Did You Serve?

Years from now, our children and our children’s children will ask us what it was like to live through the Great Covid-19 Pandemic.

WW2 ration stickers

By that time, it will be written about in history books and the subject of documentary films. It will seem distant and abstract to future generations, in the same way that World War 2 seems distant and abstract to my generation.

It is reasonable to expect questions from these young people as they seek to understand the magnitude of what we have gone through. These will be the same types of questions that my generation would ask someone who lived through World War 2: Did you serve? What was it like? Did you support the war effort? Were there things about life on the home front that were unusual, out of the ordinary? How did you feel about the restrictions and rationing that the government set up?

With the pandemic, the questions will be slightly different but they will be analogous to the questions about World War 2. I have listed a few here:

Questions for the WW2 generation Questions for the Covid-19 generation
Did you serve? Were you a doctor, nurse, or other health care worker directly caring for people sick with and dying from Covid-19?
Did you serve honorably?* Did you as a health care worker support and reinforce the public health measures put in place to slow the spread of the disease?
Did you support the war effort? Did you not flaunt or actively oppose vaccination and face mask requirements? Did you do your part to socially distance and cooperate with public health measures?
What was the home front like? How did it feel to have to wear masks in public almost all the time; quarantine or isolate for days, weeks, or months; have schools move online and events cancelled; and make decisions about the relative risk of what would otherwise be a normal, everyday activity?
Did you lose a friend, loved one or family member? Did you lose a friend, loved one or family member?

Two years into this pandemic, I don’t think it is too early to begin pondering what our legacy will be. How well did we handle this crisis? Did we come together as a nation to fight the threat? If not (and clearly, we have not), why didn’t we? What prevented us from doing so, and what will that mean for any threats, domestic or foreign, that arise in the future?

Sadly, people are beginning (or maybe it’s been going on a long time) to view fellow Americans with suspicion, not unlike, I imagine, the French who collaborated with the Nazis and the French who actively fought against the Nazis. That makes it very hard to remain united as a country.

Will this country of the people, by the people, and for the people survive on this Earth?

I hope so. But in the meantime, there is work to be done.


*People presume that everyone who serves in the military serves honorably. However, the facts are that some people do not, and end up being court martialed and dishonorably discharged. It’s not a comfortable question to ask, but it’s valid. There reportedly are doctors, nurses, paramedics, and others who have refused the vaccine, spread misinformation about ivermectin and other things, and distributed counterfeit vaccine cards. This is not honorable behavior.

Racial Justice Teamwork Makes the Racial Justice Dream Work

It’s been called a racial reckoning, a social justice movement, and maybe even a rennaissance. In the nearly two years of upheaval since the murder of George Floyd, there has been an effort for change that shows lots of promise.

From my view, however, this movement won’t move without more awareness, and better coordination. Central to this is people giving up their fractured ways of living and getting on the same path.

In my view, the catalyst for all of this uncoordination is social media. Contrary to the conventional wisdome that social media is empowering, what I see is that it is actually the means by which people stay disconnected and efforts for change remain underwhelming. I may sound like an old fogey by saying that, but hear me out

Case in point: this year in Virginia, Republicans won the governorship in large part due to the candidate constantly talking about the imaginary bogey man of “critical race theory” being taught in primary and secondary public schools.

This claim is absurdly false for many reasons, but that didn’t stop Republican voters from falling for it and electing Glenn Youngkin.

Perhaps people fell for the falsehood because of the volume of unsubstantiated accounts they were hearing/reading in their social media feeds. And here’s the thing: there wasn’t nearly enough pushback from others who knew the facts of the matter. Thus, lies spread unimpeded, like a virus. And Youngkin gets elected.

I think one obvious problem is that people advocating for social change are spending time in a social media sphere that does not at all intersect with the bubble of people opposed to social change (let’s call those people “conservatives”).

Recently, I had an experience that left me wondering about this problem. The college I graduated from put a post on LinkedIn that contained reference to “Latina educator” and a fellow alumni commented with the standard conservative bullshit about identity politics and how those who advocate for change in America are “destroying” this country (his word).

I pushed back by pointing out the flaws in his opinion. Unfortunately, I got little support from either my fellow alumni or the college. In fact, the conservative alumni’s rant got more “likes” than my pushback did. He claimed that he “won” the arguement, and perhaps that is the case (I did not intend for it to be a competition).

So I’m left wondering, where were the social justice warriors? Who had my back in this exchange? Maybe they’re off doing whatever on Twitter or Instagram, planning the next phase of the movement with like-minded people. But that doesn’t help this particular situation.

And the situation is this: given that the goal of social justice work is to call out and challenge the misconceptions and misinformation that support the status quo, perspectives such as those shared by this conservative alumni need to be revealed as what they are and challenged at every opportunity. If this doesn’t happen, then change won’t happen.

I’m not saying that people need to join social media such as Parler where people with regressive opinions take comfort in each other’s company.** That would be like joining the Army to try to change it into a pacifist organization. What I am saying is that when regressive conservative opinion appears on mainstream comment forums, it should not be given a pass.

So next time you see someone going to bat for the social justice team, give them support. Because we are all in this together.


**Parler views those who challenge regressive opinions as censoring free speech. I saw this point of view expressed in the conservative alumni’s emotional rant, that being challenged amounted to “defelection” from the “truth”. I have seen this warped view of freedom, social manners, and consitutionality in other places as well, often accompanied by a tactic where it seems they feel they will “win” the argument if they bluff and bluster long enough and loud enough, and with the right smattering of jargon and insults. But when one tries to probe for nuance, they can’t come up with a logical or coherent arguement.

Health Care and Patient Dignity

So let’s say you are having a medical crisis. Maybe you were hit by a car, or one of your organs are failing, or you suffered a ruptured cranial aneurysm.

The last thing you will be thinking is “how are these doctors and nurses getting paid?”

Trust me.

Of course doctors and nurses must be compensated for their time and expertise. I can’t imagine anyone thinking otherwise.

The issue is that the dying (or potentially dying) patient is not the person who is in the right frame of mind to consider the welfare of the on-duty medical staff.

As I have mentioned previously, Americans are deeply conflicted over who pays for health care. Why this is, is a tangled mess of politics, ideology, and the degree to which one believes in capitalism.

In today’s Washington Post, the art and architecture critic Philip Kennicott has a piece that asks legitimate questions about form, function, and the element of human dignity in health care.

And to that end, he says that certain aspects of our health care system are rendered more daunting than they ought to be by the “inequities in health care, the industrialization of the process and the capitalist mentality that has made what should be a human right merely a consumer service.”

It’s that last bit that gets me.

Free market capitalism relies on people being in the right frame of mind to make choices between competing options. When you are potentially dying, your “right frame of mind” goes out the window.

So how it is that capitalists want us to rely on market economics for health care is, for me, unexplained.

Removing the market from the equation seems like the better option. If you disagree, I’m open to comments.

More Thoughts on Iron John and Misguided Men

I opened my newspaper today to find that the poet Robert Bly has died.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about what is probably Bly’s most famous prose work, Iron John, and how it has weirdly, in my view, been co-opted by conspiracy-believing Trump supporters.

Bottom line is that I felt that these Trump-worshippers were reading something into Iron John that wasn’t there, and wasn’t intended to be there. In other words, it’s my feeling that they have somehow taken their conclusions about how the world ought to be and fit Iron John into that framework, all the while saying that it was the book that somehow launched them down this path toward undying devotion to Trump.

Turns out, I am right. The obituary published in the Washington Post includes the views of Robert Bly himself on the book’s reception:

“I think the men’s seminars were not threatening to the women’s movement at all,” he insisted, often emphasizing that his purpose was in no way to return to chauvinistic or misogynistic models of the past. “A lot of the critics of Iron John missed the point.”

Apparently, a lot of fans of Iron John missed the point too.

Photo: Nic McPhee/Wikimedia

Unfortunately, art and literature do take on lives of their own beyond the control of the artist or author. I’d like to believe that Iron John will not become some kind of bible for this bizarre subculture of American male, but only time will tell.

Sherry Is Indeed a Drink

Back in the late 1980s, I was out on the town with college friends. We stopped at a bar/restaurant for some drinks and a bite to eat. My friends ordered beer or mixed drinks. I ordered sherry.

I pause this story to note that sherry–real sherry, made in Sherry/Jerez/Xeres, Spain–has a not insignificant global market. If you add the sherry copycats, such as Taylor Wine Company, the business is even larger.

When I ordered the sherry, the server was momentarily speechless. As if I was speaking in a language they did not understand. As if I had asked to take them outside for a quick bam-a-lamma before we got our drinks.

The flummoxed server said, “What, you mean like cooking sherry?”

A reasonably priced sherry, thus one of my favorites. (Photo: unknown)

I pause the story to say that cooking sherry is an abomination created by a misanthrope who wants all people to be miserable. It is some sherry-like substance adulterated with so much salt that if one were to drink it, one would swear off the stuff for eternity.

I said, “No, like sherry. You know, the drink?” I wasn’t sure I was getting through.

The server had to excuse themselves and disappear for a bit, I guess to find out if sherry is actually a thing.

Sherry is indeed a thing. It is the product of a complex process that involves old wine, new wine, distilled wine, and a fermentation and oxidation process that brings out complex flavors rarely found elsewhere. And the good stuff is made exclusively in Spain.

Somewhere along the line, sherry obtained a reputation, and not a good one. It was what old ladies drink. And not just any old lady. Rather, the old lady who claims to never drink but somehow has a (large) glass of sherry every night. Thus, hypocritical, sanctimonious old ladies.

(Hypocritical, sanctimonious old men, I guess, are supposed to drink scotch.)

I wish I knew where this reputation came from because it is undeserved. Sherry has several forms, from very sweet to bone dry. My favorite style is medium amontillado (yes, that amontillado, of the Edgar Allen Poe fame – something one would die for, yes?).

Back to my friends in the restaurant: the server eventually returned and served me a glass of something. It was not cooking sherry because it was drinkable. But I have to wonder: if sherry was not something that this establishment normally served–judging by the server’s blank reaction– where did it come from? Did someone run out an buy a bottle just because of me? I was not shown the bottle it came from, so I will never know for sure.

Undeterred, I continue to have sherry in my repertoire to this day. But I do wonder about the server. Are they still pondering over what sherry is? Or have they come to accept that it is a legitimate, non-stodgy staple of any well-stocked bar?