Description

The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

My Animal Saver Device

I got tired of reading about wildlife getting trapped in human garbage. I've seen enough disturbing pictures of turtles deformed by six-pack rings and seabirds strangled in plastic grocery bag handles to want to do something about it.

Trash that is hazardous to wildlife is everywhere: I see plastic rings from milk and motor oil containers, plastic bags, elastic hair ties, packaging ties and all sorts of other items in a ring shapeincluding the dreaded six-pack plastic rings. I find them laying in parking lots, park trails, in my front yard and just about everywhere.

It's hard to just leave it there and walk away, knowing the damage it can do. But who wants to touch someone else's trash?

My Animal Saver Device

I found this tool at Wal-Mart for $3.97 plus tax. Super cheap. They're called "aviation snips." I have no idea what that is or how this device is generally used. All I know is that it works swimmingly well at cutting things.

The package states that it "cuts through 1.2 mm of cold, rolled steel." I can tell you from experience that it does all that and more. You don't need a strong grip for this tool to work for youso ladies (or anyone else with dainty hands), you need not be intimidated in trying this. You can cut through all sorts of metal wire or thick plastic as if it were warm butter. It's quite a rush, actually.

I keep this tool in the side compartment of my car door, so it's readily available. I snip things all the time. Sometimes I carry the objects to a trash bag, but if I have to leave them where I found them, at least I've minimized their threat as a wildlife trap.

I keep a small box in my car trunk to haul stuff away, as well as one of those "arm extender tools" so that I can grab stuff that I wouldn't want to touch with my bare skin.

Not On My Watch

You might think this is the hobby of an extremely obsessive, eccentric person. Perhaps that is true. But I can tell you that this is extraordinarily easy to do. It takes no time at all, and it's not even the least bit dirty. Even a germophobe could do this (speaking from personal experience here)! It's something anyone can do, and that is why I'm sharing it.

I may not save all the wildlife out there, but at least the trash I come in contact with has been rendered safer for wildlife. 

At Home

In my own home, I try to make sure that anything that goes in my garbage can or recycling bin has been properly cut. Any loops or rings (including the garbage bag handles themselves) are cut through. This gives me a little bit of reassurance in the odd chance that what I throw away gets loose somehow.

Items floating around in parking lots are more at risk for coming in contact with wildlife than trash sealed away in a landfill. However, you have to imagine at some point in the future that anything in a landfill can and will eventually get loose again. It may take a million years, but it will eventually happen, and I'd like the wildlife that may come in contact with it to have a fighting chance.

For Further Thought

Consider being part of efforts to ban plastic bags and six-pack plastic rings. Look out for petitions and other efforts. There are more wildlife-friendly options being developed, such as edible six-pack plastic rings. Public pressure can do a lot to speed up the process. There are lots of different groups doing this work. The groups in the previous link are large, well-known organizations, but don't overlook small, local organizations, which are often very effective, as well. You can adopt a highway, either as part of an official group or simply tend to the road in front of your home.

We all have to do our share, because if we don't, who else will?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The (Probably) Perfect Deodorant

I wrote about my quest for natural deodorant alternatives so frequently on this blog in years past that I feel obliged to write this post to set the record straight. I have for the foreseeable future concluded my search. I found a deodorant that works amazingly well, is cheap and seems relatively healthy (there is one very small potential caveat, but we'll get to that in a bit).

The answer is: Milk of Magnesia (MOM).

Yes, the same stuff that relieves constipation. 

You apply it to your underarms in a thin coat. My wife paints it on with a paintbrush. I just pour some on my hands and slop it on.

We haven't noticed any problems with odor, even with heavy perspiration, and we've been using nothing but MOM for about three years. It works as well (if not better) than commercial deodorants, and it by far surpasses any of the other natural alternatives. There is simply no need to look elsewhere. The protection is long-lasting and secure. Case closed, end of story.

MOM works far better than baking soda, which is what I previously used for several years. I'm still a fan of baking soda, but you do have to manage it to get it to work right and not burn out your skin.

The one caveat mentioned above involves the inactive ingredients. In some brands of MOM, there are lots of chemical inactive ingredients. The most concerning is sodium hypochlorite (AKA bleach). I go to great lengths to only use MOM that has no other inactive ingredients besides "purified water." No artificial flavors, colors, preservatives and definitely no bleach. Again, these are listed among the inactive ingredients. All brands of MOM have the same active ingredient--magnesium hydroxide. Sometimes it is hard to find the inactive ingredients on the label, but keep looking, they are there (examples are below).

I buy the DG brand, which is found at Dollar General. I believe the Kroger's brand is also good. There are a few other options that I can't remember right now, but not many. 

One internet commenter made the point that bleach is most likely used to purify the water, and that the ingredient "purified water" may have just as many traces of bleach as the labels that actually come out and specifically list it. The good news is that there are other way to purify water rather than with bleach, so there is at least a fighting chance that bleach is not part of the process for all of them.  Given that generics are often made at the same locations and by the same people as name brands, there is a chance that going out of my way to buy a brand that doesn't list bleach is a fool's errand, but there is at least a ray of hope. I seem to be one of the few who maintains a small bit of skepticism on this. Most are satisfied that the brands that only list the following two ingredients are safe: Magnesium hydroxide (active) and purified water (inactive).

Here is an example of a GOOD brand:
(click for a better view)



The following is definitely what you DON'T want:
(click for a better view)




I can't take credit for this discovery. There are many folks exploring healthy uses of magnesium--both internally as a nutrient and topically to relieve achy muscles and joints and for skin care. This is one of their many discoveries. For more info, check out the Facebook group "Magnesium Advocacy Group." 

MOM has all sorts of other topical uses.

Also, check out this article for similar information on MOM as a deodorant.

As news of MOM as a deodorant is beginning to spread, some companies have seized the moment to build MOM-based products. I suppose they have additional essential oils and fragrances for an additional price, but all that seems unnecessary to me. I prefer my $2 bottle of DG brand MOM. I wonder what the cashier thinks of my colon health when I arrive at the checkout counter with a half-dozen bottles of MOM, but so far that has been the only socially awkward moment in using MOM as a deodorant!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Padmé Amidala: A Feminist Critique

Taken from:
http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Padm%C3%A9_Amidala
Staying up late with a newborn baby is one way to get re-acquainted with movies and late-night television. I've been enjoying the nonstop Star Wars marathons that have been running since May the 4th. It's been a while since I've seen the prequels, and I have to admit I like them a lot better now than I did when they first came out. Yes, I know fans are supposed to hate them, and they do have flaws, but each one pulls me swimmingly into the drama and mystery of this world that George Lucas created. I think they "work" better now than I originally thought.

However, one glaring flaw gnaws at me. Perhaps it is because of this newborn baby girl and our recent experiences with childbirth, but I have been tuning in much more to the story of Padmé Amidala. She's the young woman who marries Anakin Skywalker (the man who later becomes Darth Vader) and is the mother of Leia and Luke.

At a young age, Padmé was princess and then later queen. She was a highly-influential intergalactic senator who was an outspoken advocate for peace and diplomacy during the Clone Wars. She survived several assassination attempts and took part in her own share of gunfights and space odysseys. She also more than held her own with the increasingly cantankerous Anakin. They married in secret and she was pregnant with their twins.

So what happens to her? Here's where I'm going with this: At the moment of childbirth, she simply dies... of a broken heart. Seriously. The robot midwife cannot figure out why she dies, because her body has no physical issues whatsoever.

I hate to stereotype anyone along gender lines, but is this consistent with any woman you know? Despite her incredibly distinguished career, despite being an international leader during the monumentally turbulent times of war, and at the very moment her newborn babies need her the most, she simply gives up and bails out on life. And why, you might ask? All because she makes the comes to the realization (that I'm sure no other woman has ever had) that her husband is actually an a$$hole. Really.

So to George Lucas, I say: It is easy to believe that this story unfolded a long tie ago in a galaxy far, far away. It's easy to believe that Jedi knights bring peace to a galaxy filled with robot droids, marauding bounty hunters and conniving Sith lords. I find it entirely plausible that there would be an intergalactic war between robot droids and human clones. But I find it more than a little far fetched to think that this woman Padmé would simply fall apart 100% at such a critical moment in her life all because of the shock of discovering that the love of her life turns out to be a galactic jerk of epic proportions.

Would that discovery be soul crushing? Yes. Might she go through some post-partum depression and buyers remorse for her marriage? Absolutely. But this woman has "survivor" tattooed on her soul. You would think she would at least hang out another day to see what tomorrow brings. And then another day... and another. I can imagine her wanting to run screaming into the hills of Naboo from time to time. But I can't imagine her just checking out so totally and so soon.

Just check out her bio on Wookieepedia.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

One Year Post Chips

My kitchen counter not too long ago.


It must be going well when the anniversary of giving up an addiction goes by and I don't even notice.

I meant to publish this on the anniversary, but it's a couple days late.

October 25, 2015, is when I stopped my bag-a-day habit of eating chips. I gave away the 4-5 bags I had in the house and said, "I'm not doing this, anymore." 

I probably averaged at least 5 big bags of chips each week, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if I were 7 or more. There were often several bags of varying sizes in various stages of consumption in various locations (car, work, house) at any given moment. Saying it was "a bag a day" habit seems entirely fair.

I would eat exceptionally healthy meals, except for the fact that one meal every single day (if not more) was just chips.

I wrote about this at the nine-month mark, so I figured I needed to write a follow up at the one-year mark.

How did I do?

In short, I basically don't each chips anymore.  I can put a period at the end of at that sentence and stop there.

There were a couple of exceptions and room for growth in the future. The fact that they are so few tells its own story.

Exceptions

To start, I gave up chips without a lot of confidence in my ability to succeed. I had tried so many times in the past. In fact, I was always in a state of quitting only to snap back like a rubber band a day or two later.

It took almost two months after giving up chips before my resolve built up enough that I was ready to make my commitment absolute. In those first two months, I basically gave up chips but indulged a couple times--a significant achievement, despite that. I remember gorging myself on some corn puffs and such at a work gathering in early November. I was lacking in energy and that's all that was available, so I justified it. I think there was one other time, but I can't recall the particulars. It was mid-December when I told myself that those kinds of exceptions had to stop. 

Using food as a crutch in general had to stop. Losing about 15 pounds this year also made a big difference. I basically severed an over-dependence on food in that process. Yes, I can survive without constantly stuffing myself. I can even do quite well in "fasting mode." I can run leaner and tighter. Breaking that psychological barrier helped immensely.

Mexican Restaurant Exception (MRE)

I have also been allowing myself to eat corn chips whenever visiting a Mexican restaurant. My rationale has been that the salsa is just so nutritionally wonderful that it would be a sin to skip out on it just to avoid the accompanying chips. In retrospect, I am not sure that argument holds up very well. I can just put the salsa on top of my meal and avoid the chips entirely. It's great mixed into beans & rice or on top off a burrito, for example.

I previously figured that the MRE was not a problem for these reasons:

1. It was in the context of a meal.
2. It didn't seem to stir up chip cravings.
3. I wasn't going to Mexican restaurants solely to indulge in chips.
4. It was only about once a week.
5. Plain corn chips were never high on my list of cravings, anyway.

That was fine for a while, but lately I do feel those chip cravings stirring.

I believe the MRE is unnecessary and crosses a line, so to begin my second year without chips, my commitment is to scratch this clause. 

Focus

Avoiding chips is much easier when I focus on that goal. Recently, I have taken my eye off that ball, and it's easy to find myself on slippery slopes. Avoiding chips is just part of life now, and I don't need to think about it as constantly as I did several months ago. The problem is that this lack of focus makes it easier to make mistakes. I have found myself almost unconsciously grabbing for chips at a social gathering a time or two. I was once at another work-related gathering, and I saw some corn chips on the counter with some hummus and other dips. It seemed like the MRE scenario, so I had one. The chip clearly had some kind of a Dorito-like flavoring and that crossed a line, but before I could collect my resolve, I had another. Then I stopped.

It is exhausting to be constantly on the watch, but I think it is important to keep it up. Sometimes it feels like I'm holding my breath and it would be good to just let go, but I'm not quite ready for that, if ever.

I find that if I limit my overall carb intake and especially avoid fast food, it is much, much easier to avoid chips. Regular carb consumption as well as all the chemicals put into fast foods make me want to reach for chips all the more. Eating fast food and then expecting to kick a junk food habit is not smart. You're either setting yourself up for failure or at least working severely against the grain. I recently had an Arby's sandwich and had to fight cravings for the next day or so.

In summation, the fact that I can list so few problem areas is a great sign. You have got to understand that I used to plow through a entire large-sized bags of chips on an almost nightly basis. I would plan my days around chips. I made sure they were stockpiled in my car and home. It's like I needed them for my very survival.

Incremental

Struggling with an addiction involves walking a fine line. It's important to make it black-and-white.  You've got to be strict. It's serious--even the slightest exception can bring a crack in the wall, setting the stage for a dam burst later. 

At the same time, mistakes can and do happen. If you beat yourself up so badly if a mistake happens, you can make it impossible to get on the horse and try again. Basically, you've got to make it a positive experience, not one crouched in negativity, guilt and shaming of yourself.

My way of dealing with this is to see it as a process. I am deepening my commitment over time and strengthening my resolve. If this were a graph, I need to see the line going up and to the right. A dip or two isn't a big deal if that's all it is.

I used a similar process when I lost weight. I'm also using a similar process now fasting from unnecessary purchases to better manage money. I start with a modest but significant commitment, and as I gain momentum, confidence and experience, I tighten up going forward.

Going Forward

Sometimes I wonder--what would it hurt to have a few chips? They do taste good and I've clearly overcome this addiction in profound ways. That I have gone a full year without them would have been unthinkable not too long ago. There are times it would seem natural to have a few. However, I still think it's too soon, if ever. The paradox is that I could probably have them again at the moment I no longer want them.

Even one year later, I am continually amazed that I still experience cravings on a fairly regular basis. There are other times when the last chip seems like it was 90 years ago, and it's hard to believe I ever indulged like that, as if it were just a figment of my imagination.

I should not be so over-confident to think that a few chips at a gathering is harmless. I don't need to open that door. I resent the power they once had over me, and I no longer need or want something to have that role in my life. I have found that it's important to set clear boundaries with myself.  Wrestling with those internal demons has been a huge factor here. Opening the door just a little can generate an internal tug-of-war which is not smart--if you wrestle with yourself, you'll lose half the time, since you're equally matched. No, the adult me is in charge, calm and confident, and I like it like that.

I'm not sure how to end this post. I don't think it needs one. Hopefully, there will come a time when avoiding chips is completely second-nature, and for the most part it is already.  But I do have to keep that focus, at least a little bit on some back burner of my mind, at least for now.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Compliant

People say that this man is not compliant:


Quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during national anthem.

People say that this man was not compliant:


Terrence Crutcher with his arms raised before being killed by Tulsa police.

It makes me wonder what people mean when they want more "compliance."

The only image that comes to mind is this:


Black man forced to kiss the boots of a white man in the Jim Crow South.

Yes, that must be what people want.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

All Chipped Out



I stopped a 20+ year chip addiction 9 months ago.

If you have spent any time with me over the years, you know this is a significant achievement.

I used to consume all manner of chips and other crispy carbohydrates--potato chips, corn chips, even crackers in a pinch.

As early as Middle School, I was trading my lunch money for a couple of small vending machine bags of Cool Ranch Doritos and a drink.

My relationship with chips grew until I was a full-fledged carbohydrate addict by my early 20s. I didn't even know there was such a thing as a "carbohydrate addict," but I was one.

It's not an exaggeration to say I'd average at least a full bag of chips every day for the past 20+ years. I'd store bags in my home and car and to some extent structure my day around obtaining chips.

Eating chips had quite a psychological hold over me. It got to the point where I would be afraid to go to bed without eating chips.

I used to live a block away from an all-night convenience store when I was 24. I would often drift away to sleep only to wake up about an hour later, around midnight. I'd walk half-asleep over to the store, make a purchase, come back up to my room, eat about half a bag of Doritos, and then fall back asleep.

My body would go into a kind of shock if I didn't have them. I would often each chips preemptively just to avoid this kind of episode from happening. It was scary--was it physical or psychological? I didn't know, but I just lived within its parameters.

Number Crunching, Chip Crunching

My path out of this started with thyroid cancer when I was 30. In preparation for the surgery and radiation treatment, I had to follow a strict low iodine diet. No chips of any kind were allowed. I must admit that among all the fears I was wrestling with during that time, one of them was the question over how I was going to cope with this diet. Would my body allow it? Would I go into some kind of low-carb shock? Would I cave and violate the diet? I've tried to give up chips time and again only to snap back each time after a brief interlude like a taut rubber band. My confidence that I could go without chips was pretty low and almost completely untested.

I actually made it through the low iodine diet and did quite well sans chips. That was my first confidence boost out of this mess.

I intuitively blamed the cancer on Cool Ranch Doritos. I tried to eat Doritos a number of times since the diagnosis, only to throw the nearly full bag into the trash with anger.

From that time on, my chip of choice changed from Cool Ranch Doritos to salt & vinegar. I started opting for "healthier" chips but otherwise the addiction resumed unabated. Due to the radiation, my mouth became drier and my taste buds duller. The irony is that I could no longer eat Doritos without chasing each mouthful down with some water. The salt & vinegar helped stimulate my saliva glands enough to partially make up for that.

I tried to eat chips that were as organic and healthy as possible--with sea salt instead of table salt, with organic ingredients instead of GMO potatoes or corn, without any unnatural seasonings and with coconut oil, avocado oil or lard instead of processed vegetable oils (the latter being extremely difficult to find).

However, there is really no such thing as a "healthy" chip. The ultra-scorched cooking process to make chips creates some pretty nasty chemical alternations (like acrylamide), and that happens whether the ingredients are sourced organically or not.

At 41, I started to do some number crunching in addition to all the chip crunching. A full-sized bag of chips every day for 20 years equals 7,300 bags and approximately $21,900. What's worse is that those numbers may be understated. What really concerned me, though, was the impact on my health. I could only imagine what legacy that crud might leave on my body after so many years.

A full meal each day was just a bag of chips: My daily routine was breakfast, lunch and chips.

This song hit a little too close to home: The all-natural, healthy food star who at night is a closet Junk Food Junkie, by Larry Groce. I was making some incredible progress in healthy eating with one major exception.

I didn't want to wake up at say, age 60 or 80, and realize that I had ben spending the last 40-60 years pounding a full bag of chips every day. The numbers were already racking up as it were.

It was never going to be easy to stay, I figured, and it was never going to just go away on its own--so I might as well start now. I got so tired of just being a victim and a helpless pawn to this addiction.

I will say that during the last couple of years, my body has been less and less inclined to eat chips. I would very often feel like absolute garbage after eating them. Time and again, that was becoming the most common response I felt. I was getting some push from the inside to wean off this addiction.

Root Vegetable, Root Cause

It is good to get the root cause of cravings. A dose of chips can sooth overtaxed adrenal glands that have been worn out due to stress. The salt replenishes the adrenals, the carbs help produce the calming serotonin and the fats help stabilize hormones and a host of other effects. Given all that, it might sounds like chips might be a nice tonic for stress, so why stop? Well, yes and no. They do address stress, but they also introduce toxins into the system. And there are better ways of addressing stress. People can effectively self-medicate in all sorts of ways, but not all ways are as good as others. Some methods treat symptoms while others address the root causes. Some methods treat one problem only to generate another.

My body's need and cravings for coffee dramatically reduced once I started addressing methylation issues. That's a post for another day.

All cravings have a root cause. Intense sugar cravings, for example, could be linked to inadequate protein intake or protein processing. Address that, and the cravings can lose their grip on you. There could be other reasons, as well, so it is worth researching.

Salts do help calm the adrenals. But table salt is a poor way to treat that. I take a daily regimen of minerals. I use magnesium, natural salts and the adrenal cocktail at different times of the day to balance out.

There was no question that eating chips was filling an emotional void. I used to "stuff" myself to block out other feelings that were bubbling up. It has taken a lot of work to root all this out and get to the bottom of it.

I've done some intense work on myself to root out stress and anxiety. I wouldn't say that the change happened overnight. But I've been putting healthy building blocks in my lifestyle bit by bit, so that when I finally made the decision to quit chips, it wasn't that hard to do it. I don't recall working directly on the emotional side of my chip addiction, but the more I worked on myself in general, I eventually reached a place where eating chips like this just did not fit any more.

Decision Time

So back on October 25, 2015, I just gave away my last remaining bags of chips and that was it.

In the first couple of months afterwards, I did partake of chips and other junk food at least once or twice. One time I was extremely sluggish at an all-day work meeting. I was out of town and there was a long table of snack food. I caved just to keep my energy up. Looking back now, I'm amazed I did that, because I would never do that now. After building my confidence and my resolve in those first two months, I doubled down on my commitment and became far more strict about it. I could never imagine eating a chip now.

It's hard to imagine I was that person stuffing his face several times daily with all manner of greasy chips. They are gone and feel long done. It feels like my last bag of chips was closer to 9 years ago than 9 months. Despite that, I still get cravings. It's amazing how enduring those cravings are. My mouth will salivate as I pass the chips aisle in the grocery store. I still feel the tug. In very relaxed moments, I could easily grab some chips at a party and start munching if I don't quickly remind myself.

Not. An. Option.

What helped the most was laying out some simple ground rules. I am not going to squander my energy in some immense tug-of-war with myself. Me fighting me means that each side loses half the time, as they are equally matched. That's a recipe only to exhaust myself and ultimately continue--or even further entrench--addiction patterns. I've been there and that's nothing but failure.

I simply declared that eating chips is "not an option," and that's it.

There are some things you just don't do--you don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind and you don't pull the mask off the ole Lone Ranger. And I don't eat chips.

Cravings remind me of a rebellious teenager. They will keep testing boundaries until they find a crack in the façade and exploit it. If you "more or less" decide to give up an addiction, that part of you that still wants to indulge will know that your resolve is not absolute. It knows there are conditions under which you'll crack. The voice will simply amplify itself until you give in, or even worse--to create the conditions in your life necessary for giving in.

If this happens, don't blame the voice of cravings--you are the one that left the door cracked open! You've got to take charge of yourself. Whether that's your inner child or just the voice of habit, the adult you has to be in charge. If you resolve to not indulge your addiction 80% of the time and just cross your fingers and passively hope that the addiction cravings don't notice the wide-open 20%, you're kidding yourself.

This doesn't mean that renouncing all addictions must be done cold turkey. There is room to gradually take steps and build resolve. Whatever works. At some points along the way, though, decisions have to have credibility and you have to have the confidence to hold to them.

This is about the adult me being in charge---respecting and listening to the child me inside but making sure the balance is appropriate--with the adult being the adult and the child being the child.

I liken it to the way children are calm when they are around calm, confident adults who have a healthy sense of self and boundaries. This doesn't happen by dominating or belittling the children--it happens through calm, respectful leadership where the adult is in charge. When adults are not so well centered, the balance is off, a power struggle ensues and all mayhem breaks loose. When the cravings of an addiction get the best of you, it's like unruly kids who have taken over a school classroom with the teacher playing defense.

Moving Forward

There is one exception. I will eat chips with salsa/pico at a Mexican restaurant. However, the chips are few and I don't make the decision to go there just to eat chips. The experience of eating those chips does not seem to trigger the former pleasures or reflexes associated with the chip addiction. It just doesn't feel like a chip indulgence. I'm okay with that, and it doesn't feel like cheating. it's just a great way to deliver the salsa, which is one of the primary reasons to go to a Mexican restaurant. I may one day decide to forego these as well, but so far I don't think this is a problem. I don't make any desperate evening taco runs or even include Mexican restaurants more often in my dining rotation (which is rarely more than once per week and often less). I won't buy any chips & salsa to eat at home, as that seems like a slippery slope.

Will I ever eat chips again? Good question. I thought about allowing myself some chips after maybe a year. Going without chips forever seems like a harsh penalty. But I really don't need them and don't particularly like them. Leaving the door open for some future indulgence just feels like that--leaving the door open. No, I think I'm done for good. I don't see any value in re-negotiating any other terms. Opening the door a little just ends up opening the door too much.

I suppose eating a few chips without turning into the lady in the comic at the start of this post would be a good sign that the addiction is a thing of the past. But as long as there are any latent cravings at play here, I won't indulge. And frankly, after 9 months, I really don't miss chips all that much and don't see any need to ever eat chips again.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

As Predicted: Armchair Warriors Have Failed Us



I'm disappointed in my fellow Americans.

But even more than that, I'm just flat out surprised.

I am painfully aware that most Americans are ignorant of history. Few people seem to have any idea of where we came from. Fewer still can identify patterns from the past and apply them to the present or future. 

It's a glaring problem with real-life consequences every day.

History is not just memorizing facts: It's about having a historical consciousness--it's who we are, where we came from, what we are all about and what we mean (and have meant) to each other. Our awareness is pretty abysmal.

Those who do study history are often fed the narrative of the Empire, which is missing an awful lot, to say the least. It is also chock full of inaccuracies (otherwise known as lies). All you have to do is check out Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States to realize our basic understanding of history has all the structural integrity of Swiss cheese.

Most history textbooks read more like a propaganda tool than an educational endeavor.

But I always thought there was at least one thing we wouldn't get wrong.

There was at least one thing that couldn't possibly happen here in the USA--we've actually been warned about it thoroughly and consistently, and we've been educated on it well enough.

If America has anything, it has an army of armchair warriors. You know the type: Middle aged white guys who saturate themselves with regular doses of World War II documentaries. They are fixated on the carnage, the death tolls and the heroic and not-so-heroic deeds of yesteryear. These guys can narrate every step of the rise of the (evil) Nazi empire followed by the banding together of the (good) Allies--the latter crawled out of the Great Depression to overcome the Axis powers in the 'war to end all wars.'

It's the stuff of legends. 

It makes a man salivate just hearing about it, Amen?

[To be correct: The 'war to end all wars' was actually World War I. But we didn't learn the lessons of that war so we had an even bigger 'war to end all wars' about 22 years later. I digress.]

You see, there's a reason why the History Channel is commonly referred to as the "Hitler" Channel.

This cornerstone of cable TV is packed with almost non-stop WWII footage, re-enactments and talking heads with glory stories of triumph and tragedy. It's enough to get those middle aged guys to feel a little bit of adrenaline and sexual excitement from time to time. Call it a "war-gasm"--it's truly satisfying. And they don't even have to actually leave the comfort of their armchair and actually take any risks to do it.

The USA is awash with poor misconceptions of history. It's easy to see how we would be vulnerable to making any number of catastrophic policy decisions based on how poorly we understand how the world has arrived at this moment--and we certainly do make those mistakes over and over again.

But out of all the things we suck at, it always seemed there was one thing we would not screw up: 

We would see the rise of a Hitler-esque leader from ten thousand miles away and stop that person cold at the first resemblance of a Nazi salute.

Yet, the very people who have been immersed in these documentaries as an utter lifestyle . . .

Who have furniture-sized World War II commemorative books on their coffee tables . . .

Whose kids buy them "The Complete Rise and Fall of the Nazi Empire" on DVD for Christmas . . .

These are very often
          the very same people
          who very well plan
to vote for Donald Trump come November:

Enraged, disaffected white guys.

They shrug their shoulders at Trump's many guffaws, his whipping up of crowds into a hysteria of rage and near-constant demonizing of immigrants and Muslims.

[Note: It does not take a PhD in History to realize that "immigrants and Muslims" sounds eerily familiar to Hitler's "Jews and Gypsies."]

I'm not saying that Trump IS Hitler. There are differences. But let's not get so hung up on the differences that we fail to see in Trump the makings of the biggest mistake our country could ever make. Whether he's "more like a poor man's Mussolini" than "a Hitler protégé" is a nuance we can debate at a later time. The fact remains: He IS a demagogue. And he is playing right out of the Nazi playbook to a tee. We don't know what he would do as an elected leader, but any student of History--or the History Channel--should be well aware of the colossal mistake of feeding Trump and his movement.

Demagogues are leaders who manipulate people through their prejudices. They usually have a violent, authoritarian style and openly mock attempts to bring educated nuance to complex issues.

Trump is following the simple formula of a demagogue:  Take a population that is discontented due to their falling standard of living. Drum into them the message to be constantly afraid and to blame their problems on some already-marginalized, already-poor groups (usually groups who have little to nothing to do with their falling standard of living). Then tell them you are the strong, authoritarian daddy-figure who's going to whip the world back into shape.

You know:  Like in Hollywood. In the voice of movie preview guy Don LaFontaine: "The world is in shambles, chaos is in order... but ONE MAN will rise up to save the world . . ."

Armchair warriors can't differentiate very well between Hollywood and history.

Getting the poor whites to blame the poor blacks is the oldest trick in the book. The status quo keeps using it, though, because it's the damndest thing: It just keeps working.

Fear is a powerful motivator. It bears mentioning that fear is often the way that companies market to you. For example, in the days of rising gasoline costs and climate change, marketers have convinced a large swath of the US public to own gas-guzzling, expensive SUVs for all their "off road" adventures (of which these armchair warriors have few). It's not a sensible purchase. SUVs are hyped to make you feel powerful, even though you are clearly not powerful if you are so easily manipulated into emptying your wallet for something as ridiculous as an SUV. It's the illusion of safety. It's fear. It's allusions of power. See my last post about the reptilian brain for more on this.

History is full of demagogues. For the life of me, I can't understand why the human race has not yet figured out a way to stop this phenomenon. Trump is only a very recent incarnation of something the human race has been through time,
     and time,
          and time,
               and time again.

But then again, we'd all know that if we knew history better.

***

My logic comes full circle as I have to admit: It's my own ignorance of history that causes me to be surprised by this:

Don Henley sings:  Armchair warriors often fail, and we've been poisoned by these fairy tales.

This isn't the first time that armchair warriors have let us down. Their starry-eyed glory lust has led many of their young sons to debilitating wars and their nations to ruin. Armchair warriors, armchair quarterbacks, armchair theologians--weighing in on the struggles of someone else's life from the insulated comfort of their suburban living rooms does not make for the best judgments, to say the least. A good shepherd ought to smell like the sheep, says Pope Francis.

If you find someone who demands harsh treatment toward immigrants, Muslims, the LGBT community or anyone--odds are it is someone who has little personal knowledge or experience of that community.

Armchair warrioring is a losing proposition.  Proof: Even after their endless hours of Hitler-a-thons, they couldn't even get the Trump situation right.