Who We Are

Yesterday, a gang of Nazis, white nationalists, and “alt-right” hate-mongers and terrorists staged a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. One of the terrorists intentionally drove his car into a group of protesters — I reject the “protester/counter-protester” narrative; Nazis are not protesters, they are terrorists. One of these terrorists murdered a young woman and injured nineteen other protesters.

Many have expressed shock and horror. Many have said some variant of, “This is not America,” or, “This is not who we are!” I am not shocked. This both is and is not America; both is and is not who we are.

I am, and remain, deeply disgusted and horrified. I was sufficiently rattled by this that I couldn’t marshal my thoughts on the matter yesterday. The steady erosion of my faith in America is always painful, but yesterday was a seismic shearing, and it took some time to process. But I was not shocked.

I was not shocked because I have experienced a number of these sudden rifts in my confidence in America as an example of what is good and right in the world. I was shocked when, as a child, I learned what slavery was and why the Civil War was fought, and that our founding fathers were slave-owners. I was shocked when, as a teenager, I learned that the Battle of Wounded Knee I’d learned about in school was a massacre of unarmed civilians, and that our country was founded on genocide. I stopped being shocked by the presence of evil in America after that. I can still be shaken, but no longer surprised.

I am also absolutely filled with rage, which is why I did not trust myself to comment yesterday.

People who say this is not America, this is not who we are, I have an answer you may not want to hear: Yes, this is who we are. Every day we accept this evil in our midst, every day we stand by and do nothing or too little, this is who we are. This is not who we should be. This is not who we want to be. But as long as it exists, it is who we are.

Evil is contagious. I’ve found that relatively few people really understand this: evil exists, and it spreads, and it taints all it touches. The saying attributed to Edmund Burke — “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” — is true, but incomplete. It does not fully recognize the contagious nature of evil. If you are aware of evil and stand by, let it pass, do nothing, you abet evil. To abet evil is to do evil. And just like that, the contagion touches you, affects you. It’s insidious. It doesn’t make you evil outright, but having once turned away, it becomes easier to do so the next time. It becomes easier to accept the evil around you. It becomes easier to say, what can I do? It has always been thus and shall always be thus. Slowly, inexorably, with each turning-away, with each failure to speak up, the evil creeps in and makes its home within you.

This is not hyperbole. This is how Nazi Germany happened. People turned aside, decided it had nothing to do with them, deplored it perhaps but didn’t stand up or speak up. And it crept into their hearts, until they were able to convince themselves it wasn’t that bad. Until they could pretend they didn’t see what they saw all around them. Until they could hide from reality so completely that they expressed, and possibly actually felt, shock and horror when the depth of the evil was revealed. Because when we let the contagion take hold within us, we can’t look at it, can’t recognize it, without suffering a severe blow to our self-image. So much easier just to let it be. Look away.

We’ve been looking away too long. We’ve allowed the evil to grow, to touch us all, to plant its seeds of complacency, of accepting other narratives, of believing false equivalencies. And now we have actual Nazis, no longer hiding behind names like “alt-right,” proudly wearing their swastikas and saluting their new Hitler, Donald Trump, marching openly in our streets. Attacking, murdering those who dare to protest against them. And the guardians we turn to in our need? We have been complacent about the evil growing there for so long that they were no longer our guardians. The police, according to reports I read yesterday, were more concerned with arresting the protesters than the Nazis. The police may well have recognized their own amongst the Nazis. The police looked away.

We can’t look away any longer. This is who we are. This is America. And that needs to change.

Ancient Egypt Redux: Chaos and Succession

In the ancient world as today, the ending of one government and the beginning of another was a serious event. Even in societies arranged around the orderly transfer of power, a certain amount of concern and confusion was to be expected. “A beginning is a very delicate time,” to borrow from Frank Herbert. And the manner in which the transfer of power is presented to the public does not necessarily match up with the reality of the situation.

In ancient Egypt, the royal succession was, with a few exceptions, as thoroughly expected, well-precedented, and calmly handled as the presidential succession in the modern United States. One can imagine that the death of Narmer, the first Pharaoh, was cause for panic—god-kings aren’t supposed to fall off their twigs, after all. But the notion of a divine monarch was new enough to leave room for retconning. It was swiftly established that the death and return of Pharaoh, the Perfect God, was religiously comprehensible and explicable, and not a sign of the end of the world. Seth, the god of Chaos, had slain his brother Osiris (the now-dead King). Chaos now ruled the world! But a new challenger appears: Horus, son of Osiris, is ready to take his father’s throne. The embodiment of Order casts out the embodiment of Chaos, and Ma’at (truth, justice, order, the general sense of things being As They Should Be) once again held sway.

And so it went, down through the millennia. Pharaoh followed Pharaoh, and with a few notable exceptions, no one got terribly fussed about it. But the religious aspect was always there, and had to be acknowledged. And so each new Pharaoh made an address to the public upon his accession to the throne. Each one formulaically intoned the expected phrases: that all had fallen into chaos and disrepair with the death of his predecessor; that hooligans and vandals and even foreigners had run wild in the streets; that temples and palaces had been knocked over and made the sport of would-be Banksies; that basically everyone was miserable and everything was awful. And then! Horus returned! The new Pharaoh took the throne, and put everything to rights again! He lifted up what had fallen into pieces, he put back what had been knocked off its shelf, he sorted the mail and alphabetized all the record collections. Or words to that effect. Specifically, these words:

Be at ease, the entire land, for good times have come again! The Lord has arisen over all lands and Ma’at has settled in place. A King of Upper and Lower Egypt, possessed of millions of years, with a kingship like Horus . . . one who will afflict Egypt with festivals, the son of Re, abler than any king. . . . Come and see! Ma’at has subdued evil, and wrong-doing has fallen flat! . . . The waters rise, they do not dwindle, and the Nile brings prosperity. Days are long and the nights have hours, and the moon rises regularly. The gods are contented and happy!

(Many thanks to my mentor in Egyptology, the Professor himself, Donald Redford, for the translation.)

The above is from what is known as the eulogy of Merenptah, a Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty. It is from the address given at his accession, informing one and all that chaos had been vanquished, the terrible times they had endured were over, and happy days were there again. There’s just one little problem: Merenptah succeeded not some failure of a Pharaoh, not some invader who had to be thrown out with war and bloodshed, but Ramesses II. You may know him by his other name, Ramesses the Great. All that chaos and poverty and drought and moons-not-rising general awfulness? That was arguably the highest point in the entire history of Egypt, when the Empire covered half the known world and, as the old proverb said, in Egypt gold was as plentiful as the dust of the ground.

The message didn’t have to make sense. It didn’t have to reflect reality. It just had to be framed a certain way in order to cement the new Pharaoh’s power and position as He Who Puts Everything Right, He Who He Alone Can Save You.

Sound familiar?

Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; . . . crime and gangs and drugs . . . . This American carnage stops right here and stops right now. . . . [T]hat is the past. And now we are looking only to the future.

Yep. It didn’t matter that Trump was actually taking power in the midst of resurgent American prosperity, with crime at an all-time low. True, the economic situation was imperfect, but it was a hell of a lot better than it had been, and certainly not a tombstoney landscape of defeat and despair.

The message didn’t have to reflect reality. It didn’t have to make sense. It just had to be framed a certain way.

Our leaders can lie to us, can state as a matter of truth and political reality and religious import outright falsehoods, and expect us to accept it all. Because that’s how the message works. And the message is more important than the reality.

The ancient world and the modern. Too many similarities.

Not Dead Yet

In case anyone was wondering, I haven’t yet shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain, and joined the bleeding choir invisible. Not yet an ex-person. I’ve just been dealing with more medical botheration. Some sort of vile crud in my head that makes thinking a very iffy prospect. Got an MRI done, and it showed some alarmingly large things in my sinuses. I’m thinking a sinus infection had set up housekeeping in the various cavities in my skull, and when my immune system was taking a bit of a nap after the thyroid thing, it decided to add a library and a solarium.

So the old brain’s a bit foggy still, and writing doesn’t exactly come with the ease it should. I did manage the first of my “Ancient Egypt Redux” blogthings, thanks to the modern marvel of antibiotics giving me a bit of surcease. I’ll pop it up here tomorrow, after I’ve had another look to be sure I didn’t veer off into deranged gibbering and not notice.

Coming Attractions

So I have these ideas. Lots of ideas. Some of them maybe even good ideas. And a fair number of them I would like to type up here, for your entertainment and possible edification, but at the moment I fear most of it would turn into whingeing about my thyroid annoyances and lack of energy. And no one would be interested in reading that blog. Especially not me.

Amongst those ideas:

  • The return of random blathering status updates about my writing, complete with story-specific banner images, because making those images is fun and not a waste of time at all, really.
  • Ancient Egypt Redux, or a better name for it if I think of one: musings on the parallels I see between events in ancient history and the unfolding drama of modern reality.
  • Photography, which will probably be pretty bad to begin with, because I generally have no idea what I’m doing. Expect lots of macro photos of random objects.
  • Occasional hieroglyphs. With translations if you’re nice.
  • More of my political grumbles, because why not howl one’s rage and sorrow into the uncaring void?

And of course I welcome your comments, suggestions, oh-please-don’t-do-thats, etc.

Thyroid Blues

Herein the author discusses medical stuff. Feel free to pass this by, with a clean conscience. There will be no quiz later.

I’ve been debating, internally, whether or not to post this for quite a while. I’m a latecomer to social media, and still have mild conniptions over sharing certain types of information. On the other hand, this amounts to a medical excuse for laziness, which is kinda cool. And there’s always the chance that someone out there will read this and recognize something and go see their gland wallah and get fixed up. It’s probably about the same chance as that this ticket with random numbers on it will turn into a check for a few million bucks, but what the heck.

So the short version is that I recently had my thyroid yoinked, which is having some interesting side effects, one of which is to give me new perspective on my life for the past twenty-odd years. The bad news is that I am really tired these days, tired beyond all normal definition of the word (and I’m someone who used to stay awake for days at a time for fun, so I’m well acquainted with normal and abnormal definitions of “tired”). The good news is that maybe what I thought was my brain malfunctioning was just this damnable gland. Onward to the long version:

I moved to Iowa about a year and a half ago, and for the first time in years had access to health care (a subject for another post). One of the many complaints I brought to my doctor was this lump on the side of my neck. I’d visited my parents’ doctor in Pennsylvania once, and had asked him about it, and he said it was a harmless lipoma, a fatty tumor that could only cause problems if it grew too large, so I could ignore it until then. So I was somewhat surprised to ask the doctor here about it, intending to find out whether my insurance would cover its removal, and have her tell me, “That’s your thyroid, and that is not good.”

Compressing things from there (they were interesting, in a not-so-great way, at the time, but would become tedious here): I went to see an excellent endocrinologist, and she told me that it was the largest thyroid she’d ever seen, so I’d better get a biopsy. I got the biopsy, and they said maybe it was cancer and maybe not, so I’d better have it out. I talked to an excellent otolaryngologist who specialized in thyroid removal, and he said it was the largest thyroid he’d ever seen, and kindly took it out of me. (The surgical team visited me as I was recovering, in order to tell me en masse  that it was the largest thyroid they’d ever seen. Have you noticed a trend?) Oh, and it was cancer, natch.

So now comes the fun part. The thyroid is one of the more important cogs in the body’s automation, what my endocrinologist calls the thermostat. Simplified, it regulates your metabolism. It determines how much energy you have for running around, climbing trees, chasing butterflies, going to work, being productive, doing anything with your day other than pulling the covers over your head and occasionally whimpering. Through attempting to dial in the dosage of synthetic thyroid hormones, I’ve been experiencing a range of energy levels, a process which has been most enlightening.

I’ve been struggling for many years with what I thought must be depression, or dysthymia (which, for those who haven’t encountered it, is more-or-less chronic depression minus the active desire to end one’s life). My ability to get things done, to get life done, had been diminishing. I had increasing trouble dragging myself through my daily activities. I had no energy. Lack of energy doesn’t sound all that dire, until you’ve experienced its near-complete absence. Lack of energy led me to give up on all of the activities that made life at all enjoyable, even writing, even, in the past year or two, reading. As a result, I developed a distinct happiness deficiency. Yet I was still capable of feeling happy, for brief periods, which was rather confusing given my self-diagnosed depression. I could laugh; I could even feel joy. And then I ran out of energy afterward and couldn’t feel much of anything.

Which is exactly how it felt when I only had the minimum dose of replacement thyroid hormone, only even worse. Given a short-acting hormone pill with which to fine-tune things a bit, I was able to experiment, and by choosing (with doctor’s approval) how many of the pills to take, I can replicate various stages of my “depression.” And when I take a bit extra, I feel, briefly, the way I did in my youth: energetic, un-tired, able to work. I even had insomnia last night! I know that’s an odd thing to be pleased about, but I was a chronic insomniac for much of my life, until in recent years it went the other way, and I was all but narcoleptic. It was nice to be unintentionally conscious in the wee smalls again.

Which isn’t to say that it’s all sunshine and roses when I take a pill, of course. But I have some hope that the faulty wiring was in my endocrine system more than my brain, with of course an attendant dose of reasonable melancholy. And that’s why I’ve bothered writing all of this out. I know, from talking to my endocrinologist, from talking to a nurse with a similar history, that this is more common than most people suspect. I also remember a TED talk in which someone spoke of the opposite of depression being energy, not happiness. I begin to suspect that, when that is true, there may be some endocrine involvement. So get mental health assistance for depression (yes, absolutely, definitely, obviously), but also schedule a chat with your local thyroid fixer-upper.

Just be aware that you probably won’t be as lucky as I am. You probably won’t have the largest thyroid growth anyone has ever seen, with the rarest form of cancer in it, and the added fun of dealing with hormone pills made for people half your size. Chances are it’ll be the mundane, common sort of trouble, you take a pill in the mornings and feel better. But hey, we can’t all be special.



A while ago, I encountered the following on Twitter:

Naturally (well, “naturally” for me, I don’t know how other people’s brains work), this caused those neurons permanently affected by a youthful adoration of cyberpunk to fire off all at once.

So yeah, I’m definitely going to write that. I’ve got a partial cast of characters knocking around inside my skull, a couple of settings in mind to start things off… and no plot. Yet. One of the great frustrations, plotlessness.

I thought today would be the day I truly began to commit hobopunk upon an unsuspecting world, having fortified myself with tea and spent some time trying to expunge the worries of this ghastly week. Instead I did a goodly amount of pre-hobopunk research. It turns out that the real world had not properly arranged itself for my desired opening to take place in my desired locale. Dreadfully inconsiderate, that. And now I have to go take the car in so the nice people with actual technical knowledge can see why it’s blinking lights at me. Turns out ten-year-old Saturns occasionally get cranky.

So no hobopunk today. Hobopunk tomorrow.

On Disappearing Posts

I deleted what few posts I had made prior to the beginning of the year. New year, new blog, I suppose. I was entirely dissatisfied with my blogging efforts to that point. It felt too much like repeated exercises in asking the world, “How do I blog?” And of course, there was no answer.

I also did this because my primary focus had become politics, for obvious reasons. I don’t want to make this a primarily political blog, because it is not good for my mental health. This is not to say that I won’t write about political subjects–my very next post will be political, in fact–only that I’m going to try not to focus on it to the exclusion of all else. ‘Tain’t good for me.

But before I close, I would like to make it absolutely clear that I did not delete those political posts because I wish to retract or repudiate anything I said. I remain shocked and horrified that my country elected such a grotesque assemblage of all that is wrong with humanity as its president. I continue to abhor Donald Trump–the hypergolic howler monkey, as I have called him; or as a dear friend puts it more succinctly, the Shitgibbon–and all he stands for. That we now have a white nationalist in the White House is an offense against every founding principle of the United States.

Silence is often taken as tacit approval. Retraction even more so. The deletion of old, unsatisfying posts is neither of those. And now that that has been said, onward!

First Bad Idea of 2017

Well, not the first first bad idea, but all the others were of the, “I should have some ice cream for dessert,” or, “I should play Fallout 4 instead of being productive,” variety. Hardly worth noting, except for purposes of self-flagellation.

This is my first catastrophically bad story idea of the year. I treasure those. Sometimes they’re learning experiences — especially when they get made into movies and I briefly wonder whether writing the next Sharknado would really be such a bad gig. Literary integrity and self-respect don’t pay the bills, after all.

Anyway, I read a bit in the local paper about scientists getting close to absolute zero, and it put me in mind of a story I’ve been meaning to rewrite, set in a new ice age. And I thought, hmm, what if an absolute zero experiment went awry, and there formed a little sphere of absolute zero, total atomic motionlessness, which induced that state in everything it touched? Slowly expanding, it caused the next ice age, and would eventually consume the Earth and necessitate our flight to the outer planets, and eventually the stars. Fleeing ever deeper into the night, never escaping the slowly growing menace….

It’s crap, of course. Science doesn’t work like that. Cold isn’t a thing, it’s the absence of heat, meaning motion. Expose an area of absolute zero to the rest of the universe and it won’t infect neighboring matter. It’ll just warm up a bit and stop being so absolute about its zero-ness. So nobody write this, make a movie out of it, or freak out over the thought that it might happen, or you’ll look a bit daft.

But it’s good to have bad ideas! They’re fun to think about, and they may lead to good ideas. And in any case, bad ideas are better than no ideas at all. (As long as you recognize them as such, obviously. I’m looking at you, Trump voters.)

Now to have some good ideas.

Where’d I put those exercise bands…?