Shadow dog

One of the many veterinarians I know with depression calls her depressive episodes the “shadow dog”. Shadow dog is not to be confused with “Black Dog”, a killer tune by Led Zeppelin, with one of those instantly recognizable riffs for anyone over the age of 50, and younger people with good taste. I haven’t named my depressive episodes. I just call my self loathing and lack of vitality at these times my demons.

A common misconception regarding depression is that people who suffer from Major Depressive Disorder are depressed all the time. Even those unmedicated or otherwise uncontrolled may have long periods of relative normality between depressive episodes. The episodes themselves may be long or brief and that depends on the person. While all such episodes have of a number of things in common, there is no typical depressive event.

I nightly dance with my demons, but at least I lead. When you’ve lived with depression for a long time you know the routine. My friend feels hers coming on, mine hit me without warning. Hers come on like a hurricane, mine strike like an earthquake and like such natural phenomena, you simply have to ride them out. She moves to high ground. I stand in a doorway.

How does depression make you feel? I can’t speak for everyone, but the best description I ever heard was “a lack of vitality”. There can be a sadness component, but not always. It depends upon the trigger (if one is discernible). An emotional personal event (for me, usually involving demons in heels, hiking boots, or running shoes) may trigger a spiral leading to an episode. Such life events, and others such as death of a loved one, may trigger episodes with overwhelming sadness. Most of the time, there is no discernible trigger for me. For others, this may not be the case. Lately life has banged me hard and without lube. Such times, when you’re emotionally exhausted you’re more susceptible to depressive symptoms, but there may be no specific event precipitating it.

Depression is the great liar. It tells you that you deserve this. You don’t deserve anything good. You’re responsible for the all bad events in your life and any success you’ve had is only an illusion. You have no self worth. Where it’s especially dangerous is when your demons gleefully remind you of your mistakes. They project them in IMAX in your mind and convince you that you alone are responsible for an unpardonable sin; impossible from which to recover.

Of course all of this seems almost silly to someone without this disease. It’s unreasonable to expect a young child to do calculus and it’s likewise unreasonable to expect someone in a depressive episode to see the objective facts. They simply aren’t capable of doing so (and this is also critical to understand) at that moment.

Everyone deals with these episodes in their own way. For me, it depends on how deep they are. Most often I am able to be reasonably productive with work and no one is the wiser. Some days, like yesterday, are a total loss. You’re almost catatonic, a complete power outage. You. Can. Do. Nothing. Maybe you’ll eat. Maybe you won’t. (You’ll always feed the dogs, though. They’re the ones giving you purpose at that moment.)

On these days I listen to music. Lots of music. I try to limit alcohol consumption, but I basically smoke up a dispensary. While it does mellow me out and limits the sadness, it has the added advantage of the munchies. Without it, I wouldn’t eat at all hardly. Back in 2014 when I was finally diagnosed it took several months to get it under control. During that time, I lost 20 pounds. I called it the Depression Diet.

Thankfully, there are some effective meds that can help normalize neurotransmitters and limit these episodes. If they don’t eliminate them entirely, they’re not as deep when they do occur and may be more brief.

In my case, the episodes end as abruptly as they begin. The earthquake stops. My friend’s episodes end more slowly until the storm passes.

I share this for two reasons. First, if you believe you may have depression, get help. Insurance is much better about covering mental health counseling and meds are covered like any other prescription (for what that may be worth). Medication and therapy together are more effective than either alone.

Secondly, I write to remove the stigma, especially in men. For fuck’s sake (or is it fucks’ sake, plural, like multiple fucks) depression is a disease. People don’t hear about someone with kidney disease and gasp, “he must have done something to bring it on! How terrible… he comes from such a good family. He was a good boy…” It just so happens in this case, depression affects the brain and the brain is imbued with mystical characteristics such as personality and character. Space isn’t the final frontier, the brain is, and how the organ works is still poorly understood. But because of these mystical powers, diseases affecting behavior and emotion carry an unfair and unjust stigma. That has stop! Stigma kills and in reality, depression can be treated by balancing certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, GABA, and norepinephrine. Stop the stigma!

I got this. Not alone. A few select friends are aware and have been checking on me. There’s strength in numbers and my demons are more easily defeated with help. I’ve learned not to fear asking for it.

I know my episode is ending soon. This one was unusually deep and lasted longer than typical. But by tomorrow I suspect I’ll be back to normal. It is what it is. Tonight I’ll snuggle with my dogs and sleep knowing that a new day is not merely a cliche, it’s literally a completion of the climb out of the abyss.

If you feel suicidal please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK.

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Alchemy of love

I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately. Coming out will do that. (Spoiler alert: I came out as bisexual the other day. It’s in another blog post called “Chasing cars”). Coming out is something I never thought I’d do, in fact, if I’d stopped to think about it I would have lost my nerve and not done it.

It’s like the first time I got laid. I didn’t think about it. I couldn’t. There was no blood left in my brain, for as Robin (a Fine American) Williams said, “God gave men two heads but only enough blood to run one at a time”.

I didn’t have that excuse this time. I just went for it. I’m glad I did, as the response has been overwhelming and positive. I’m sure there will be negative comments and because I’m still technically a member of my previous church there’s a chance I will be removed. It’s a closeted Southern Baptist church, meaning they don’t advertise their affiliation. There are two ways you get kicked out of a Southern Baptist church; you speak in tongues or come out as LGBTQ. You can bang the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders with your wife watching and they’ll make you a deacon, but give one blowjob… if you’re a gay tongues-speaker, you’re well and truly fucked.

Speaking of love… remember love?… this is a post about love…. I’ve been thinking about it lately. It’s been four years since my divorce. In that time I’ve had two girlfriends, two friends-with-benefits (one M and one F), and more than a few trysts. (For those who are wondering: all tests negative). I’ve been in love 1.75 times.

It could be coincidence, but I think coming out was the last piece of the puzzle I needed to be ready to truly fall in love again.

Falling in love is something I’ve tried to consciously avoid. But that’s easier said than done. Falling in love is effortless. That’s why it’s called falling. All you need is gravity. If you had to work at it, it would be called “climbing in love”. Now once you’re in love it will take some effort to keep two hearts moving in sync. But my heart falling for you? No effort at all.

The world is full of beautiful people. What makes us fall for some more than others? Why do we each have a “type”? And having a type, why do we sometimes go against it?

I don’t have an answer other than my own observations. Being in love is alchemy. You can take twelve people with similar physical and personality characteristics and there only be 1 that trips your trigger. Maybe it’s just a look, a furtive glance, an unexpected note; something gets your attention and initiates the just right blend of neurotransmitters that you become unreasonably curious. Often, love isn’t far behind. You’re hooked. Lead has been turned to gold.

I’m now ready to be open to the potential possibility of perhaps falling in love.

It’ll be a woman, because I am not romantically attracted to men.

“But wait! You just said you were, bi. Now you’re saying you’re not romantically attracted to men. Make up your mind!”

Yes, I said I am bi. But there is sexual attraction and romantic attraction. I just said I am not romantically attracted to men. I said nothing about sexually.

Back to love (we will finish this if it kills us!), I’m basically looking for a female unicorn. Better sit down. This might take longer than ordering coffee at Starbucks.

Intelligence with a dash of nerdy and a heaping helping of goofy: a must. I’m not terribly goofy, so I need someone to draw me out.

Brunettes with dark eyes that pierce mine. Combine that with intelligence/nerdy/goofiness, and I’m done. You’re my kryptonite.

Smile, nice figure, sexy girl-next-door vibe.

Accept my bisexuality, polyamorous nature, and my taste in music and I’m in love.

Told you it was a long list, although hair, eye color, and figure are all negotiable. The whole intelligence/nerdy/goofy thing is not. And neither is loving me for who I am.

And neither is the alchemy of love.

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Random Ranch Thoughts

1. Don’t use a chainsaw naked. (Follow me for other safety tips.)

2. For Hanukkah this year imma gonna pray the gas in my generator lasts for 8 days.

3. Never let your dogs kiss you after they’ve been outside (unsupervised) for 2 hours.

4. A 24’ camper is basically a fancy dog crate. But it’s a lot warmer than a tent.

5. Dogs make great bedwarmers.

6. If the camper’s rockin’… it’s probably very windy.

7. Dude! Where’s my fucking house?

8. Chatting up woman at the bar (WaB):

“So I live on a 36 acre ranch”

WaB: “Sounds nice. I suppose you have a big ranch house?”

“Did I mention I have 36 acres?”

WaB: “I’m outta here.”

9. A ranch can be a lonely place without someone to build it with.

10. Where do I go from here?

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Chasing cars

Why do dogs chase cars? This isn’t a riddle. It’s a serious question. What do dogs think when they are chasing the automobile?

The answer is they aren’t thinking anything. They’re programmed by evolution to chase things that move quickly, because in nature, those things are almost always food. The dogs don’t generally catch the car and seem to walk back content that, if they didn’t catch it, they at least scared it off. Even dogs that fit into small purses feel totally bad ass.

Like dogs, humans are always chasing after something just out of reach, often not knowing why. We chase whatever is close enough to make us think we have a shot, but it just escapes, like a springbuck from a lioness on a David Attenborough nature documentary.

Dogs, as they age, still chase cars, they just chase slower ones. Humans though aren’t as smart. We still think we can catch the prey or defeat whatever demon we are battling. “Faster horses, younger women, older whiskey, and more money” is our refrain, when the fastest thing we should be after is an electric scooter at Walmart. But that doesn’t stop us. We keep trying because let’s face it; it’s all we know.

But that’s who we are, no used trying to change it or deny it. I’ve spent my adult life denying I was a bisexual, polyamorous dude who found building deep emotional bonds as natural as breathing and was sexually attracted to more than one gender. I’ll admit it can get confusing and it’s an orientation (which tends to beget behavior) not readily compatible with traditional marriage. (You know, the marriages where people pretend it’s just between one man and one woman but in reality, one or both partners is fucking the pool boy)? I’ve been called “a charmer” and “seductive”, not always in a complimentary fashion. I don’t think I am either of those, but rather just me being me with few boundaries and no filter.

Truth be told, I hate being this way. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t want it. I tried to return it, but while God is BIG , He’s not Amazon and apparently, I need a receipt. So, this is the me I am stuck with.

Human sexuality is one of the least understood and misunderstood aspects of human behavior. For one, the scientific study of it didn’t really begin in earnest until the 19th century, at least in the West. Secondly -and most importantly- it’s such a personal subject that almost all of us can’t see past our own experiences. This means understanding sexuality different from our own doesn’t come naturally. We just don’t “get it”. It’s not in our personal experience and may even be aversive. We often can’t see past the end of our own genitalia when it comes to understanding what other people find enjoyable or desirable.

One thing I am not is gay. I am both romantically and sexually attracted to women. There’s a phrase in the gay community, “bi now, gay later”, as if same sex attraction is something we try on for size.  That may be true for some, but it is not for me. For those not comfortable with the term “bisexual”, I say I am “semi-straight”.

Another thing that bi people deal with is a sense of being caught between two worlds. Straight and gay folks tend to want us to “pick a team” and assume we are just “going through a phase” or “working through some things”. Straight people (especially well-meaning religious types) opine that non-heterosexual people have some sort of hormone imbalance, were not loved by their fathers, or were insufficiently suckled as infants. My personal favorite is those who say I might have a sexual addiction. I wish I did, because my sex drive isn’t nearly as strong as it used to be, a reminder of something the late Lee Bledsoe (a Fine American) said, “It’s no sin to get old. It’s just damn inconvenient”.

Listen up: LGBT people have hang-ups like everyone. We have broken families, come from intact marriages, and are children of divorce. We deal with all the same life challenges as the rest of the world, but we do it while also dealing with what for many is a deep dark secret, kept hidden by the very real fear that, if they knew who we really were, we will be rejected by those we hold most dear. So, we bury ourselves inside ourselves, a façade made of secrets and lies.

Time for me to finally say, “enough”. I’ve never shared this publicly and why I do now I am not entirely certain, other than the normal human desire to be understood. I also figure this removes the risk of being “outed”. Being at an age where I care less and less about what more and more people think of me also helps. If you’re a fundamentalist, first I am sorry, but more importantly, if my sexuality and my ability to love more than one person are important to you and you think my eternal destiny is in jeopardy, please understand this is most decidedly not a teachable moment. I know the verses and bible passages as well or better than you and I damn well know my own life experiences. Either you love me, or you don’t, and I am the same guy I have always been.

This is all something I am still coming to grips with. Fear kept me quiet, but fear kills. I’ve been suicidal, and self-loathing remains a daily battle. Mostly, I feel like a foolish old man chasing a young man’s dreams, always barely beyond my grasp. The car I am still chasing is the desire to fiercely love someone who accepts me as me and loves me likewise. I’ve come very close. I’ve had one or the other, but not both. The clock is ticking. I am not optimistic I’ll catch the car, but that’s ok. Neither life nor God owe me anything. But I do owe them something: to love and accept others the way I need to be. To remind people that they matter and to love them regardless of whether they love me in return. Jesus lived that way. I happen to think He’s a pretty good role model.

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Lehi

Shelby raced ahead of me, nose to the ground, following whatever scent attracted her attention. How her 3-month-old pointer nose could smell anything at that speed, I do not know, but she would stop and sniff when something especially glorious wafted into her nostrils. Shelby would then move off to follow the new scent, this time at a more deliberate pace, until she reached her destination, usually a pile of elk poop. Elk poop is more delicious than chicken, apparently. 

Shelby and I were walking land on the Colorado Plateau in eastern Arizona. I was looking to buy a 36-acre parcel for an off-the-grid ranch, a dream of mine for years. Now the right piece of property was available, I worked remotely anyway, and I was looking to do this before I got too old. Shelby, her first time away from brother Caleb, was enjoying time with daddy and learning how to be a dog. German Shorthair Pointers have a high energy level and she ran ahead of me, or in a perpendicular direction from time to time, but always returned to check in or to respond to my call, tongue lolling and a smile on her liver-colored face. A pocket full of dog food helped. I kneeled down, gave her her treat and told her how good she was. My reward was her happiness and her freely given puppy kisses before she bolted off again.

As I walked the land, I found an ancient pottery shard, not uncommon in that area, inhabited as it was by the Ancient Puebloan people and now, not far to the north and east, the Zuni. Shelby found something much more interesting, an intact mandible (lower jaw) of a young deer or elk. She ran to show me her new treasure, which I exchanged for more treats. Bleached in the sun, I surmised the jaw had been laying there for at least a year or two, perhaps the result of a mountain lion kill. 

In the Bible, names were often given to places to commemorate some significant event. Shelby therefore found the name of what I hoped to make my new home: Lehi, meaning jawbone in Hebrew, coming from Judges chapter 15 where Samson slew 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. I would build Lehi Ranch.

My favorite biblical place name is from Joshua chapter 5, Gibeath Haaraloth. This is the site where Joshua circumcised the people (presumably, just the men) prior to the conquest of the promised land. Gibeath Haaraloth means “hill of foreskins”, which I think would be a great name for a ranch, but it’s a little long and hard to pronounce. And Shelby already found the jaw, anyway. 

I think naming places after significant events is a tradition we should bring back. “Great Blowjob, Arizona” has a nice ring to it.

As it happened, I did not purchase that specific parcel, but rather another one near the hamlet of Concho, Arizona, which allegedly means “little valley” in the language of the Basque shepherds that tended sheep in the area in the 19th century. This land, at 6,400’ of elevation, is studded with junipers and a few pinions and sits upon a ridge with views to the red and white striped hills of the Colorado plateau to the north.

God made this land for ruminants; the elk, pronghorn, and mule deer. Pre-Colombian peoples, America’s first immigrants, made it home and left remnants of villages and pueblos, some nearly invisible on the vast landscape until you stumble across them. Not all are cataloged and fewer still have been professionally excavated.

More recently, cattle and their ranchers found the land suitable, making sure the land was legally stolen from the Navajo and White Mountain Apache who followed the Puebloans.

The term Ancient Puebloan refers to the myriad of groups who lived here long before the Spanish arrived. They include the Anasazi, Sinagua, and Hohokam, Mogollon, and Fremont. Their modern descendants include the Hopi and Zuni, although probably not the Navajo and Apache, who arrived later and tended to be more nomadic. In fact, the word “Anasazi” comes from the Navajo language and means “ancient enemy”. The current residents of the Hopi and Zuni pueblos do not favor the term, as they don’t see their forebears as anyone’s enemy and, after all, they were here first.

Into this landscape I will insert myself, a place where I hope to make my final home. It won’t be fancy or ornate, but functional and efficient; a blend of ancient and modern, a wood stove and high speed internet. Living as we do in an age of improving technology, we have the ability to live and work remotely in a way we couldn’t have even conceived a generation ago. I intend to fully take advantage.

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Living in fear

I moved to Arizona in 2003. The first time I saw a rattlesnake I about shit myself. (S)he (I didn’t look that closely) was coiled up adjacent to our front door and we noticed it when a solicitor came by to sell us magazines or tell us to nuke the unborn gay whales for Jesus, I don’t remember which.

Since that time, I have seen many rattlers and many more have seen me. I respect them, but I no longer fear them. If you live in Arizona, rattlesnakes are part of the landscape.

It occurs to me that perhaps part of the problem we have with race in this country is we fear one another. Fear is a natural response to something or someone that can hurt you. Americans feared German soldiers in WW2 until they defeated them then they found, of all the cultures in Europe that they had encountered, it was the Germans they liked the best. (Stephen Ambrose also writes that they loved the Dutch, but the only Americans in Holland were two airborne divisions. Most Americans never were in Holland). Based in part on the news media, movies, television, and extremely limited personal experience, many White Americans fear African Americans. They may like an on individual Black person, but they fear Black people. They also, at least tacitly, believe that “white culture” is superior to “black culture”.

Now, maybe I am telling a White family secret, but few Whites will ever admit they feel this way. Even so, watch their blood pressure go up when they make a wrong turn into a predominantly Black neighborhood. They’ll be like me with my first rattlesnake. I’m no sociologist but I’ll call this “passive racism”, which I’ll define as “an irrational fear of a racial or ethnic group based upon ignorance”. Passive racists don’t actively hate or dislike Black people or Mexicans or Asians or anyone else. They just don’t think of them at all, except when some event or TV show or something forces them to. And direct interaction with more than a limited number of them at a time is highly threatening, in part from conditioning, but in larger part because fear is a natural human response to things or people you don’t understand.

And notice my effortless use of the word “them”. To most White people non whites ARE “them”, they are “other”. They are different from me, they want what I have, and I therefore must protect myself, my family, and my property from… them.

This form of (passive) racism elected Donald Trump, who based his whole campaign on fear of brown hoards coming from the south and as president sought to ban immigration from Muslim majority nations and other “shit hole” countries. He does it in the name of protecting Americans. He is ACTIVELY supported by a plurality (maybe a majority) of white Americans (I haven’t seen recent statistics but it may be a majority of White males).

As I look back on my youth, I see this is nothing new. Growing up in the 70’s, I knew few Black kids, even though I grew up in working class neighborhoods. De facto segregation existed. I do believe things have changed some and ironically, things have changed more in the south than in the north. But the South had the furthest to go. Still, the fact remains we live in a nation where comparatively few white people have daily significant interaction with people of color.

This is a problem. I’ll say this is the problem. It makes people easier to exploit. Ignorance is a passive poison. To take it, just do nothing. Ignorance of the daily experiences of African Americans also makes white people blind to injustices the AA community faces. Frankly, raising white kids, it never occurred to me to have “the talk” with them about interacting with police (at least beyond being respectful). But every Black parent in America has this talk with their kids, especially sons. This leads to a dichotomy in how we see our current racial strife. Too many whites don’t see the injustice. They only see rioting.

You may say, not without justification, that there are significant issues within the Black community. You wouldn’t be wrong but you would be irrelevant. To say that “black on black violence” is a problem is America is to state the obvious, but that is not what I’m talking about today and it really can’t be addressed until the relationship with law enforcement changes. When a population doesn’t trust those who are charged with protecting it, that population will limit its interaction with law enforcement to the greatest extent possible. Therefore violence by police against Black people is directly linked to other forms of violence. They cannot be separated. Effective policing is impossible in areas where the police are not trusted.

There are no easy solutions and change -real change- will be slow. But it will come. Leaders must rise and initiate meaningful dialog and action. We see today the results of a lack of leadership across the political spectrum, at least at the national level. Lack of leadership leads to mindless populism and will be the ruin of our country.

The late Jack Kemp (professional football player and congressman) it was said, had showered with more Black men than most White people had met. And until that changes, nothing else will. Until we learn to truly know one another, fear will win.

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Alibi for my ignorance

“All I know is just what I read in the papers, and that’s an alibi for my ignorance.”

Will Rogers said that roughly 100 years ago and it’s amazing how little things have changed. This is not to impugn the profession of journalism but to merely state the obvious. Facts, while stubborn, are often difficult to identify and we tend to hold most closely those opinions we falsely believe are objective truth. Journalists are no more immune to this than anyone else.

Nowhere is this more obvious than reporting on science and religion. This is largely due to a lack of journalists trained in either discipline. Networks and news organizations may have one reporter assigned to those areas who may or may not have advanced training. And there’s usually only a single voice, with few competing voices. Dr Sanjay Gupta of CNN is, by all appearances, a perfectly competent reporter and (I presume) physician, but one man cannot speak for an entire profession.

None of this terribly matters under most circumstances, but April 2020 is hardly most circumstances. For one thing, it’s 4/20 all month, a fact that has largely been ignored on social media. (I mean, honestly… this will not happen again for another 100 years!) Instead, we’ve been fixated on COVID-19 and a global pandemic. Of course, fixated does not mean informed and most of us know precious little. Were Rogers alive today, he might say, “all I know is what I read on Facebook”.

If we rely on media and ad hoc panels of “experts” convened on a studio set or via Skype, we might get the impression that there are a lot of knowns. To the contrary, the only things we know are what’s already happened. The rest fall somewhere between “almost certain” and “a definite maybe”.

And here’s the rub: science deals with ever changing data. We observe, assess, conclude, repeat. As often as not, we get new data to supersede or contradict the previous set. Research scientists are generally pretty good at this and are comfortable with the process. They generally report results with nuance and are willing to modify their previous conclusions in the light of a new set of results.

The media, on the other hand, while well meaning, are horrible at it. They don’t have time for nuance and many of them wouldn’t understand it if they did. The headline doesn’t have room for the fine print and the news reader, whose chief qualifications are they are good looking and articulate, reports on hard numbers they and the public understand. The number of cases. The body count. Possible conflicts of interest amongst decision makers. (Conspiracy theories are always interesting and interesting means ratings or web hits).

Print media is better, but not by much. Editors know attention spans are short, so a single article that takes 10 minutes to consume won’t be read, but two 5 minute articles will. Lost in the removed 5 minutes of content is much of the nuance, the details that reveal the hard facts are a bit softer than they first appear.

Thus, the public tend to distrust both the media and science. I don’t really believe it’s bad science as much as it’s bad reporting of science. And all we know is what we read in the papers. And that becomes the alibi for our ignorance.

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Scary times and desperate measures

This is the most frightening time I’ve experienced in my life.

Well, there was once when I was about 19 and got my truck stuck where my girlfriend and I had gone to park. We were miles from nowhere and an hour from home. I’d just gotten laid. Now I was fucked.

By and by, someone came along with four-wheel drive and a chain. He pulled us out and I skedattled her home. We were quite late but my concocted story was not questioned by her father. To this day I think we got away with it, unless he reads this, in which case I hope the statute of limitations on fatherly wrath has expired. We’re both grandparents now, anyway. We’re supposed to have mellowed.

But this is different.

I’m not afraid of a virus. I’m afraid of the people. Agent K in the movie Men in Black uttered one of the most prophetic lines in cinema history, when he said, “A person is smart. People are dumb scared animals.” Put a dozen Nobel laureates in a room and expose them to a virus and you collectively have a scared beast with an IQ of 2500.

If you want to understand where we are as a Race (using the Trekkian term for “species”) just look on social media. People are frightened. Some out of ignorance, but some who should know better are equally so. We post memes and links to websites with the latest information; some of it even reliable. We, depending upon our political bent, castigate either the president or the Democrats. We praise or criticize governors of states to which we have never been and whose names we didn’t know a week ago. (Does anyone outside California, beside me, know what Gavin Newsome did before he was The Gov?) And freaking all of us are epidemiologists and virologists.

I have to admit, I refuse to get caught up in the hysteria, even as I am social distancing, and staying away from my daughter who just returned from campus, with no known exposure, but hardly from a controlled environment. I’m doing my part because science is agnostic and apolitical. Slowing the spread is important.

Even so, eventually a glob of RNA inside a protein capsule no more than 125 nanometers across may cause fear-created chaos of the likes we have not seen since WWII. Not because the virus will wipe out humanity, but because people are *afraid* it will, at least metaphorically.

Simply put: SARS-CoV-2, the novel virus that causes COVID-19, is virulent as hell. Like most Coronaviruses, it seems pretty resistant in the environment, remaining viable for days under the right conditions. These factors make the virus highly infectious and very rapid to spread. But, thankfully, for all the chaos this tiny bastard has caused, its not terribly pathogenic. It seems (and it’s early yet) that most people don’t get very sick or sick at all. But, those that do, describe an exceptionally rapid onset and a *very* severe malaise. A sub-set of those, mostly elderly but *not all*, develop severe respiratory compromise. And a subset of those patients die, rarely, including young and healthy people.

SARS-CoV-2 (sudden acquired respiratory syndrome-Coronavirus-2) is therefore a terrorist virus. It can kill. It can cause havoc and instill fear. But it cannot win. It’s simply not strong enough.

But between now and this virus running its course or a vaccine being developed, a lot of feces can occur and it could very well be much worse than runs on toilet paper. This will stretch our medical resources to the breaking point. How bad it will get is unclear and largely depends upon how quickly the virus peaks. But as bad as it gets here in the US and other Western nations, places like India may be immeasurably worse.

What happens when the global economy just stops? In the US, what is essentially full employment could go to a staggering 30% unemployment in a matter of months. (For reference, unemployment at the height of the Depression was 20%, more or less.) That is, if government policies – globally- aren’t enacted to rationally and carefully get it going again, and quickly. (Of course, mention this fact and people act like you’re trying to kill grandma. You might as well have shot Bambi.)

For all FDR’s leadership qualities, historians and economists now recognize that some of his policies actually prolonged the Great Depression. This could easily happen in the 2020’s. This virus could, quite conceivably, trigger social unrest and upheaval that could topple governments and bring populists to power that make Donald Trump look like Ike.

That’s what I fear. Not the virus, but human-made policies that make a terrifying situation infinitely worse.

In my heart of hearts, I don’t think this is likely, at least not in the West. But in some other parts of the world? Sure. 10 times as many people could die from social unrest as from the virus. Will a severe outbreak in India lead to more sectarian and caste-based violence? It could and we need to be prepared.

How the West reacts to the global pandemic, with its presently rather xenophobic and inward focus, will be the challenge of our time. It will take Leadership to meet it and quite possibly prevent the Third World War.

For now, I won’t give into the virus or fear. But I will remain watchful. Societies are only knit together via a fabric of common interest and trust. It’s made of thread that, whether violently torn or merely frayed, can come unraveled slowly or in an instant.

Time will tell.

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Squid pro quo

Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase meaning “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”. The Romans used this phrase a lot when invading other countries; as in “how ‘bout you get on your knees and perform some quid pro quo and maybe we won’t cut off your heads.”

Knowing Donald Trump’s affinity for dictators, I’m quite sure he would have absolutely wet his pants over the Roman emperors. “That Nero, strong leader. Very strong. Nothing weak there. Loves his people. Believes in urban renewal.” And Trump could have been, well, Trump and grabbed all the women he wanted by their lady bits and bragged to Howardus Sternus that “they even let you.”

Of course, politics is all about quid pro quo. So is life in general. We daily make deals and decisions based upon self interest and the interests of our employers. Employment *itself* is a quid pro quo. The trouble comes when our personal self interests conflict with the moral or legal obligations that serve as guardrails to our conduct. Running into those guardrails gets us fired or in prison. Unless, of course, you’re rich and powerful. Then you often get to decide where those guardrails should be. You get to move them and if you’re Donald Trump you get to crash into and through them like you’re driving a carnival bumper car.

In point of fact, Trump has been practicing quid pro quo is whole life.

“Anyone can live in my apartments, so long as you’re white.”

“How bout you have sex with me and I’ll pay you to be quiet about it.”

“Donate to my foundation and I’ll use the money for my favorite cause: my own aggrandizement.”

“Why don’t you have a disability and I’ll publicly make fun of you.”

And the ultimate quid pro quo: “you White Evangelicals… you sell your souls to me and I will make America white again and appoint conservative judges.”

This Ukraine scandal isn’t hard to understand. The facts aren’t even in dispute. At the specific instruction of the POTUS, both the president’s attorney and employees of the United States requested a foreign government launch an investigation into the presidents perceived chief political rival. The basis for the investigation is dubious at best. In domestic law we would say there is no probable cause.

And to make sure Ukraine was listening, nearly half a billion dollars in already approved and appropriated military aid was temporarily frozen, just to show what we could do if we wanted to. Ukraine has no prayer against Russia without help from the US.

When career diplomats got in the way, they were removed and publicly defamed. When a career military officer raised red flags up the chain of command and refused to be silenced, he was publicly accused of having dual loyalties.

Supporters of the Administration claim the president has the authority to do what he’s done and that no crimes were committed. That’s false on its face. While the president’s powers are expansive, at the very least implied in the constitution is that they are used in the public interest.

The number one thing the Founders were worried about was *exactly* this scenario: A president using the machinery of government not for the public interest but for his own. That is the ultimate abuse of the power of the office. Whether it fits federal statutes about bribery or extortion is irrelevant. (His actions probably do, but that’s beside the point.) The framers of the Constitution understood “high crimes and misdemeanors” to be precisely the conduct in which the president engaged: Abuse of the expansive powers given the office of the president.

None of these facts are arguable. The only question is, do facts matter to enough Senators to see Trump convicted and removed from office. I rather doubt that to be the case, but stay tuned. There’s more to come in our next episode.

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Dear Trump-supporting Christian

Dear Christians Who Support Trump,

I get you more than you may realize. I’m one of you, which is to say a follower of Jesus. We may understand the meaning of that phrase differently, perhaps, but I consider Jesus to be the Logos, the Word, God incarnate. If we want to know what God is like, we need look no further than Jesus of Nazareth.

Which makes your support for Donald Trump all the more troubling. I presume, and correct me if I am wrong, it is because he is willing to check all the boxes that you’ve been wanting checked since we marched in Washington for Jesus in 1979 and rejoiced when Reagan was elected the following year. Forty years later, you can taste victory. Forty years later, I recognize how young, arrogant, and foolish I was.

You want to overrun Roe, so you want a conservative Supreme Court. Check.

You want someone who wants to return America to “traditional Judeo-Christian Values”. (I.e, MAGA). Check.

You want an end to “the homosexual agenda”. Check.

For all those things, you’re willing to overlook Trump’s various weaknesses. I won’t list them. You know them already and they don’t matter to you. Or you’re at least willing go overlook them in the name of the boxes.

But here’s the thing. Most of what you seek, Trump – indeed no president- can deliver and if you think he can, you either do not know the facts or the Constitution.

Let’s talk about abortion, as a case in point. Ever since Francis Schaffer and C. Everett Koop produced the film “Whatever Happened to the Human Race?”, conservative Christians have been incensed over abortion. It’s a worthy debate to have. When does life begin? When does life become a “person”? When should it be subject to protection under the law? When does the life inside the mother have the same rights as she does? And, what about her rights? Does she have autonomy over her own body? All are important questions of philosophy and law. The problem is, we aren’t really debating them. We ignore the real questions.

It’s all come down to an argument over a single Supreme Court decision and two separate immovable opinions based upon world view and not Constitutional Law. One side immovably believes that human life begins at conception and is therefore entitled to protection under the law from that moment onward, the same as a human being after (s)he is born. The other side can not fathom this view. They believe- just as immovably and with equal emotional investment- that a collection of non-sentient cells can’t be a human being and treating it as such infringes upon the rights of the woman. There are differing opinions in the so-called “pro-choice” community as to when that fetus becomes a “person”, but those differences aren’t really relevant at the moment and are altogether meaningless to “pro-lifers”.

So, my Christian Trump-supporting friends, I get it. If Trump nominates enough pro life judges and justices, Roe can be overturned and abortion will be eliminated.

Except it won’t. Not by a long shot. In fact, overturning Roe (hear me now) WON’T MAKE MUCH DIFFERENCE.

Here’s why:

1. Prior to Roe, states could regulate abortion. Overturning Roe would merely return the matter to the states.

2. Abortion would undoubtedly be severely restricted or banned in many states. But, in those very conservative states, there are already very few abortion clinics and abortions compared to other states. The number of abortions in those states would drop, but as a percentage of the whole number nationally, the impact would be small.

3. The largest states with the most abortions are also the most liberal and would maintain unfettered access to abortion services. Some states have already preemptively passed such laws.

At the end of the day, overturning Roe would result in abortions being reduced, but not by a lot and certainly not a total victory. Not even close.

I hate to say it, Roe is a red herring and if I am correct, your whole reason for supporting Trump is a fallacy. Yes, he’s promised you (us) something (judges and justices) and has delivered. But his promises don’t matter because they won’t impact the issue about which we care. And to make matters worse, are his policies on care for life *after* it’s born. Immigration of suffering families with children, family separation at the border, et al. all are issues that don’t seem to matter to you. I’m going to call you out. You’re pro birth, not pro life.

You may push back and say a human life amendment could be passed that would enshrine the pro- life position in the constitution. Fair point. It could. But if you recall your high school civics class, a constitutional amendment requires 2/3’s of both houses to pass and 3/4 (or 38) states to ratify. The president is not part of the process. And if you think 2/3 of Congress will pass such an amendment and 38 states will ratify it, you are (and I use a technical medical term here) “nucking futs”.

There are undoubtedly other reasons you support Trump. That is your right, but we must drop all pretense of your support being based on moral issues of import to people of faith. Maybe you want lower taxes, thing climate change is a hoax, and that the Russians really just want to be our friends. Maybe you believe that a White America is a better America. Maybe you believe that a the country needs a businessman at the helm.

Or maybe…. you’re just hateful and spiteful and believe that God looks like you. When I was growing up in fundamentalist and evangelical circles, we were taught to beware of those creating God in our own image; never once considering the possibility it was *we* who were doing just that. If you believe in a God that condemns people to quite literally burn in Hell for all eternity (a concept that has more in common with the Greeks than the Hebrews), then it’s a very small intellectual leap to become that god of your own little universe. The Love Me or Else God becomes the Love Me or Else David, only giving that which is earned. That kind of love is not grace-full. It’s a mere business transaction.

So Trump Supporting Christian, I kinda get it. But I believe you are wrong. In one case (on abortion and Roe) objectively so. Math doesn’t lie. But if you strip that away, why do you still support him? That’s a question you need to answer for yourself.

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