Dam Cracked

 

Not to diminish the insult or pain caused by Confederate statues, but it strikes me that discussions around them take our attention away from the true horror of Charlottesville. There were Nazi’s and KKK people marching proudly and openly in front of live cameras!  With guns and torches. Quoting first Hitler and then Donald Trump. In an American city.

Take a moment and really consider that.

It demands a response from every thinking person with a conscience. But what can possibly be written that hasn’t been said already by 1000 talking heads and one or two Republican senators?

As my subconscious gnawed on these recent events, a childhood story popped into my head. The one about the little boy who plugs a hole in a dike with his finger and saves the town (or was it the whole country?) I guess I thought of this story because it was somehow the metaphorical opposite of what I want to see happen.

In my three weeks in the States, I detected changes in the vocabulary people used to discuss the latest daily Twump farce. Way back during the campaign we had heard tentative expressions about “false statements”, “untruths”, “misrepresentations” and “distortions” – now people were saying straight out “he lied again”. An earlier “unprecedented outrage” was now yet another “idiotic” stunt. Words like “narcissist”, “pathological”, “obsession”, “unhinged”, etc. were now being thrown around with impunity. Newscasters began to smirk when saying the words “The president tweeted today that . . . .”  and no one talked about his brilliance in business or deal making anymore. And yet, everyone still danced on tiptoes around two topics. The first was his mental state. The second was fascism. Any remark comparing Trump’s playbook to that of historical fascist regimes was immediately pronounced “out of bounds”.

Still, it seemed to me that the vocabulary of dissent was growing in volume and intensity. I discussed this with my sister many times to make sure it was not just wishful thinking or me hearing what I wanted to hear. I was sure this drip drip had turned into a trickle at least. I wondered what it would take to turn this dribble into a stream and then, finally, maybe a torrent. What would make the dam break? Access Hollywood didn’t do it. Nor did the Comey firing. None of his many nasty attacks got his party members running, nor did the fact that he lied five times a day on average since taking office. Could Charlottesville be the thing? – the one that finally could not be simply waited out? When an important senator openly questioned the pwesident’s mental fitness for office and CNN started debating the question the next day, I thought this might really be it. The three words “on many sides” would open the flood gates. I braced myself and . . .

dribble . . . dribble . . . dribble . . .

I should have known that the senator’s words would not equate with metaphorically unplugging the hole in the dike. (His name was “Corker”. It was a sign.)

I googled the story anyway (search terms: boy finger dike) and discovered a lot of confusion. No one seems to know the origins of the story, but it was made famous by an American woman in the 19th century when she included it in her book about life in Holland: “Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates”. This woman had never been to Holland when she wrote it and apparently most Dutch people were not and are not familiar with the story. (This detail doesn’t surprise me at all. I have met literally thousands of Austrians and can only name three who have seen “The Sound of Music”.) Even so, there are (erroneously named) “Hans Brinker” statues in many cities in the Netherlands today. Wikipedia suggests they were put up for the benefit of American tourists.

And now I am back to statues.

It seems our objectionable statues have about as much true connection to our country’s heritage and traditions as the Hans Brinker ones do to Holland’s. Who believes that these ugly monuments, put up during Jim Crow, were meant to glorify a bunch of 19th century generals fighting a lost and immoral cause or the man who occupied a short-lived and illegitimate presidency? No, they had a different purpose and it surely wasn’t to attract tourists. And who believes that the present day defenders of these pieces of concrete are there to honor history? If anything, it is a bunch of 21st century generals fighting a different lost cause they are chanting for, along with the current man occupying a (short-lived?) and illegitimate presidency. The man whose words encouraged them to creep out of the closets and remove the hoods. These people clearly have an affinity to and recognize a common cause with the pwesident.

So . . . it seems that self proclaimed neo-nazi’s can say publicly that “he is one of us” but the rest of us are still not allowed to say “he is one of you”.

I am almost desperate in my need to hear Washington lawmakers and serious news people start openly discussing this man’s true political leanings as well as his mental capacity and health. He keeps going lower and he’s taking the country down with him.

There were Nazi’s and KKK people marching proudly and openly in front of live cameras!  With guns and torches. Quoting first Hitler and then Donald Trump. In an American city.

Take a moment and really consider that.

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A Round Dance

I should probably do something to make up for my last post. During my three weeks in the States, most of the conversation and the ENTIRETY of the news revolved around the antics of the pwesident and his circular firing squad of cronies. It was “All Twump, All the Time”. He eventually wheedled his way into my blog. But now I am home again and after stumbling through two days of jetlag, I am ready to write about something that has nothing to do with American politics – maybe something European and cultured . . . sophisticated . . . snooty, even.

Luckily, it just so happens that I went to the opera yesterday. “Rigoletto” by Giuseppe Verdi. And not just in any ol’ opera house – but one that had been built outdoors inside a huge stone quarry:

As we took the roundabout walkway that descended into the quarry, the impressive stage slowly came into sight. And when we took our seats, I was happy to see that the ones directly in front of mine were empty for four rows – leaving me a perfect view. The stage itself was at least four times the size of a normal one, and having no ceiling, it allowed for dramatically large objects in the stage design.  The natural rock wall behind it was integrated into the backdrop and light show. The sound system surrounding us would put us deep inside of the music:

 

 

The sun set and the opera began. The sheer enormity of the stage props made the players seem tiny at first – but that might fit well with one theme of the opera – the general smallness of people. They scurried around the stage like insects while huge projected images loomed over them. (Only their singing voices were large enough in dimension to compete.)

For those that don’t know the story (as I myself didn’t until reading up on it during the two hour drive to the quarry), Rigoletto is a court jester serving a womanizing Duke whose most profound statement is that love must be free (and apparently, fleeting). He then proceeds to seduce (ruin) one girl after another with Rigoletto’s help. The jester’s reward is the kick he gets out of ridiculing the girls’ husbands and fathers once the deed has been done. However, when one of these offended men puts a curse on Rigoletto, it begins to haunt him obsessively – to the point where he considers paying to have this father killed. It is a glimpse that somewhere inside him, there might be something like a conscience. Why else would this curse get to him so badly? For one brief moment, he seems to realize that as a person, he is not much better than a hired assassin. He uses his tongue as his sword while aiding and abetting the juvenile, narcissist/playboy in charge, possibly against his own character. I couldn’t help but think of all those rep . . . (nope, no, not going to go there, back to the plot . . .)

Rigoletto’s most human quality is the love he has for his daughter whose existence he has kept a secret from everyone. (You see where this is going now, don’t you?) Oddly enough, he also keeps his real name and what he does for a living a secret from her – as if he asked himself “How could I look my daughter in the eye and say I support this man?” (Oops, darn it! back to the opera.)  Of course, he wouldn’t want his own daughter anywhere near the Duke, much less, god forbid, alone with him.

 In a Shakespearean-style, implausible mix-up, Rigoletto ends up unwittingly helping in the kidnapping of – you guessed it – his own daughter who then becomes the Duke’s next conquest. Enraged, Rigoletto returns to the assassin and this time goes through with the deal – but with a new target: the Duke. When his daughter tells him that she still loves the man, he forces her to watch the Duke go after his next conquest and then sends her away. She sneaks back and sacrifices herself to save the Duke. She manages to stay alive just long enough to be discovered by her father, sing a (fairly long!) aria and apologize, as if it were her own actions and not her father’s that brought all this about. Then she dies.

Things never seem to go well for the female characters in operas.

But that is not quite the end. Rigoletto holds his dead daughter and screams out something about “The Curse!!”  In other words, “look what has been done to me!” rather than “look what I have done!”

Aahhh, 19th Century morality. Gotta love it. Those were the days. So great. Wish we could be (made) so great again . . . (oops, sorry!) . . .

No, I did not think about Twump and his minions all through the opera. In fact I didn’t give them a second thought. They came slinking back today as I wrote this post. Thankfully, last night the music and singing and stagecraft were so wonderful, that they allowed me to suspend the present and shake off my modern feminist and political sensibilities for three straight hours (which went by in a flash!) I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of this horrible horrible story.

 

PS. The cool fireworks afterward helped too. You don’t get those in a dumb ol’ opera house.

      

Letter to the Editor

 

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to express my deep disdain for the completely inappropriate image you chose to display on the front cover of your publication. It is inflammatory, unfair, and quite frankly, a disservice to anyone who calls him/herself an American. It is a cheap shot – especially considering the contributions made by the subject of your ridicule to make not only America, but Life itself, great again.

Cheetos deserve the respect of every American. They are our Number One source of riboflavin. I resent the fact that you have chosen to display them in this way. It is a disgrace.

Sincerely,                                                                                     Circumstance227

 

We’ll Always Have Pittsburgh

 

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume everyone reading this has had a relationship-gone-bad somewhere in his/her past. In the beginning, you seemed to be in complete agreement when it came to world view, passions, dislikes, etc. When other things were getting you down, this person could make you feel great again. Your contact intensified, consumed more and more of your time, and you didn’t notice for a long time that the slow and stealthy cycle of self-destructiveness had begun.

It started with little things – maybe a smug quip that rubbed you the wrong way. You began to notice how they repeated the same words and phrases and stories. You got tired of rants about the unprecedented outrageous-ness of others. Then lying became an issue. You suddenly recognized how they felt superior to – and simultaneously put upon by – the entire world. If you didn’t watch your step, you might just fall out of favor, too. At some point, the last straw dropped and you realized it was time to get out.

That’s where I am now. I’ve made my decision.

I am breaking up with MSNBC.

 

(You thought I was talking about the disillusioned Twump voter, didn’t you? I admit, the description would probably fit . . . )

 

Something snapped in my brain while listening to the coverage of Twump’s rosy garden speech on the Paris climate treaty. The MSNBC commentary dutifully pointed out his relentless string of lies, and yet, it was . . . lacking. I care deeply about this issue and it seemed to me that they cared more deeply about something else . . . exactly what, I am not sure – righteousness? ratings? I started surfing for something more . . . something more real . . . and there he was – my dream man:

You might think I am kidding, but I am not. I listened to this discussion four times and was moved each time: (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/shields-brooks-trumps-climate-pact-consequences/ ).  It seemed to me that, in 12 short minutes, they cut to the core of everything that is wrong with the current administration and the world right now.  And they did it in a serious, honest and heartfelt way – two people coming from different perspectives, in mutual respect, agreeing on essential core truths:

people who think and feel differently from us are not our enemies,

we may disagree on the best method, but helping other people to do better is good, and

there are very, very, minuscule-ly!  few people out there who are truly “out to get us”.

 

When it comes to following political developments, it is time for me to shift gears. I now believe that a couple of hours of PBS each week is all I really want and need.

It is not like I want to cut MSNBC out of my life entirely. A part of me will always love them.  I sincerely hope that we will stay good friends.

 

Twickle-Down Twumpcare

It is 8 pm Austrian time. If new reports are correct, about one hour from now, the House of Representatives will vote on their health care insurance accessibility plan.

As I have occasionally mentioned on this blog, our messed up free(d) enterprise(r) system, tweaked into dysfunction by years of corporate lobbying and legislation written at Round Tables and then conveyed by the hand of some bought and paid for politician to the floor of Congress and voted unread into law (pause . .  to take a breath), has made sure that American money now acts like a gas floating upwards rather than a liquid trickling down. Not that I ever really bought into that particular theory either. But Republicans clearly cling to it with an almost religious conviction. In order to sell it to their minions, they coin neat phrases like “job creators” or “makers and takers” or conjure up economic evil-doers like “welfare queens” or “deadbeat dads”. They opine incessantly that “Obamacare” is merely a “disaster” in a “death spiral”, a weapon in the big hand of government wielded to enslave the once-free . . . And now they have their chance – the new tiny hand of government will be more than happy to sign a law designed to bring back the invisible hand. Supply and Demand. Those market forces will make everything healthcare great again.

Except that we all know they won’t. Because as we saw before the ACA, with a health insurance industry orientated toward profit, the demand was universal (we ALL get sick and need care) and the supply was based on ability to pay.  These companies did not magically rise up to meet the needs of the consumers. They found ways to avoid paying the bills of the sick (e.g. “pre-existing conditions”) in order to keep the premiums of the wealthier and healthier lower.

Maybe, just maybe, the health care concerns of our nation cannot be addressed only through insurance industry products being bought and sold. Maybe, this is one of those economic sectors where cooperation is just as necessary – or more so – than competition. Maybe, merely “everyone having access” to health care isn’t enough. I mean, I “have access” to a Rolls Royce. That doesn’t mean I can afford to buy one.

I am in no danger of being financially ruined because I don’t own a Rolls Royce.

Not having a Rolls Royce does not put me at risk of dying or losing a loved one earlier than necessary.

 

While defending the proposed budget, Twump’s spokesperson feigned social consciousness by asking can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs?”  He wasn’t talking about the ACA specifically, but about all larger government actions. My answer to him: “YES! Yes, we can!”

It is certainly better than asking that coal miner or single mom to contribute to the next insurance company CEO’s obscene bonus.

Is this all really so hard to understand?

 

It is now 9 pm Austrian time. I just checked the news and heard that the vote will not happen after all.

Trash Wednesday

Well, actually “Ash Wednesday”. Which means yesterday Austria celebrated what they call “Fasching”.  It has nothing to do fascism – quite the opposite really. It is the big blow out before we all, or most of us, or actually just some of us give up something we really like until Easter, or at least for a few days, or sometimes maybe for just for a few hours. Nowadays on Fasching Tuesday, Austrians of all ages either make themselves ugly, or they don the usual Halloween-type costumes – witch, pirate, cowboy, angel, devil, etc. But I have read that the old tradition was to slip into the opposite of one’s usual role. So men dress up like women and women like men. A king (- in American terms, the president) dresses up like a court jester while a fool becomes a president.

With that old tradition in mind, I chose my costume for our school party:

cook

Full disclosure: that last sentence was a fib. Actually, my husband bought and wore this costume at his own school’s Fasching party last year. And, no, I am not this large. The costume has a little motorized fan that blows it up like a balloon.

As I walked into each classroom yesterday, a loud round of shrieking broke out first. The kids then approached me carefully and made little tentative pokes. Those became jabs. After 10 minutes, I felt less like a cook than a punching bag and had to reassert my teacher authority to stop the abuse. The wooden spoon came in handy. The best part of the celebration was dancing in the disco in this get up – doing all the hip-hop moves I learned from my daughter as my students freaked out. Some of them were laughing, but others were staring at me with a questioning look on their faces: “Who ARE you?? And what did you do with my English teacher??”  I am fairly sure there are quite a few pictures of me currently floating around in various teenage WhatsApp groups.

I don’t care at all.

I used to really dislike Fasching and everything connected with it. I didn’t have this tradition growing up, so seeing all these grown-ups dressed strangely and acting crazy was sort of creepy. And the village festivals were just obnoxious puke parties as far as I was concerned. Ash Wednesday became one of my favorite days, because 1) being a heathen, I enjoyed not having to give up stuff I like for six weeks, and 2) it meant Fasching Tuesday was over. Then I changed jobs.

During my first two years in the school, I had to jump over my own shadow to participate at all in these parties and the enjoyment factor was non-existent. Slowly, but surely, I started to get into it. I slipped more and more into my new role-for-the-day and had fun with it. This year I came the closest yet to that coveted feeling of abandonment. One NOT achieved in a cheating way with chemical help (see “puke parties” above.)

As an immigrant to this country, it has become very clear to me how much a person’s character is defined by the culture they grow up in. I used to tell my (university) students that, as far as I could tell, it is impossible to “become an Austrian”.  People’s identity here is so tied up with the real estate they were born on – the country, the province, the city, the village. The Carinthians make fun of the Styrians and vice versa, the Lower Austrians make fun of the Upper Austrians and vice versa. Everyone makes fun of the Burgenlanders. No one outside of Vienna likes the Viennese . . . When my husband is asked where he comes from, he answers with the name of a city he spent only his first five years in. I couldn’t imagine myself ever saying “I come from Brown Deer.”

I basically emigrated from the States at the ripe old age of 20. I came back for one year to finish my undergrad studies. I came back again for 7 months to finish grad school. I have had many month long vacations there over the years. But . . . total it all together, it still doesn’t come close to the 31+ years that I have lived here in Austria.

Have those 31 years gotten me closer to being Austrian? Hardly. But yesterday, dancing in the disco along with my bearded colleague in his fairy butterfly bride costume and a hoard of young costumed confetti-throwing kids, I moved a tiny notch closer.

 

A Really Horrible Post. A Total Disaster. A Total Disaster. Sad. Believe Me.

 

My mom says it’s a brain tumor. She had us in tears, laughing, while she defended her theory. I almost started believing her – after all, she spent her entire career in the medical profession. I went so far as to google brain tumor symptoms – but, alas, they didn’t really jibe with the increasingly apparent behaviors. The constant word repetition along with vague and simplistic vocabulary. The impulsiveness, the emotional stunted-ness, the name-calling, the lying, the self-aggrandizement. The propensity to never meet a conspiracy theory he couldn’t believe. I could go on. I kept googling – but this time starting with the symptoms – until I struck gold.

So now, in my expert capacity as an English Literature major, I am revealing my promised (internet) medical diagnosis of He Who Shall Not Be Named. To make it as exciting as possible, I will begin with the symptoms and the question – “Does this remind you of anyone??”

According to the University of California San Francisco Medical Center:

Apathy is often the first symptom reported . . . People experiencing these changes may become self-centered, emotionally distant, withdrawn, unaware of the emotions of others . . .
Impulsive behavior is another common complaint from caregivers who may find the changes in social and personal conduct embarrassing or frustrating. These behaviors are often associated with a lack of inhibition, resulting in impulsive or inappropriate behavior, such as overeating, outbursts of frustration, touching strangers, urinating in public or diminished social tact. . . . Restlessness, irritability, aggressiveness, violent outbursts or excessive sentimentality are not unusual either.
There is usually difficulty in reasoning, judgment, organization and planning, and consequently, these patients can be quite gullible and fall prey to scams on the computer or in person . . . . In some people, inappropriate sexual behavior occurs.
There may also be repetitive or compulsive behaviors that may include hoarding, doing the same thing over and over (for instance, reading the same book several times or walking to the same location again and again), pacing, or repeating particular “catch phrases” over and over in their speech.
The person with (this disease) may experience false thoughts (delusions) that are jealous, religious or bizarre in nature. Or they can develop a euphoria – excessive or inappropriate elation or exaggerated self-esteem.
Even though they might complain of memory disturbance, patients can usually keep track of day-to-day events and understand what is going on around them. Also, their language skills and memory usually remain intact until late in the disease . . . Indeed, often the person has little or no awareness of the problem behaviors.

 

I rest my case.

Now I am wondering how to go about starting one of those online petitions. Mine would sound something like this:

“I, the undersigned, demand that the new pwesident undergo a complete physical, including an MRI and PET scan, specifically to look for signs of Frontotemporal Dementia. Furthermore, until such an examination is completed, I would really appreciate it if someone would take the nuclear codes away from him.”

brain