Category Archives: culture

Colored washrooms

I grew up in the American South.  I remember colored  washrooms and water fountains whites onlyand swimming pools – clearly being black was thought to be water borne.  If you think that’s bad, my mother remembered the sign posted on the way out of Durant, Oklahoma, the shit-hole she was born in.   It read, “Any (N-word) caught in town after dark will be lynched.”

My home town, not a shit hole, was really two towns, separated by a railroad track. On one side of the track was Chapel Hill, home to the University of North Carolina and populated by professors and university staff and the merchants who serviced students and faculty.

On the other side was Carrboro, home to black millworkers, the legion of maids and yard men who worked for white people over in Chapel Hill and the taxi cab drivers who ferried them back and forth to their jobs.  Growing up we thought taxis were exclusively for black people. Nobody else took them. We all had cars.

Each town had its own high school – and then, the year I entered high school, they didn’t.  The high schools were integrated, merged into one and housed in a brand new building on the outskirts of town.  The principal of the white high school became the principal of the new, integrated high school and the principal of the black high school, its vice-principal.    What could go wrong?

Well, not a whole lot actually. Oh, there was a little pushing and shoving, some brandishing of lead pipes, but what really stirred the pot at my high school was interracial dating. That is to say, high status black boys – athletes or musicians – courting second-tier white girls.  By “second tier” I mean nice enough girls ranking maybe a seven on the high school desirability scale –   not quite enough looks and/or personality points to snag a high-status white boyfriend, but not a complete dog’s regurgitated snack either. (BTW:  In case you think I’m being unduly mean girl in my estimation o, I had no boyfriend whatsoever in high school. Of any rank … or race.  I don’t even want to speculate what the Hell tier I was on!)

This intermingling of the races (and  there was intermingling) may have set white parents’ hair on fire and culminated in all manner of groundings and ultimatums, but the ones whose butt  it burned  most were  black girls. They were furious and rightly so. They were also big.  If you were a white girl, you stayed out of their bathroom.  Because, yes, the school might have been integrated, but the bathrooms were not.  This wasn’t a formal arrangement, but it was understood.  And it was the black girls who enforced it.

One year I was on the staff of the school’s literary magazine and two of my fellow editors made a practice of hanging out at a filling station on the old Pittsboro Road, where they would goad the gas station’s owner — a hoary coot who looked kind of like Gomer Pyle’s evil twin — into making outrageously racist remarks.  “If any of them (N-words)  come around here,” he’d say, “I’ll bust me up a Pepsi crate and make ‘em wiggle.”  We thought this was hilarious.  Then, again, we thought abandoning a cow in the high school’s second floor lobby overnight was also hilarious.  Do you know how hard it is to convince a cow to go downstairs?

Recently I read Kathryn Stockett’s novel, The Help, where a white employer fires her maid for using the family bathroom.

Then I remembered.

In the otherwise unfinished basement of the house I grew up in, was a bathroom.  It was just off the back porch, which, in turn, was just off the kitchen.  You could access it from the outside by a set of stairs.  No one ever used this bathroom.  It was smelly and full of cobwebs, and, besides, there were rats in our basement. My mother used to refer to them in the collective as “Willard.”

It had never before occurred to me what that bathroom was for.  Our maids – Altherea, who didn’t do windows, Camellia and then Amelia, daughter of Camellia — all used the same bathrooms we did.  After all, they were cleaning ladies.  How could they be unclean?  It was  illogical.

But there could was escaping the obvious.  The bathroom in the basement had been the help’s bathroom, the ‘colored’ bathroom.    How could I have lived in that house all those years – with its butler’s pantry and its back staircase and the button on the floor in the centre of what was our family room, but had originally been the dining room, placed there so that the lady of the house could summon a servant from the kitchen without rising from the table. . .  .  How could I have lived in that house all those years and not known what that basement bathroom was for?

I guess I didn’t think.

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True Patriot Hearts

ohcanadalyricsNational anthems make me cry. Not all national anthems, just mine.  Because I’m a hybrid – that is to say, an Americanadian —  I have two national anthems: The Star Spangled Banner and O Canada.  My worst nightmare?  A joint Canadian and American event, kicked off by not one but both national anthems, usually with a bagpiper thrown in to up the emotional ante.     By the time the last verse wraps up, I’m heaving with sobs and in literal black face; even waterproof mascara cannot withstand the upwelling in mine eyes of tears unleashed by these patriotic paens.

And I don’t even much like these songs.  Not only are they impossible to sing, but they are fundamentally silly.  “True patriot hearts in all thy sons command.” Really?  What are all of Canada’s daughters doing? Canning?   And, “With glowing hearts, we see thee rise!”  Rise from where?  To do what?

As for the back story to The Star Spangled Banner — based on a poem written by a lawyer and amateur poet after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy  in the War of 1812.  All I can say is, “Keep your day job, Francis Scott Key!”  Besides, it wasn’t as if the War of 1812 was a real war.  It was more like a war-ette and one the United States lost, even though Americans are loathe to admit it.  Yes, the star spangled banner may have yet waved over Fort McHenry, but the British torched the White House and the U.S. failed in its attempt to conquer Canada – a victory Canadians attribute largely to Laura Secord’s cow.  That was some cow. The chocolates aren’t bad either.

So why do my national anthems make me cry?   Patriotism, in and of itself, is scarcely a virtue.  After all, what is patriotism but territorialism with an upgrade? Wolves pee to demarcate their territory and then proceed to howl about it.  We secure our borders with blood, sweat and tears — like urine, bodily fluids – then break out in renditions of O Canada and The Star Spangled Banner  — usually out of key — to celebrate the fact that it’s ours, not theirs.  “He’s too territorial,” we say of the dog that bites the postman on the way to the front door.  “He’s dangerous.  He’s got to be put down.”  What about those moron vigilantes patrolling the border between Mexico and the United States, those “patriots”?  Are they that much different from overzealous, rampaging dogs?  How about putting them down?

Canada is a thin warm line hugging a vast frozen frontier – bravado in the form of O Canada fortifies the spirit as we hunker down for yet another long, cold winter – “Yes, we are a people. Yes, we own this, albeit we scarfed it from First Nations. Yes, we belong here even though the land would, by its wintry actions, beg to differ.” It’s like my mother said.  “I understand why people went to Canada.  What I don’t understand is why they stayed.”  Needless to say, Martha Nell was not a big fan of cold.

As for the United States, I suppose there are more fractured societies, but it’s scarcely united.  Democrats think Republicans are from Mars and Republicans think Democrats are from Hell.  Yet, at every sports event, up to our feet we leap to hear our national anthem mutilated – our idea of a great send off to the men and boys who, twenty years later, will have puddings for brains.  Hooray for us!

Still I weep. I guess I’m a sucker.  For that one glorious moment when I am swept up in the heady romance that is nationalism, I feel at one with the past, with history, with those who have come before me and those who will come after me and all of those whose voices are raised alongside mine.  Isn’t this grand, I think.   Aren’t I blessed?  Does God not shed His grace on me?

And then the moment ends and I realize that I 1) don’t believe in God; 2) have racoon eyes; and 3) unless this is the Democratic Convention, many of my fellow warblers are probably from the Red Planet.

Maybe we should do away with national anthems altogether and commission an Earth anthem instead.  I could get behind that. Only, please,  can it be a little less lame than the ones we’ve got?

Risky Business

What pleasure people get from gambling eludes me. It seems. . . I don’t know . . . risky?

My attitude is partially rooted in my grandmother’s Methodist upbringing.  Her mother kept the curtains closed on the side of the house that faced the neighbours, who whiled away lazy West Texas Sunday afternoons with shameless and wanton card playing.   If that was not bad enough, they also kept chickens.  In town! But I digress.

Gambling seems to me a losing proposition.  Oh, I know, I know. You might win a little something here, a little there, but you’re never going to beat the house.  Everyone who likes gambling knows of someone who won it big, but it wasn’t them.

“Oh, but it’s so exciting! I do it for the thrill.”

Yeah.  The same way zip lines and roller coasters are exciting – shit your pants exciting.  No thank you.  There’s already enough of that going on in casinos.

And what is it about casinos, anyway? Why would anyone in their right mind want to spend a second in a dark, low ceilinged room in a mantle of cigarette smog, next to some old guy in a ripe Depends?  And all those little lights – flashing, flashing.  It’s enough to trigger an epileptic seizure.  And I’m not even an epileptic.

Disembarking from an elevator in Harrah’s in Las Vegas one morning to score a couple of Starbucks lattes, I paused to let paramedics past.  They had a male patient on a stretcher; an ambulance waited  on the curb.  They were coming from the casino.  Well, I thought.  My point exactly.

“You can’t win, if you don’t play!”  The gambler’s mantra.   But it’s not true.  I won once. Big.  And betting had nothing to do with it.  When I was eleven years old, I put a dime in a candy machine . . . and it emptied. The entire machine. What’s more, there was no one else around and, get this, there was also a large empty grocery sack close by.  Needless to say, I bagged my winnings and took off running.

In retrospect, I hope the poor guy who serviced the machine didn’t have the damages taken out of his wages, forcing his family onto the street. At the time, however, I ascribed my windfall to luck.  After all, I had done my part.  I had inserted my dime, expecting nothing more than a single, solitary Snickers bar.  What happened next was nothing less than pure serendipity.

So I’m going to rest on my laurels and not push my luck.  Such bounty is unlikely to come my way again and I’m easy with that.  After all, I have my knitting and, of course, the memories.

Lunar Tunes

August 20 was the Full Barley Moon . . . or Sturgeon Moon  . . . or Fruit Moon . . . depending on moonwhether you’re English or a farmer or a Cherokee.

I have been propelling myself forward through time by means of a lunar calendar for the past fifteen years. The calendar I deploy for this is a datebook entitled, We’Moon: Gaia Rhythms for Womyn.   It is one of those intensely earnest feminist publications, bristling with women’s art and poetry and packed with astrological information, which I ignore. It is my resource for moon phases, solar events and pagan festivals – all vital, need-to-know information, if you’re me.

Let me explain.

Every day I wake up, weigh (naked, by which I mean not so much as a hair pin or an earring to tip the scale), mark down that day’s weight, and whether I attended a yoga class the previous day or took the dog for a long walk or both.  I also document the degree to which my attempts to not drink myself to death were successful the previous evening.  Sometimes I’ll scribble something of a more diaristic nature, like “Bartlett Lodge for 20th anniversary!” or “Off to Montreal for Brina’s wedding!”  but more often I do not allude to events taking place in the real world.  I do, however, allude to events taking place in my head.

I am addicted to New Leaves. Well, not so much New Leaves per se as to turning them over.   That’s where moons come in.  Most months have two moons – a new one and a full one.  Every once in a while you get a blue moon –  a second full moon in one month.  Bonus! Yes, there are waxing half-moons and waning half-moons …  but they don’t count.  Why?  Because I decided so and, since this is all in my head, that’s my prerogative.

Moons provide an excellent opportunity to turn over a New Leaf, something I, as a bad person, quite regularly need to do.  What do I mean by bad?  Well, not Hitler bad.  Definitely not Ann Coulter Bad. More .  . .  Bad Rabbit.   My personal motto is, “love that full well that you will lose ‘ere long.”  Do I live by it?  I do not. Therefore I am bad. Therefore I need to turn over a New Leaf.  Therefore I need a moon.  Or a solstice or an equinox.  Or a good old rousing pagan festival – an Imbloq or a Beltane or a Lammas or a Samhain.  Any one of these will do.  Just not half-moons.  That would be too easy.

Here’s how the system works.

Suppose the next moon is days or weeks away, but I need to turn over a New Leaf and I don’t want to wait.  The rules state clearly that I can turn over a New Leaf in anticipation of an upcoming moon provided it is one of the following: seven days away, three days away or the day before: i.e.:

  • WOP (Week of Preparation)
  • Triduum  — reminiscent of Catholicism’s liturgical Paschal Triduum – the three day long religious observance beginning on the evening of Maundy Thursday and continuing through until  Easter Sunday.  (Spoiler Alert:  I was an ecclesiastical historian in a previous life and continue to this day a proud member of the Disorganization of Lapsed Catholics.)
  •  DOP (Day of Preparation).

If one of those three intervals is not available, then I must just stew in my slough until enough time passes that I can at last go into Turning New Leaf mode:  wash my car, take a ritual bath, buy myself something new that will serve to remind me of my new intention (Yay!), then . . .  Turn the New Leaf. Tah dah!  I am transformed!

The New Leaf, once turned, is bright and pliant for a few days.  Then it begins to dry out.  Then it crumbles to dust and, once again, I find myself leafing through my We’Moon to determine just when next I can legitimately turn over a New Leaf.  Because I really need to.  Because I really want to change. I can’t go on like this.  I can’t.

Once a woman behind the counter in an ice cream parlour offered me a sample.  “Oh, I’m not allowed to eat ice cream,” I told her, then thought, Did I say that out loud?  Because, of course, the person who does not allow me to eat ice cream … is me.

It turns out that blogging is like turning yourself inside out. When you turn yourself inside out, the person behind the curtain, the one barking orders, is likely to be exposed to daylight.  As Governor Rick Perry of Texas so famously put it, “Oops!”

Once, years ago, I decided that I should put an end to New Leaves, that the next New Leaf I would turn would be that I would turn no more New Leafs.  In other words, this was my last New Leaf. Ever.  So I wrote down my intention on a piece of paper and burnt it in a small cauldron I retain for such purposes.

Guess how long that lasted.

The Presidents Project

constitutionMy father, Bill Hardy, moved into a nursing home this year.   His mind continues sharp, but his body has long passed its Best Before date; he is frail and his infirmity envelops him in a sound-dampening blur that it is sometimes difficult to penetrate . . . but always worth the effort. He has things to say.

We had hoped for a private room for him, but have had to make do with a shared space. Fortunately his roommate – a shadowy figure named Pete – leaves first thing in the morning to return at lights out.  No one knows where he goes.  Well, I suppose someone knows where he goes, but we prefer to keep his peregrinations cloaked in mystery.  The only words Dad says to him are, “Goodnight, Pete!”

Pete has yet to reply.

Remembering the big house on Tenney Circle, it’s hard to imagine Dad in such a small space, but the truth is he takes up very little room these days.   When I call him, he always says, “It’s very quiet here.” We both lament the political morass in Washington and, increasingly, in Raleigh, declaring that, “It’s just not fun anymore!”  Then he goes on to tell me about the audio book  that he, a seven-time novelist, is currently listening to.  Increasingly, it’s history.  “I find myself drawn more and more to history these days,” he told me last week. “I suspect you understand that.”

I have always been a history bluff.  I was one history course short of a double major in History and English at UNC and did my graduate work in Early Church History at the University of Toronto.  What I never found very interesting, however, was American History.

The Tea Party changed all that.  I found their constant harping on the Founding Fathers and the almighty Constitution particularly noisome because I was in no position to argue with them.  Everything I knew about the beginning of our country, I learned in public school, which I can reproduce for you here:   “Bunker Hill. Paul Revere. Lexington and Concord.  At some point the Delaware gets crossed. God knows why. Fast forward to the Liberty Bell and the next thing you know, the British are burning the White House. No, wait. That was later.”      It irked me that I could not counter the doubtless specious arguments of these know-nothings and when I am irked, I take action. Book action.

Enter, The Presidents Project.  A year ago I committed myself to reading (or, to be more accurate) listening to someone else read a biography of each American President in sequence. (I retain information better if I can knit, drink and listen simultaneously.  It’s a learning style.)  Thus far, I have made it through James K. Polk, who, I have to say,  was as mind-numbingly dull as his one term presidency was momentous (the acquisition of the American Southwest and the Oregon territory – hello!).  ( In the interest of full disclosure, however, I must confess that there were some Presidents who were such clunkers that, out of’s over 150,000 audiobooks, they don’t rate a book — I’m talking about you, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison and John Tyler.)

Nevertheless, eleven (more or less) down, thirty three to go! I’m stoked!

This is the thing about history.

When we are young, we loom large on the stage of life.  Or at least that’s how we perceive it.  Our personal dramas preoccupy us.  Everything  matters.  As we grow older, it is the stage that grows large and we who grow small. My father sits in his chair in his half of a small room in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, cocooned in frailty, and contemplates this.  I sit on my bed in Port Stanley, Ontario cocooned with dogs – his and mine — and do the same.  We are both, at our different rates, fading away, growing smaller, gazing back to where we have been —  as Hardys, as North Carolinians, as Americans  — and asking ourselves, “What was that, really?” and “Is that how that happened? I never knew.”

The Founding Fathers, though possessed of a kind of collective genius, were flawed men, motivated by self-interest to set up society in ways that would best serve them.  Nor did they consider the Constitution tantamount to the Ten Commandments, that is to say, set in stone by the power carver finger of God. Thomas Jefferson was a big fan of viewing the Constitution as a living document. Among the many statements he made to this effect was this in 1825 in a letter to Edward Livingston, “Time and changes in the condition and constitution of society may require occasional and corresponding modifications.”   Yeah, like when ‘arms’ stopped meaning ‘muskets’ and started meaning ‘assault weapons’ and when ‘people’ stopped meaning ‘white male landowners’ and started meaning ‘everybody’.

The fact is, if you are a middle class North American, now might not be so great, but then really sucked.  Do you really want to churn your own butter and die in childbirth? I’d bet you anything that George Washington would have preferred modern dentures over those made with slave teeth. And what about outhouses?  Outhouses alone would be a deal breaker for me.  So why, Tea Baggers, why do you want to go back?

Because you’ve confused the Founding Fathers with the twelve disciples of Christ, and the Constitution with the Bible, and the early days of the country with the early days of the church . . . which  is particularly ironic since Jesus’s posse was no less flawed than the Founding Fathers, the Bible was written over a millennium by multiple authors, and the early days of the Christian Church were far from halcyon.  Never mind outhouses.  Try being a human torch to light one of Nero’s games or a fresh snack for his lions.   And you believe this  because you don’t know history.  Trust me,  if you did, it would scare the Jesus out of you, much less the be-Jesus.

So, yes, Dad, it’s very quiet here.  And, yes, Mom, there are a whole lot of stupid people out there doing big things.

Grey as a Badger

My eyebrows were not the first thing to go, but, thus far, they are proving the most intractable. badger

I’ve never given much thought to my eyebrows.  I did not have a uni-brow, just two furry caterpillars that responded relatively readily to plucking.  When an influx of Vietnamese into North America  made aesthetics  affordable to the middle class, I discovered the joys of eyebrow waxing – could this have been one of the unintended consequences of the Vietnam War,  the sudden profusion of inexpensive nail salons?   If so, hooray! At least one good thing resulted from that debacle.

I worried about other things: my BMI, my amazing disappearing waist, crusty bits and nurdles. One morning I looked in one of those “up close and personal” mirrors that old vain people should really try and avoid and saw that the skin under my eyebrows had plopped itself right down on my eyelashes — no eyelid visible, just two tiny eyes peering fearfully from under overhanging cave mouths of skin.  I couldn’t believe it.  I‘ve been bitten by something, I thought. Maybe a spider.   Best go to the pharmacy and get something to reduce the swelling.  Then I realized: OMG.   This is why people get eyelid surgery — this right here!

Then my eyebrows began to turn grey – really grey.  As grey – and this is how my mother would have put it – as a badger.  I’ve never really petted a badger; I’m not sure that’s advisable.  But I imagine that my eyebrow hair is not only the color of a badger, but its texture as well – vigorous, wiry hair that stands up and out and wants to go one way when you want it to go the other way – in short, bad hair to have on your face.

The thing about grey eyebrows is not so much that they are grey as that they tend to disappear into your face – such eyebrows are not so much a feature as a smudge.  An aesthetician who specialized in permanent makeup once told me about a client of hers who had been born without eyebrows.    “When I tattooed her a set, she was so grateful she cried,” she told me.  I didn’t think much of it at the time, but now I understand.

At first I tried having my eyebrows tinted at my favorite  nail salon.  This was not too expensive, nor should it have been, since the best thing I can say about the results is that I looked very  surprised.

Then I had it done at a pricier spa.  As opposed to painting two half moons over my eyes, as had been the case at the nail salon, the aesthetician labored over my brows with artisanal concentration and fervor.  It was expensive and the effect was subtle. By which I mean that in about three days my inner badger had reasserted itself and I was all bristly again.

In Episode 464 of This American Life, Invisible Made Visible, the late, fabulous David Rakoff says of life, “You go along the road as time and the elements lay waste to your luggage, scattering the contents into the bushes. Until there you are, standing with a battered and empty suitcase that frankly, no one wants to look at anymore.” (

I am vain, but I’m also a feminist – albeit a highly flawed one.  I’m also a realist.  I’m not going to have eye surgery and, as for my eyebrows, I’m going to release these badgers into the wild  and be done with it.


A Peck of Dirt

handI want to come clean about something:  for many years I did not wash my hands after using a public lavatory.  I’m not sure why I started not doing this.  Perhaps because the keg of Tab and then Diet Coke I consumed daily meant frequent bathroom forays and washing and then drying my hands each time struck me as a real time waster.   Especially hand driers.  They took forever and I was already spending way too much time in the bathroom. (As for these newfangled driers– the ones that make all the loose skin on your hands ripple like a flag in a strong breeze? Yack!)

Of course, I was not raised in a particularly sterile environment.   There was the occasional chia pet growing in our refrigerator and, when my mother and I were baking and I would happen upon a boll weevil in the flour, she would say, “Oh, just think of it as protein!”  And, of course, we had large, slathering dogs.  “You got to eat a peck of dirt before you die!” she would declare, which, by the way, is a whole lot of dirt.

I believe that, as a society, we have gone a tad overboard when it comes to germ warfare – by which I mean warfare on germs.   There’s something to be said for building up your immune system and, let’s face it, poop is everywhere.   You can’t escape death or taxes and you can’t escape poop either. That being said, I hereby publicly acknowledge that hand washing is critical to not spreading germs and that I was very, very wrong to so recklessly endanger my health and that of others with whom I came in contact.  If you were one of my victims, I apologize.

Over time my not hand washing   became my dirty little secret, something I “got away with.”  If I was in a public restroom and there were others present, I would even go so far as to fake washing my hands – running water, crumpling a paper towel.  “Fooled them!” I would think, as I sprinted — unclean — from the bathroom.

Looking back, I’m not remotely sure why I did this.   Perhaps the person who commented on my blog on the BP Oil Spill, “I hate you liberal scum. Just die!” (to which I replied —  in my head –“You just die, preferably at the hand of that four year old who has just discovered the Glock in the unlocked drawer of your bedside table.”) . . . maybe that extremely unpleasant person was correct.  Maybe I am scum.  Or maybe most people need a dirty little secret, one thing they should do that they just defiantly, dammit don’t.

Eventually, of course,  I came to my senses.  Not washing my hands was childish.  I wasn’t getting away with anything; I was being ridiculous and irresponsible.  “Wash your damned hands!” I told myself.  And so I did.  And so I do.   And every time I do, every single time, this is what goes through my head:  “Oh, maybe I’ll just skip. . . . No!  Not on my watch you don’t! March yourself right over to that sink! You heard me! Now!

I hesitate to post this.   On the one hand, it is a post and I have committed to producing three of these a week.  Time is money, after all, and, at my age, time is in increasingly short supply. One composed blog is surely worth two in the noggin.

On the other hand, wouldn’t this post have deeply embarrassed my grandmother?  Well, given the fact that the mere suggestion  she might possibly be the sort of person who kept chickens mortified her, I’d have to say the answer would have to be yes.

On the other other hand, my grandmother has been gone these thirty years — she ate her peck of dirt a long time ago — and when that time comes for me — when I shall have eaten my own  peck of dirt — at least my damn hands will be clean!

Get those women out of there!

This blog post was originally published on August 19, 2010, but the story, published in the New York Times on January 10, 2015  about the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram using a girl perhaps no older than ten as a suicide bomber, caused me to freshly bemoan the fact that we seem to be able to no nothing for the girls and women victimized by these barbarians.  As always, when no redress seems possible, I resort to my old standby: revenge fantasies. So, once again, how I, in my perfect world, propose to deal with these assholes.

There are a whole lot of reasons we need to get out of Afghanistan, but I can’t help but be terribly concerned about the plight of Afghani women left to the Taliban’s devices.  Last week Time Magazine’s cover picture was of an eighteen year old girl whose nose had been cut off not to spite her face, but for running away from abusive in-laws.   How bad women’s lives have been under the Taliban, indeed, how bad they are in any of the places where harsh Sharia law applies, is hardly hot news. On the other hand, I’ve never seen someone whose nose has been cut off. It’s sobering.

I used to rail a good deal against religion because of the many bad things that are done in its name.  Then I read Niall Ferguson’s The War of the World and realized that it’s people who do bad things and, if they don’t justify it by religion, they will justify it by some other means. Or not.  Maybe St. Augustine was right.  Maybe we’re just bad.

Or maybe it’s the men who are bad.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have two wonderful brothers, an incredible father and a fantastic husband.  I have a lovely son, great male friends and colleagues. . . .  They are not bad.  But in the case of Aisha, the girl whose nose was cut off by her husband while her brother-in-law held her and the Taliban judge looked on. . . .  I’m sorry. Those guys are BAD.

Or maybe they’re just Biblical.

Let’s not forget that Muslims consider the Bible one of Islam’s holy books: according to Muslims, the Bible was God’s unfolding revelation, only (again, according to Muslims) the Jews didn’t get it quite right, which meant that God had to make another stab at getting his people, whichever people that actually was, back on track:  ergo, “Chosen People?  Take Two.” Moreover, both Hebrews and Arabs are considered Semitic peoples, who share the same subgroup of Afroasiatic languages. In other words, they’re kissing cousins. Which is why we shouldn’t be overly surprised the same horrendous punishments proscribed in Sharia law, can also be found in the Bible.

Here’s the difference: some of us have moved on.

Sure, stoning was the punishment for eighteen different crimes under Jewish law. However, in the early years of the Common Era, the Sanhedrin – essentially, the Jewish lawmaking body – effectively put the kibosh on capital punishment.  After 30 AD (CE), no more stoning.  Or, at least, no more legally sanctioned stoning.

Fast forward two thousand years and they’re still stoning and mutilating people in IranSaudi ArabiaSomalia, and those portions of Afghanistan under Taliban.  Hello!  Time Warp!  Get with the program, fellows!  You’re loathsome barbarians! Aren’t you embarrassed?

Apparently not.

Americans believe in freedom of religion, but you don’t notice Scott Roeder, the nut job who shot abortion provider George Teller, getting a pass because he thought murdering somebody was God’s will.  Isn’t there some way we can protect these women from their ridiculous men? Because, trust me.  No woman, no matter how pious and fundamentalist her upbringing,  believes that she deserves her frigging nose and ears cut off for running away from an unhappy domestic situation, and, if she does, she should be rescued because she has been brow-beaten to the point of being delusional.

“Off with his . . . everything!” Monty Python’s The Holy Grail

As this long war winds down, the accepted wisdom is that no outside power, no matter how Super, has proven capable of conquering Afghanistan.  I have a plan. Let’s poll the men and see who thinks Sharia law is a good idea.  Then let’s airlift any of the men who think otherwise, along with every last woman and child the Hell out of that Hell hole; let’s take them with us when we go.  We owe them that much, surely.  Then we can sit by and watch as the men left behind destroy one another one appendage at a time, rather reminiscent of the Black Knight in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail.

It shouldn’t take long.

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Our War . . . on drugs! Reflections on Iraq

The snake pit that is Iraq

In the previous century we watched Europe self-destruct twice, then clamber out of the ruins and put itself back together again, sort of like the Scarecrow after his near death experience at the hands of the Wicked Witch of the West, reconstituting himself with fresh straw.  Of course it was painful; of course it took time.  But not that much time.  Not really.

Why is that?

Well,  for one thing, we could have jammed both world wars into the better part of a decade that we have been in Iraq  and, although part of the legacy of those wars was the dissolution of European-based empires, the countries that had given their names to those empires were established entities with relatively intact institutions. They could be right-sized, the fat trimmed, the belt tightened without too much attendant angst.  Winging, yes.  Bleeding out, no.

Not so the Middle East.

Saddam Hussein was a nasty piece of work.  Tyrannical dictators usually are. But let’s not forget that our opprobrium towards him has far more to do with his nationalization of Iraq’s oil fields than any cruelties he perpetrated on Iraqis, Kurds, et al.  After all, we have given ample proof of our tolerance of corruption and bad behavior from Heads of State, provided they align themselves with our objectives.  What was unforgivable about Hussein (besides testing nerve gas on dogs) was his attempt to keep Iraq and Iraq’s oil for himself/his cronies, not the atrocities to which his regime gave rise nor the fabled Weapons of Mass Destruction he was rumored to have stockpiled.

I’m not sure what we expected when we marched into Baghdad in 2003. . . .  Oh, right — to be hailed as liberators.   Well, those whose job description includes administering  lipstick to sows point to some improvement seven years down the line.  However,  far as I can see, Iraq remains war-torn, ravaged, occupied by a loathed foreign power (us), and swarming with mercenaries, Al Qaeda infiltrators, tribes with genocide on their minds and suicide bombers lining up for the chance to blow the whole shebang to Kingdom Come.  Not a place I’d want to live in, but the place in which we, in large measure, have condemned the Iraqis to live.

The use of heroin and other hard drugs, virtually unknown in Iraq under Saddam’s regime, has increased dramatically since the U.S. led invasion; even more disturbing has been the spike in use among children. To be fair, this is partially due to Hussein’s draconian drug laws (it was pretty much “Off with her head!” if you were caught changing your mind) and the presence of troops along Iraq’s various borders, now porous conduits for hashish and heroin from Iran and Afghanistan and cocaine from Turkey. That the Iraqis are lighting up, that they are turning on and tuning out, that they are hopping aboard the white horse should come as no shock, given what they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.  As I said in a previous blog about Afghanistan – who can blame them? I’d take drugs too.  So would you.

And, so, it turns out, do our troops, only in their case, it may not be so much a case of abusing drugs as it is of  using them — prescription drugs, that is, although I’m quite certain that some of our troops are up to some type of less quantifiable psychotropic shenanigans in their down time.   On the record, however, are Department of Defense statistics showing that, from 2005 to 2008, there was a 400% increase in the prescription of antidepressants and other drugs used to treat anxiety, depression and insomnia among our troops and that, as of 2007, 12% of combat troops in Iraq took antidepressants or sleeping pills.  Do they need them?  Hell, yes, and don’t you be thinking of taking them away from them!  In 2009, 160 active-duty Army suicides were reported – a 15% increase from the previous year — and a whopping 1 in 10 of the men and women who serve in this theatre of war will return home to wrestle with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome – our Evil Fairy’s gift to them that  keeps on giving and giving and giving, year after year, one shitty thing after another.  And, by the way, “Thanks for your service. No, really.”

In the immortal words of Edwin Starr: “War! huh-yeah/What is it good for?/Absolutely nothing.”

Praise the Lord and pass the pipe!

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The Gulf Oil Spill – It’s on you, America!

My Smart Car uses less than $300 a year and can hold a week's worth of groceries and an admittantly apprehensive golden retriever!

Written on June 16, 2010, on the morning after Obama’s historic Oval Office address to the Nation

Get ready, ’cause I’m getting on my high horse!

Those of you who know me realize that I’m a radical Obamist. I think the sun shines out of his ass.  Really.  I do.  And I think he’s handled this old Spill in the Gulf thing as well as anyone could be expected to have.  I mean, just how do you solve a problem like Maria?  This thing is huge.  What?  He’s supposed to do nip-ups and make it disappear?  He’s supposed to get pissed off and his divine wrath will somehow plug the hole?  News flash: governments can only do so many things at once.  Sure, the Minerals Management Service was a party on the rocks heading for the rocks, but we had two wars on the go, 47 million Americans without health care, and a global financial meltdown.  Our President was, I think you’ll agree, a little busy.  Reform, particularly reform of entrenched bureaucracies, takes time, especially when that entrenched bureaucracy is having as much fun as MMS seemed to.  Rome wasn’t built in a day; nor was Sodom destroyed in one.  No, wait. It was.  Never mind.

In any case, my point is this.  The responsibility for the oil spill ultimately lies on us – and by ‘us’, I include Canadians, because 1) I am an Americanadian and 2) Canadians are even bigger energy hawgs than Americans. According to the World Bank (last updated June 15, 2010), in 2007, Canadians consumed 8,169 kilograms of energy, per capita, while Americans consumed 7,666.  Compare that to other industrialized countries:

  • Australia – 5,992
  • The Netherlands – 4,909
  • Russia – 4,909
  • France – 4,258
  • Japan – 4,057
  • Germany – 4,027
  • United Kingdom – 3,464
  • Italy – 3,001
  • China – 1,484

What’s wrong with us?  I’ll tell you what’s wrong: we’re a stiff-necked people.  Never mind the Jews (Israelis, incidentally, use only 2,875 kilograms of energy a year).  It’s us North Americans who have refused for decades to do one damn thing about our addiction to oil.  What made Jimmy Carter, the first President I ever voted for, a one-term President?  A little thing called the Iran hostage crisis.  Oh, and the fact that he had the temerity to tell us that we had a problem with oil and that, if we didn’t do something about it, that problem would grow and grow and grow . . .  just like the oil spill filling up the Gulf of Mexico right now.  For advising us to turn the heat down and wear a cardigan, we banished him to that penumbral shadowland haunted by ex-Presidents, where he has labored ever since in the service of world peace, and put in his place – ta! da! — Ronald Reagan – a nice man, but a terrible President (don’t go all flinty-eyed on me; I said he was nice), and so far down the oil companies’ pockets that he was sucking lint with every breath.

Come on, people!

Stop criticizing the President for not being mad enough or empathetic enough or for wearing the wrong kind of pants. . . .  (What is it with Fox News’ Gretchen Carlson anyway? (  What does she want him to wear?  Hip waders?  Overalls?  Hot pants?  Oh, excuse me.  He’s supposed to dress like Thad Allen?  He’s supposed to pretend to be in the Coast Guard? The way Bush pretended to be a fly boy?  Give me a break!

Instead look in the mirror and see the person who has not written his Congressman asking that a carbon tax be put in place; who has objected to wind turbines in her neighborhood because they aren’t pretty; who just had to buy that Hummer, but somehow didn’t have to buy that Prius (thus potentially martyring themselves for the cause); who invests their money on Wall Street in the hopes of making more money, but not in green investments in the hopes that our children might have an actual planet at the end of this wild ride.   Criticize that person.  Then do the right thing. Get off your duff and help us out a little here. We could sure use it.

The common wisdom is that we get the politicians we deserve.  Not true in Obama’s case.  We don’t deserve him, but we’ve got him.  So let’s just be grateful he’s not a warmongering idiot like Bush and get on with it.