“Presidents Day” +1

Greetings, loyal minions. Often, in the past, on the Federal holiday popularly known as “Presidents Day” your Maximum Leader has given his list of the greatest Presidents of the United States of America.

Well, as we all know, the holiday is actually George Washington’s Birthday (with a nod to Abraham Lincoln). We should celebrate it as such. We should remember Washington (and Lincoln) and be done with it. Don’t give lip service to the “office” and don’t go around ginning up how great this or that President was (or is). The presidency is a job in our Republic. The person in it (Washington and Lincoln notwithstanding) is just a normal citizen doing a job. We don’t need more cults of personality in the world.

And lets be honest… There were many duds and idiots that served as President of the United States… So for this “Presidents Day” (+1) let us throw out the names of some of those duds and idiots to have served as chief executive of our nation…

1) James Buchanan - arguably the worst in our history. Let us not forget that the ineptitude of his man led to the American Civil War.
2) Andrew Johnson. The first president to be impeached (though not removed from office). He was completely out of step with his times and an arrogant bastard to boot.
3) Ulysses Grant. Great general. Great writer. No-so-great President. Scandals ruined it for Grant. (NB: No, I’ve not read the new Chernow biography on Grant yet. I may not ever to be honest. I doubt it will change my view that Grant is a great American overall, but a miserable President.)
4) Millard Filmore. The man’s very name is a synonym for mediocre.
5) Richard Nixon. It pains me to type that, but it is true. We really need a special category for Richard Nixon all by himself. He can be neither great, nor terrible because he was both in equal measures. For every good or great thing you can attribute to Nixon, there is an equally awful or destructive thing you can name. On the balance, the negatives probably outweigh the positives. If Nixon’s presidency should have taught us anything (which is apparently has not) it is that executive power should be limited. Many of the problems that those on the right and left have with a president with whom they do not agree is how they use the power that they have been given by Congress. Give less power to the president and there will be less to be upset about…

Anyway… There you have it. The five worst presidents according to your Maximum Leader…

Carry on.

Smollett

Greetings, loyal minions. This whole Jussie Smollett situation should fill you with the wide range of emotions and thoughts. To recap: Jussie Smollett, a gay, black actor, claimed to have been assaulted in Chicago by two men. During the assault he had a noose thrown around his neck, a liquid poured on him, and was beaten. The men, Smollett claimed, were wearing “Make American Great Again” caps. In the ensuing days and weeks (it seems like weeks - but time has taken on a peculiar quality since 2017 it seems) two camps appeared. The first camp, mostly populated by liberals/progressives, stood by Smollett and decried how racism and racial hatred and racially-based hate crimes were a symptom of “Donald Trump’s America.” The second camp, mostly populated by conservatives/right-wingers, stood back and said “something doesn’t seem right with this story.”

As it seems to be turning out, there is something wrong with the story and those of the second camp I just described seem to be justified. According to news reports coming out of the Chicago Police Department, the two (black) men (immigrants from Nigeria it seems) were paid by Smollett to assault him. The hired assailants bought rope and plain red hats to carry out the staged attack. Smollett is, apparently, sticking by the story that he’s maintained publicly (including in an interview with Robin Roberts on ABC). Slowly the facts of the case seem to be going is a much different direction.

I am much more active on the Twitter than here. (@maximumleader) But I steered away from this story. I was shocked when it was first reported. I continue to be horrified by the racially charged nature of so many crimes and incidents in America over the past two years. It seemed plausible that such an assault could have happened. But as the facts started to ebb out I started to be sceptical. The attackers were allegedly black men. It seemed a little implausible that there would be two black Trump supporters in Chicago looking to assault another black man. Then there was the absence of CCTV footage. There were questions about the police getting to examine Smollett’s cell phone. There were questions… Now it seems like it was all a terrible contrivance.

The real tragedy here is that this whole incident further widens the already widening chasms between the various factions within America. Liberals are rending their shirts and covering themselves with ash while saying how this will affect how society will view future (and real) claims of racist attacks. And they are right to do so. A false claim, and even worse - a staged incident - does, I believe, cause people to be more cautious and sceptical of future claims by future victims. It is a society-wide expansion of the boy who cried wolf - but writ over a whole class of crimes and victims. Conservatives on the other hand are pointing fingers at liberals and especially the media and cheering themselves for being vindicated. They, rightly, claim that the whole incident was never investigated seriously when the claims were first made. The media believed because they wanted to believe because it fit the narrative they want to advance. I believe that this is also pretty true. If you are inclined to look for evidence of racism and racial hatred everywhere you aren’t going to question a big story like this one when it comes along.

All in all, I’m willing to go with the pox on both your houses. Our age of social media and instant commentary on anything has lead us to become reflexively partisan on just about any issue. It also give everyone the ability to comment in real time on anything. There is no time to gather facts. (NB: as if facts matter. Echo chambers of social media don’t appreciate facts that don’t fit the narrative. It is appearances that matter.) There is no time, and frankly no desire, to learn the facts and use them to create an intelligent opinion. As a result, the echo chambers resound. The divides harden. The sides grow further apart.

I don’t mind disagreement. But I want to encourage discussion of a serious sort. That being said, our society doesn’t value serious discussion and calm acceptance of differences. So the whole Smollett thing will just go down as another hoax that sets to wear down the bonds of civil society.

Carry on.

Unexpected Joy

Greetings, loyal minions. This weekend has been one of unexpected joy. Both Villainettes are college students now. As such, they are not home often. This weekend, Mrs. Villain had planned to get Villainette #1 (a senior at VCU) and bring her home to the Villainschoss on Friday night to spend the weekend with us and do some general “family stuff.” Well, Mrs. Villain had a bad headache on Friday night and your Maximum Leader himself made the trek (45 mins each way) to get Villainette #1 (who has no vehicle of her own) and brought her back home.

Apparently, while your Maximum Leader was on the road to Richmond, Villainette #2 (a sophomore at Virginia Tech) was on the phone with Mrs. Villain. The upshot of that phone call was that Villainette #2 decided to get in her vehicle and trek up home herself. That is a 3.5 hour drive. She started at 8pm. It caused her mom and dad a little anxiety (driving at night on I-81 is never fun). But she got home safe and sound. (I don’t know why it causes anxiety for us since she just drove all the way from Fredericksburg, VA to Orlando, FL and back over Christmas.)

Anyway… The full family was here (and frankly still is for a little while longer) for the weekend. That is an unexpected joy.

Carry on.

My Poor Commonwealth

Greetings, loyal minions.

Well, well, well. The regularly uninteresting political situation in my home, the Commonwealth of Virginia, has become rather noteworthy of late. Unless you’ve lived under a rock, or just ignored politics generally, you have likely heard about what has happened recently in Richmond. Allow me to summarize:

1) Governor Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook has part of a page dedicated to him that shows a man in blackface and another in a KKK outfit. The Governor may or may not be in the photo. And he may or may not have been responsible for selecting the photo to be put in the yearbook.

2) Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax has been accused by two women of sexual assault. One alleges she was assaulted during the Democratic National Convention in 2004. The other alleges she was assaulted while she and Fairfax were students at Duke University.

3) Attorney General Mark Herring has admitted that he wore makeup to darken his skin (but apparently not full-out blackface) during a his time at the University of Virginia.

4) State Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment edited the Virginia Military Institute’s (VMI) yearbook in 1968. A yearbook that is filled with racist photos and statements.

That is the shortened jist of what has come out. That is also the order in which this news was made public. Except for the second accuser coming forward about Justin Fairfax, that happened after the Tommy Norment story broke. The Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General are all Democrats. Senator Norment is a Republican.

In the immediate aftermath of learning about the Governor’s yearbook page (apparently “leaked” to a right-wing web site in the aftermath of a stunningly horrifying interview by the Governor in which he seemed to advocate infanticide) there were - and one supposes there remain - widespread calls for the Governor to resign. The Governor issued a video statement in which he expressed regret over the yearbook. Then a day after his statement of regret, the Governor held a press conference that was best described as somewhat surreal in which he denied that the was in the photo, didn’t know how the photo got there, admitted to dressing like Michael Jackson at another time, and nearly demonstrated his moonwalking skills. The Governor has since given another television interview in which he stated that black Africans were first bought to Virginia as indentured servants, not slaves. (NB: It has been a very very long time since I’ve read/studied this so I may be wrong and/or the scholarship may have changed in the intervening decades; but the Governor may not be technically wrong on this - though he should have just learned a lesson from all his other missteps and just shut the hell up about slavery. As I recall, among the first Africans brought to Jamestown some may have been given indenture papers. But this practice was short-lived at best and slavery came to Virginia shortly after Jamestown was founded. Again, my memory is hazy and I am open to being wrong on this point. More broadly speaking - it doesn’t matter one iota in the grand scheme - except to pedantic history nerds. Slaves came. If one is trying to be sensitive to over 400 years of slavery, racism, and inequality you ought not to try to score pedantic points.) So that is where the Governor is…

The Lt. Governor is calling for investigations into the allegations. Allegations he flatly denies. There have been calls for his resignation as well.

The Attorney General has seemed to benefit from all the other news stories as he now seems to be laying low and hoping it all blows past.

Senator Norment, too, is laying low and hoping it all blows past.

In my opinion, laying low and hoping it all blows past is the right strategery (as it were) for everyone, except Mr. Fairfax.

In the cases of Governor Northam, Attorney General Herring, and Senator Norment, all these incidents were decades ago. In my opinion, which as we all know is not worth a hill of beans in this crazy world, all three of these men have a long record of associations and public service that do not show signs of persistent or lingering racism. Some may choose to point out that a campaign flyer for the (eventually winning) Democratic ticket that was circulated in Southwestern Virginia only showed Mr. Northam and Mr. Herring, both of whom are white. It conspicuously omitted Mr. Fairfax who is black. It was said at the time that this was to help the ticket in an area of the state where it was believed that some whites would not vote for a black man. It is my belief that someone responsible for the printing of that flyer did make that calculation. I don’t believe that Mr. Northam, Herring, or Fairfax had any personal involvment with it. And it is interesting to note that Mr. Norment, while a student at VMI, advocated the full integration of VMI - an unpopular stance even in 1968. So, once again, I feel you have a long public record for these three men that doesn’t support they are racists. I don’t feel that this long record is outweighed by self-evidently awful behavior decades ago. Others may disagree.

I suppose my position comes down to when is long enough? If Governor Northam, while he was a state senator, went to a party in blackface I would sing a different tune. I suppose I might sing a different tune if he did so during his time as a doctor in private practice. And while I fully admit that a man in medical school should know better, it was a long time ago and he doesn’t seem to be “that guy” any more. This position also goes for Herring and Norment.

This is an unsatisfying position for many true believers out there. Both of the Left and the Right. But it is where I am on this.

Sadly, the allegations made against Mr. Fairfax are more troubling and may require his resignation. I say may because they are, at this point, allegations. Nothing is proven to any threshold of evidence. There does need to be an investigation. But even that is troubling. The General Assembly of Virginia isn’t the type of body that does investigations. Should the Attorney General’s Office do an investigation? Should it be left to the authorities in Massachusetts (site of the Democratic Convention) or North Carolina (for Duke)? I don’t have an answer for that. My inclination would be for the General Assembly to set up a special commission of Senators and Delegates (in equal number from both parties) with the authority to hire investigator - or use State Police investigators - to conduct an official inquiry. But I’ll be honest, I’ll have to re-read the State Constitution because I’m not sure the General Assembly even has the authority to do this. (NB: They probably do in that they can make all sorts of rules for their own behavior. But it is possible that they may have to write a special law to do this, and the legislature is part-time and their session is winding down. To make a law would be an extraordinary task that might require the Governor to sign off on it - which would be awkward to say the least.)

If there is an investigation, what should be the threshold for action? If the Kavanaugh Hearings over the summer show us anything in this matter they show that there is no level of evidence with a widespread acceptance for action. Beyond a reasonable doubt, the threshold for criminal convictions, seems too high. Clear and convincing evidence may also be too high. But is a basic preponderance of evidence too low? (NB: For clarity, beyond a reasonable doubt is 99% sure, clear and convincing is 75% sure, preponderance is 51% sure.) For myself, I think that if you are going to work to get an elected official ousted from his position for things done while not in office you probably need to be at least 75% sure.

For those out there that think impeachment of one (or all) of the three top elected officials is the way to go, that door should be closed. Closed for two reasons. The Constitution of Virginia clearly defines impeachable offenses and they all involve actions taken while in office. Secondly, a Republican majority legislature is not inclined, for obvious political reasons, to go down that path.

So what then? Well… I think that Northam weathers the storm but is a shadow of what he could have been in the last two years of his term. Since Governors in Virginia cannot serve consecutive terms and Northam never seemed to aspire to other offices in Virginia or with the Federal Government, he could just wait it out. He will likely serve out his remaining two years and retire from office and return to the (beautiful) Eastern Shore of Virginia and go back to private medical practice.

Fairfax and Herring are the wild cards here. Both men want to be Governor. In fact, Herring “waited” last time to let Northam run for Governor while he ran for a second term as Attorney General. Fairfax is also an ambitious man. It looked like he was going to give Herring his “turn” to run for Governor, then run himself. I don’t know what happens to either of them now. I don’t see how either man fends off any sort of primary challenge from another Democrat. That is going to be the more interesting thing to look at as time passes.

All in all, I’m sad for my state. This is the type of news no one wants…

Carry on.

The Black Dog

Greetings, loyal minions. You know, Winston Churchill was prone to bouts of what we would now describe as depression. Back in the day, it might have been called melancholy. When Churchill suffered from it his family, friends, and associates would say that “the Black Dog” had come and settled in. I mention this because I think I may be having a black dog of my own.

I wouldn’t call it depression, certainly not in any sort of clinical sense. Just a profound melancholy and abiding non-specific sadness that has lingered over me for a while. I can’t exactly put a finger on the cause. Perhaps it is generally anxiety over real life. You know the stuff. Kids in college. Work. Kid in High School. Relatives in a precarious health situation. Mortgage. My own weight and health. Just generalised stuff. I am hesitant to write that there is also anxiety over politics. But there is anxiety over politics too. I don’t want to be branded as having “Trump Derangement Syndrome” or whatever his advocates call it. I will say that he is by leaps and bounds the worst man to occupy the White House in my lifetime. (And I was born when Nixon was President - so that means something.)

As I’ve noted here, I didn’t vote for Donald Trump for President. I will not ever vote for him for anything. I do think he is a danger to the Republic. But he hasn’t actually accomplished as many things as many accuse him of accomplishing. He threatens. He is filled with lies and bluster. But he isn’t doing quite as much as many think. That being said, he is dangerously incompetent and that is likely the source of my generalised anxiety about him, and the state of the Republic today.

So my basic feeling is “Bleh.”

And that is about all there is to say about that.

Carry on.

George H.W. Bush, RIP

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader sees that former President George H.W. Bush has died at his home in Houston. Your Maximum Leader suspected that President Bush, the Elder, would not long survive after the death of his beloved wife, Barbara. Your Maximum Leader can hardly imagine the grief consuming the close-knit Bush family for having lost their Matriarch and Patriarch in the same year. He sends his deepest condolences out to the Bush family.

Of course, this is a blog and don’t bloggers find a way to make everything all about themselves? So how can your Maximum Leader make this about him. Well… Read on…

Your Maximum Leader is of an age that came to be politically aware during the Reagan years. Your Maximum Leader was a Reagan-loving, National Review reading, conservative in the 1980s. All these things are still true today, but what that appellation means now is, he thinks, up for some debate in the current political climate. Back in the 80’s your Maximum Leader viewed Bush the Elder as a good, decent, distinguished, and eminently qualified man to be Vice-President to Ronald Reagan. He was a bridge to the broad swath of the Republican party (and some Democrats) that weren’t conservative Republicans. In 1988, your Maximum Leader thought it was G.H.W. Bush’s “turn” and he supported Bush for President in 1988. But your Maximum Leader was a bit of a snot back then and when it came time for Bush to run for re-election, your Maximum Leader briefly supported Patrick Buchanan as a primary opponent to President Bush. Your Maximum Leader wanted someone more “conservative.” It wasn’t that Bush wasn’t a great chief executive, he was. But your Maximum Leader wanted more Reagan. Of course, when the President soundly trounced Buchanan in the primaries, your Maximum Leader happily supported the President in his unsuccessful re-election bid.

Well, time has caused your Maximum Leader to think more and more favourably of George H.W. Bush. Not just think of him more favourably as a person (that wasn’t possible, George H.W. Bush is likely one of the best people to ever serve our Nation as President). He’s come to regard Bush as a better President as time moves on. President Bush (41) was the right man for the time he was elected. His practical nature. His good humour. His experience. His vision. And his natural restraint all were better suited to the job of President than your Maximum Leader thought at the time. Your Maximum Leader thinks that it is quite possible that Bush 41 will continue to grow in his esteem as time progresses. Indeed, your Maximum Leader wishes we had more men of George Herbert Walker Bush’s character and temperament willing to run and serve as President. Our nation is better off in every way for electing leaders like George Bush. He hopes we are soon gifted with another man or woman similar to serve in our highest office.

On a more personal note, your Maximum Leader has shaken the hand of four of our Nation’s Presidents in his life. He exchanged pleasantries with three of them. Your Maximum Leader shook Gerald Ford’s hand in a rope line once. He shook the hand of and spoke (with a group of others) with Richard Nixon. Of course, he has already recounted his meeting with Ronald Reagan. (More thoughts on Reagan’s funeral here.) Your Maximum Leader happened to be in a few places in 1988 and 1989 where he was able to shake hands and talk (briefly) with Vice-President then President Bush 41. There were a few campaign events in Virginia and DC where your Maximum Leader knew some people that could get him close to the Vice-President. Hands were shook. Words exchanged. Then there were a few rope lines and a receiving line in 1989. In every encounter Bush the Elder seemed to be kind, engaged, and considerate.

A surprising side note to these encounters came every Christmas from 1989 to 1992, when your Maximum Leader received an official White House Christmas Card from the Bushes.

So there you go, your Maximum Leader made it all about him…

George Herbert Walker Bush - Husband, Father, Grandfather, Great Grandfather, War Hero, and President.

Gus am bris an latha agus an teich na sgailean.

Carry on.

Happy Thanksgiving

Greetings, loyal minions. To those of you in the United States, or Americans across the globe, Happy Thanksgiving. To all the rest of you, happy Thursday.

Thanksgiving Pin up

(Pinup idea ruthlessly stolen from our good friend Robbo.)

Carry on.

Well, That Didn’t Go As Expected

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader is surprised. He wasn’t sure what to expect last night, but he didn’t anticipate what happened. He didn’t think the Democrats would take the Senate, but he also didn’t foresee the Republicans doing as well as they did. (Rick Scott knocking off Bill Nelson? Didn’t see that coming.) He thought the Democrats had a better than even chance at taking the House. Which they narrowly appear to have done. The outcome of Governor’s races, to the extent we know them, are also more positive for Republicans than your Maximum Leader expected.

If there are takeaways from this election for your Maximum Leader they are:

1 ) Contest every seat available. This has been a position of your Maximum Leader for many years. If you don’t field a candidate, you can’t win a seat. Democrats fielded many more candidates and contested more seats. That helped set the table for a House win.

2 ) Don’t fight extreme policies with other extreme policies. If you only choice on immigration is between “build a wall” and “abolish ICE,” people will choose on self-interest. Democrats allowed this issue, as an example, to be framed by Republicans, and they paid for it.

Those are the big two. Of course, every political thought your Maximum Leader has had for the past 2 years has been wrong. So what does he know…

Carry on.

Random Thoughts This Election Day

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader did his civic duty today and voted. He didn’t vote at the crack of dawn as is his habit. He voted a little later (before lunch). Normally his ballot is one of the first 100 or so in the counting machine. In your Maximum Leader’s county there is a tally displayed on the counting machine that ticks up by one every time a ballot is entered into it. It is always interesting to compare the number he gets on his little ticket to the number on the counting machine. (One confirms one’s identity and then is given a ticket that is exchanged for a ballot.) In most years when your Maximum Leader exercises his franchise the ticket number and the counting machine number are within a digit or two of each other. Normally, those numbers are under 100. Today, around 10:45 am your Maximum Leader’s counting machine number was 677.

That number of 677 caused your Maximum Leader to think. As he remembered, in the elections last year (state and local elections) there were a total of about 1,300 votes cast. So he asked a poll worker he knows and said that turnout seems to be higher than normal non-Presidential years. The poll worker confirmed that if the trends continued today, this would look more like a Presidential election year than a standard mid-term.

(NB: If there are any Democrats reading this, don’t get your hopes up. Your Maximum Leader’s precinct is reliably and heavily Republican.)

So, anecdotally, this is shaping up to be a very atypical mid-term election year…

Then again… For the past 4 years or so everything in our politics has been atypical. And in addition to being atypical, he would further characterize our politics as “bad.”

Now your Maximum Leader is not without historical perspective in this. He knows how vicious politics were in the Age of Jackson. And how brutal they were leading up to the Civil War. I don’t know that we are approaching a Civil War (though there are a disturbing number of people on both sides of the aisle that seem to be predicting - and some welcoming - another Civil War). But we are probably in a period that is just as bad as the time of Andrew Jackson. It may seem worse because of how media (the news, newspapers, social media - literally all of it “media”) seems to amplify everything political. But there is a disturbing trend towards tribalism and incivility.

On your Maximum Leader’s Twitter feed (@MaximumLeader) he has pinned Tweet. It reads: “Civility is the spanx holding in the barbarism of humanity.” That was true in January 2016, and more true today. American society, at least as it is being portrayed in the broad media, is growing less civil. Good manners and politeness don’t seem to be the order of the day. It is important that you harangue public figures as they dine, or walk the streets. Resistance is a full-time occupation. That is really too bad. Perhaps it is better to talk and try to understand people before you write them off as incorrigible. There are some incorrigibles out there. You can’t reason with them or talk to them. They need to be shunned. Don’t engage. Ignore. Isolate. But it is more dramatic to engage and make a scene. Show that you are resisting.

Was it Winston Churchill who said that a fanatic is someone who’ll not change there mind and won’t change the subject? Your Maximum Leader thinks so. He also thinks more and more people are happy to be fanatics.

But this post was billed as “random thoughts.” What other thoughts are going through your Maximum Leader’s mind that are not political? Well a bunch. Here are some:

1) Should he make a seafood chowder for dinner Friday night? He made one about 10 days ago and it was great. He’s thought of improvements he could make on his approach and thinks he needs to implement them.

2) Would vampires be affected by tattoos of crosses/crucifixes on the flesh of a potential victim? This one has been on his mind since Halloween and his Universal Monsters movie marathon.

3) Speaking of Universal Monsters… Someone at that studio needs to come up with a single unified grand plan to revitalize that fictional milieu (The Dark Universe) - if the studio is actually considering doing so. They need to focus on a single character or group of characters, that are not the monsters, to act as the focal point of the films…

4) Your Maximum Leader really used to dislike (nay - actively hate) chicken pot pie growing up. But he really really loves it now. Mrs. Villain made one last night and your Maximum Leader devoured it.

5) Will there ever be justice for Jamal Khashoggi? Well, not justice for Mr. Khashoggi. No justice but divine mercy can be given to him now. But will those responsible for his brutal murder ever be brought to temporal justice? By this your Maximum Leader doesn’t mean only those that carried out the grisly crime. But will the man apparently ultimately responsible, Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, ever be brought to justice. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t think so…

6) When will your Maximum Leader get the time to spend a day watching orangutans in the zoo?

7) How much longer will your Maximum Leader’s phone battery (and backup battery) hold out on his iPhone 6? How long before he has to get a new phone?

8 ) When will the next season of “Norsemen” come out on Netflix?

9) Speaking of Norsemen… Your Maximum Leader believes that “American Gods” may have supplanted “Shogun” as his favorite work of general (popular) fiction. He’s now read AG at least 3 times (perhaps 4). He can’t remember how many times he’s read “Shogun.” But it has been a lot. He finds he can’t recall many parts until he is reading them again and has an, “Oh, I remember this now.” moment.

10) Your Maximum Leader needs to renew his passport so that he can: A) visit Venice before it is swallowed by the Adriatic; B) visit Iceland. Those are the two foreign places at the top of his list right now. He thinks he’s going to have to go to Iceland twice. Once in the summer and once in the winter. That way he can see all the things he wants to. (Some things - like certain waterfalls and trails - are only accessible during the summer. Others - like the Northern Lights - are only in the winter.)

That is about all from here. Your Maximum Leader will monitor election results and wonder about the future of our Republic.

Carry on.

Happy Halloween

Greetings loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader presents for you one of the best opening paragraphs of a horror story. Taken from one of the best horror stories of all time, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

If you desire, you can pick up the book at Amazon. (Clicky here.)

If reading isn’t your bag, you can watch the 1963 movie based on the story.

There is also a 1999 movie if you prefer newer.

Personally, your Maximum Leader preferred the 1963 version with Julie Christie. The 1999 version with Catherine Zeta-Jones struck him as “meh.”

Villainette #1 informs your Maximum Leader that Netflix has a version out now that they produced. He’ll have to check it out.

Carry on.

100 Below: Acorns

He sipped his coffee as he stood on the porch watching his dog leave a shit in the yard. He surveyed the yard and marvelled at the number of acorns that had fallen from the oaks. “The desire to continue life,” he thought to himself. How many acorns were there? More than hundreds. Thousands? Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? It would be a sisyphean task to count them. And where the fuck were the squirrels? Weren’t they supposed to be hoarding them for winter? There wasn’t a damned squirrel to be seen anywhere.

But lots of acorns.

100 Below: A Patch of Earth

Ron walked around town for his health, and because he could get everywhere he needed to go by walking. Every morning he went to get a coffee. His path took him by the town cemetery. He looked at the stones as he passed. He memorized their order. He saw many familiar names. These were the parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents of people he knew. He wondered how many of his friends would occupy this corner of earth one day. The thought that he would like to occupy a small patch there one day as well. It was comforting.

Old

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader’s eldest offspring, Villainette #1, has a milestone birthday today. She is 21.

Where do the years go?

Carry on.

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader reminds you, in case you forgot to mark your calendars, that today all subjects of the Mike World Order will celebrate the anniversary of the birth of our lifelong and great friend, Kevin. You may read his regular musing over at his blog, Big Hominid. You should read his blog. Unlike your Maximum Leader, over on Kevin’s blog you get regularly updated content. Like almost every single day! Sometimes twice a day! What the deuce?

On this day my buddy has turned 49. He, like me, are closing in on the half century mark. And for those of you who keep up those who think about these things, actuarially speaking we have already passed the half-way point of our expected life span. So, we have that going for us.

My life has been enriched for knowing Kevin. His recent visit to the US, for he lives and works in South Korea, was a boon for me. I got time to spend with him, and he treated me to a wonderful seafood dinner on a dark and stormy night. I only wish I could have spent more time with him. I often wish I could spend more time with him. But geography gets in the way.

Happy Birthday, Kevin.

Carry on.

More Death

Greetings, loyal minions. Once again, your Maximum Leader is going to have to dump the 3rd person schtick for this post.

My last post was predominantly about death. The death of my friend Jennifer. Learning of Jennifer’s death filled me with melancholy. Her death was made more emotional for me given what I was going through at that moment. I mentioned at the end of that last post, back in June, that some family issues were going badly and that if you could spare a prayer for my mom and dad to do so. Well here’s that story.

To begin at the beginning, about 30 years ago my mother was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma cancer on her left hand. She had a series of surgeries to remove the cancer, and then many of the lymph nodes on her left side. The result of the surgeries was that they got the cancer, but mom suffered from many other problems as a result. These problems led to pain, infections, and a host of other circulatory issues.

Fast forward to 2016… Mom and I were on the phone just before Thanksgiving. She mentioned, offhandedly, that she felt a small lump in her left hand. She described it as smaller than a pea, but hard. I suggested that she see her doctor right away as that lump was bound to be bad. Mom agreed that it probably wasn’t good, and said she’d see a doctor. Without going into details, because they aren’t all that exciting and pertinent to this narrative, she didn’t see her doctor. She didn’t see her doctor about the lump for nearly a year. When she did see her doctor about the lumps, the doctor immediately recommended surgery and chemotherapy. Mom dragged her feet and didn’t get surgery until late March 2018. This is, as you can no doubt calculate on your own, over a year after she discovered the lump. When she finally had the surgery, two lumps were removed. One was slightly larger than a golf ball. The second a bit smaller than a ping-pong ball. Both tumors were malignant. Both had extensive blood supplies. Both were very brittle. After surgery, mom declined chemotherapy. Her stated reason was that it would negatively affect her quality of life. I told her that her quality of life hadn’t been great with all the suffering she’d had as a result of her delay in treatment. She didn’t have much to say about my comments.

As an aside here, if it seems like my role in this narrative is mostly observational, you’d be reasonably close on that. Over the past 30 years I’ve learned that my mom wouldn’t take advice on medical matters from anyone. It got to the point where I learned that it was better for both of us for me to not offer opinions more than once. She learned that if she wanted a sympathetic ear to listen to her complain about her health, when she’d chosen not to do anything about it, I was not the one to call. If she brought up a health issue our conversations would fall into a pattern. The pattern was: mom would bring up health issue, I would listen, I would ask if she wanted my opinion on the matter, if she did I’d give her my opinion, if she didn’t we’d move on. Then after an opinion or no opinion was given that would be the end of it. If either of us brought it up again the response from the other was “We’ve talked about this already. Has anything changed?” If nothing changed, there was nothing to talk about and we moved on.

After the surgery, mom got an infection in her hand. It was treated, and I thought it was under control. Little did I know.

A few days after Mother’s Day, I got a panicked call from my sister. Mom was in the hospital. She was unconscious, and no one was sure what was going on. To shorten this part of the story, it turned out mom’s infection was not under control and was widespread and caused swelling around her brain. She was in a medically induced coma for about 5 days while they treated her infection. Once it was under control they brought her out of the coma and started additional treatments to get her vitals back to the normal range.

After about 10 days in the hospital she was moved to a rehab facility to help her regain her mobility. This is where she was in early June when I last wrote. While she was at the rehab facility she had a visit from her regular doctor. We were told then that after studying the various imagery that was done during her hospital stay, her doctor had noticed that her lungs were filled with small spots of cancer. No doubt this cancer was started by bits that had broken off during the surgery on her hand in March and had now settled in and metastasized into lung cancer. After some discussion with her doctor, mom decided that she would begin a regimen of immuno-therapy drugs (which she described as not being chemo to me) to try and treat the cancer in her lungs.

But that day I knew that the end was coming soon. I knew in my heart and mind that the time for treatment was long past and that this was the confirmation of a death sentence that had been written out months before.

Mom stayed in the rehab facility until mid-June. She went home for a single night. The day after going home, she went into a hospice. She was conscious and alert for a time in hospice, but soon the opiates came into play and she faded into that drug-induced sleep that would lead to her death on July 4th*.

I suspect that I am writing this to do some mourning and some soul-cleansing. I am beginning to develop more of a detachment to the course of the end of my mom’s life that makes it possible to type this. As I think back over what happened over the course of these months I’ve come to conclude that when the cancer came back, in 2016, mom had just had enough and didn’t want to continue. There isn’t really another explanation. She knew, and frankly we all knew, that by not getting treatment at the onset of this that it would only end one way. Death. And it was only a question of how long it would take to reach the end. In mom’s case I would say that the real physical suffering was from January to her death. The cancer had grown so much and was so painful before the surgery that it was a burden. Then the infection, hospitalization, and then hospice. None of that was good. But it was inevitable based on her choices.

I am not bitter about her choices. Truly I am not. People have free will to exercise as they want. We can disagree with them. We can think they are making bad choices. But the choices are theirs to make. The only judgement that counts in this is Divine judgement.

(NB: Intellectually, I should ask my priest about this. Perhaps some of my more theologically trained readers – if I have readers still – could educate me on this point. Does refusal of treatment that had a reasonable chance of success constitute suicide of a type? I wonder.)

I am not divine in any sense, Christian, Buddhist, Pagan… So, my judgement, such as it is, doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. But I feel sad that, in my judgement, my mom decided that she didn’t have any reason to continue in life. Intellectually, I can see how she came to her conclusion. But it still saddens me. At some level one can’t help but personalize thoughts like this. If I had been less detached from her (as I described above) would she have made the same decisions? I’m really of two minds about it. If I had done more to engage her and try to convince her of a different path, perhaps she would have made different choices. But on the other hand, years of experience brought my mom and I to the point where we had a “system” for dealing with health concerns that satisfied both of us.

Who knows?

I have prayed for my mom and will continue to do so. Although she left the Catholic church decades ago (and Christianity and “organized religion” for that matter), I am having a Mass offered up for her at my church. (Sunday, December 2, 2018, 7 am, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Fredericksburg, VA if you are inclined.) To do so is definitely a comfort for me, and I hope a comfort for her soul as well.

By way of a postscript to this tale of dying, my father is living with me now (not quite full-time) at the Villainschloss. This is a problem mainly because he has mental illness issues that make life with him difficult. (And to be honest, I can’t help but think my father’s condition may have informed my mother’s choices…) Also, my mother, in a fit of pique years ago, set up her estate in a way that satisfied her wishes at the time, but have now placed significant burdens on my father and sister. So, there is that too…

And that, loyal minions, is how my summer has gone… Pretty crappy by the by.

I hope your summer has been better than mine. And I hope you have a good Labor Day weekend.

Carry on.

* – For what it is worth, the Fourth of July is, even in light of my loss, the greatest of all holidays in the US calendar. If I must enumerate the reasons behind my thinking again they are: 1) Good Weather, 2) Secular, 3) No gift giving, 4) Outdoor grilling, 5) Fireworks, 6) Girls in swimsuits.

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