Monday, December 30, 2019

A minor rant in which I reaffirm my dislike of intercessory prayer

Why do people always say "prayers worked" when someone recovers after an infection or surgery or some other medical problem? Why is the first move always to thank God for answering your prayers instead of thanking the doctors, nurses, and other personnel who worked 24/7 to save your loved one? Or thanking the scientists who invented the antibiotics that killed the bacterial infection? And if someone dies from cancer or the flu or complications of surgery, does that mean that person was somehow unworthy? Their friends' prayers weren't good enough? If you survive an illness but a friend doesn't, does that somehow make you more special or deserving than the person who died?

One of the ironies about intercessory prayer is the longest, most thorough scientific study about the efficacy of prayer showed it doesn't work. The people who knew they were being prayed for (prayed over?) were more likely to have serious complications than the ones who weren't on the receiving end of prayers. As for why this might be true is a mystery. Researchers speculated that it might be the effect of added stress. The patients who knew people were praying for them experienced performance anxiety. You know, what if they died? It would cast doubt on the faith of the people who prayed for them. Someone whispers in their ear that the entire congregation is praying for their recovery and, holy wah, the patient is now responsible for making sure other people's faith isn't in vain. 

No such stress for the people doing the praying, of course. They're not the ones who will be toes up when the prayers don't work.

For what it's worth, if a person is a believer I can see thanking God for good stuff, but to assume God functions like a waitress at Denny's listening to you order a Moon Over My Hammy breakfast? Pure human ego.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Really hope this isn't my last post of the year

I recently read that one of the networks, probably ESPN, was going to air a documentary on the competitive world of dog grooming. Competitive dog grooming? Could there actually be such a thing?

So I asked my niece who happens to be a professional dog groomer. She confirmed that there are indeed grooming competitions. She's witnessed them at dog grooming conventions. Another thing I have trouble envisioning, but then again every profession holds conventions. Exterminators, people who make a living offing cockroaches, have conventions so why not dog groomers?

She sent me a few images of work groomers had done as part of these competitions: clipping a dog's coat and then applying color so the beast looked like a camel or a zebra or some other definitely not a dog creature. My immediate reaction was that some people should not be allowed to own dogs.

I can understand, more or less, the standard cuts that get used on dogs. Although, to be honest, how the conventional trim for poodles evolved to what it now is confounds me. I mean, what's the point of the giant fluffy ball of fur around the chest and the naked ass on the other end? But turning a dog into a fake camel? That has to cross some ethical line.

In any case, yesterday she followed up with a link to something even more bizarre. Glitter balls. You got it. Glitter. On the dog's scrotum. A few years ago I thought it was pretty damn weird that there are people who will pay to have fake testicles implanted when they have a male dog neutered. Why it would be important to any dog owner that his or her dog look like it still has functioning testicles once they've been removed is another mystery, one that kind of begs for some Freudian analysis. I mean, just how much of a dog owner's masculinity is wrapped up in whether his dog still looks like it has balls?

Glitter, though, is truly mind boggling. Just what is the point? I did a little Googling, and apparently this first started showing up about a year ago. The testicles are painted with a syrup and edible glitter gets dusted on. Not technically difficult, but definitely weird. The dog will lick it off, of course, making for some colorful poop, but supposedly it doesn't do any actual harm to the beast. What it does to other people's opinion of the owner is different matter.

Who first thought it up? Just how much alcohol had been consumed? And the poor dogs. . .  they already get to suffer the humiliation of being stuffed into strange sweaters and dresses (I see pictures of sad little drop kick dogs all the time being made to wear ruffled outfits that their demented owners believe are "cute") and now their balls are being bedazzled?

I really hope I'm inspired to do at least one more blog post in the next 48 hours. I'd hate to end the year with glitter balls.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

The countdown has begun

We moved the new mini-fridge into the Guppy yesterday, and the S.O. completed what he hopes is the last mechanical repair. If all goes as currently planned, two weeks from now we'll be somewhere considerably farther south and west.

The Original Plan had been to hit the road right after Thanksgiving, but a dental appointment I cannot miss got pushed back to January 3, which kind of meant we're here until then. I wasn't happy about the appointment not happening until after the holidays, but there was nothing I could do about it.

The change in plans does mean slightly less ambling -- we had planned to start off going southeast into Kentucky and Alabama before swinging west. Now we're going to just aim for Texas and the southwest. Not sure just what all we'll do in Texas, but I do want to cross Guadalupe Mountains National Park off the list of parks I haven't been to yet. For sure we'll stop in New Mexico at White Sands National Park (newest one to get the NP designation in the system; it was upgraded from a National Monument about a week ago). I want to go to Lincoln, New Mexico, too, and visit the grave of Smokey Bear, but the S.O. may feel that's a side trip that's just a little too weird for him.

The final mechanical repair was to replace the calipers for the brakes on one front wheel. The S.O. noticed the brake shoes were hanging up as we were coming back from Pictured Rocks on September 30. He'd tried a couple things to see if that would make a difference, but finally bit the bullet, bought new calipers, and replaced them yesterday. We need to get stuff secured in the house part of the Guppy before he can do a test run to make sure the fix worked, but we need to secure stuff in any case.

The Plan for today is for him to get the doors back on the mini-fridge and for me to do Other Stuff, like securing various things that might bounce in ways we don't want them to bounce if they're not secured. I will start moving some clothes into the bedroom closet and drawers, too. I certainly will not be wearing my high water pants or sandals around here in the next two weeks. We may try to get some Reflectix cut to fit the windshield and other windows in the cab, too, while we're thinking about it.

We already did Reflectix on two windows in the bedroom. It turns the space into a cave, but it'll come off easy when we get to a place where it's warm enough that we don't have to worry as much about either keeping things warm or preventing condensation.

As for the mini-fridge, it's electric only so obviously we can only use it when we're parked were there's electricity. If we boondock it's basically just a pantry. It's a just-in-case fridge. My niece and her family spent a few weeks living in the Guppy when they relocated to the U.P.  in May. The original equipment refrigerator, which is now 30 years old, was in continuous operation for about a month and decided it didn't like it. First, it apparently began tripping a breaker when it was running on electricity. So we switched it over to propane. It worked okay for awhile, and then it did the same thing: decided it was time to quit. Given the age of the appliance, we figured it had reached the end of its useful life. We bought a mini-fridge and set it up in the Woman Cave so Bonnie would have a place to keep milk and other perishables instead of having to mess with a cooler.

We had experienced problems with the refrigerator while we were at Pictured Rocks in 2018. We were running it on propane and after about two weeks it quit. We got ice and used it like a cooler. It deciding to quit again this summer was not a huge surprise. We had been debating getting a small refrigerator, something bigger than a dorm fridge but not a real residential model. You know, something like the refrigerators you find in hotel rooms. The S.O. measured the space where the built-in refrigerator is and we looked for a small refrigerator that could go into that same space if that's what we wanted to do. We did not seriously consider purchasing an actual dual-power (gas or alternating current) RV refrigerator. We only paid $3,000 for the Guppy. We're not putting anything into it where the price includes a comma. We're old. Realistically, we don't have too many more years left of doing things like campground hosting or long road trips. [How much does one of those dual power refrigerators cost, you ask? The Old Fat Man described replacing one in his travel trailer recently. It ran about $1,800.]

The built-in fridge actually worked better at Pictured Rocks this year. It ran fine on propane most of the time. Every so often we'd notice that the temperature in it seemed to be climbing when it shouldn't so we'd turn it off. We'd let it rest for awhile, and then turn it back on and it would work again. Odd, and definitely a clue it's going to quit for good soon.

In any case, the new refrigerator is big enough that it has a separate freezer compartment. We know from it being used this summer that the freezer really works and it is big enough to hold frozen pizzas and the 1.5 quart size cartons of ice cream. Its overall capacity is less than what the original equipment fridge would hold, but it's more than big enough for just the two of us. I've never understood the point of having humongous refrigerators that hold enough provisions for a small army. All that happens is things migrate to the back of shelves and turn into science experiments and mold farms.

For now the new fridge is in a corner in the "living room" where we had a storage box. It fits into the space nicely, actually has a slightly smaller footprint than the box did, so it's not eating up much square footage. It's going to start out functioning more as a pantry; the old fridge is currently stocked with frozen water bottles so that's going to be where I stick whatever perishable food we have when we hit the road. Next summer we'll deal with the issue of what to do with the old refrigerator: leave it in place and turn into a full-time definitely mouse-proof pantry, pull it and put the new fridge into that space, or pull it and turn the space into storage.

I know there are people who will wonder how I can talk so openly about us disappearing over the horizon for a few months. "Isn't that an open invitation to burglars?" Well, no. Not if it snows -- and it will. Thieves are lazy. They're not going to bother a place that's at the end of a 600 foot unplowed driveway. And even if they do? Doomed to disappointment. I don't think we own a thing that would be worth stealing.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Healthcare system or pharmaceutical sales network?

I'm supposed to go in for some blood work this week. Actually, I was supposed to go in last week (or maybe it was the week before) but it's supposed to be fasting blood work and I have a real hard time remembering to not eat or drink anything other than water when I first wake up. Turning on the coffee pot and then inhaling a rather syrupy mix of coffee, sugar, and milk is an autonomic function. I don't think about it. It just happens. Thinking doesn't kick in until sometime during the second cup.

The blood work is allegedly to check potassium levels, but I know what's going to actually happen. Because the test ordered is a metabolic panel, my current primary care physician will fasten with laser-like precision on the fact that my blood glucose number puts me into the dreaded "pre-diabetic" category and my total cholesterol is 4 or 5 points higher than the high end of the normal reference range, I'm going to be treated to a sales pitch for Metformin and Lipitor. The fact the numbers haven't changed in decades is irrelevant. So apparently is the fact my medical records clearly state I cannot take statins; the one time I did they tried to destroy my liver. I will listen to the sales pitch and then ignore any prescriptions for either of those two particular drugs that the PCP insists on writing.

As for the potassium issue, because my blood pressure was reading high when I went in for my annual wellness exam last June, my PCP wrote a prescription. I tried the drug for a few months but all it did was make me sleepy. I had no energy. We have multiple sphygmomanometers in the house; I did self-monitoring and the numbers weren't changing. Still getting higher than desirable readings but with the added benefit of having all the ambition of the proverbial wet noodle. So I went back to the doctor, told him the medication wasn't doing jack shit, or words to that effect. He switched me to something else. The something else does seem to be effective, but it does have a well-known risk of leaching potassium from one's system. Losing potassium is not good. If potassium levels drop too much the deficiency can trigger what medical personnel euphemistically refer to as a "cardiac event." Otherwise known as "Holy shit, she had a heart attack." So, yes, sucking out the blood to look at potassium makes sense.

Nonetheless, having watched American medicine in action for many years, I can safely predict when the lab results are back, the number that will get the most attention is the one least likely to kill me. There will be obsessing over a blood glucose of 119 while ignoring a remarkably high red cell count. I'm guessing this phenomenon is triggered by the fact the glucose number is easy to change -- just give her Metformin; let's switch from slightly too much sugar to inducing hypoglycemia and chronic diarrhea instead -- while the red cell count presents a mystery. Is it a signal for something ominous? Will her insurance cover the $900 blood test that checks for cancer markers? Do we need to force feed her rat poison Warfarin or another thinner? How much time is this going to eat up when the clinic needs to process the largest number of patients in the shortest amount of minutes as possible?

The high red cell count is fairly obviously a major factor in the high blood pressure. Thick blood is harder to pump. Thus, there is an easy answer to both the thick blood and the high blood pressure that inevitably tags along with it. It's an answer that involves no drugs, no money to Big Pharma, although it does involve some minor pain to me. Phlebotomy. You know. Blood letting. Drop the total volume and the pressure drops right along with it. Leeches, cupping, maybe the Red Cross blood donation van?

Oddly enough, if the doctor were to order straight-forward phlebotomy, just have the hospital lab drain off a pint every so often, that blood would be considered a bio-hazard and discarded. They can't bank it just in case they need some O+ any time soon. If I let the Red Cross do the same thing it's a welcome donation because other than being thick it's perfectly good blood. It's so good, in fact, my platelet count is on the high side right along with the erythrocytes. Every time the Red Cross sees me they give me a pep talk about scheduling a platelet donation (which is sort of like going through dialysis but for a shorter time period; they suck the platelets out but return the rest of the blood to you as part of the process). If the dropping a pint is done at the hospital I'd end up paying for it; if the Red Cross does it I'm not out any money but I also am not overly fond of the Red Cross as an organization.

Maybe I'll look into ordering some medical leeches. Not a cheap option -- Leeches USA sells them for about $18 each -- but definitely the natural solution. They'd be easy to maintain, maybe, given that all they ask for is to have the water in their container changed on a regular basis. They prefer cold water when not on the prowl for a warm dinner so you can keep your leeches jar in the back of the fridge.

On the other hand, you're not supposed to re-use them. The wee beasties (or not so wee -- medical leeches are fairly large as leeches go) get to chow down on you one time and then it's into the rubbing alcohol jar to be euthanized. I don't get that part. If they've already dined on you once, why would repeat performances hurt them?

The size of medical leeches does, however, answer a question I've had ever since I learned they were once a popular option for treating hemorrhoids. Physicians placed silk leashes on the leeches so they could control how far the blood suckers traveled. I always wondered how you could get a leash on a leech because the live ones I've personally encountered (usually between my toes after wading in a fresh water lake or stream) weren't very big. After doing a search for images and seeing the leech in the photo above it is clear that lassoing one might not be difficult after all.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A recommendation

Looking for a fairly new book to read? Margaret Atwood's The Testaments came out in September. It's the sequel to The Handmaid's Tale

I plucked it off the New Books shelf at the library last week. I was prepared to be depressed or to have trouble reading it. I know from experience Atwood's books can be a tad unsettling. My mild apprehension was not helped by the fact the other book I checked out, Ruins of War, featured a psychopathic serial killer terrorizing post-war Munich right after World War II ended.

I decided to tackle Ruins of War first. I'd deal with a nightmarish past before delving into a dystopian future. Last night the serial killer met with a satisfying demise, it was still early in the evening, and so I reached for The Testaments. One-hundred-seventy pages later I dimly realized the Packer game had ended and the S.O. had retired for the night. I had a hard time putting the book down, but common sense prevailed.

Holy wah. Atwood can write. I could have easily done a marathon cover-to-cover night, read it in one sitting even if it meant being awake until dawn. Only the knowledge the result would be a totally wasted day today as I stumbled around in a sleep deprived brain dead fog turned off the "just one more page" impulse.

At this point, I'm at slightly less than the halfway point. Atwood is following three women: a girl raised as the daughter of an elite Gilead family, a girl raised in Canada, and an older woman who is the most powerful Aunt in Gilead. I have no idea where Atwood is going with these narrative threads, but the impression I get is that sooner or later these three people are going to meet. Maybe. With Atwood nothing is ever really predictable.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Pulitzer Project: Breathing Lessons

As I was reading Anne Tyler's Breathing Lessons I kept having this nagging feeling. It felt familiar, like I'd read it before. Then it hit me.

Breathing Lessons is like an episode of All in the Family, the sit-com that aired in the 1970's. The novel describes one day in the life of a middle-aged married couple, Ira and Maggie. They live in Baltimore, but have to spend the day driving to a small town in Pennsylvania to attend the funeral of a high school classmate. The deceased was married to Maggie's best friend, a woman she's known since elementary school. Ira isn't happy about going because it means he has to close his business for the day, but he recognizes Maggie needs to be there.

Ira's kind of a grump, a man of few words, while Maggie is a lovable ditz who can't stop talking. He's a pessimist, she's an optimistic. She sees the best or the potential for the best in everyone; Ira is a skeptic and a realist. They're opposites, one of those couples where you find yourself thinking "No way is that relationship going to last!" But there they are: still together 20, 30, 40 years after all the seemingly better matched couples have split up or divorced.

All in the Family had a similar couple at the heart of it: Edith, the goodhearted but a bit scatterbrained wife, and Archie, the grumpy husband. Edith liked everyone; Archie minced no words in expressing his disdain or his bigotry. A marriage of opposites, a pessimist and an optimist co-existing while viewers got to wonder what on earth Edith saw in Archie. Over the course of the show, it became clear there was more to Archie than was obvious at first, but it took awhile to get there.

At first I had a similar reaction to Ira and Maggie. The novel is told from two perspectives, first Maggie's and then Ira's, and as I was reading I kept thinking "Why on earth are these two people still married?" The perspective might be Maggie's as she's remembering how she first became friends with Serena, how she met Ira, and so on, but along the way she does enough scatterbrained stuff that you start having a Dan Savage type reaction and think Ira should just DTMFA*.

And then they have a moment at Serena's house after the church service and it hits you: it may seem like Maggie and Ira bicker about almost everything, but underneath the verbal jousting and disagreements they really care for each other. Not only do they care, despite the surface appearance of not having a clue about what the other is thinking they do actually know each other pretty well.

The second half of the novel is told in Ira's voice. The narrative continues as they're heading home, but where we spent the first half of the book seeing Maggie moving back and forth in time and memories, now it's Ira's turn. We learn about his disappointments, the family obligations that prevented him from following his dreams, and how he feels about a variety of people and events.

In contrast with the last Pulitzer winner I read, Beloved, Tyler's Breathing Lessons is grounded in reality. No magical realism here, no wondering if someone is real or imagined, an actual person or a lost spirit. The only fantasy consists of Maggie's overly optimistic dreams of her son and his ex-wife getting back together or of  her being able to spend more time with her granddaughter. The novel looks at one day in the life of a pretty ordinary married couple: a small business owner and his wife. There are no dramatic epiphanies, just occasional flashes of humor and a glimpse into the lives of ordinary people coping with the fact they've hit middle age. No one's life turned out quite the way they thought it would back in high school, but that realization has a lot less sting when you look at your classmates and see that they're not what they thought they'd be either.

Overall impression of the book is it's readable. Tyler can write. I wasn't blown away by it, but I didn't suffer. I'd put over on the better side of the scale, maybe a 7 out of a theoretical 10. It's good, but it's not great. Would I recommend it to other readers? Yes, with the usual caveats. If you like Jodi Picoult you might like it, although with the qualification that it's not nearly as depressing or heartbreaking as the typical Picoult novel. Maybe it would be more accurate to lump it in with Joanna Trollope -- ordinary people, no major drama, just life with a few mildly disconcerting bumps along the way.  [Usual small digression: why doesn't the local library have any of Trollope's books? She's really good, but I haven't seen anything by her since leaving Atlanta and the amazing DeKalb County library system.] [I keep thinking that all those shelves for Danielle Steele could surely be put to better use than housing that many cubic feet of what is basically the same book over and over with slightly different titles.]

In 1994 Breathing Lessons was made into a movie for television starring James Garner and Joanne Woodward. It was good enough that Woodward won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a tv drama; Garner was nominated as Best Actor. I think the casting was probably spot on, and the supporting cast looks decent, too. Garner physically fits the way Maggie describes Ira. Knowing that, will I go looking for it online somewhere? No. I already have a Watchlist on Prime that's going to take me several lifetimes to finish.

Next up on the Pulitzer list? The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos. I have heard good things about this book. I hope I'm not disappointed.

*Dump the motherfucker already.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Feel good Xmas movies

The S.O. and I are not much for watching holiday movies, especially the typical saccharine Lifetime or Hallmark ones, but we made an exception for Christmas film fare last night.

I happened across this movie being offered via Prime several months ago. I saved it to our Watch list because it's from Finland. Anything that's filmed in Finland with a big chunk of the dialogue in Finnish goes on the list. It gives the S.O. a chance to listen to actual Finnish and to realize again just how incredibly helpless he'd probably be if we ever went to Finland and had to count on his linguistic skills. Finn may be his first language (he learned to speak English -- sort of -- in kindergarten) but he doesn't have many opportunities to speak it. (I can read a fair amount of simple Finn, and I recognize quite a bit when I hear it spoken but I gave up trying to speak it years ago.)

Anyway, so I found a Finnish holiday movie, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. Saved it with a vague plan of watching it once it got closer to the holidays. It has cute little kids, reindeer, lots of snow -- definitely all the ingredients for something sweet. Especially when it emerges that centuries ago the Sami people interred the original Santa Claus in a mountain in Lapland. A rich American decides to dig him up.

That's when things get interesting.

It turns out the truth about Santa Claus comes a lot closer to the stories about Krampus than to the ones about Saint Nicholas.

This being a Finnish movie, the fact there are subtitles shouldn't deter anyone. No one is going to get stuck trying to read super long sentences while characters blather on and on. Actually, the biggest problem with subtitles when a person understands (sort of) the language being spoken is subtitles tend to clean things up. A character says something bluntly vulgar and it appears on the screen as "disgusting" instead of "shit."

Rare Exports isn't exactly Cannes Film Festival material, but it was fun. I mean, how much better can it get than the image of a little boy sitting up holding a long gun bigger than he is waiting to blow away Santa Claus if he tries coming through the window? I'm not sure what type of weaponry it is, but it's definitely not a Red Ryder bb gun. Or his father freaking out when he tries to get a fire going in the fireplace and triggers the ginormous bear trap the kid set there?

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Faux outrage or simple stupidity?

Once again the right-wing outrage machine is fired up over nothing. I can never decide if they're all just dumb as rocks or the people who do the first flipping out are deliberately playing to a feeble-minded base. You know, they say something that says loud and clear they have no interest in reality, wait for a reaction from the morons, and if it's clear the non-issue has traction jump into hammering it over and over and over no matter how nonsensical it is.

I speak, of course, of the horror expressed by Republicans over the fact that an expert witness used Barron Trump's name as an illustration of the fact that The Donald, the current Cheeto-colored occupant of the White House, is not a king. The Donald can name his son Barron; he cannot give him an aristocratic title that actually is a title and not just a name. Would it have been better if the professor had said, "For example, President Trump can name his son Earl, but he cannot make him an earl" or "For example, President Trump can name his son Duke, but he cannot make him a duke?"

Probably not. The faux outrage machine would have gotten fired up anyway because the example of a child, even a nonexistent theoretical child, was used.

The thing that floors me, of course, is how totally ingrained the hypocrisy is. The same group of people who are so horrified that poor little Barron (the son of a billionaire, a kid who's been coddled and probably diapered with gold Huggies from the day he was born) will be seriously traumatized by the fact his name got dropped in one sentence in one hearing have no qualms publicly verbally abusing other children.

Of course, it didn't just start with the current crop of right-wingers. Remember Rush Limbaugh calling 14-year-old Chelsea Clinton a dog? Making fun of how she looked and suggesting very publicly and repeatedly that Bill Clinton was not her father? That same bloated bag of wind who had no problem calling a teenage girl ugly and a bastard is now horrified that someone said Barron Trump's name out loud.

More recently and still ongoing is the harassment directed at some of the young people involved in the gun regulation movement and climate change demonstrations. The Donald himself has joked in a very nasty way about the Parkland High School shooting survivors like Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg -- teenagers who saw their friends die -- and said horrible things about Greta Thunberg, including calling her mentally ill. Greta is 16. The talking heads on Fox News, Republican members of Congress, and a whole host of right wing spokespeople have all piled on teenagers not much older than Barron, making outrageous claims about them and encouraging their listeners, followers, or constituents to be equally abusive. Those kids get death threats on a regular basis from adult men thanks to the hateful hyperbole spouted by Trump and other Republicans who obviously don't have even a tiny shred of human decency left.

As for Barron's outraged mother, that's the same woman who wore a coat with "I don't care. Do U?" emblazoned on the back when she went to inspect kids in cages in Texas last year. Wonder how those children felt about that particular fashion statement?

I was actually rather appalled that the professor apologized to the idiot Republican congressman who chastised her at the hearing. Just once instead of apologizing for something that doesn't merit an apology, I would love to hear someone on the left say something more along the lines of "I'm sorry. I didn't realize you did not know what an analogy is and that you need things explained in simpler terms. I will try again. President Trump could have named his son Earl, but he could not make him an earl. He could have named his daughter Duchess but he could not make her a duchess. We do not have a hereditary aristocracy in this country and the President is not a king."

Personally, I think the thing that might be traumatizing Barron at the age he's now at is going off to school and having his adolescent cohort passing around pictures of Melania sans clothing from back in the days when she did soft-core girl on girl porn. Because you know it's happening. "Wow Barron, your mom used to be hot." The fact he's in private school instead of public isn't going to change the fact every school has bullies who cannot resist harassing other younger students in some fashion. If they're not ragging on Barron about his mom's tits then you know he's gotten to hear about his dad messing around with Stormy Daniels. Worse case scenario is he's getting asked if it's true his dad is banging his sister because despite Melania's best efforts the kid is not being raised in a total bubble.

Am I the only one who kind of misses the days when the worst we had to worry about in seeing old photos of a First Lady was that she might have on a sleeveless dress? Then again, it's real hard to get criticized for what you're wearing when it's your hand. 

Sunday, December 1, 2019

We have always been at war with Eastasia

We really need to bring back the draft. Trump's recent photo op in Afghanistan, his 89 minutes at Bagram Airfield a couple days ago, reminded me why. Our misguided, impossible to win war in Afghanistan has now gone on longer than some kids graduating from high school in 2020 have been alive. There are troops serving in Afghanistan now who were in diapers when the "war" began.

Does anyone seriously believe we'd be embroiled in endless, impossible to win, never should have gotten involved in the first place conflicts if the draft still existed? Especially if the draft did not include student deferments? And was universal, like it is in Israel (translation: women must serve, too)? How many wars do you think we'd get sucked into if there was a strong possibility anyone's son or daughter might be required to don a uniform and go serve in some shithole where all the locals hate the United States?

Right now the U.S. effectively has an economic draft. When jobs are hard to find, low income men and women enlist in the military. With a few exceptions, the military gets the young people whose families could not afford to send them off to college. The cartoon above is old (Charlie Rangel retired several years ago), but it's still accurate. Everyone loves the troops and worships the military as long as their own kids aren't serving. How do we know the military is being filled with economic draftees? Well, among other things, every time the unemployment rate drops military recruiters have a harder time filling their quotas.

Given that one of the arguments made for enlisting is the education benefit, I have moments when I halfway wonder if one reason college has become so expensive is to force some young people into enlisting to avoid student loan debt. Which is a variation on the economic draft, but not quite as direct as enlist or starve. 

I remember hearing Colin Powell speak back during the first Bush administration. General Powell thought the government should reinstitute an active draft for a number of reasons. One that he mentioned was the draft was a great equalizer. When you were dragged kicking and screaming into the military back in the 1950s and '60s, you found yourself surrounded by people who might be very different from you. Different classes, different ethnicities, wildly different backgrounds. It had a broadening effect on your world view. If nothing else, it reminded you the U.S. is a remarkably diverse country.

And, speaking of the country as a whole, the draft would be good for it. It is much healthier for a democracy to have a military that more or less mirrors the population as a whole. As things stand now, demographics for the military are steadily drifting away from the general population. We want a military that represents all of us, but that's becoming less and less true.

My personal preference would go beyond the military. I'd like to see universal service where everyone, male or female, could be called on to spend a set period of time doing something that was good for the country. Community service. Of course, not everyone would end up serving, but just knowing the possibility existed might get some young people to snap out of their typical self-centered bubbles for awhile.