Twenty Weeks in Isolation; 144 Days, or, a Gross of Days. When Will the Rats Return and Liberate Us?

Call it isolation, quarantine, or lockdown. It all feels like a leash or a probation department ankle bracelet. We do this of our own choice, not by order of Dr. Fauci, George Soros, the Chinese embassy, County Judge Lina Hidalgo (wrong county but I would do anything she asked of me), or, heaven forbid, Gov. Greg Abbott.

The latter, Gov. Abbot, was a late comer to the mask mandating business. Per his order of a month ago, you are only required to mask if there are 20+ active cases in your county. Presumably if you had twenty positives living and three hundred formerly positive, now dead, your county would be exempt.

Hermiting (gerund form of the verb, to hermit) has allowed me to dig in and enjoy my inner obsessive compulsive drive. I do not consider it a disorder if I can channel it into healthy addictions.

I have directed my OCD into treadmilling since no one can walk outdoors in Lake Jackson’s heat and humidity in July and August. We regularly experience “feels like” temperatures of 110 F. plus in the daylight hours. Even in early evening when the sun is setting, it will often feel like over 95 degrees with the humidity over 60 per cent. But the treadmill lives inside in air conditioned space under a ceiling fan. I can walk as long as my bones will bear it.

So, I have made it my goal to abandon the sedentary life by walking a minimum of 7,000 steps a day. That is a modest amount of exercise but, done regularly, it keeps me from feeling like one of those vegetables left too long in the bottom drawer of the fridge. My goal, pushed along by my OCD, now has me up to 42 consecutive days. (I have permitted myself two “recovery days” that are included in the count. So, call it 40 if you are beyond OCD, maybe anal retentive.)

The side benefit of treadmilling is that I can read on my iPad Kindle app. Walking enables deeper concentration on my reading, which is to say that I can’t fall asleep while walking. Should I fall asleep I can pick myself up and go back to walking and reading. It hasn’t happened but I know I could do it if necessary.

Using this method, I have finally finished Albert Camus’ The Plague, and Pat Conroy’s The Great Santini. My brief reviews of those two: 1.) The end of a pestilence is greeted by the return of rats to the streets and gutters, not doves bearing olive branches, and 2.) Pat Conroy delivers more locker room talk than I have heard since junior high school and Army basic training. Ugh. Almost as repulsive as the joyous return of the rats to our daily lives.

My other compulsion has been Duolingo Spanish lessons. After five years of daily exercises, I have finally decided to reward them with my $7/month so I can enjoy the site free of advertising. Their advertising is not as annoying as Pandora‘s. The woman who serves as Pandora’s shrill shill and whom they drop like a cold dagger without warning in between Brahms and Bach makes you either want to quit going to the site forever or cough up the $5/month to make her go away. I blinked and gave them my credit card. Life without her has been a joy.

Duolingo, on the other hand, is much less intrusive and annoying with their advertising. I could have tolerated it forever and gone on with free Spanish lessons. I finally gave in because of my nagging conscience.

What they do at Duolingo has made me consider nominating the organization for a Nobel Peace prize. Their lessons seem expertly organized and thought out. There are people on their staff who know languages and language pedagogy. And, even better, they know some of the tricks of game-style motivators for online learners. My OCD feeds right into their trap.

By their count I now have 1,837 consecutive days of meeting my self-defined practice and instruction goals. That is just over five years of 30 minutes or more every day. And, ever so slowly, it works. After five years I can hold brief conversations with a few of the native Spanish speakers in my world. Well, so long as they answer without asking a question. I’m not quite that fast.

So, if you must have a mental health disorder during a pandemic, I suggest the obsessive-compulsive. It beats clinical depression for many reasons, not the least is the survivability rate. So, if you have a computer and want to learn a language, there is no better time than the present. Duolingo offers ninety-five courses in thirty-eight languages with over 300 million registered users.

If you came of age in the sixties like me, you may even want to take Esperanto. It may be the language humanity’s far spread remnants can use to make peace and start the process of rebuilding the world. You could be among the first to say, Ho gojo, la ratoj revenis.” Oh joy, the rats are back.

The Democratic Debates: A Team of Rivals?

Watching both nights of the Democratic presidential debates last week was informative and exhausting. Even more exhausting, although not as informative, were the hours of commentary offered by some of America’s best journalists. I have stolen a few of their thoughts and grafted them into my own commentary. If you are a politics junky of the MS-NBC persuasion, you may spot a few of my borrowings. You have no standing to sue me and I can’t be impeached. So just read on.

In my post last week, I confessed a partiality to Elizabeth Warren, although I made a commitment to watching the debates with an open mind. I am certain that all of my many readers have been waiting anxiously for my conclusions and advice. 

Well, I can’t help you that much. I concluded, like most folks,  that Bernie and Joe came across as a little tired. Though they be a little worn out, I still hoist my Bernie mug and my Obama mug (Was there ever a Biden mug?) with pride any time I sip a cup of tea. Although I think a lot of both gentlemen, I confess to a little ageism that I am permitted only because I know exactly what it feels like to wake up and face every morning with 75 years of history pulling you down and informed by the knowledge that gravity never loses. So, let’s take a look at some of the other candidates.

Elizabeth Warren proved once again that she is a fighter for social justice and building an economy and government that serve the people, not just those wonderful corporate entities the Supreme Court has lately endowed with rights we once thought applied only to individual citizens and residents. She demonstrated well thought out policy proposals, passion and a willingness to go forth and fight. She has never been one to give up when confronting a bully. 

These debates ought not be evaluated as performances, yet it is an unavoidable standard when the survivor is likely be forced to go up against an incumbent for whom this whole enterprise is nothing more than poorly produced television for tired old white men. Warren meets the standard of political performance art and even makes it appealing to the larger demographic that would include women, minorities, LGBTQ voters, the poor and thinking people of all identities. EW is solid gold. Go Cougars!

But then there was Kamala Harris. What she did to that nice man who used to work for President Obama was almost frightening. I would hate to have to face her as a defendant in a courtroom. And if you agree with me that what Donald J. Trump needs more than anything is to face off with a good prosecuting attorney, then I will suggest to you that Kamala Harris would be the one to do the job. She is fearless, brutally logical, and and quick to the attack, all the while respectful and able to use her expansive vocabulary with withering effectiveness. Better be ready to duck, Donald. She won’t be upstaged.

Julian Castro presents himself as a serious candidate, well rooted in national politics and very capable of taking on a more challenging leadership role. And there was Eric Swalwell, young but well schooled with his serious participation on House Intelligence and judiciary committees. And there is Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, And Beto O’Rourke. And so many more. 

As I watched them through the two nights of debate, I recalled the premise of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s analysis of the Abraham Lincoln’s genius use of his political rivals after the election of 1860. In Team of Rivals (Simon and Schuster, 2005), Goodwin tells how Lincoln pulled talented opponents into his circle of advisers when it was time to take charge of the government. William H. Seward, Edward Bates and Salmon P. Chase were Lincoln’s opponents in the contest for the Republican nomination. Yet he didn’t ignore them and treat them as “losers”. He asked them to join forces with him to do the nation’s work during its time of greatest strife.

Seward became his secretary of state, Chase, his secretary of treasury and Bates, his attorney general. 

He also brought some former Democrats into cabinet positions, including Edwin M. Stanton as secretary of war. As Goodwin points out in her introduction (p. xvi), most of these men had credentials and achievements that far exceeded those of the country lawyer from Illinois who had pulled off the upset victory for the nomination and election. 

Lincoln’s great self-confidence and dedication to the task of preserving the Union allowed him to marshal the country’s best talent in service of that goal.

Could 21st Century Democrats do the same following success in the 2020 election? They would be well positioned with the fine set of competitors I saw among the twenty who presented on Tuesday and Wednesday night last week. One commentator (I do not remember who) suggested that one of the least known of the candidates, Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, would make an excellent Secretary of Defense. She served as an army officer in Iraq and, in the House of Representatives, on the Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Financial Services Committees. I don’t believe she is at all intimidated by the Trump Gang. And she would certainly be a better Secretary of Defense than the one DJT has currently serving in that office.

Oh, I forgot. It’s one of several vacancies he is carrying while he, Ivanka, and Jared do it all.

There was plenty of talent on the stage both nights of the debate. I think the party will be primed to install a competent government once again when they take the presidency in 2020. President Obama was wise to appoint HRC as his Secretary of State after defeating her for the presidential nomination in 2008. It was a script he borrowed from our favorite Republican, Abe Lincoln. This time we have a whole cabinet full of good talent.

That is the main thing I took away from the debates last week. 

That and the fact that any one of them will take more ability and honor to the office than the current incumbent. Yes, Maryanne Williamson, if you secure the nomination you have my vote and total support. 

Madeleine Albright: An Interview in The Guardian

This is one of the most interesting articles I came across today. Madeliene Albright, the former U.S. Secretary of State has a new book, Fascism: A Warning. She was interviewed by Andrew Rawnsley of The Guardian. Check out the interview here in The Guardian.

Ms. Albright does not offer us much comfort. From the interview:

“The things that are happening are genuinely, seriously bad. Some of them are really bad. They’re not to do with Trump; it is the evolution of a number of different trends. All the various problems that we have, they can’t be solved by simple slogans. But it’s easier to listen to some simple slogan.”

Yet simple slogans seemed to be what a significant number of voters responded to in 2016.

Book Review: When a Baptist Preacher Says, “Goodbye Jesus”

I grew up in a small, industrial suburb of Houston that was populated mostly by Southern Baptists and Methodists. There were a few other odd denominations of the Christian variety but no Jews, Muslims, or Others. In my little town of Jacinto City, Texas, the dominant Baptist and Methodist churches faced off across from each other on Wiggins Street and the Baptist church had the much larger buildings and congregation.

My family belonged to the Methodist Church and we only saw inside the Baptist Church when there was a wedding or funeral of a friend who belonged to the “dunkin’ church” across the street. Whenever we did get to go inside the Baptist Church, we kids were mostly interested in the transparent tank behind the altar with its painted desert scene complete with palm trees on the wall behind. My Methodist parents told us kids that Baptists believed dunking was required to effect a good baptism. They explained that Methodists felt that a sprinkle of water, done in the right spirit, would have the same result.

It was one of my first encounters with a basic difference in the way members of our demographically similar congregations thought about the symbols of faith. Over time, I would come to see that it also extended to the way they thought about the Bible, their morals, the world at large, and how they dealt with “exceptions to the rule of faith” that they encountered in their own lives and in the lives of others.

Park that phrase, exceptions to the rule of faith, for I shall come back to it.
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