Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Reaper looms

Hello, there!
"There has been a lot of good and a lot of bad in this life, but on the whole it's been good." That was the conclusion drawn by one of my oldest and dearest friends as he lay in a hospital bed with his blood pressure at 198/120 and his white blood cell count through the roof. He felt as if a house had fallen on his chest.

Three days previous, he'd been at work, speaking with clients on the phone, when he began experiencing stomach pains. As his shift progressed, the pain increased to the point where he could not continue, nor could he drive himself home. He called his wife, who retrieved him and deposited him in his bed at home before returning to work herself.

Later that evening, the pain dissipated and my friend began to believe that whatever he had experienced --stomach flu, indigestion --was over. But it was a false reprieve. The next day the pain came back, magnified. My friend suffered severe stomach pains and an inability to keep down any food. He vomited up everything he tried to ingest. Even water.

My friend is a tough guy and he attempted to tough it out. But after three and a half days, with no abatement in symptoms, his wife insisted that they go to the Emergency Room. "It's not getting better," she said. "We've got to go."

He was diagnosed with an extreme case of diverticulitis --a violent inflammation of the intestinal wall. A cyst had formed on his bowel, become infected, and ruptured. Oxygen and fecal matter were leaking into his body cavity. His lower intestinal track had shut down completely.

That night, in the hospital, when his faithful wife dozed off in the chair next to his bed, my friend supposed it might be the last time he would ever speak to her.

Eventually, the doctors were able to get the situation under control and my friend's condition stabilized and then improved. He spent two weeks in the hospital before being released. In that time, he lost 38 pounds. His recovery was complicated by a severe gout attack. Had he gone untreated for much longer, his chances of survival were very slim.

A rough road, to say the least.

As I mentioned, the subject of this tale is one of my oldest and dearest friends and for a long, bewildering moment, he stood at the edge of the cliff. As he related the story to me the other night I was reminded again of the constant presence of that dark, solemn figure.

The Reaper looms.

I think it is wise never to forget that.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Cantor loses!

So long, loser!
This morning, when I turned on the radio, I about got knocked over with the big political news out of Virginia. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) lost his primary reelection bid to one David Bratt, a Tea Party advocate and political unknown.

It was a humiliating defeat and a great big fall for a man who some predicted would someday be the Speaker of the House. Even though his internal pollster predicted that Cantor would win by 30 points, the actual vote tally was a twelve-point whipping in the other direction. This, despite Cantor raising over 5 million dollars for his campaign while his opponent had a mere $120,000.

Ultra-right-wing commentators are celebrating today. They see this electoral upset as an indication that the "moderate" Republican leadership is in trouble, as a demonstration that the Tea Party is still in ascendancy. They might be right.

But I'm celebrating, too. Because I believe the more success the Tea Party has in driving the agenda of the GOP, the better it is for those who oppose them. And besides, there are few politicians in this country more deserving of humiliation and rejection than one of the most bald-faced hypocrites on the American political scene today. Namely, Eric Cantor.
"If you read the newspapers today, I, for one, am increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and the other cities across the country. And believe it or not, some in this town, have actually condoned the pitting of Americans against Americans. But you sent us here to fight for you and all Americans." --House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, responding to the Occupy movement in October, 2011.
Good riddance!

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Book review: Confederates in the Attic

Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War is the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist's recounting of his experiences when he undertook to explore the subculture, prevalent in much of the Deep South, that holds in idyllic remembrance the not-quite-dead Confederacy.

Horwitz confesses that, as a boy, he was fascinated by Civil War history. Nothing uncommon in that, methinks. I know many American boys who entertained the same fascination (including myself). But, because of a chance encounter with Civil War reenactors outside his home in the 90s, Horwitz's boyhood fascination was reawakened.

As we learn in the book, Civil War reenactors invest themselves in their hobby by degrees. On one end of the spectrum is the weekend warrior who views reenactments as weekend getaways, role-playing camping trips, diversions. On the other are men like Robert Lee Hodge, a hard-core enthusiast, determined to relive the Civil War experience as authentically as possible. (That's Hodge himself on the book cover.) And, just as with any other hobby (take it from a lifelong war-game enthusiast; I know), reenactors impose a hierarchy on their brethren. The more "into it" you are, the higher your esteem within the community. As Horwitz writes, Hodge is at the pinnacle of the reenactment crowd, insisting on authentic fabric for his attire, grooming himself in the manner of the day, eating only foods that were available to Confederate soldiers, and so on. Hodge sneeringly refers to less dedicated reenactors as "farbs," a term which has special meaning within the reenactor community.

But an examination of the Civil War reenactment community is only half of Horwitz's book. The other half looks at the disaffected and unhappy demographic within the United States that holds the Confederacy as a paradise lost. This is a world where Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, and even Henry Wirz, the  commandant of the Confederacy's infamous Andersonville prison camp, are viewed as heroes rather than traitors and villains. There is irony, as Horwitz points out, in this mentality. He tours each state in the Old South and many of the regions where the Confederacy is most revered were pro-Union during the time of the actual war. Further, many of the vociferous and angry people proclaiming their Confederate "heritage" seem incapable of articulating what it is in today's society that they object to (beyond, of course, their antipathy toward racial and religious minorities).

It's just as well that I didn't I read this book when it was first published in 1998. The subsequent rise of the Tea Party as a political "thing" has been appalling enough without having it presaged by the content of Horwitz's book.

This is a well-written and enjoyable book. Horwitz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, quite capable of humor and poetic flourish. He writes with sincerity, magnanimity, and objectivity. He does not condescend toward his subjects, despite the fact that he interviewed people who flatly stated they hate Jews, blacks, and other minorities. (Horwitz is himself Jewish).

He's a better man than me.