Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Vlad's Therapist


"Hate is a fire that is best put out with kindness." - Anonymous

"...okay, Vlad, let's set aside your religious upbringing. I think we've established your deep connection with your mother and the Russian Orthodox Church and how your religious beliefs have driven your governing philosophy. Can you tell me more about your father and your feelings toward him?"

"Sure. He served in Russian Navy before the German aggression, and then fought as an infantry soldier involved in the defense of Stalingrad. He was severely wounded, but was very brave. Our relationship was never very close. He preferred spectator sports, but we played chess regularly."

"I like playing chess myself, Vlad. So, it sounds like you desired a closeness he never gave."

"It is not about closeness. He was pawn. A pawn for righteous cause, to be sure, but still pawn. I am grateful for his sacrifices, but I aspire to achieve more than he ever dreamed. This world is here to be taken or taken away, and I resolve to do the former."

"What I'm hearing is that your ambition is a priority for you. Have you made any lasting friendships along your ambitious journey?"

"Friendships are lie about joyful give and take for mutual benefit without external gain. In my life, I cultivated connections that would establish pyramid of power that would be unbreakable. Friendship plays no part in that accomplishment."

"What about your daughters? Do you have a good connection with them?"

"I am strong influence with them. They will receive good education and live productive lives."

"Do you tell them you love them?"

"My actions of giving them safe place to live and to thrive are the most loving gesture any father could make, no?"

"No, Vlad. Individuals are not purely utilitarian. Sharing hugs, playing games, singing songs together are the foundation upon which people build meaningful lives alongside friends, relatives and even strangers."

"There can be no hugs without safe place to live."

"True, Vlad, but a safe place to live can be a tomb if there is no love."

"I will think on this, doctor. Now I must go. Siege of Mariupol needs guidance that only I can provide."

"One last question. Do you find the deaths of others pleasant when you rationalize the need for expanding the so-called safe space you seek for your country?"

"Necessary. Yes. But pleasant? That is emotion for those without ambition."

"Thanks, Vlad. I agree. Sometimes a solution is painful. Sometimes a sacrifice needs to be made."

The office erupts in flame from a small thermobaric device hidden in the chess set the therapist had brought along. It was not closely examined upon entering the east wing of Vlad's palace. Hours later the charred remains of two bodies drenched in fire suppression gel are identified and eventually interred.

Over the following weeks and months, tears are shed for one of the two humans killed in the fire. The expansionist, Russian pyramid of power didn't topple immediately. Still, it no longer had such a pointy crown at its apex and the global and regional happiness index went through a notable inflection point upward.

"Kindness can be a breeze that goes unnoticed by some." - Anonymous

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

War and Faith

(contains violent imagery)

The past few weeks have been beyond crazy and exhausting. The Ukrainian morning ripens into day, decomposes into night and sprouts into morning once more. This morning's sky has a particularly dark eggplant hue. Can you tell I've been dreaming of fresh produce? The Russians have had the city under siege for seventeen days leaving us nothing to do but ration our supplies and wait. Now our backpacks are overflowing with whatever food we can pack in them. Even my daughter Maritza, a stalwart vegan, nods in stoic agreement as I hand her cheese and canned herring to stuff in her pack. Exiting our home of twenty-one years I see tank silhouettes on the ridge to the East.

We head up the block with the flow of disheveled refugees. The peace talks may have failed but it was finally agreed to this morning that civilians will have until 0700 to cross the west bridge, on foot only, to designated evacuation areas. My Fitbit reads 0620 so we still have forty minutes to cover the two kilometers to safety. The crowds are a tangle of dreary humanity bundled in multiple layers carrying and wheeling supplies, toddlers and oddly jutting heirloom items that might come in handy paying thier way through refugeedom.

I keep glancing at my Fitbit as time seems to be behaving strangely, ebbing and flowing in spurts. My fear and determination are ratcheted so high the surroundings are all ablur. I attempt to focus on Maritza leading Baba and Luka through the knotty mayhem as fast as they can manage while I carry up the rear playing sweep. But this is no recreational mountain hike; the mantra I repeat in my head is a dirge "no one will be left behind."

Fitbit glance five hundred shows 0627. It is then the first round of mortars launch. The shrieks of people saturate the air and the tanks behind us glow amber among smoky projectile streamers. Ignition flashes light up in sequence with the rapidity of popping popcorn. I can't help but think back to the New Year grand finale firework show which cause me to smile absurdly. Existential fear compels me to check myself; I take in a deep breath and cross my heart in slo-mo, sending my sincerest prayer to the holy Trinity to protect us. Perhaps it's the adrenaline, but my fifty years of contrite belief wells like a geyser. I am supremely confident we will receive holy protection as an epiphany fills me unlike I've ever felt before.

In that moment the violet sky shifts instantly from deep violet to a strange and translucent scarlet. I wait breathless but not a single explosion comes just as we are about to mount the bridge on-ramp. In fact the silence is, to be cliché, deafening. Startled at the soundless quality of I can't resist looking around to find the whole crowd perfectly still in evacuee mid-step. It appears only I am moving whatsoever and and then I spot mere meters above the crowd  dozens of mortar shells and a cruise missile frozen in midair pointing at us like the disembodied fingers of malevolent deities. Something supernatural is indeed underway.

As if to confirm my conclusion, a scene from a Marvel Universe movie unfolds. Giant, white flying behemoths flapping enormous wings glide down from the stratosphere. With six taloned feet each creature seizes half a dozen refugees as they glide through. I too am yanked from the surface by a claw and whisked away without explanation. The speedy, silent rescue has all the qualities of an angelic hallucination with Lovecraftian touches. Once airborne, the flock of feathered monsters take us on a swooping, rollercoaster flight that is more vivid than the highest resolution virtual reality experience imaginable.

We move so fast the wind makes it hard to breathe, but within a minute my family and hundreds of other Ukrainians are deposited in a distant field across the river. Somehow I know it is Poland or some ethereal place that serves as a neutral zone. My heart skips a beat and a lightness fills me telling me we will all be safe. The red-shift time freeze ends as quickly as it began. As the seconds float by the sun tops the mountains to the east. The six legged saviors vanish upward into the sky and people around me begin moving again. The shrieks that had been cut off continue for a split second until each of my fellow Ukrainians realizes we stand together in a safe place. I get on my knees and thank the Trinity profusely, perhaps being the only one who knew a heavenly intervention had just saved thousands.

Then I hear my Fitbit chiming. I resist looking, not wanting to end my prayerful incantation. It grows louder and insistent and so I give in. But, no matter how I strain the digits don't resolve; they are too tiny and gibberish. I close and reopen my eyes which does the trick and I see the dial reads 0601, which doesn't make sense. Had the angels taken us back in time? Wait, I tell myself, why am I lying down? The Fitbit alarm continues chiming and I look around seeing only darkness. And then the explosions erupt all from every direction. Mortars and glass and splinters and flashing light that deafen me as I roll tangled out of my bed onto the floor of a burning, collapsing house. 

A scream pierces the firelit tangle of ceiling fragments and furniture. It is I who is screaming with Baba beneath me. She is a barely recognizable bloody tangle of flesh and intestines. I listen for Luka or Maritza expecting cries so that I might home in on them and help, when an thermobaric weapon concusses demolishing wood and concrete and spreading a wave of flame that I inhale like a demon's holy communion. As I flail on the ragged floor, confusion and noise and heat register only as a hellish contemplation of existence imploding entirely out of my control. With the last beat of my heart I know now no higher power is coming to save us. I am alone and afraid and angry, when all goes dark.


Saturday, March 12, 2022

War: A Reflection

A deep sadness fills me at the moment as fellow human eviscerates fellow human in Ukraine. Not to mention in the other ongoing wars we've forgotten (such as Myanmar, Afghanistan, Yemen and Ethiopia) and numerous other microbattles across the globe. I am a pacifist challenged fighting against the urge to hate the aggressor factions, their attacks and the pain of the victim. Who am I to fall back to hopeful ideology when others are suffering at the behest of angry sociopaths?

I am the loving sociopath, or so I imagine. Deeply felt emotion doesn't come to me and yet I have sussed out living protocols of goodness built upon the idea that although imagined utopias do not exist,  we can always work toward getting closer to such a beauteous Summit.

So what of war? The explosions that tear limbs from people who'd rather be playing video games. The bullets that pierce hearts that could have been thrumming in playgrounds on slides and merry-go-rounds. The Molotov cocktails that scorch the skins of humans that prefer erotic touch with occasional lovers. In fact, War is a supreme manifestation of human misperception of the false dichotomy of Good and Evil. Or rather that is how are minds process War once it has begun, once it affects our lives.

Dare I suggest that the whole of Earth society is a visceral entanglement with the reality of existence. It is absurd to imagine one side of any fight as sacred while the other as purest blasphemy. The complexity of the world we live in is eight billion strong, as our myriad of sapience seeks to stand for eight billion different perceptions of what is Right. 

War is Hell, indeed for the mind wants the darkest myth to capture the essence where human kill human en mass day after day. And yet we live on in this continuum of experience where our hearts cry for freedom for the oppressed, while also crying for the inflation of fuel prices. Which cry is louder at any given moment underscores the spectrum of hurt, absurdity, happiness and sadness and insightfulness and indifference and so on.

I hope that we humans eventually find the wherewithal to forego and capitalize upon our complexities to pursue that false utopian Summit and find an imperfect, yet peaceful Basecamp to occupy for the benefit of all Earthkind.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

B is for Biden

I watched President Biden's 2022 State of the Union address last night, and it deserves a solid B. In hindsight I think that's the best one can expect, given he is a left leaning centrist who came to power just barely eking out fascist Republican populism. Indeed, he rightfully is trying to bring all Americans together with his confidence, and perhaps even all of Humanity. With that said, let me highlight the aspects of his speech I disliked and liked.

President Biden spearheaded his presentation with support for Ukraine and acidic denunciation Putin's vision of violent expansion of Russian governance. He further acknowledged the economic hit the west would take, as the sad fact is most people are more concerned with increases of prices at the gas pump then they are with people who are being oppressed. The sadder fact is for thirty years the super-militarization of all nations has only increased. Too often we have not sought paths of military reduction, which case in point with Russia's nukes, allows a country to get away with such atrocity.

On a personal note, I was most upset with Biden's choice of the meat industry as his central example of how capitalism in America has drifted toward exploitive economics. The irony here is amazingly severe, as animal husbandry is the apex of animal exploitation. Meat industry ethics and the substantial subsidies they garner simply do not jive with compassionate ethics or future looking climate change efforts. Perhaps, Joe thinks the fact that he happily eats animal flesh sends a signal that will garner a few bruise purple votes. Perhaps, but it will definitely get the more ethical on the left thinking twice if they'll vote for him next time around. 

On the positive side, even though Joe Biden is a staunch Catholic, he underscored the right for women to have the right to an abortion. Unwanted pregnancies terminated early on in a pregnancy is absolutely part of a compassionate culture that understands having a child should not be force on anyone. Nevertheless, the missing message is that human education should fully include robust, safe sex and relationship building instruction that enables people to engage in pleasure and personal growth while being able to take prophylactic precautions. I would have been much happier if President Biden underscored this larger sex education issue as a way to minimize unwanted pregnancies in the first place, demonstrating how right and left can work together to a common goal.

Similarly, I was happy to see the President positively support LGBTQ rights, and the rights of any who are persecuted or treated unfairly. He listed off a bunch of legislation, especially the voting rights bill, that would ensure America's otherwise slipping democracy be reinforced. It's heartbreaking that little if any of that legislation will ever be passed. In fact, his final God Bless America charged ending further emphasizes just how American leadership caters to religious faith despite the veritable ineffectiveness of supernatural intervention . No gods were involved in creating the life-saving Covid vaccines; no gods lifted a finger to stop the ongoing Russian invasion, no gods even blink to prevent billions of animals from being inhumanely slaughtered annually; nor will they ever. All these challenges we face can only be addressed by conscientious human beings that come together with compassionate hearts and rational minds to forge honest, caring, science-based policy. Only when our governance realizes this and says it out lout will it get an A grade from me.

(a final note. the fact that Joe Biden's final words after blessing America on behalf of his invisible god is "We'll Get Him!" was particularly ironic and sad. The implication is that the god he perceives as good won't take the time to stop Putin, so we must. The world has hyper-militarized itself in part due to ideological faith, and somehow these supernatural beliefs blind us to the very violent actions we take supposedly in the name of a higher power of goodness. Sorry, the the longer term peaceful path can only be forged with kindness and understanding from that comes from within, not without).