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A Malignancy

Well, this is one way to put it: someone pointed out that one-third of the men on the Supreme Court were confirmed despite being accused by multiple women of either sexual harassment or sexual assault.

That would be Clarence Thomas re the sexual harassment and Brett Kavanaugh re the sexual assault. In Kavanaugh’s case, the Republicans brushed aside three assault accusations. Their “investigation” of the women’s claims amounted to not looking into them.

That’s the way it goes. The truth can be a hot potato. Can’t let the truth derail your guy.

Frankly, I can feature a Democratic Senator wanting to know the truth, regardless of the consequences. But not the Republicans. It’s quite revealing how expendable fairness and integrity are to them.

At first, Jeff Flake got points for wanting the FBI to investigate the women’s charges, but that was just a feint. He accepted the faux investigation and voted to confirm.

Susan Collins, who has a knack for sounding almost objective, ultimately declared that the women’s claims were phony, and she gave Kavanaugh a full-throated partisan endorsement. She was “McConnell’s closer,” some observed.

I am reminded often these days of the old adage, attributed to Henry Kissinger, that Republicans have an instinct for the jugular, and Democrats have an instinct for the capillaries.

If you doubt that, you’ve forgotten what the Republicans did to Merrick Garland. Or else you’re a Republican and you approve.

As for the Supreme Court, I learned my lesson about that body long before Garland and Kavanaugh. At one time, the Court was a respected institution, and the integrity of the justices was rarely in doubt. But now it’s just another entity guided by politics. The conservatives have made it that way.

If you doubt that, you’ve forgotten what the conservative justices did in Bush v. Gore. Or else you’re a Republican and you approve.

The Kavanaugh episode was especially galling because he was a terrible choice for the Court. Some Republicans even warned Trump not to nominate him due to his long-time role as a political operative. Kavanaugh worked for Ken Starr during the Clinton-Lewinsky period.

For his service to the cause, the GOP rewarded Kavanaugh with a judgeship, which later became his stepping stone to the Supreme Court.

So, Kavanaugh was nominated to the Court already carrying the baggage of being hyper-partisanwell before the accusations surfaced by one, then two, then three women.

When he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he denied all charges, but chose to do it in a vitriolic tirade that blamed his Democratic enemies, including the Clintons by name, for being out to get him. And he did it with prepared remarks, not in the heat of the moment.

I didn’t plan to watch all of his testimony, but I did. It was surreal. Amazingly, he also was belligerent with the Democratic members of the Committee.

It was like a tantrum by a toddler, or a spoiled frat boy. A shocking display of anger and political bias. The temperament he displayed for all to see was anything but judicial.

That rant alone should have disqualified him from serving on the Supreme Court, or any other court. But, in keeping with the state of things these days, it did not.

Then, speaking of the surreal, there is Donald Trump, a man devoid of redeeming qualities. Trump is a disgrace. A philanderer, a pathological liar, an amoral creep. A daily embarrassment.

He’s also a treasonous crook. Trump has been owned by the Russian oligarchs since the 1980s, when he began accepting their money because banks in the U.S. stopped making loans to him. By many accounts, some of his companies were set up, and maybe still are, to launder dirty Russian money.

This vulgar man is President thanks to a witches’ brew of sordid factors:

Republican gerrymandering.

Republican voter suppression.

The right-wing penchant for playing dirty.

The mean, selfish, and increasingly wacko beliefs of the conservatives.

The malevolent influence of Fox News and the rest of the right-wing propaganda machine.

The artful interference of the Russians in our politics and elections.

Etcetera, etcetera.

Republican voters were — take your pick — callous enough, reckless enough, unhinged enough, deluded enough, or stupid enough to vote to make one of the most dreadful human beings alive our President.

Rational people knew full well that a Trump presidency would be a trainwreck. But the conservatives, to whom rational thinking has become an alien concept, voted for him anyway. And continue to support him, with relish.

Trump is deplorable to the core, surrounded by a rogue’s gallery of lesser deplorables. But, in truth, he is only a symptom, not the problem.

The real problem is multi-faceted:

– The negative, hateful conservative mindset that put him in office.

– The MAGA crowds that cheer and jeer when Trump holds a rally to attack some target of the moment.

– The morally bankrupt GOP politicians who abandoned their few remaining scruples and got in bed with Trump.

You’ll recall that a dozen of them recently used the same simultaneous talking point: people who wanted the accusations against Kavanaugh investigated amounted to an “angry mob.”

It’s a fact that today’s right-wingers are in favor of virtually nothing. They only oppose. They oppose people they distrust, people they fear, people not like them.

Sometimes, their opposition is merely a finger in the eye of their enemies. Plenty of right-wingers claim global warming is a hoax because doing something about it would be detrimental to capitalism. But probably just as many deny climate change simply to be contrary and in opposition to the liberals.

And consider that conservatives are almost exclusively white. In 2016, 63 percent of white men voted for Trump. 52 percent of white women voted for an admitted womanizer whose low opinion of women is obvious.

The 52 percent figure seems both high and counter-intuitive. But remember, women are just as susceptible as men to groupthink, mental aberrations, and delusional thinking.

Whatever their reasons for being on Team Trump, these are the people who have controlled American society since our founding. No surprise that they fiercely oppose any change that might diminish their power.

And really, the conservative way of thinking only makes sense as a product of their fear of losing their positions of privilege.

The conservative mindset is a malignancy that has impeded the advancement of American society for half of my lifetime.

As for the rest of us, we constitute a clear majority. The solution is to rise up, overwhelm their voter suppression efforts, vote them out, and put an end to it.

Early voting started yesterday in Georgia. I was at the head of the line.

The pols

The voters

 

During the Civil War, Ohio native Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) fought for the Union with distinction at Shiloh, Chicamauga, Kennesaw Mountain, and elsewhere. After the war, he became a prominent journalist and author.

Bierce is known for both his Civil War writings and his tales of horror and the supernatural. Of the latter, someone said Bierce bridged the literary years between Poe and Lovecraft.

In the late 1890s, while a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, Bierce raised enough public ire to stop a bill being slipped through Congress that would have forgiven massive government loans to the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads. That’s my kind of journalism.

Bierce was something of a Hemingway type. In 1914, at age 71, he announced plans to go to Mexico to see the Mexican Revolution for himself. Perhaps travel with Pancho Villa as an observer. He promptly disappeared, fate unknown.

Like many ex-soldiers, Bierce declined to glorify war in his writings, as the following essay demonstrates.

———

Bivouac of the Dead

Published in The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce, Volume 1, 1909

Away up in the heart of the Allegheny mountains, in Pocahontas county, West Virginia, is a beautiful little valley through which flows the east fork of the Greenbrier river. At a point where the valley road intersects the old Staunton and Parkersburg turnpike, a famous thoroughfare in its day, is a post office in a farm house.

The name of the place is Travelers’ Repose, for it was once a tavern. Crowning some low hills within a stone’s throw of the house are long lines of old Confederate fortifications, skilfully designed and so well “preserved” that an hour’s work by a brigade would put them into serviceable shape for the next civil war.

This place had its battle — what was called a battle in the “green and salad days” of the great rebellion. A brigade of Federal troops, the writer’s regiment among them, came over Cheat mountain, fifteen miles to the westward, and, stringing its lines across the little valley, felt the enemy all day; and the enemy did a little feeling, too.

There was a great cannonading, which killed about a dozen on each side; then, finding the place too strong for assault, the Federals called the affair a reconnaissance in force, and burying their dead withdrew to the more comfortable place whence they had come.

Those dead now lie in a beautiful national cemetery at Grafton, duly registered, so far as identified, and companioned by other Federal dead gathered from the several camps and battlefields of West Virginia. The fallen soldier (the word “hero” appears to be a later invention) has such humble honors as it is possible to give.

His part in all the pomp that fills
The circuit of the Summer hills
Is that his grave is green.

True, more than a half of the green graves in the Grafton cemetery are marked “Unknown,” and sometimes it occurs that one thinks of the contradiction involved in “honoring the memory” of him of whom no memory remains to honor; but the attempt seems to do no great harm to the living, even to the logical.

A few hundred yards to the rear of the old Confederate earthworks is a wooded hill. Years ago it was not wooded. Here, among the trees and in the undergrowth, are rows of shallow depressions, discoverable by removing the accumulated forest leaves.

From some of them may be taken (and reverently replaced) small thin slabs of the split stone of the country, with rude and reticent inscriptions by comrades. I found only one with a date, only one with full names of man and regiment. The entire number found was eight.

In these forgotten graves rest the Confederate dead — between eighty and one hundred, as nearly as can be made out. Some fell in the “battle;” the majority died of disease. Two, only two, have apparently been disinterred for reburial at their homes.

So neglected and obscure is this campo santo that only he upon whose farm it is — the aged postmaster of Travelers’ Repose — appears to know about it. Men living within a mile have never heard of it. Yet other men must be still living who assisted to lay these Southern soldiers where they are, and could identify some of the graves.

Is there a man, North or South, who would begrudge the expense of giving to these fallen brothers the tribute of green graves? One would rather not think so. True, there are several hundreds of such places still discoverable in the track of the great war. All the stronger is the dumb demand — the silent plea of these fallen brothers to what is “likest God within the soul.”

They were honest and courageous foemen, having little in common with the political madmen who persuaded them to their doom and the literary bearers of false witness in the aftertime.

They did not live through the period of honorable strife into the period of vilification — did not pass from the iron age to the brazen — from the era of the sword to that of the tongue and pen.

Among them is no member of the Southern Historical Society. Their valor was not the fury of the non-combatant; they have no voice in the thunder of the civilians and the shouting. Not by them are impaired the dignity and infinite pathos of the Lost Cause.

Give them, these blameless gentlemen, their rightful part in all the pomp that fills the circuit of the summer hills.

———

Bierce’s position that the Confederate dead should have been buried in the National Cemeteries was a minority view. As you probably know, the National Cemeteries did not accept Confederate dead. According to policy, the cemeteries were for Federal casualties, not the enemy.

In 1901, the 482 Confederates who managed to get buried at Arlington anyway were re-interred in a Confederate section.

In 1906, Congress okayed headstones for Confederate soldiers who died in a Union hospital or prison and were buried at that location. Prior to that, the graves were marked by the families, if at all.

The Civil War ended 150 years ago. It amazes me how much genuine animosity still lingers on both sides.

Bierce-1

The green graves of Grafton National Cemetery, West Virginia.

Bierce-2

Bierce in 1896.

 

Quotes o’ the Day

The ear tends to be lazy, craves the familiar and is shocked by the unexpected; the eye, on the other hand, tends to be impatient, craves the novel and is bored by repetition.

— W. H. Auden

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If things go wrong, don’t go with them.

Roger Babson

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I am fond of children — except boys.

— Lewis Carroll

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Men are taught to apologize for their weaknesses, women for their strengths.

— Lois Wyse

Auden WH

Auden

Wyse L

Wyse

 

Update on Joliet Jake

Last spring, having lived without a dog for two years, I began looking for a new co-pilot. After passing up a lot of pooches, I adopted Joliet Jake. Patience is a virtue, my friends.

Jake is happy, healthy, and a very good boy. He has a few lingering bad habits, but, hey — who doesn’t?

As for me, the sense of well-being you get from having a pet around the house is back. I’ll probably live longer as a result.

Anyway, at this point, it seems time for a Jake update.

For the two of us, the daily routine is now pretty well established…

Every morning, we go for an hour-long walk, usually somewhere in Jefferson, sometimes at a park in Athens or Gainesville.

I carry two doggy bags in my wallet. Bag #2 is for when bag #1 got used and I forgot to restock.

The back seat of the car belongs to Jake, who rides joyfully with his head out the window, tongue waving in the wind. It’s important that both windows are rolled down, so he can dart from side to side as conditions require.

During the day, he often gets on the bed to play with toys or take a snooze. At night, he prefers to sleep on the floor.

A few weeks ago, I installed a dog door to the back yard. Now he isn’t stuck in the house while I’m gone.

Jake-5

So, you ask, what about Jake’s personality and behavior? How is he adapting? Is he a good boy all the time?

No, not all the time. He has a few problem areas.

THE GOOD

When I adopted Jake, he was already housebroken, and he knew the “sit” command.

He is everybody’s pal, dog and human. He hasn’t shown any aggression, nor is he protective of his food or toys.

He doesn’t beg at the table or surf the kitchen counters.

Usually, he understands that my belongings and furnishings are off limits. See below where I elaborate on “usually.”

He is a natural for the dog parks. He engages in friendly play with the other dogs and, if alone, is happy to explore. He is fit, athletic, and could outrun an impala.

THE NOT SO GOOD

My car windows are perpetually decorated with nose art.

I’m living with dog hair again. I bought an electric sweeper and am obliged to use it daily.

Jake seems to prefer about seven hours of sleep per night. Unfortunately, I prefer eight. Going to bed earlier is pointless, as he simply will get up earlier, so I am doomed to be sleep-deprived.

He is full of energy and is compelled to jump up and plant his paws on you. This is a problem when people visit. It’s a tough habit to break.

Thunder scares him. In a storm, he retreats to the back of my bedroom closet. Squeaky toys also unsettle him.

Early on, he developed the habit of occasionally stealing paper from wastebaskets. When I fussed at him about it, the behavior stopped, but only temporarily. I finally bought lidded wastebaskets.

Now and then, he steals items from the clothes hamper. An extreme example:

Jake-6

So far, nothing has been damaged, but the habit persisted until I put a lid on the hamper.

THE EVEN WORSE

Back in August, we had three traumatic incidents with bed linen and pillows. Total losses: one fitted sheet, one mattress cover, two pillow protectors, and one pillow case.

The damage occurred, it appears, during frenzies of digging on the bed. Maybe it was canine exuberance. Or maybe he was flipping back the sheets to get to the pillows. Apparently, he thinks pillows are fun to grab and shake. I guess it’s a dog thing.

Here is the first of the three incidents, resulting in the loss of a sheet and a mattress pad:

Jake-7

I’m not sure if he did the damage with his claws or his teeth. It’s probably academic anyway.

Two more incidents followed of a pillow being taken from the bed and the cover torn. After epic rants by me, I think he got the message. He hasn’t messed with pillows or bedding in a month.

IN SUMMARY

Jake is young and a typical Border Collie: smart, observant, and energetic. I expected that when I adopted him. I knew we would have a period of adjustment. Maybe a lengthy one.

On most days, he is quiet for long periods and then, without warning, enters wired mode. What makes him change from calm and serene one minute to chasing his tail the next? I wish I knew.

Of his problematic habits that persist, I manage them the best I can. He still gets into some kind of minor mischief every few days, but his behavior has improved considerably. He’s learning the rules.

His good qualities, of course, easily win out. He is a good-hearted pooch, fully devoted to me as the pack leader. Like all good dogs everywhere, he is completely without guile.

And, in the end, I find it hard to resist this handsome face.

Jake-8

 

The Greater Good

“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” is one of the most highly regarded short stories in sci-fi history. A genuine classic for all the right reasons.

The author once observed that the story “has a long and happy career of being used by teachers to upset students and make them argue fiercely about morality.”

In effect, to make them walk away from Omelas.

———

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas

By Ursula K. Le Guin
Published in New Dimensions 3, October 1973

With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city Omelas, bright-towered by the sea. The rigging of the boats in harbor sparkled with flags. In the streets between houses with red roofs and painted walls, between old moss-grown gardens and under avenues of trees, past great parks and public buildings, processions moved. Some were decorous: old people in long stiff robes of mauve and grey, grave master workmen, quiet, merry women carrying their babies and chatting as they walked. In other streets the music beat faster, a shimmering of gong and tambourine, and the people went dancing, the procession was a dance.

Children dodged in and out, their high calls rising like the swallows’ crossing flights, over the music and the singing. All the processions wound towards the north side of the city, where on the great water-meadow called the Green Fields boys and girls, naked in the bright air, with mud-stained feet and ankles and long, lithe arms, exercised their restive horses before the race. The horses wore no gear at all but a halter without bit. Their manes were braided with streamers of silver, gold, and green. They flared their nostrils and pranced and boasted to one another; they were vastly excited, the horse being the only animal who has adopted our ceremonies as his own.

Far off to the north and west the mountains stood up half encircling Omelas on her bay. The air of morning was so clear that the snow still crowning the Eighteen Peaks burned with white-gold fire across the miles of sunlit air, under the dark blue of the sky. There was just enough wind to make the banners that marked the racecourse snap and flutter now and then. In the silence of the broad green meadows one could hear the music winding through the city streets, farther and nearer and ever approaching, a cheerful faint sweetness of the air that from time to time trembled and gathered together and broke out into the great joyous clanging of the bells.

Joyous! How is one to tell about joy? How describe the citizens of Omelas?

They were not simple folk, you see, though they were happy. But we do not say the words of cheer much any more. All smiles have become archaic. Given a description such as this one tends to make certain assumptions. Given a description such as this one tends to look next for the King, mounted on a splendid stallion and surrounded by his noble knights, or perhaps in a golden litter borne by great-muscled slaves. But there was no king. They did not use swords, or keep slaves. They were not barbarians. I do not know the rules and laws of their society, but I suspect that they were singularly few.

As they did without monarchy and slavery, so they also got on without the stock exchange, the advertisement, the secret police, and the bomb. Yet I repeat that these were not simple folk, not dulcet shepherds, noble savages, bland utopians. They were not less complex than us.

The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain. If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em. If it hurts, repeat it. But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else. We have almost lost hold; we can no longer describe a happy man, nor make any celebration of joy.

How can I tell you about the people of Omelas? They were not naive and happy children — though their children were, in fact, happy. They were mature, intelligent, passionate adults whose lives were not wretched. O miracle! but I wish I could describe it better. I wish I could convince you.

Omelas sounds in my words like a city in a fairy tale, long ago and far away, once upon a time. Perhaps it would be best if you imagined it as your own fancy bids, assuming it will rise to the occasion, for certainly I cannot suit you all. For instance, how about technology? I think that there would be no cars or helicopters in and above the streets; this follows from the fact that the people of Omelas are happy people. Happiness is based on a just discrimination of what is necessary, what is neither necessary nor destructive, and what is destructive. In the middle category, however – that of the unnecessary but undestructive, that of comfort, luxury, exuberance, etc. — they could perfectly well have central heating, subway trains, washing machines, and all kinds of marvelous devices not yet invented here, floating light-sources, fuelless power, a cure for the common cold. Or they could have none of that: it doesn’t matter.

As you like it. I incline to think that people from towns up and down the coast have been coming in to Omelas during the last days before the Festival on very fast little trains and double-decked trams, and that the train station of Omelas is actually the handsomest building in town, though plainer than the magnificent Farmers’ Market.

But even granted trains, I fear that Omelas so far strikes some of you as goody-goody. Smiles, bells, parades, horses, bleh. If so, please add an orgy. If an orgy would help, don’t hesitate. Let us not, however, have temples from which issue beautiful nude priests and priestesses already half in ecstasy and ready to copulate with any man or woman, lover or stranger who desires union with the deep godhead of the blood, although that was my first idea. But really it would be better not to have any temples in Omelas — at least, not manned temples. Religion yes, clergy no. Surely the beautiful nudes can just wander about, offering themselves like divine souffles to the hunger of the needy and the rapture of the flesh. Let them join the processions. Let tambourines be struck above the copulations, and the glory of desire be proclaimed upon the gongs, and (a not unimportant point) let the offspring of these delightful rituals be beloved and looked after by all.

One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt. But what else should there be? I thought at first there were no drugs, but that is puritanical. For those who like it, the faint insistent sweetness of drooz may perfume the ways of the city, drooz which first brings a great lightness and brilliance to the mind and limbs, and then after some hours a dreamy languor, and wonderful visions at last of the very arcane and inmost secrets of the Universe, as well as exciting the pleasure of sex beyond all belief; and it is not habit-forming.

For more modest tastes I think there ought to be beer. What else, what else belongs in the joyous city? The sense of victory, surely, the celebration of courage. But as we did without clergy, let us do without soldiers. The joy built upon successful slaughter is not the right kind of joy; it will not do; it is fearful and it is trivial. A boundless and generous contentment, a magnanimous triumph felt not against some outer enemy but in communion with the finest and fairest in the souls of all men everywhere and the splendor of the world’s summer; this is what swells the hearts of the people of Omelas, and the victory they celebrate is that of life. I really don’t think many of them need to take drooz.

Most of the processions have reached the Green Fields by now. A marvelous smell of cooking goes forth from the red and blue tents of the provisioners. The faces of small children are amiably sticky; in the benign grey beard of a man a couple of crumbs of rich pastry are entangled. The youths and girls have mounted their horses and are beginning to group around the starting line of the course. An old woman, small, fat, and laughing, is passing out flowers from a basket, and tall young men, wear her flowers in their shining hair. A child of nine or ten sits at the edge of the crowd, alone, playing on a wooden flute. People pause to listen, and they smile, but they do not speak to him, for he never ceases playing and never sees them, his dark eyes wholly rapt in the sweet, thin magic of the tune.

He finishes, and slowly lowers his hands holding the wooden flute.

As if that little private silence were the signal, all at once a trumpet sounds from the pavilion near the starting line: imperious, melancholy, piercing. The horses rear on their slender legs, and some of them neigh in answer. Sober-faced, the young riders stroke the horses’ necks and soothe them, whispering, “Quiet, quiet, there my beauty, my hope…” They begin to form in rank along the starting line. The crowds along the racecourse are like a field of grass and flowers in the wind. The Festival of Summer has begun.

Do you believe? Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? No? Then let me describe one more thing.

In a basement under one of the beautiful public buildings of Omelas, or perhaps in the cellar of one of its spacious private homes, there is a room. It has one locked door, and no window. A little light seeps in dustily between cracks in the boards, secondhand from a cobwebbed window somewhere across the cellar. In one corner of the little room a couple of mops, with stiff, clotted, foul-smelling heads, stand near a rusty bucket. The floor is dirt, a little damp to the touch, as cellar dirt usually is. The room is about three paces long and two wide: a mere broom closet or disused tool room.

In the room a child is sitting. It could be a boy or a girl. It looks about six, but actually is nearly ten. It is feeble-minded. Perhaps it was born defective or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect. It picks its nose and occasionally fumbles vaguely with its toes or genitals, as it sits haunched in the corner farthest from the bucket and the two mops. It is afraid of the mops. It finds them horrible. It shuts its eyes, but it knows the mops are still standing there; and the door is locked; and nobody will come.

The door is always locked; and nobody ever comes, except that sometimes — the child has no understanding of time or interval — sometimes the door rattles terribly and opens, and a person, or several people, are there. One of them may come and kick the child to make it stand up. The others never come close, but peer in at it with frightened, disgusted eyes. The food bowl and the water jug are hastily filled, the door is locked, the eyes disappear.

The people at the door never say anything, but the child, who has not always lived in the tool room, and can remember sunlight and its mother’s voice, sometimes speaks. “I will be good,” it says. “Please let me out. I will be good!” They never answer. The child used to scream for help at night, and cry a good deal, but now it only makes a kind of whining, “eh-haa, eh-haa,” and it speaks less and less often. It is so thin there are no calves to its legs; its belly protrudes; it lives on a half-bowl of corn meal and grease a day. It is naked. Its buttocks and thighs are a mass of festered sores, as it sits in its own excrement continually.

They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it, others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.

This is usually explained to children when they are between eight and twelve, whenever they seem capable of understanding; and most of those who come to see the child are young people, though often enough an adult comes, or comes back, to see the child. No matter how well the matter has been explained to them, these young spectators are always shocked and sickened at the sight. They feel disgust, which they had thought themselves superior to. They feel anger, outrage, impotence, despite all the explanations.

They would like to do something for the child. But there is nothing they can do. If the child were brought up into the sunlight out of that vile place, if it were cleaned and fed and comforted, that would be a good thing, indeed; but if it were done, in that day and hour all the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed. Those are the terms. To exchange all the goodness and grace of every life in Omelas for that single, small improvement: to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of the happiness of one: that would be to let guilt within the walls indeed.

The terms are strict and absolute; there may not even be a kind word spoken to the child.

Often the young people go home in tears, or in a tearless rage, when they have seen the child and faced this terrible paradox. They may brood over it for weeks or years. But as time goes on they begin to realize that even if the child could be released, it would not get much good of its freedom: a little vague pleasure of warmth and food, no doubt, but little more. It is too degraded and imbecile to know any real joy. It has been afraid too long ever to be free of fear. Its habits are too uncouth for it to respond to humane treatment. Indeed, after so long it would probably be wretched without walls about it to protect it, and darkness for its eyes, and its own excrement to sit in.

Their tears at the bitter injustice dry when they begin to perceive the terrible justice of reality, and to accept it. Yet it is their tears and anger, the trying of their generosity and the acceptance of their helplessness, which are perhaps the true source of the splendor of their lives. Theirs is no vapid, irresponsible happiness. They know that they, like the child, are not free. They know compassion. It is the existence of the child, and their knowledge of its existence, that makes possible the nobility of their architecture, the poignancy of their music, the profundity of their science. It is because of the child that they are so gentle with children. They know that if the wretched one were not there sniveling in the dark, the other one, the flute-player, could make no joyful music as the young riders line up in their beauty for the race in the sunlight of the first morning of summer.

Now do you believe in them? Are they not more credible? But there is one more thing to tell, and this is quite incredible.

At times one of the adolescent girls or boys who go to see the child does not go home to weep or rage, does not, in fact, go home at all. Sometimes also a man or woman much older falls silent for a day or two, and then leaves home. These people go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight out of the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates. They keep walking across the farmlands of Omelas. Each one goes alone, youth or girl man or woman.

Night falls; the traveler must pass down village streets, between the houses with yellow-lit windows, and on out into the darkness of the fields. Each alone, they go west or north, towards the mountains. They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

Omelas

“Starving Child” by Anthony Peter Iannini.

 

Quotes o’ the Day

Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

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You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.

— Indira Gandhi

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Better to get hurt with the truth than comforted with a lie.

— Khaled Hosseini

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I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability.

— Oscar Wilde

Emerson RW-2

Emerson

Wilde O

Wilde

 

In late 1967, I was still stationed at Cannon AFB, New Mexico, near Clovis, the “Cattle Capitol of the Southwest.” I was a 1st Lt. and Commander of the Supply Squadron, and I had moved off-base to an apartment in Clovis (where, incidentally, I met my future wife Deanna).

Here are some of my journal entries from those days. In them, you will meet:

Col. Frank Shepard, Base Commander
Col. George Doerr, Deputy Base Commander
Capt. John Thornton, Base Legal Officer and my roommate
Capt. Ted Mayo, Base Legal Officer

———

3 NOV 67

Well, I’m in trouble for sure. This morning, I testified in Airman Key’s administrative discharge hearing. Key is a bad apple, and Col. Shepard (the Rococo Toad) is hell-bent on kicking him out of the service. The pressure from the Toad to get it done has been intense. Ill-advised, if not illegal.

Thornton kept me on the stand for 45 minutes, and I said my piece. In the end, the board voted to retain Key in the Air Force. Shepard will go ballistic when he reads the transcript.

Originally, Mayo was appointed as Key’s counsel, but Key insisted on Thornton. Ted was livid. After the hearing, John being John, he sent a telegram to Ted in Ft. Worth, where he and Judy are attending a country club gala. The telegram read, KEY RETAINED STOP MAY HE COME TO THE BALL STOP

5 NOV 67

A few months ago, the City of Clovis installed a marble tablet of the 10 Commandments on the courthouse lawn. Yes, for real. Thornton and I went down there this afternoon to take photos.

And get this: the Clovis tablet has 11 (eleven!) Commandments. The line about not coveting thy neighbor’s house is presented as Commandment 10, and the rest of the shalt-not-covets are Commandment 11. You can’t make this stuff up.

I’m pretty sure the 10th Commandment is supposed to be something like this: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, nor his wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.”

The Clovis version also skips the “nor his ox” part, and “nor his ass” was changed to “nor his cattle.”

Maybe the cattle part is appropriate. Clovis has stockyards as far as the eye can see and the nose can smell.

10 Cs

6 NOV 67

I got a call this morning from SSgt Hinkle, who came home early from a TDY assignment to find an airman from my squadron living with his wife. Hink wants to confront the airman in my presence. The villainous airman is on leave for a few days, so I have that to look forward to.

Mayo got John’s telegram Friday night in Ft. Worth. It arrived while they were searching for a pearl and diamond bracelet Judy lost. They didn’t find it. Poor Ted.

7 NOV 67

Thornton got permission from 12th AF to release a summarized transcript of Airman Key’s board hearing. Thank God. I was really worried about how Col. Toad would react to my testimony, honest and accurate though it was.

John said he did it to save his own skin, not mine. In his closing argument, he called Shepard two-faced and a dupe. Why, Shep would kick John off the bowling team for that.

8 NOV 67

Hinkle came to my office today and said he changed his mind, he doesn’t want a come-to-Jesus meeting with the cuckolding airman. He just wants the guy transferred as far away from Cannon as possible, ASAP. If not, he will call his congressman and every officer at Cannon from the rank of bird colonel on up.

When I informed Col. Shepard, he summoned me to his office, where he was waiting with Col. Doerr (Commissioner Gordon). Doerr is a decent guy, but nobody considers him a mental giant. He had little to contribute.

Shepard finally decided it would be best to get the offending airman reassigned. He left to go talk to Personnel about it.

9 NOV 67

The Squadron Fire Marshals met today at 1400 hours. I had to meet with Col. Shepard and Hinkle at 1500, so at 1445, I got up and quietly excused myself.

Col. Stitt, always a favorite among the junior officers, said, “Where do you think you’re going?” I explained where. “Sit down, Lieutenant,” he said. Sir yes sir.

The meeting ran until 1530 hours. When I got to the Toad’s office, he chewed me out for being late. I apologized for being such a slug.

Col. Shepard told Sgt. Hinkle that the Casanova airman will get a fast assignment to somewhere else. Personnel is already working on it.

He then gave Hinkle a lecture on how to keep your family together. Ha. Last spring, the Toad’s wife threw him out for two weeks for some mysterious transgression. To our collective chagrin, we never found out what it was.

10 NOV 67

When I got back from lunch, Capt. Bryan from Civil Engineering was waiting in my office. Some major told him that the CE barracks is a disgrace and Bryan’s men are filthy pigs, which is true. The major said Bryan could learn something from Supply Squadron.

That was flattering. I wanted to ask which major it was, but Bryan wasn’t in a happy place, so I refrained.

In spite of being angry and insulted, Bryan was curious. And there he was, asking to see my barracks. I gave him the pass keys and sent him down the hall with a pat on the rump.

13 NOV 67

This morning, MSgt Smith popped in and said he couldn’t find the pass keys. Did I have them? Crap. That moron Bryan didn’t return them.

Smith asked what we should do. I said either pick up the phone and call Bryan or go over to CE and find him, your choice.

I’m amazed that Smith got to be a first sergeant. He always needs help or permission.

I’m beginning to think the Air Force is a haven for incompetents and loafers who can’t make it in the civilian world. Maybe the entire military is that way. I try to maintain my sense of humor about it. You could go mad if you let the daily nonsense and stupidity and petty dramas wear you down.

Now if I can just laugh my way through the next 264 days, I’ll have my DD 214.

DD 214

———

The Rocky Smith of those days honestly believed, I can attest, that the Air Force was a sanctuary for incompetents and loafers incapable of handling civilian life. To him, the evidence was clear.

On the other hand, he was still a young lieutenant, not long out of college, whose work experience was, in fact, limited to the Air Force. Not until he left the military and widened his experience would he learn the truth: all workplaces are the same, whether military, government, academic, privately-held, or whatever.

In reality, the world of Dilbert is the universal norm. Only the people change. And you might as well laugh as cry.