Showing posts with label Eve Fisher. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eve Fisher. Show all posts

02 July 2020

How the System Gets Systemic and Other Tales


I see the grand opening of America is going well. Especially in Florida and Texas. But more on that later. Or maybe not. It's too easy a shot.

What struck me about the Tulsa Rally, the Arizona "Students for Trump" Rally, and (I'm sure) tomorrow's 3rd of July Fireworks at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota* were the "Front Row Joes". The ones who show up early, camp out, bring the kids and grandkids, travel from rally to rally, wear special outfits, have slogans, legends, beliefs, and a whole culture that goes with following the object of desire from one venue to another. You know: the conservative version of Deadheads.


God bless them all, and may they not get the virus. BTW, I can't help but wonder how many of the older crowd were Jerry Garcia fans back in the day. I'll bet if someone started humming "Friend of the Devil" a lot of people would take up the song...

BUT BACK TO THE MAIN THEME

Meanwhile, though, I've been thinking about systemic racism. Now I have not experienced this as such - all of the people who have ever harrassed me about my ethnicity have so far gotten it wrong: I am neither Jewish, Native American, Italian, or mixed-race, although I would not mind in the slightest if I were. What this dark-haired, dark-eyed, large-nosed cantankerous crone is, is Greek, and my Ancestry gene test proves it. (God, I wish racists would bother to do a little research and get their hateful ethnic stereotypes correct.)

But I certainly have experienced systemic sexism. As has every woman I know. So, let's go over some of the issues.

Dress Codes - "Show us your legs, ladies, and don't be shy about it!"

My first official job was in 1971 (I lied about my age, and other things), as a switchboard operator in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Grand Rapids gets cold and very snowy in winter, but we were required to wear dresses to work. And the manager could require us to wear dresses, even though no one in the public ever saw us. (Most of us wore pants on the way over and changed.) Women couldn't wear pants on the job anywhere at that time. It wasn't until the mid-70s that the pantsuit became popular and women could wear them at work.

But not everywhere: women weren't allowed to wear anything but skirts on the floor of the US Senate until 1993, when Senators Barbara Mikulski and Carol Moseley Braun wore pantsuits in defiance of the rules. That took a while, didn't it?

But sometimes it takes even longer: As late as 2019, a federal judge struck down a rule at a North Carolina charter school that prohibited girls at the school from wearing pants. It required them instead to wear skirts, skorts, or jumpers. The school had argued that the dress code promoted “traditional values.” (HERE)

And I note that the rule is still - on the Weather Channel and Fox News among other places - that female broadcasters wear (often sleeveless) dresses and spike heels all four seasons, while their male counterparts can actually cover their legs and arms with multiple layers. Still.


Jobs - It's hard to get one if you are barred from even applying.

Help wanted ads in newspapers were listed by gender until 1973. Jobs for Men; Jobs for Women. Betcha can't figure out what kinds of jobs were listed under JFW - secretarial, receptionist, clerks, low-level accountancy, waitresses, hostesses. CPAs were listed under Jobs for Men, along with everything else that paid a living wage.

But in 1973, in Pittsburgh Press Co. v Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, 413 U.S. 376 (1973), SCOTUS upheld an ordinance enacted in Pittsburgh that forbade sex-designated classified advertising for job opportunities, against a claim by the parent company of the Pittsburgh Press that the ordinance violated its First Amendment rights. (Wikipedia) And finally, the barriers broke down!

Long history of discriminatory newspaper ads | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It still took a while for things to actually change throughout the land, and in many places, a token woman got hired, and that was enough, despite the fact that (ahem) women do make up 50% of the population. So far we're settling for 23% of Congress, and 5% of CEOs, and 0% Vice Presidents or Presidents. To quote the great RBG when asked "'When do you think it will it be enough? When will there be enough women on the court?' And my answer is when there are nine." (RBG)

Meanwhile, we're still earning 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.

Higher Education

While there's a long history of women's colleges in America, beginning in the 1800s with seminaries, almost all of them were aimed at teaching teachers. Full education and co-educational college education was a long hard slog. It wasn't until the 1950s that - again - SCOTUS weighed in with a number of decisions that said public single-sex universities violated the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution.

"The Ivy League schools held out the longest: Yale and Princeton didn’t accept female students until 1969. Harvard didn’t admit women until 1977 (when it merged with the all-female Radcliffe College). Brown (which merged with women’s college Pembroke), Dartmouth and Columbia did not offer admission to women until 1971, 1972 and 1981, respectively. Other case-specific instances allowed some women to take certain classes at Ivy League institutions (such as Barnard women taking classes at Columbia), but, by and large, women in the ’60s who harbored Ivy League dreams had to put them on hold." (Wikipedia)

Health - When you're not included because you're just an inferior man.

BTW, even today, most clinical trials for medicine and medical procedures are done exclusively on men. This is because - as we're always told - women have menstrual cycles that would screw up the research and men don't, and besides, "the average human is a '60 kilogram man'"**. One size fits all, right? Well, this has had some grimly hilarious results - did you know that the first major study ever done on breast cancer was done on men? True. But even today, studies on heart disease, lung cancer, Alzheimer's, and cholesterol are done primarily on men, and even when women are included in the studies, "they often fail to stratify data by sex or include information about hormone status or any other gender-specific factors." Which means we still don't know how well various drugs or treatments actually work for women. (HERE)

BTW - it's even worse for minorities. "Nearly 40 percent of Americans belong to a racial or ethnic minority, but the patients who participate in clinical trials for new drugs skew heavily white—in some cases, 80 to 90 percent. " (Scientific American)

The Pill

In 1957, the FDA approved of the birth control pill but only for “severe menstrual distress.” In 1960, the pill was approved for use as a contraceptive. In both cases, it was only for married women. And even then it was only legal in some states. It wasn't until the late 60s through early 70s that it was made legal and available for both single and married women.

Credit - Or, how do you start a business without any money?

Until 1974, a woman was not able to apply for credit without her father's or husband's signature. If you were a single woman, you were SOL. The Equal Opportunity Credit Act changed that. BTW, it was Congresswoman Lindy Boggs who added the provision banning discrimination due to sex or marital status, because the committee hadn't put it in the original bill. She photocopied the new version of the bill and told the other committee members, "Knowing the members composing this committee as well as I do, I'm sure it was just an oversight that we didn't have 'sex' or 'marital status' included. I've taken care of that, and I trust it meets with the committee's approval." The committee unanimously approved the bill.

Credit - Small Business Loans

Took a long time to get. And I know a number of women who were rejected by a bank - because we generally don't have the assets of a man - and started their small businesses using credit cards. Lots of them.

More Problems with Being Female While Working - Pregnancy

Besides trying to even get a job, or trying to even get credit to start your own business, or to get credit to buy or rent the furnishings or clothing you needed, women could also get fired, legally, for getting pregnant until the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Speaking of Pregnancy, how about the Age of Consent?

In 1880, the ages of consent were set at 10 or 12 in most states, with the exception of Delaware where it was 7. Yes, you read that correctly. By 1920, however, I'm happy to say that 26 states had an age of consent at 16, 21 states had an age of consent at 18, and one state (Georgia) had an age of consent at 14. Georgia which raised the age of consent from 14 to 16 in 1995, and Hawaii did the same in 2001.

And how about consent, period?

Well, if you were married - you couldn't say no. Spousal rape wasn’t criminalized in all 50 states until 1993.

And, for most of us who have not been living under a rock, we all know that rape is damned hard to prove in the courts of public opinion, public gossip, and the law. Especially since as many as 200,000 rape kits are still sitting around police stations in the US that have never been and never will be tested. Kind of makes you feel like it just doesn't matter. But it does... (HERE)

And sexual harrassment at the workplace was not made illegal until 1986, when the Supreme Court ruled that sexual harassment can be sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII in the case of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson. However, as some of us know, it still continues...

(See a host of stories on that topic, including my own "Pentecost", in Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology, SleuthSayer Elizabeth Zelvin, editor.)

More Problems with Being Female While Working - Health Insurance

Charging women more for health insurance than men wasn’t outlawed in health insurance until 2010 with the Affordable Care Act. Let me repeat that:

WOMEN COULD AND WERE CHARGED MORE THAN MEN FOR HEALTH INSURANCE UNTIL 2010's ACA!!!!

If the ACA is tossed out - as the current administration is trying to get SCOTUS to do - that will end and women can be charged more again. And undoubtedly will. (NPR)

Jury Duty

Many states excluded women from jury duty until SCOTUS declared that to be illegal in Taylor v Louisiana in 1973. Gives a whole new insight into the all male juries of Twelve Angry Men, and Anatomy of a Murder, doesn't it?

BTW - Barring women from practicing law was only prohibited in the U.S. in 1971.

"I thought you were a man"

Previously shared in a comment on Melanie Campbell's blog (HERE):

Back in the late 70s, I made the finals for new play contest, and I went down for the public reading of all 5 finalists. Now, I'd submitted the play under the pen name M. V. Fisher. When I arrived, the person in charge looked at me, and said, "We thought you were a man." And sure enough, all the other finalists were men. I didn't win.
Systemic sexism is real.
Systemic racism is real.
Fight them both TOOTH AND NAIL!!!!

Love always,
The Crone.


** For an absolute classic on how women have been measured by the male over the millenia, real Carol Tavris, The Mismeasure of Woman. https://www.amazon.com/Mismeasure-Woman-Carol-Tavris/dp/0671797492

A quick quote: On hysterectomy for a 'precancerous' diagnosis: "Although prostate cancer is far more common than uterine cancer, no one recommends preventative surgery on the prostate. The very idea would make most men premurderous."

18 June 2020

Adventures in Logic


At the entrance of the Temple to Apollo at Delphi were three maxims:
  1. Know thyself.
  2. Nothing to excess.
  3. Surety brings ruin.
All very logical, and God knows every philosopher from Cleobolus (c. 6 BC) to Aristotle (384-322 BC) hammered home the maxim "Moderation in all things." Along with the primacy of Man's Reason, and how that made Man superior to the beasts of the field, not to mention foreigners (all of them barbarians to the Greeks), slaves and, of course, women.  (Except the hetairai.)

But the Greeks also worshiped Dionysus, the god of wine, fertility, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, festivity and theater.  Their symposia were all male affairs (except for the high-class hetairai and the low-class musicians) at which they recited poetry, discussed philosophy, sing songs, give speeches, and get thoroughly drunk.  (Please, read Plato's Symposium HERE for one of the great discussions of love anywhere - interrupted by a very drunk Alcibiades and his buddies.)  

Decent women - wives and daughters - were kept at home, uneducated and working, in the women's quarters, where they were to never be seen or heard by any other man.  Except at weddings.  And their coming of age.  And the Dionysian Mysteries when all those well-hidden wives and daughters turned into Maenads, Bacchantes, and raced out into the hills, where they drank and danced and sang all night long, in the religious frenzy of Dionysus, tearing animals apart with their bare hands.  (And the occasional man who dared to look into their rituals.  See Euripedes' The Bacchae.)


That's the Greeks for you.  Logic, logic, logic, and the next thing you know they're screaming wild in the mountains.  Well, at least they had the gods to blame.  

So much for logic.  

"If we stop testing right now, we'd have very few cases, if any."  President Trump, 6/15/2020.  

In the world of Logical Fallacies, this is known as a False Equivalence - if THIS, then THAT - which always sound logical, and can work, but only if both parts are completely true.  

BTW:  Twitter has been full of other examples of such thinking:
"Yes, and if I stop weighing myself, I'll never gain any weight."
"If we stopped being poor, we'd all be rich."
"If I quit recognizing birthdays, I won't get any older."
Make your own:  ______________________ 

But God knows, that's not the first time that Presidents have said dicey things:

"When a great number of people are out of work, unemployment results."  Calvin Coolidge  
"While the crash only took place six months ago, I am convinced we have now passed the worst and with continued unity of effort we shall rapidly recover." - Herbert Hoover, May 1, 1930
"Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?" —George W. Bush, Jan. 11, 2000
"I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself." - Ronald Reagan
"I was under medication when I made the decision to burn the tapes."—Richard Nixon

Meanwhile, there is no system of logic in any universe that will allow you to be both the Party of Lincoln and carry a Confederate flag.  The history is plain:  Lincoln and the Confederacy were on opposite sides of the Civil War.  

BUT the Appeal to Ignorance (argumentum ad ignoratiam)  can work a treat if people are determined enough to remain ignorant.



And let's not forget the classic misshapen logic of criminals, all of which - and more! - I've heard on the job at the pen:  

"Look, if they didn't want to be robbed, they shouldn't have had such nice stuff."  
"I don't have to follow the rules.  Rules only apply to losers." 
"No one has ever been mistreated the way I've been mistreated.  I'm amazed that I'm even alive."
"No one has ever done anything for me.  Everything I've got I've had to take."
"No matter where I am, I always know I'm the smartest person in the room."
"It's not my fault I got arrested:  my baby mama turned me in to the cops for dealing because I was cheating on her."  
"I've never done a thing wrong in my entire life.  It's just that people always have it in for me."
"I'm the messenger of God.  If you hadn't been such sinners, God wouldn't have sent me to punish you."
     (All right, all right, the last one's Genghis Khan.)

Also, see the wonderful Top Ten Criminal Thinking Errors HERE.

If the numbers don't fit, change things!

Back on May 13, two weeks after reopening, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that the State of Georgia made it look like its COVID-19 cases were going down by putting the dates out of order - April 26th after May 2nd, and two Sundays in one week - on its published chart of COVID-19 cases, in order to prove that "new confirmed cases in the counties with the most infections had dropped every single day for the past two weeks."  (Link)  And to prove that the reopening was going great!  Huzzah!  Except it wasn't.  

What's that about All Lives Matter?

"A resurgent economy is seen as critical to boosting President Donald Trump’s reelection hopes and has become a growing focus of the White House coronavirus task force led by Vice President Mike Pence."  (AP)  

Which begs the question, why isn't preventing a second, third, or fourth deadly wave of COVID-19 seen as critical to boosting President Trump's reelection hopes?  Especially since the stock market that increased at the reopening dropped like a hot rock through ice cream - almost 2,000 points - on June 12, as COVID-19 spiked around the country.  Oh, and currently COVID-19 cases are increasing around 10,000 a day in the United States.  Doesn't look like we flattened the curve.

I know he says terrible things, but look at all the conservative judges...  Especially Neil Gorsuch...

Image


One of the accomplishments ascribed to President Trump is the appointment of conservative judges and Supreme Court Justices.  Meanwhile, two days ago, SCOTUS refused to hear review a ruling on California sanctuary laws, as well as a several Second Amendment Cases.  And then Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion in the above ruling.  “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,” Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.  As one might expect, many conservatives who now praised him as the country's moral salvation are now calling him "Deep State".  (And far more unprintable things.)

BTW, two things to remember:
(1) Judges don't always vote their party.  I grew up seeing "Impeach Earl Warren Signs" on trees because as Supreme Court Chief Justice, ultra-conservative Earl Warren decided that segregation, suppression of free speech (whether for Communists or protesters), and mandatory official school prayer were all unconstitutional.  
(2) Those who assume that Justices will vote their party (i.e., "dance with them what brung 'em"), are always going to be SOL somewhere along the line.  In fact, this is a damn good thing to remember as a general rule in life.  Otherwise, you're gonna end up crying over The Tennessee Waltz way too many times.


I'm not a doctor, but I play one in my mind

Among many other current arguments in what I like to think is the fringe (but is rapidly becoming the back and sides as well):

"It's no worse than the flu."  
Tell that to the people who, after 60 days, are still sick with COVID-19, the ones who have had major organs compromised (apparently for life), and what about the guy who got a 1.1 million dollar hospital bill?  Oh, and since we have neither treatment nor vaccine, the current mortality rate is averaging about 6%.  It's 0.1% for the flu.  (I know, percentages are hard... look it up.  There are websites that will explain it to you.)

"I don't wear a mask because masks make you sick!  You breathe all that CO2 and you're gonna die!  You've got to have as much fresh air as possible!"  
My dears, if masks make you sick, then every surgeon, physician, nurse, and lab technician must die extremely young.  And they should all, obviously, be in ICU right now, as patients.  BTW, you don't have to wear masks in your own home, or in your car, or when you're taking a (socially distanced) walk outside.  

"If masks were so good for you, why didn't they tell us to wear them from the beginning?  Huh?  How can you trust the doctors if they keep changing their minds?"
So, if the antibiotic isn't working on your gangrene, you shouldn't listen to your doctor when she changes your medication in search of something that might work?  

If you think I'm exaggerating, check out this video of Orange County residents protesting against a requirement to wear masks.  Notice the reference to "I am a sovereign citizen" (and read my 2012 blogpost - https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2012/08/sovereign-citizens.html - about this unmerry loose rubberband of hoaxers and victims).   


The gist of the anti-mask crowd is: "It's so inconvenient etc. for me to wear a mask, so rather than protect the elderly, or those with pre-existing conditions, or even my own family & friends, EVERYONE ELSE STAY HOME FOR MY CONVENIENCE!"  (At least they're easy to avoid - they're the ones not wearing a mask.)
And when they say, "I'd rather die of COVID-19 than live in fear and wear a mask all the time", all I can say is (1) death is far more inconvenient, and (2) if you're scared of dying of CO2 poisoning from wearing a mask, I think you're going to be terrified when your lungs and kidneys collapse from COVID-19.  

Also, scientists change their minds after experiments and research have proved that their hypothesis was faulty.  They don't keep doing the same damn thing over and over again, even when it's proved ineffective, expecting different results.  That's why the call it science, instead of magic.  

A Great Number of Logical Fallacies Revolve Around Bulls&8t.

Ad Hominem - or the Personal Attack.  From Crooked Hillary to Racist Clementine, Sleepy Joe to Moscow Mitch, we've heard a ton of them.  Most of us will have been on the receiving end of them, especially in junior high.  The key is to ignore them all.  

A subgroup of this is Guilt by Association - where a person is vilified for "associating" with someone else.  Thus the 75 year-old protester Martin Gugino (peace activist with Dorothy Day's Catholic Worker Organization) was called "Antifa" by our President.

Another subgroup of this is Guilt by the Past.  Example: After Tamir Rice, the 12 year old black boy was shot by a Cleveland cop for playing in a park with a toy gun, "The Northeast Ohio Media Group investigated the backgrounds of the parents and found the mother and father both have violent pasts." Which has nothing to do, of course, with a little boy playing in a park.

Strawman Argument - where one attacks a position the other doesn't really hold.  

“You're against the death penalty. You want to set murderers loose to kill again.” (Instead of arguing what punishment murder should get, this accuses you of wanting murderers to be allowed to run amok in society.)  

Pars Pro Toto, or "The Part Taken for the Whole" - Used - often extremely successfully, to divert attention away from, and even to ridicule, a particular case.

"We must save the children in Yemen."  "No, first we must stop all abortion."
“We must save the whales.” “No, we must save all the creatures in the sea.”
“Black lives matter.” “No, all lives matter.”

(My favorite response to the last one was when a conservative acquaintance announced his birthday on Facebook only to have someone - not me, sadly - respond #AllBirthdaysMatter.  Really pissed the guy off.)  
Slippery Slope - This is used over and over and over again.  Among the most popular in the US are:

"Same-sex marriage leads to bestiality."  (Louie Gohmert, Rick Santorum, and Ben Carson, among others, have all used this argument.  - HERE)
"If marijuana is legal, everyone will become heroin addicts."  (Classic, going all the way back to Richard Nixon.)
"If you give the poor money, they won't work because they are feckless and lazy, and that's why they're poor in the first place, so you should never just give the poor money because it won't help them, it will just make them lazy." (This one is a double decker of Logical Fallacies, because it combines the Slippery Slope with Circular Reasoning.  Used frequently to gut SNAP, etc.)
"Give teenagers birth control and all they'll do is have sex and get pregnant." (Actually, the opposite is true - see HERE)

False Dilemma - You're given two options, black or white, which do you choose?  Except that there is probably at least a third option, if not a lot more.  

“Either we go to war, or we appear weak.”  (Ever hear of diplomacy?)
"The only economic options are unfettered capitalism or communism." (There used to be a wide range of economic theories and practices - remember mercantilism? - but that was back in the 18th & 19th centuries when, apparently, people had time to think about such things.)  
"Either we open the country to restart our economy or we keep everything shut down."  (How about if we increase our testing and contact tracing abilities first?  How about if we mandate certain rules for how we open and what we have people do?)  

Meanwhile, all of these, and many more can be found at the following websites:


Good reads. After all, it's always good to know what kind of bulls&&t's being handed to you, and how to refute it.

† "We have courtesans [hetairai] for pleasure, concubines for the daily tending of the body, and wives in order to beget legitimate children and have a trustworthy guardian of what is at home." Appolodorus, Speech Against Neaera (Link HERE)

04 June 2020

Roadkill


I had another blog all written out for this week, about the death of George Floyd, the ongoing protests, peaceful and those that morphed into riots, the government's reaction, etc. And it was pretty good. But other people have said it better.

In fact, I summed up pretty much all I had to say about protests and powerlessness in an earlier blog, which you can read here: https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2014/12/absolute-powerlessness.html

So instead, I want to talk about roadkill.

We've all seen it, every day. Some of it's so old it's easy to ignore - just a stain on the road. Deer carcasses last longer. It used to be that either the person who hit the deer would take it home and eat it, or the knacker man would come by and pick up dead carcasses, but now they lie there and rot for a long time. Deer and possums, skunks and raccoons, cats and dogs, squirrels, snakes and turtles.

Of course, some animals are very hard to avoid. Squirrels, as most of us know, are adrenaline junkies if not downright suicidal. They race back and forth across the road, and sometimes, just as you think you've managed to avoid the damn thing, it races back right under your wheels. I've killed a few squirrels in my day.

And we've all seen deer leaping across a road at night, in some frenzied attempt to get somewhere. When we moved up to South Dakota, back in 1990, we naively asked why we needed auto collision insurance, forgetting that young guns get drunk and drive fast everywhere. And old farmers: well, there you are, doing the legal limit of 55, and instead of waiting for you to zoom by, they pull out in front of you doing 20. I've stood on my brakes many a time. Anyway, we were told that up to 50% of all collisions in SD were with deer. Sort of like with moose up in Alaska, Maine, etc.



So far, I've been lucky and haven't hit a deer. But I do have a friend who hit a cow, at night, at a speed that caused the cow to ride up the car hood, through the windshield, and partly on him. He ended up with long lines of stitches on his face that would gain him street-cred in prison if he ever had to go there. Whenever anyone asked him about it, he'd always growl, "Yeah, but you should see the cow."

Meanwhile, I always wonder about the cats and dogs and other smaller mammals. Accidents or on purpose? You'd have to have been there, I guess.

But I know about turtles. That's on purpose. You can always miss a turtle. They do not - I repeat - do not move quickly. I've been behind too many trucks and seen them deliberately swerve in order to hit the turtle.

A 1996 study done in Ontario, Canada, noted that a lot of reptiles were killed where vehicles usually don't drive, i.e., the side of the road, the median strip - in other words, it was done on purpose. So in 2007, they set up a research study using reptile decoys of snakes and turtles. The found that 2.7% of drivers intentionally hit they decoys, "speeding up and positioning their vehicles to hit them". And (sadly) male drivers did this more often than female drivers. "On a more compassionate note, 3.4% of male drivers and 3% of female drivers stopped to rescue the reptile decoys." (Wikipedia)

BTW, I'm one of the drivers who stop to pick up turtles and move them out of the way. They have a tendency to express their gratitude all over my feet, but hey, that's the way it goes. If an alien ever picks me up and carries me across a road, I'll probably be expressing fluid gratitude myself.

In most Native American cultures, turtles represent "healing, wisdom, spirituality, health, safety, longevity, protection, and fertility. Some Native Americans believe that the turtle contributed to creation because the turtle dove into the primeval waters to retrieve mud to create Mother Earth. Additionally, the shell of the turtle represents protection and perseverance... Lakóta mothers make a leather amulet shaped like a kéya (Lakóta for turtle) for their newborn babies. Within, they place their child’s umbilical cord and sew them closed for protection. The amulet keeps the child grounded and connected to its mother and Uncí Maká [Mother Earth]." (Native Hope)


Why would someone deliberately swerve to hit a turtle? Smash its back, leave it splayed out and broken and bloody and drive on? I don't understand it, but I know why they do it: 

Because they wanted to kill it. Because they wanted to kill something.

And I know something else: I don't want a person who would kill a turtle anywhere near me. I don't want them in my family. I don't want them in my place of employment. I would not hire or recommend them for any job. Especially for a job in law enforcement of any kind, whether as a police officer, corrections officer, border patrol officer, etc., etc., etc.

Because they like to kill things.

Maybe we need a new question on job applications:

"When I see a turtle by the side of the road, I ____"

There are a lot of scavengers in the world - coyotes, jackals, vultures, maggots, blowflies - that come out of nowhere and grab and loot whatever they can. And in times of protests and riots, they get all the attention, because - and this is just the brutal truth - in this country (and many others) property gets a whole lot more respect than people, especially the poor or minorities. "When the looting starts, the shooting starts" was said in 1967 by Miami Police Chief Walter Headley, in 1968 by presidential candidate George Corley Wallace at a campaign rally, and a few days ago by President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, not a lot is said about the systematic looting of our money and property by corporations and the wealthy through tax breaks, tax shelters, special rules, deregulation, and the highly under-reported and frequently used eminent domain (for dams, condos, fracking, pipelines, border walls, shopping malls, golf courses, etc.) See: Wikipedia and also see 7 Maddening Examples.

Scavengers - of all kinds - aren't good.

But you know something? Scavengers only show up after the killers have done their work. "Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather." (Matthew 24:28)

21 May 2020

Tales From the Waffle House and other 24/7 Adventures


by Eve Fisher

Once upon a time in Hollywood - my Hollywood - I spent an awful lot of time with an old black bluesman named Solomon at a place called Ben Frank's on Sunset Boulevard.  I just looked it up, and it's listed on Rock and Roll Roadmaps, and it still exists, only now it's Mel's Drive-In.  (???)  But I liked it the way it was, a 24/7 place where Solomon and I could meet over coffee and cigarettes and sometimes a little food and endless conversation.  We often got kicked out, not because we were there too long - there was no such thing, at least not late at night - but because Solomon would have a tendency to eventually go off on a rap about how the only religion that embraced the full erotic aspect of God's love was Hinduism (and he waxed very poetic), and then hit on the waitress, who usually thought he was a dirty old man.  Maybe he was, but he was a damn good friend - in fact he saved my life one night at a place called the Free Church, which is a whole 'nother story, that maybe I'll tell another time.  And I love a good long conversation on something besides the weather and politics. 

That - and recovery from hangovers - is what 24/7 restaurants are for. 

Check out Waffle House.

Everyone who's ever lived in the South has eaten at Waffle House more times than they can count.  Open 24-7, there's no where else in many towns open at 3 AM where you can get coffee, breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  If they ever add beer to the menu, no one would ever leave.

The motley assortment of people at a Waffle House at any time must be seen to be believed - Sunday churchgoers and the local homeless all chowing down together - but there are those who only walk by night, and they know where they can come.  Granted, the glaring lighting and 3 sided floor-to-ceiling windows are hard on the hung over.  But that's the price you pay for pecan waffles and an accessible bathroom.

And then there's the floor show:  how many places, other than Benihana's, have their chefs in constant view of the clientele?   I've sat there many a time, feeling a little rocky, watching the master chefs of Waffle House flipping burgers, eggs, and hashbrowns all the while tapping, singing, dancing to the radio and/or joking with each other, flirting with the waitresses, and (in olden days) smoking like chimneys without dropping ash anywhere but the floor.  Amazing.

I remember when the local Waffle House in Bristol, TN was taken over by a Yankee manager.  The guy - young know-it-all type - came in and started giving everyone hell about all kinds of stuff.  Not that anyone was paying attention.  They figured he'd move on sooner or later, and if they had anything to do with it, it would be sooner.

"He wants me to go out and chip weeds in the parking lot," said our favorite late-night waitress.  "Now I ain't doin' that.  And I let him know it.  He said he'd fire me.  I said, when do you think I'm gonna find the time to do that?  He say, you can do it when things are quiet 'round here.  When does he think that is?  Four a.m., and it's pitch dark?  I'm not going out there.  And at five, all them people from the factory come in, they shift over, and I'm running the counter like my ass is on fire?  I don't think so."

Another order he gave - to our favorite day waitress - was that she quit putting raw rice in the salt-shakers.  "Where is that boy from, anyway?  Don't he know that if you don't put rice in the salt-cellars, they gonna turn into Lot's wife?  How else you gonna made that salt flow?  He ain't never been here in July or August, that's for damn sure.  You want your hash browns smothered and covered?"  Hell yes.

There was also the time when the carnival came to town, and apparently one of the carnies made off and made hay with the girlfriend of one of the cooks.  The cook didn't take it well, especially when the carnie showed up at the Waffle House for sustenance before the carnival took off on Monday morning.  Let's just say that no one was chipping weeds in the parking lot that day but the carnie, and it was mostly with his teeth, as the cook bounced him around the asphalt.

And there were always drug deals in the parking lot, the homeless / wino regulars taking a snooze in that back booth that's almost out of sight of the windows, the constant gossip, and the police who ignored all of it, because they wanted a pecan waffle, too.

And we were all snobbish with it.  A Waffle House in Wytheville, Virginia.  Everyone's smoking, including us.  It's raining outside.  Inside, a nice thick haze of cigarette smoke, frying onions, waffle batter, burgers, grease, and coffee.  Perfect.  A car pulls up outside, New York license plates, and a couple gets out.  They walk in, and the woman looks around and asks, "Where is the non-smoking section?"  The waitress didn't miss a beat:  "In New York City."  The couple left, and the entire restaurant clientele stood up and applauded.

Of course, I enjoyed 24/7 restaurants more back in the day when I was apt to be up and around 24/7.  (Now I consider 9 PM seriously late and generally don't answer telephone calls after 8.)  When I was in my early 20s in Atlanta, in between Waffle Houses, the go-to places were the Majestic Diner at Plaza Drugs and Doby's, both on Ponce De Leon.  (Photo at right thanks to GA State Library Digital Collections.)

Doby's Good Food restaurant exterior on Ponce de Leon, 1980Back then the Majestic was just known as Plaza Drugs, and was known for its drugged-up clientele.  We Doby's customers liked to think we were a little more normal, but come on, when you have people walking other people in on a leash at midnight, there's nothing normal going on.  Except for the fact that the walker and walkee were both just showing off.  But at least we knew it was abnormal, and we showed our disapproval by ignoring them, despite their doing everything they could to get our attention.  The waitress' attention.  Somebody's attention.  Anyone's attention.

NOTE:  The worst thing in the world is to be deliberately, flamboyantly shocking and depraved and have no one pay attention.  😉  That is the tragedy of adolescence - temporary or permanent - in a nutshell.

Anyway, I was a Doby's fan, because they had better food.  And it was cheap.  Back in the mid-70s, you could get a vegetable plate (four veg and cornbread or biscuit) for probably $2.00, and breakfast with meat for $2.75.  A 3-piece chicken dinner would run you about $3.25.  I remember this, because we were all poor, doing our starving artist thing in the Little Five Points and North Highlands areas.  Mary Mac's (which is still around) was too expensive for us.

But again, the real purpose of 24/7 restaurants is a place where a group of people could sit over coffee and conversation for hours.  Face to face, laughing, talking, gossiping, arguing, exchanging ideas and dreams, plans and artwork, for hours.  It was great. 

And I think that's what I'd have missed the most if I'd been born in, say, 1990-2000.

Because before the pandemic, the smart phone arrived and ate up the entire attention span of a multi-generational group that apparently had had enough of people, and wanted to spend all their time texting.  From grandmothers to kids, it's been all eyes and thumbs on screen, for years. 

So, why are they suddenly hungering for other people's live company?  I mean, we've all seen it:
  • the people in a restaurant, everyone on their own smartphone, no one talking;
  • the people in a park, on their smartphones, while their kids played and occasionally begged for their attention;
  • the people walking, on their smartphones, never looking up (one walked into our parked car at the grocery store a few years ago, looked at us, shook his head, stepped to the right, lowered his head, and kept going).
Smartphones destroyed riding on subways and buses.  The sights you used to see!  I'll never forget Rughead in Atlanta, who spent all day long riding MARTA, wearing the worst wig in the world, stapled to his head...  Or all the tags of conversation, which I would note down in my little scribble book.  "Ain't no way I'm gonna tell my sponsor everything, even if I am working my program.  I'm not going to prison, even for my sobriety."

Smartphones destroyed the old coffee shops.  Starbucks is simply a vendor of hot liquid; nobody sits and talks there, they're on their tablets or smartphones or laptops, but no one talks.  And coffee shops, from the 1600s on, were all about talk.  That's what they were for.  Ask Samuel Johnson.

Anyway, you'd think the smartphone crowd - like the militia / survivalist types - would be the last people to be bugging out during this time of social distancing.  But no.  Joni  Mitchell was right.  "You don't know what you've got till it's gone."



Maybe some day we'll all get talking again.  And make some new tales to boot.

Stay well, stay safe, stay home.

Meanwhile, Blatant BSP:

Check out stories by yours truly:

"Brother's Keeper" in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, May/June 2020.

"Pentecost"  in Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology, SleuthSayer Elizabeth Zelvin, editor

"Embraced"  in Startling Sci-Fi.

Startling Sci-Fi: New Tales of the Beyond (The NEW Series Book 3) by [Adam Sass, M. P. Diederich, Eve Fisher, Mike Algera, Brian T. Hodges, Charlotte Unsworth, Jhon Sanchez, Scott Lambridis, Stefanie Masciandaro, Casey Ellis]AHM_MayJun2020_400x570



07 May 2020

One Bite at a Time


Before COVID-19 I was a regular volunteer at the local penitentiary, what with AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project - Sioux Falls, of which I'm president) and the Lifer's Group (of which myself and my husband are the official volunteer supervisors).  This meant I was down there pretty much every week, and sometimes more than once.  Well, that came to an abrupt end.  No visitors, no volunteers allowed, for the foreseeable future.

Yes, I miss them.  And I've been trying to maintain contact.  I have permission to write to them, as long as the letters are non-personal and revolve around AVP or the Lifer's Group, and I do not put my personal address as the return.  And since I can't get in to get any responses they send to the in-prison chapel mailbox, it's a one-way communication.  Kind of frustrating.  But I keep doing it.

I know many people today feel - and say - that social distancing, and COVID-19 lockdowns are like being in jail.  To which, my simple answer is, no, it isn't.  Not at all.

A typical cell at SCI Phoenix, with room for two inmates. Mr. Cosby has not been given a cellmate yet because of security concerns.Not unless you're spending your social distancing in a 6' x 8' concrete room with one wall that's nothing but bars, and inside the bars is a toilet, and against another wall are bunk beds, and you share this space with another inmate.  Who you may or may not like, but you probably have to live with, because if you refuse to share, that's a violation, and could land you in the SHU, which is an even smaller room, with even less stuff in it.  Not only that, there are guards who make sure you stay there up to 23/7, and enforce a wide variety of rules on behavior and speech that have to be read to be believed.

So, no. Staying at home is not at all like being in jail.

But we can learn a lot from inmates. And the first thing is how to do time.  It seems that to a lot of people, six weeks is way too long to have to be stuck indoors.  What if you had to do a year?  (There's a good chance there will be no effective vaccine for at least that long.)  What if you had to do more than that?  How does a person do a long stretch of time?  Well, one of our best inside facilitators, lifer Mighty Mark, said, "Well, it's like eating an elephant.  You take one bite at a time."

Every inmate has to learn - even if they're in for a short sentence - to NOT think too far ahead.  To NOT focus everything on their exit day (if any).  To NOT fume and fret and demand more than they can have.  To accept, in other words, what their situation is.  And then live, as much as humanly possible (and we are all human and frail) in the moment.  Right now.  This bite.  Chew.  Swallow.  Bite.  Repeat.

The big mistake most people do when they find themselves in confinement is to focus all their attention on:
(1) how horrible their situation is.
(2) how unfair the lawyer / judge / sentencing system is.
(3) how are they going to survive the next ____ months / years?
(4) how much the next ____ months / years is wasted time, time they'll never get back, no matter what, and it's just unbearable.
(5) how everyone has abandoned them.
(6) how alone they are.
(7) how useless / hopeless / tasteless everything is.
And on down the a long, long, long negative list of emotions, facts, realities, that are indeed unmistakable and undeniable.

A lot of them - especially the young men - lash out, towards themselves (there's a lot of cuttings, self-harm, and attempted / successful suicides in prison), towards other inmates (a lot of aggressive posturing, attacks, fighting), and even towards the COs (which never ends well for the inmate).  Some of it - even sometimes the self-harm - is showing off, to themselves and others that they've still got what it takes.  That they're the man, and no one better mess with them.  Rising in the pack, hopefully, to Alpha male.  The angriest - and ironically the most wounded - spend the most time in the SHU (solitary confinement), because not only is isolation the punishment for violence, but it's also where they put the suicidal.  (And those who are contagious.)

But, as the young inmates age, many of them come to realize that it doesn't work.  That sinking into violence or despair, aggression or depression, does nothing but make the time go longer and longer and longer...  And they realize (especially the lifers) that they have to make a life, a whole life, where they are.
Including friends.
Including hobbies.
Including goals.
Including education, perhaps even a career.
Including happiness.
BTW, a rip-roarer of book is Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo.  Meet Edmund Dantes, sailor, who is falsely accused of treason and imprisoned for life - in solitary confinement - in the Château d'If (which still exists - see photo on the right).  After 8 years of solitary, he's suicidal, but then the Abbé Faria - digging his way out, a poor sense of direction - ends up at Edmund's cell.  Over the next 8 years, Faria teaches Edmund everything - language, culture, mathematics, chemistry, medicine, and science - so well that, after Faria dies and Edmund escapes (read how yourself), Edmund can pass easily as a Count, welcomed everywhere and anywhere.  This is one of the great swashbuckler thrillers, especially as the Count ruthlessly, tirelessly pursues his revenge - but the opening chapters are also a master class in how to survive doing serious time.  And how important education can be.

Another master class is Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, an account of his years in the camps and how people survive horror beyond imagination.  He was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who survived the  Holocaust - barely.  (See the Wikipedia summary HERE or, better yet, read it yourself.  I've read it more than once, and gained something new every time.)
"The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity — even under the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not."
Remember, this is from a man who survived four - yes FOUR - concentration camps.

And there's a story about Viktor Frankl in another book called The Monks of New Skete:  In the Spirit of Happiness.
We had a friend who was in a Nazi concentration camp in the Second World War, a dog breeder, and he was digging in the trenches with the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, and Victor Frankl told him:  "This is where you've got to find your happiness - right here in this trench, in this camp." ...  For this is where we're supposed to find our happiness - where we are now, wherever that might happen to be, in all that we do, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.  To experience happiness is to experience freedom.  No matter what may happen in life, nothing will be able to touch true happiness. ...  So we have come to understand that happiness is not only in our power to attain, it is our duty to attain.  - The Monks of New Skete, pp. 312-313
A handy list to help:



And a wonderful video of how they do it in prison, Path of Freedom, with Fleet Maull, a former inmate:


    One bite at a time.
    One beat at a time.
    One breath at a time.
    And repeat…


    And now for some blatant self promotion:  My latest story "Brother's Keeper", set in Laskin, is in the May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  I share space with many of my fellow SleuthSayers - Robert Lopresti, Elizabeth Zelvin, Michael Bracken, Mark Thielman, Janice Law, and many other fine writers.

    AHM_MayJun2020_400x570

    23 April 2020

    Modern Little Plague on the Prairie



    by Eve Fisher

    NOTE:  Due to complete discombobulation last week, I posted this a week early.  But, here it is again, newly updated and with a new section - at the end, don't cheat - on possibilities for crime in a time of pandemic.  Enjoy!

    As some of you may have heard on the national news, Sioux Falls, SD, currently hosts one of the top hotspots for COVID-19 in America, thanks to Smithfield Foods.  With 941 cases just from Smithfield, we were #1 until we got beat by two correctional facilities in Iowa, and they can have the honor.

    Smithfield (which bought Morrell's, and then in turn was bought by a Chinese company back in 2013), was operating like any other meat packing plant, with super-crowded conditions for animals, carcasses, and people, all at super-high speeds, thanks to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, who pretty much deregulated the industry in September, 2019. (See story HERE)  And, lest you think Smithfield was an outlier, meat packing plants are popping up all over the country, full of COVID-19, thanks to a tendency to cram workers cheek by jowl for their shifts.  See "Poor Conditions at Meatpacking Plants" HERE.




    Anyway, Smithfield wasn't transparent - there's a shock - and covered it up from March 25-April 6, when they had 80 cases and couldn't hide it anymore.  So they promised to close the facility for 3 days for deep cleaning. The next day there were 160 cases, and the day after that 234, and it turned out Smithfield hadn't closed for cleaning but was still processing.  So our Mayor and Governor asked for 14 days quarantine and cleaning, and the CEO closed the plant "indefinitely" and put out a snippy letter saying they'd only kept it open so long to "protect the food security of the nation." Yeah, right.

    But I don't want to go into our sorry tale of woe. Instead, I want to post some observations for future mystery writers and historians. Because you know, sooner or later, people are going to start writing about this, and they need to get it right.

    In Sioux Falls, 90% or more of the people grocery shopping - and the clerks - are wearing masks and gloves. The aisles in grocery stores are all one way, and they have 6-foot markers on the floors. But most people are not wearing masks / gloves outside for walks or exercise (including myself) because your glasses fog up and God knows we have plenty of fresh air because here the wind never stops.

    Norwegian Stoicism - In other parts of South Dakota, however, most people are NOT wearing masks or gloves anywhere. And it's business as usual regarding the number of people in the store, etc. And in many areas, someone wearing a mask and gloves is considered pretty much a wuss. They receive rolled eyes or a little sad chuckle: the Norwegian Lutheran version of the Southern "Bless your heart" - which is not a blessing. Of course, the average Norwegian / German / etc. Lutherans are by and large a stoic lot and expect everyone else to be the same. Another reason for no masks / gloves: these are the same people who'll be out in sub-zero weather without hat or gloves, because they can take it. 

    Libertarians - From the get-go of COVID-19 in our state (currently 1,858 cases, 1,659 in Sioux Falls) our Governor, Kristi Noem, has only given directives, and will not put in place official shut-down orders of any kind for any location. "We're not New York", which is pretty much the mantra of many rural areas. Apparently this gives some kind of immunity except in Sioux Falls, which is an urban area, so what do you expect?  
    BTW - one surprising thing is that many people aren't thinking about what happens if Sioux Falls does go all New York City, overwhelmed by cases and deaths. The truth is, if that happens, the whole state of South Dakota is screwed, medically, because guess who's the health care center of the state?  Avera McKennan and Sanford hospitals and all their clinics are here. Where all patients with serious health issues are brought. When Allan had his heart attack in 2010, they airlifted him from Madison, SD to Sioux Falls for (successful) surgery. What happens if there are no beds because COVID-19? 
    Mayor TenHaken tried to get a stay-at-home order for Sioux Falls, but he couldn't get the Sioux Falls city councillors (made up mostly of business owners) to back him, nor some residents, who were "concerned that it violates constitutional rights, is difficult to enforce and will bankrupt business barely holding on as it is. And one pastor called it "a massive government overreach." (Argus Leader) (On the other hand, the front-line workers want it, and want it NOW.)

    Last night, the city council agreed to a "no lingering" ordinance and expanding and enforcing the rule of 10 or less for gatherings.  But the same people showed up to protest:
    Some said they were concerned about what the measures had done to the economy. Some said they didn't believe the virus was really a threat at all, citing stories they'd seen online. Former political candidate Lora Hubbel questioned the credentials of Public Health Director Jill Franken and asked why the public was listening to doctors "who are not elected officials." - (Argus Leader)
    Economics!

    “After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world." - Calvin Coolidge, Jan. 27, 1925.

    Oh, Cal, you don't know the half of it.

    Park Jefferson Speedway in North Sioux City plans a racing event with up to 700 spectators Saturday night.

    Fun fact:  The Park Jefferson International Speedway (above) in Jefferson, Union County, South Dakota, is going to host a dirt track racing event with up to 900 spectators this Saturday.  Our Governor, bless her heart, will not lift a finger to stop it, but did "strongly recommend" that no one go.  And Union County officials, including the Sheriff, say they can't do a thing to stop it from happening.  (Argus Leader)

    Further fun fact:  The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is coming up in August.  This hosts about 500,000 bikers annually, and they spend a lot of money on concerts, concessionaires, etc.  How many people believe that our Governor will stop it?  Or the city councilors of Sturgis, SD?  Pray for us.  But also for yourselves, because most of those 500,000 are from out of state, and they do go home eventually.

    Religious - As someone told me, "Why is everyone so afraid? If you're a true Christian, you shouldn't be afraid of anything, because everything is in God's hands." To which I replied, "Gethesemane." (see Matthew 26:39) Which was a polite way of avoiding screaming, "WE ALL GET AFRAID SOMETIMES.  EVEN JESUS."
    I detest people who try to be holier than Jesus, I really do. Life is hard enough as it is.
    Reminder:  "Courage is fear that has said its prayers."   

    Media driven - There is a distinct difference between the Fox News / Sean Hannity / Rush Limbaugh / OANN / QAnon crowd and the rest of us. Those 6 weeks of presidential golfing and rallies - with the full on support, encouragement, denial, and general "it's nothing!" of Fox News, etc. - pretty much poisoned the well. Today, most of those media consumers still don't believe that COVID-19 is anything more than just another flu, and everyone should just go ahead and get exposed to it.  In the immortal words of Bill O'Reilly, “Many people who are dying, both here and around the world, were on their last legs anyway." (Hill)  So let's let everyone get it, get herd immunity, and whoever dies, dies. 
    NOTE: What's interesting to me is that most of the people who are in denial are the same people who are hoarding. "Well, I thought I might as well pick up that extra bale of toilet paper..."  
    And as for the young people - well, when you're a teenager you think you're bulletproof and invulnerable. I remember it well.  God bless you, and there's a reason I'm staying on the other side of the street.  

    Good Stuff:  On the other hand, people are volunteering, in various ways. They're sewing masks, running errands for the elderly, sending cards, making posters, and helping at food banks. They are Zooming and GoToMeetings and calling like crazy.  (BTW:  FUND THE USPS!)  There's a lot of good going on. A lot of helping. A lot of prayer. And a wonderful team of doctors (including a godson), nurses (including a goddaughter), grocery clerks, USPS workers, police (BTW, here in Sioux Falls, the Chief of Police, a police captain, two lieutenants, a sergeant, an officer and three civilian employees all have the virus), and other front-line workers.  Please pray for them all. 

    But now let's talk about possible future mysteries, thrillers, sci-fi, etc.  

    • Robberies - well, when almost everyone's staying home, how well does B&E work?  However, I'd like to point out that cars must be feeling fairly abandoned.  (You would be amazed at the number of guns that are stolen out of unlocked cars every month up here...  it got to the point that one of the City Councilors even proposed penalizing gun owners who didn't lock their guns in their vehicles.)
    • Kidnapping - Besides the obvious who's going to know who's gone if no one's going out, here's a little scenario.  If plasma treatment is the only thing that works for a while (or longer), what if a group of billionaires - like the ones at Saint-Tropez - with their own medical facilities at their own compound hire / co-opt / acquire recovered COVID-19 patients for future treatment?  (WaPo)  (Might be time to re-watch Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive"...)
    • Scams - going full throttle.  Invent your own, every one else does!
    • Murder - Well, there's lots of opportunities, as always.  Even more, what with the effects of COVID-19 on a body, and the lack of time for autopsies in a pandemic.  And I think it was Brendan DuBois who pointed out on Facebook that giving unregulated medicine to an irritating spouse might be one way of getting away with getting rid of them...  
    • And how does the prevalence, indeed in some places, requirement of masks add to these scenarios and more?  

    Strange times.



    Stay safe, stay well, stay home.

    09 April 2020

    Passing the Time


    I've seen a lot of memes about how Isaac Newton discovered calculus while he (and everyone else) was under quarantine for plague, and how William Shakespeare wrote the poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece.  In other words, get off your butt and do something with all this free time!

    To which I answer, what free time?  I'm still writing blogs, writing stories, keeping up with friends, paperwork for Alternatives to Violence Project Sioux Falls, writing (with the permission of prison authorities) to the inmates, keeping up with the latest COVID-19 statistics, a daily walk, and then there's laundry, constant reading, making face masks and other survival kit, and the weekly foray to find food and other necessities.  I suppose I could also clean the house a little bit, but let's not go too far.  It might break into my reading.  And at night - a girl's gotta have some fun - there's Netflix!

    Meanwhile, let's talk about our reading habits in time of worldwide pandemic.

    Daniel Defoe Kneller Style.jpgSome people are reading Albert Camus' The Plague, and I tried, I really tried, to re-read it, but it was just too damned depressing.  On the other hand, Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year, is a real nail-biter, but also has a lot of mordant humor to it.  (Which is only what you would expect from the author of Moll Flanders and Robinson Crusoe.)  The descriptions of "doctors" and treatment alone is enough to make every Monty Python movie look underdone and insipid.
    BTW, every day for the last two months I've included the daily COVID-19 statistics in my journal, because (1) I'm an historian and (2) I read Defoe's Journal years ago, and one of the things that always stood out to me were the "daily bills of mortality".  I believe in maintaining the tradition.  In the immortal words of Mr. Defoe, "The bills were simply frightful." 
    Meanwhile, if you really want good literature about epidemics, you can't go wrong with the Victorians.  They knew how to write a cracking good yarn, and wallowed in sickbed and deathbed scenes, and all the accompanying pathos and tears, as well as tender moments of love-making on the precipice.  Plus they're long novels.  Like a mini-series, you can binge for quite a while.

    Charles Dickens, Bleak House.  - Smallpox.  Besides being the most bitter satire of the legal system, bureaucracy, and greed that's ever been written, some of the major plot twists depend on a smallpox epidemic.  While I - like many others - find our heroine Esther Summerson almost nauseatingly sweet and self-deprecating (it doesn't help that she narrates much of it), there are enough other characters to make this a great novel.  One of them, Harold Skimpole (supposedly based on the real life poet Leigh Hunt), who is a masterpiece:  free of all the duties and accountabilities of life.
    Bleakhouse serial cover.jpg
    "I covet nothing," said Mr. Skimpole in the same light way. "Possession is nothing to me. Here is my friend Jarndyce's excellent house. I feel obliged to him for possessing it. I can sketch it and alter it. I can set it to music. When I am here, I have sufficient possession of it and have neither trouble, cost, nor responsibility... It's only you, the generous creatures, whom I envy. I envy you your power of doing what you do. It is what I should revel in myself. I don't feel any vulgar gratitude to you. I almost feel as if YOU ought to be grateful to ME for giving you the opportunity of enjoying the luxury of generosity. I know you like it. For anything I can tell, I may have come into the world expressly for the purpose of increasing your stock of happiness. I may have been born to be a benefactor to you by sometimes giving you an opportunity of assisting me in my little perplexities. Why should I regret my incapacity for details and worldly affairs when it leads to such pleasant consequences? I don't regret it therefore."  
    Who among us has not met a Mr. Skimpole?  And what a hard lesson it is when the Mr. Skimpole does to us or someone we love what he does to Richard Carstairs - bleeding him dry of every penny - and to the poor boy Jo, dying of smallpox:  "You had better turn him out." And when Mr. Jarndyce will not turn him out, but nurse him, Skimpole - we find out later - takes a bribe and turns Jo over to the man sent to find and kill the boy.  And no one kills Skimpole!  Bleak House is worth the reading just for the portrait of Skimpole, the ultimate conman.

    Charlotte Yonge, The Trial.  - Scarlet fever (an outgrowth of strep throat) combined with typhus (lice) spreads through the village in the opening chapters, killing tons of people.  In the aftermath, one of the local doctors' families has lost the parents, leaving the oldest son (also a physician) in charge of his 4 siblings.  Unfortunately, Henry Ward is of the pompous ass school of Victorian pater familias, and the conflict between him and his younger brother explodes into violence.  Leonard takes off and goes to work for an old reprobate who's a distant relative.  Old reprobate is killed.  Leonard's arrested and tried, and Henry takes his sisters and leaves for America, where they move to a swampy, disease-filled settlement (that should be named Eden after Martin Chuzzlewit).  What could possibly go wrong?  Especially after Henry leaves his sisters in the settlement to go be a doctor in the Civil War?  Who will rescue them?  What will happen to Leonard?  What does Sir Walter Scott's Marmion have to do with anything?  (BTW - this novel is a sequence to her The Daisy Chain, both of them favorites of C. S. Lewis.)


    Group read: Deerbrook by Harriet Martineau | Virago Modern ...Harriet Martineau, Deerbrook.  - Among the earliest Victorian novels (1839), the real plot is about Dr. Hope, who marries one sister while being in [unrequited] love with the other, and how that works out.  About mid-way through the novel, either cholera or typhoid ravage through a town, causing mass deaths and change.  This was the only novel Martineau ever wrote - she was famous for her political economic theories, which she put forward in a series of surprisingly well-written Illustrations on Political EconomyDeerbrook doesn't have much on political economy:  but it does have a lot of authorial musings about hopeless love, what women should do with their lives, and poverty.  Plus a truly evil neighbor who will do anything - ANYTHING - to prevent her brother from marrying the object of Dr.  Hope's true love.

    Elizabeth Gaskell, Ruth.  - Ruth is a fallen woman, but pure of heart, who redeems herself  by nursing her seducer during a typhus epidemic.


    But, if you're tired of morality and uplifting thoughts, or even thoughts about death at all, why not go further back and dig out a copy of Boccaccio's Decameron Tales?  Ten young people (7 women, 3 men) flee plague-stricken Florence and go out in the countryside (yes, they're young; yes, they have money; yes, they have servants; think all the New Yorkers who fled to the Hamptons), where every day they eat and drink and sit out in the garden, each one telling a tale.



    They are almost all tales of love, trade (they're from Florence, and they're all merchants' children) many bawdy, most surprisingly (?) anti-clerical (in a time when there was no alternative to The Church), some tragic, most witty, and very, very, very entertaining.  Most are very old, retold by Boccaccio for his modern audience (everything was modern once upon a time).  And - if you're ever short of a plot, you could do worse than browse through The Decameron.  (Or Marguerite de Navarre's Heptameron, which often skewered her contemporaries...)

    And let's not forget Chaucer, who lifted a number of his Canterbury Tales from The Decameron, so why not read that, too?  Read about Chanticleer and Pertelote (The Nun's Priest's Tale), The Wife of Bath's Tale ("Alas that ever love was sin!"), the Cook - too drunk to tell his tale; the Knight's Tale (a classic tale of chivalrous love), and the battling Reeve and Miller (whose tales show a miller and a reeve, respectively, being bamboozled and cuckolded).  And on and on and on:

    Thus swyved was the carpenteres wyf,
    For al his keping and his Ialousye;
    And Absolon hath kist hir nether yë;
    And Nicholas is scalded in the toute.
    This tale is doon, and god save al the route!
    - The Miller's Tale

    All of these and more are available for free at Gutenberg! (http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page).

    And most are available for darn near free on Kindle and Nook.


    26 March 2020

    Little Plague on the Prairie:
    The 1918-19 Diary of Anna Eneboe


    Page One of Anna Eneboe's diary, which she kept from 1918 until late 1919:

    Miss Anna Eneboe
    Pierpont So. Dak.
    My day book
    Come read my thoughts

    Anna Eneboe and her Diary

    She was the great aunt of my dear friend Allyson Giles Nagel, who graciously gave me permission to use Anna's writing. The diary is very short, very simple, very spare, written in a small red notebook that's pretty worn after all these years. Anna was 19 years old in 1918, unmarried, and treasurer of the local Independence Red Cross (organized June 13, 1918). Some of the people mentioned in the diary are her older brothers, Henry (called Hank) and Rudolph (called Rud), her two adopted sisters, Lillian (called Lillie) and Agnes, her parents, and her future husband, Bernt Nerland. The family all lived on a farm outside Pierpont, SD, up in Day County, in northwestern South Dakota. Today its population is 135, back then somewhere between 314-400 (the census of 1910 and 1920 respectively). I've guestimated it to be around 380 in 1918.

    Now, before we get started reading excerpts from the diary, you need to remember that the Spanish Flu roared through the United States three times. The first was in the spring of 1918. It was fairly mild and it disappeared for the summer. People believed that it was over. And then with the fall, came the flu, and October - when this diary begins - was the deadliest month of all. 195,000 Americans died that month from the Spanish Influenza.

    Wikipedia – Link
    Victims died within hours or days of developing symptoms, their skin turning blue and their lungs filling with fluid that caused them to suffocate. There was no treatment, no vaccine, no cure. Thanks to WW1 (BTW – the Spanish flu killed more soldiers than died in battle in WW1), there was also a shortage of doctors and nurses back home. And no one, no place was immune. Even President Woodrow Wilson got it in early 1919 while negotiating the Treaty of Versailles in Europe. (Link)

    It's hard not to believe that it was the Spanish Flu's return in October, 1918 that got Anna to writing things down. Not that she knew it, but that month was the peak – but not the end – of the pestilence. But she was well aware that men were coming home from the war, some of them sick, some of them dying. That people all around her were sick, dying, but also marrying and giving birth. And that's what she writes about.

    1918

    Camp Funston Hospital Ward for Soldiers sick with Influenza

    Oct. 14th – Hans Oswood seriously ill at Camp Funston of the Fluenza.
    Oct. 15th – Alfred Nelson gassed in France in August and has been at the hospital since.
    Emil Sanders sick of the Fluenza in Camp Dodge.
    School closed in Pierpont Oct. 14th on account of the Flu.
    Dr. Murphy sick of the Flu.
    Mrs. Eddie Kamestad died in the evening Oct. 14th.
    Luther Hofstad wounded severely in France Oct. 14th.
    Edwin Ronshaugen died in Camp Funston of the Flu., Oct. 14th.
    Kristian Mjolsness was married to Lina Likus Oct. 18th.
    Anna Rindahl was married to Mr. Jensen November 3rd.
    Mr. and Mrs. Monk Osby are the proud parents of a baby boy, born Oct. 3rd.
    Rudolph Baukol lost in action [in pencil].
    Magnus Brindenuven died of wounds received in France.
    Oscar Nymauen died of the Fluenza in Camp grand.
    My Note: "On Oct. 16, 1918, the South Dakota State Board of Health ordered everything closed: Schools, houses of amusement, sporting events, speeches, everything. The order was enforced by police and the Home Guard, a quasi-military force that patrolled cities looking for violations." (Argus Leader)

    SD Historical Archives

    Mrs. Martin Jacobson died of the Influenza in November at Nigdahl Minn.
    The oldest boy of Rev. Danielson died of the Flu at Langford.
    Ole Jacobson’s little baby boy died of the Flu Sunday evening 28th of Dec.
    Henry was married to Jennie Eggen the 4th of Dec. at New Effington.
    Alma Gunderson was married to Dennie Holland in December.
    Selma Liknis was married to Synerk Anderson in October.
    Josie Oswood was married to Boyd Vikers in August at Camp Lewis, Washington.
    Enok Liknis was home in a furlough in Oct.
    The soldiers who came home for Xmas is as following –
    Earl Hutenburg
    Hans Oswood
    Gust Johnson
    Mat Johnson
    Harry Nerheim
    Rev. Husley from France [in pencil – Y.M.C.A.]
    Adolph Eikaness
    Martin Midland - -
    Mathilda Hanson was married to Mr. Olson
    Howard and Marie spent Xmas with us.
    A cablegram from the battlefields of France last week Thursday, conveyed the heartbreaking news of the first sacrifice made by one who spent his childhood days in Farmington, and lived here in the adjoined vicinity on the north, the greater part of his life.

    Henry O. Osness in company with his brother Chester departed from Langford April 26, 1918, with the Marshall County soldier boys of that date, who were sent to Camp Funston, Kansas.

    WW1 Soldiers Returning Home

    A sorrowful group of half-sisters and brothers mourn his loss, also a number of other relatives.
    He is survived by his two sister, Misses Josephine and Anna, and by three brothers, Chester, his comrade, and Theodore and Selmer.
    Three years ago, Henry enlisted in the navy, but was honorably discharged on account of physical disability. He appeared well and was of a happy, jolly disposition. The selective draft admitted him, and he went to death bravely fighting for his glorious country. “Over the top” was his motto, and t’was there he payed the supreme sacrifice.After only a brief time, they were called “over there” and on July 11th Henry gave his life nobly in this great crisis, which the United States was suddenly thrust into and from which nearly the entire world is so grandly, so nobly extricating itself. Henry was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Christian Osness and was born in Newport township, Marshall Co., June 10, 1889. The family resided in Farmington a number of years, during which the children were left orphans by the death of both parents.

    O’er the sea there came a cable message from the battlefields of France.The golden star in their service flag appeals with honor and sadness to Henry’s countless friends here.
    Henry is gone, never hereafter to wake nor to weep.
    Sleep, soldier, sleep.
    Ne’er more the bugle shall call you, call you to fight fierce and long.
    Yours is calm rest. We your memory sacred will keep.
    Sleep, soldier, sleep.
    We gaze at a star turned to golden. That shortly in deep blue did shine. O that in heaven, your soul is in keep.
    Sleep, soldier, sleep.
    “Chester’s Tale”
    Henry was blown to pieces. Half of the body were all that they could find to bury. There’s a little white cross somewhere in France that now marks his grave.

    Aerial photograph of Pierpont,
    Aerial view of Pierpont, SD.
    Pierpont Quasquicentennial - Pierpont SD Facebook page

    1919

    January

    Walter Sletten and Bernt Norland arrived from Camp Dodge Jan. 3.
    School opened again January 6th – met Bernt at the Ladies Aid at Synert Sampson January 9thTheodore Roswell died in January
    Old Mr. Brookings was buried January 9th.
    Born to Mr. and Mrs. Boyd Vikers a baby in January.

    Boyd Vikers and Christ Oswood return home from camp.
    Charly Paulson has been home on furlough.
    Meeting in Falness [Lutheran Church, Langford, SD] Jan. 19 – also to Y P.M. in the evening.
    Mr. Knut Syvertson and Mrs. Dahl was married this month.
    Was at John Enstad Sunday the 12th in the evening.

    21st - has been very lovely weather now for the last days. Today it is foggy.
    23rd – Henry Fossum returned home from Camp Lewis. Oscar Brandly also is home from Washington.Olaf Syre returned home from camp.

    Lillie’s partner was Clarence, my partner was Emil Erickson – we had a very nice time talking and laughing. Played games and so on. Shook hands with Olaf Syre. Hobart Syre and Joseph Nygaard came home today.23rd – very nice weather, social in Hainess school house tonite. Quite a few there. The sum paid for Baskets $72.74.
    28th – had our first trip in the Overland to Pierpoint. Sawsa Brandle’s a baby in January

    My Note The Overland was a "runabout", and the Overland Automobile was produced from 1903-1926. Pa's new vehicle was probably Model 83:

    Overland automobile
    Overland automobile (Wikipedia)
    February

    My Summation: February was cold, snowy, with more running about in the Overland. Alma Asdland died on the 10th and was buried on the 13th, which means the ground wasn't frozen solid. (Not always true in a South Dakota February.) There were meetings, cleaning, crocheting, and an oyster supper, along with one day when it was warm enough to play croquet, and more days when it was bitter cold with snow.

    March, 1919 - the flu returns - the Third Wave

    1st – Sat. – Enstad’s – washed the floors and baked was what Hattie did, and I tried to help her along. Snap’d our pictures.
    2nd – Sun. – kind of nice today. Rudolph came over after dinner. We made up a poem. In the evening we were discussing different things. Told our fortunes, and had a little lunch. Rudolph stayed over night. (In pencil on the side, Mrs. Ole Enstad died this morning.)
    3rd – Mon. – very mild and nice this morning. Rudolph went to Lee’s and then he came back for me. We had a Dakota blizzard going home.
    4th – Tue. – Mr. and Mrs. Carl Sampson a boy. Cold, but clear. Have not been doing very much. 5th – Wed. – washing clothes today, nicer weather.
    6th – Thurs. – Ironed. Jennie baked cookies, I washed upstairs.
    8th – Sat. – Doing the Sat. work in the forenoon and in the afternoon we four girls went to Bakke’s but only Selmer at home. In the evening, Julian and Hattie came over.7th – Fri. – Washed the floors. In the afternoon we went to town. Talked to Chris L. Oswood. Myrtle & Lillie went with us home.

    11th – Tue. – Rud sick of the flu. Very nice weather. Not doing very much.
    13th – Thurs. – Ironing. Colder. Feeling punk tonight. Uncle and Selmer is here.
    14th – Fri. – Sick in bed today of the fluenza.
    15th – Sat. – Sunshine again today. Been up this afternoon. Last year today we sure had a nice time this evening but now it is only memorys.
    16th – Sun. – Home all day. Have the “flu”.
    17th – Mon. – Feel better today.
    18th – Tue. – Pa has the flu today – nice weather.
    19th – Wed. – Nice weather. We are all feeling fine after the flu. Mrs. Huxley died of the flu.

    And then it's done - the Spanish Influenza is over.

    Wikipedia - Chitrapa - Own work

    On Thursday, May 22nd, Anna and the family went "to Pierpont, had a reception there for the soldiers. First time I seen Chester in uniform. The soldiers were seated on the stage. Had Annie Sparks duet and a quartet. Drawed number on a Red Cross quilt and Chester won it. had ice cream and cake. Only one vacant chair and that was Henry Osness." (Whose death, as you'll remember, Anna recorded in the first part of her diary.)
    23rd – Fri. – Lillie and I have been home alone today. The folks been in town. In the evening we went to Pierpoint to take in “The Birth of a Nation”.

    A few more months, barely three pages more, and Anna's diary came to an end.
    My Note: Anna mentions 14 cases of the flu, 6 of them in October, 3 in November-December, and 5 in March. In the whole diary, 12 people die - 3 in October, 3 in Nov-Dec., and the rest in Jan, March, May, two at least of whom died of the flu. Not a lot, right? But in a community of 380 people, where everyone knows everyone else and has since they were born, that's a lot.
    Six cases of flu in October, including the doctor, would have frightened everyone. The whole family coming down with the flu in March would have everyone scared.
    And those 12 people dead - they would leave a hole in the community, from the newborn to the soldiers who never came back. Small towns are tight-knit, and memories are long. Weddings and funerals, births and deaths, all get talked about for years, if not generations. The proof is that we know the rest of Anna's story, because it's still being talked about, in Allyson's family, and now here. Anna continued to live on the farm until she was married. She was an older bride: she and Bernt were married in 1931, when she was 32.

    Lace or floral wedding dresses
    https://vintagedancer.com/vintage/1930s-wedding-history/

    But marriage isn't the end of the story, no matter how happy it was. And while I wish her story had a happier ending, it doesn't: Anna died in 1933, in childbirth, at the age of 34. As you can see from the photo of her in the casket, she was buried in her wedding dress, a custom of the time. The baby died as well.




    Written On The Back Fly-Leaves of her Diary:

    Could we but draw back the curtains that surround each other’s lives, see the naked heart and spirit. Know what spur the action gives. Often we would find it better, purer then we judge we should, we should love each other better. If we only understood.
    I’m getting tired of dreaming. Dreaming of you all day. I’m getting tired of sceming [sic]. Hope I shall get you some day.
    I envy the dimples that hide and go seek, and play with the roses that bloom on your cheek.
    Our eyes have met.
    Our lips not yet
    But O you kid
    I’ll get you yet
    Smile, and the world smiles with you.
    Weep, and you weep alone.

    Anna Eneboe

    Stay well, stay safe, stay  HOME.

    PS - for Anna's entire diary, go here.

    PPS - Other sources for information of the 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic in South Dakota include these article: