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Feelin’ Crabby

July 23, 2017

Wilderness House Literary ReviewPartly because my family was on vacation but more because I’m oblivious, I didn’t notice when a new story of mine was published in early July: “Crabs,” in Wilderness House Literary Review. If you’re feeling crabby in the summer heat, you may want to check it out. Thanks to the editors of WHLR!

Our vacation was to the island I call Mosquitoland USA, and the central image in this story comes from an event during our stay in the same place last year. Usually truth doesn’t make for good fiction (imagine a novel about Donald Trump—would you have the slightest inclination to read it?), but in this case the real incident, which lives up to the adage about truth being stranger than, may amount to a decent metaphor. Or it may make you queasy about seafood. Feel free to let me know.

In the meantime, watch out for the Trumpsquito, whose bite will make you itch uncontrollably for four years.

Baby rabbits in nest. (Photo by Karen Foreman; from the National Wildlife Federation.)

A late Saturday afternoon in the suburbs at our daughter and son-in-law’s house, in the backyard with two granddaughters and three dogs, tossing a half-deflated volleyball around (the six-year-old thrashing it wildly), birds chirping, sun beaming, tree branches waggling in the breeze … An American idyll, especially with cold beer on hand. Our dog Fergus, the beagle mix who presides over this blog, plays his favorite game of pretending to dig a hole in the lawn so that we have to chase him away from it, which leads him to dash to another spot and pretend to dig there …

Then a ferocious barking as a neighbor couple and their terrier walk by on the sidewalk. The three dogs in the yard rush through the perimeter of trees and bushes to guard the chain-link fence. The girls run over to talk to the neighbors. Eventually the animals inside realize the one outside is harmless, and Fergus exchanges a snuff through the fence with his terrier counterpart.

But as Fergus strolls away, he steps over a shallow nest hidden in the spotty ground cover around the trees. Nose alerted, he digs in, and suddenly baby rabbits are scrambling in three directions. The girls run after one rabbit. Fergus keeps his nose in the nest, jaw working, until I pull him away.

Last year, when he found a nest in the front yard and emerged with a baby in his mouth, the girls and parents tried to nurse it back to health, unsuccessfully. After a day they buried it with appropriate ceremony. Ever since, Fergus has been watched carefully when he visits Rabbitville.

Yet, once more, he was too quick for us. With the advice of—what else?—Google, we knew this time to leave the babies alone and let the mother find them. In a couple of minutes she duly appeared, hopping with caution across the yard while Fergus hyperventilated in my grip. In the end it appeared that all the bunnies were alive, though one was injured.

The nine-year-old called Ferg’s behavior “evil.” We had to explain that he can’t be blamed because it’s his instinct to catch rabbits, his basic nature. Eventually the girls did accept this.

Yet any quick excuse of that sort makes me question why we reproach humans but not animals. Consider Donald Trump: Isn’t it his nature to get up early in the morning and bark ferociously, via Twitter, in defense of his territory? Isn’t it basic instinct that leads him to keep suspicious foreigners out of his yard? What about amassing great wealth while denying health care to millions—isn’t that like Fergus refusing to share his extra treats after dinner?

True, humans are supposed to have reason and some degree of free will, making them accountable for their behavior. But the more we learn about animals, the more credit they get for having thought, some form of language and a surprising amount of psychological insight. Even plants exchange chemical signals, science tells us. So can we still insist that humans are ethically different?

Whenever I read moral philosophy, its principles seem nice enough but founded on air. Only determinism makes sense to me. While hoping there’s more to our behavior than electrochemical impulses—and contending we should always behave as if there is—I lack faith in a larger paradigm.

Still, still … I do hold Trump more responsible than Fergus. Logic be damned—the guy’s an ass.

Or, at least, if he’s as driven by instinct as a dog, I’d like to believe in the same ultimate recourse. When a pet proves dangerous and incorrigible, we take him to the vet—for a needle.

Don’t worry, Ferg, no such fate for you.

Here in Poland, formerly known as the Art Museum neighborhood of Philadelphia, we are proud to welcome the NFL Draft Experience Extravapalooza. One in a long series of events that bring us hundreds of thousands of visitors and, in this case, the largest temporary stage ever seen in the city and perhaps the galaxy, this celebration promises days of enjoyment for all.

Already, in the run-up to the event, we’ve savored the following benefits:

  • Hundreds of convenient porta-potties installed around the neighborhood
  • Closure of major traffic arteries, offering the opportunity to sit meditatively behind the wheel and view the sights of our city through clouds of exhaust
  • Attractive military-style trailers and vehicles lining the streets
  • Outside security staff warning locals not to walk their dogs in the area
  • The sweet thrash and blare of helicopters cruising overhead
  • As shown in the picture, the locking of mailboxes, to defend us both from terrorists who hate football and from drunken fans who can’t distinguish a mailbox from a trash can

Some grumps—and I admit to knowing a few—have begun complaining about the frequency with which our neighborhood is rented out to private organizations that want to capitalize on the iconic Parkway and Rocky Steps. But we’re getting an estimated $80 million for this deal!—money that the city, still in many ways the most impoverished in the nation, desperately needs. With this influx of funds, we’ll be able to raise the salaries of our corporate leaders who live in the suburbs, bolster the political clout and intimidation power of union heads like our famous Johnny Doc, and ensure that agencies like our Parking Authority and Housing Authority—national models of featherbedding and corruption—continue their good work.

That is why the residents of our neighborhood have formally agreed to rename the area Poland, in honor of the frequent invasions from outside our borders. The entire city, in fact, has temporarily relabeled itself, as shown by this newspaper headline:

Most amazingly, the fuddy-duddies at the Art Museum, those conservative upper-crusters who have long sneered at the Rocky statue as a mere movie prop and lamented the sacrifice of the Museum steps for TV ratings, are now finally getting with the program. At a recent meeting, the Board of Trustees voted to allow the sale of naming rights for iconic objects in the Museum collections. The first such treasure, formerly known as Fountain by Marcel Duchamp, has now been unveiled in the main lobby with its new corporate moniker:

Trump Hotels® Luxury Visitor Accommodation

Shocked!

February 19, 2017

Change Seven magazine has posted a guest blog entry of mine about surviving a (Trumpian) shock to the system. Here’s the link.

The general theme, in keeping with the magazine’s name, was “change,” and I started to ponder how our former ideas about change seem both still-relevant and terribly quaint. The old term “future shock” popped into my mind—which was kind of like reading a letter you wrote as a teenager and realizing that, back then, you understood far more than you do now.

Twitterman Landslide!

January 3, 2017

The results are in from our runoff poll! Our incoming president has his proper moniker:

2,469 votes for “President Twitterman”

1,389 votes for “President Pootinesca”

That’s an overwhelming margin—one might say a mandate—for Twitterman. Henceforth the orange fellow in the White House shall be known by that name.

kremlinhack4However, some members of the Gridleyville Board were disturbed by anomalies in the voting.

For one thing, this blog has a known readership of 11 souls. Even though individuals were allowed to vote multiple times, it’s a bit surprising that 3,858 ballots were cast.

Second, Twitterman’s total amounted to 64%—eerily similar to the percentage won by Vladimir Putin in 2012.

Third, more than 3,000 of the votes have been traced to keyboards using the Cyrillic alphabet. We do have Russian speakers in the USA, but the sheer volume of Cyrillic-flavored votes has raised suspicion.

Finally, our agents have confirmed that one of the Cyrillic keyboards was connected to a monitor with the following sentence on its screensaver:

Умереть, капиталистические собак!

which, loosely translated, means “Die, capitalist dogs!”

Although the evidence is merely circumstantial, we can say with high confidence that certain high-ranking officials in the Kremlin deliberately intervened to sway the election. Apparently they conceived a deep hatred for the name Pootinesca. Perhaps they objected to the conflation of Vladimir Putin’s surname with the noise typically made by old fat men after a heavy meal. Or, if they themselves are fine diners, they may have recognized the similarity to puttanesca, the popular pasta sauce whose designation literally means “in the style of a prostitute.” Whatever the motive, they programmed their system to cast thousands of ballots for Twitterman and approximately half as many (as a cheap cover-up) for Pootinesca.

After deep deliberation, the Gridleyville Board has therefore approved sanctions against the Kremlin. Once each day for the next month, we will send the following stern message to Moscow:

Плохие русские, плохие русские, пло-o-o-o-хо!

which, loosely translated, means “Bad Russians, bad Russians, ba-a-a-a-d!”

Yet—it should go without saying—as true Americans we must honor our democratic process, however corrupted it may be.

Therefore, long live Twitterman!

With dedication and good luck, he may well become the greatest Twit ever to occupy the White House.

votebuttonResults are in for the presidential name poll posted on December 30!

In an effort to find a proper moniker for the incoming U.S. president, some voters chose among the options offered, some proposed alternatives. A total of six votes were cast, and since this blog has eleven total readers, including bots, the percentage who bothered to vote was nearly identical to that in the November election itself. We find that encouraging.

The vote resulted in a tie, with two names collecting two votes apiece. This calls for a runoff—also encouraging, because it prolongs the excitement!

Now, the original poll asked participants to vote by comment, which was a bit difficult. To register a vote, you first needed to have a sign-in recorded and recognized by the system. Then you had to go through the elaborate motions of typing a name on your keyboard. The setup deliberately mirrored the two-step process of regular voting, in which you first have to register and then, on the day of the vote, you have to show up, sign in, push some buttons and pull a lever.

In fact, five of our six voters circumvented the standard process, casting their ballots by Twitter, Facebook or, in one case, vocally. We Americans just can’t seem to follow the rules, can we? Nevertheless, in a true spirit of liberality, we decided to count those votes without penalty.

Perhaps the laborious effort required to cast a ballot is what discourages so many American voters. Therefore, for this runoff, we’re experimenting with a simpler poll format, in which you merely have to move your index finger twice. The two remaining candidates are listed below. Remember, the point is to choose a surname that, when combined with the title “President,” won’t make us hyperventilate or curse uncontrollably.

Click the circle next to the name you prefer, then click the Vote button. It’s easy!

Besides its simplicity, you’ll note that our runoff format has other important characteristics:

  • It’s like a sports poll in that you can vote as many times as you like. Hence it gives an advantage to fanatics and those with nothing better to do with their time, kind of like a primary election between no-names running for Register of Wills.
  • It resembles a Russian election in that, after you vote, the information disappears into the cyberether until the authorities (in this case, the Gridleyville Board of Directors) announce the official results, which may or may not reflect actual votes cast.
  • It reflects the typical democratic process in that it makes not one iota of difference for the long decline of Western civilization.

So hurry up and vote now! The polls will be open for an unpredictable amount of time.

We wish the best of luck to both candidates.

Bluster’s Last Stand?

November 9, 2016

Waking after the long election night… What, is the world still here? There are people who still dare to go out on the street? They’re, like, heading to work or something? Really?

So I manage to walk the dog, make breakfast and pick up the paper. There I find a column by Helen Ubiñas headlined “Stunned at the Victory of Self-Destruction.” (An updated version of the printed column is here.) Her take on the election corresponds to what I wrote on June 3 about a national death wish. She talks about “the xenophobia and sexism and hatred and racism Americans either embrace or are willing to overlook to send a message. And that message,” she adds,

is one of self-destruction, because although Hillary Clinton has her flaws, her many, many flaws, the message we are sending by being so willing to make a carrot-colored caricature the president of the United States is that we are willing to throw our country under the bus, that we are willing to be the world’s punchline, that we are willing to make a man with zero political experience and less global respect the 45th president of the United States.

Yeah, that says it. My image was a flaming explosion, an Armageddon, but the bus metaphor is good too. I am feeling rather squashed right now, and some of my friends seem to be having trouble breathing.

Wasn’t it ironic to hear that this election was about “change”? When it simply reversed the previous change? How many more times will voters be able to feel like conservatives simply by choosing the candidate who’s sane and competent?

By IProspectIE (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

photo by IProspectIE, via Wikimedia Commons

Dreading the possibility of a morning like this, I’ve been toying with the idea of moving back to the land of my ancestors (some of them), and living quietly in a stone cottage, enjoying the fruits of the land (see picture) around a wee turf fire. I won’t really do that, of course, but it’s a consolation to have a refuge in mind.

More consoling is the fact that a large majority of those who are not white males voted for Hillary. So did a huge percentage of voters 18–29, and a smaller but clear majority of those 30–44.

These people are the dominant electorate of the future, folks. And they showed their disgust for the vile orange pussy-grabbing dictator-worshiping sexist racist fascist charlatan. (Oops, I was trying to be less polemical than Ms. Ubiñas.)

Trump voters in the near future

So what I’m saying is: there’s a good chance this is Bluster’s Last Stand.

Another, less direct comfort comes from nearly a century ago, in a passage by the English writer Ford Madox Ford. In his novel Some Do Not…, the first of the Parade’s End trilogy, set in the years surrounding World War I, protagonist Christopher Tietjens is accused of hating his own country because he detests virtually everyone in charge. His accuser is the young woman he cares for more than anyone else, so he replies honestly:

Don’t say it! Don’t believe it! Don’t even for a moment think it! I love every inch of its fields and every plant in the hedgerows: comfrey, mullein, paigles, long red purples, that liberal shepherds give a grosser name … and all the rest of the rubbish … and we have always been boodlers and robbers and reivers and pirates and cattle thieves, and so we’ve built up the great tradition that we love … But, for the moment, it’s painful. Our present crowd is not more corrupt than Walpole’s. But one’s too near them.

Maybe it’s the same now. Are we just too near the current boodlers to see things in perspective? Maybe Donald Trump is no worse than George Wallace (who wasn’t, however, nominated by a major party) or Huey Long (who got shot before he could be nominated). Maybe Sean Hannity is no crazier than Father Coughlin. Maybe the Alt-Right media are no more scurrilous than Marcus Pomeroy, who wrote of Abraham Lincoln in 1864: “The man who votes for Lincoln now is a traitor and murderer.… And if he is elected to misgovern for another four years, we trust some bold hand will pierce his heart with dagger point for the public good” (quoted in Don E. Fehrenbacher, “The Anti-Lincoln Tradition”).

I hope those maybes are true. I hope.