in the United States. I passed inspection. My genitals were worthy of trust. I am white and had an income. And I would be comfortable if I was returned to my Canadian homeland.

Imagine a woman and a child who are not white, have no income, no home anymore, who are very likely to die by violence unless they can flee to a safe haven. They have no rights, no understanding of the kind of routines they might be subjected to, and in many cases have no advocate.

This woman and child endure a much more rigorous screening process than I did to reach the port of entry.

They are afraid, sometimes terrified by the process. I was inconvenienced. They live in constant, black dread that they might have to return to a place where they might be starved, raped, mutilated, or killed. I was bored. The pervert doctor only went so far with me, because I am white and anglo, yet I was still humiliated. But I was smiled at with sympathy sometimes, because I am a white person. Smiles are scarcer for them, yes, even for a small, frightened child.

There are millions of these women and children. They go through the process or they return to chaos. Now, in some places, they are being denied even the hope of escape. My experience was nothing. Their experience counts now.

 

syrian-girl