Spook Says Early Fall — Cat’s in the cradle and silver moon

Spook Says Early Fall

Cat’s in the cradle and silver moon

August 25th 2021

We have a cat named Spook. She’s ten years old and looks to be a medium-sized black cat until you pick her up. That’s when you realize she’s mostly fluff. There’s maybe four pounds of cat inside that black cloud. When she feels like it, she’s a very sweet-natured, affectionate little kitty.

That’s when she feels like it. Much of the time, she’s just plain nuts.

I got my first inkling of this when she was a year old, in late spring. I walked in the bedroom where she was curled up at the foot of the bed. She jumped to her feet, an expression of clear horror on her face, and scrambled under the bed.

I started at the hole in the air where she had been. “What the hell did I do to you, cat?” I grumbled. I didn’t think much of it. It was evening, and most of our cats sometimes get the “evening crazies” where they dash madly about the house and swat at no-see-ums. Kittens—which Spook still was at the time—are particularly susceptible to this. So I just shook my head and muttered “cats.” I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve done that.

Only evening crazies only last for 15 or 20 minutes and the cat calms down and curls up and goes to sleep. Spook stayed out of sight the rest of the evening. And the next day. And the day after that. When I did see her, she fled.

My wife reported the same behavior. And the first time we held the back door open for an indecisive other cat to come in or out, she would see an opportunity and dash past.

We didn’t worry about that too much. The yard is fenced, there are a dozen hidey-holes where a cat can escape any would-be predators, and she had survived basic training by the fierce and terrible Mac, our feisty old orange tom who didn’t take shit from any coyote or raccoon foolish enough to cross his path.

She would hide, and when we let one of the other animals in or out, she would make a mad dash. That would usually be the only time we would see her.

Even though she acted like were were hungry ogres who lived only to feast on cats, we knew she was around, even though she otherwise stayed invisible, and we usually didn’t know if she was in or out. I sometimes thought of her as Schrödinger’s Joke.

But there were times when none of the others were in transit, and we had no reason to open the back door. In which case, she would stand as far away as she could while maintaining line-of-sight eye contact, and wait for one of us to open the door for her. Except at first she wouldn’t work herself up to approaching while we were looking right at her, and we both would end up frustrated.

I finally figured it out, which was amazing when you consider that I am under the considerable handicap of being a human being, a balding monkey if you will. I had to Avert My Gaze. If she wanted out, I had to gaze longingly at the back fence while she worked up the courage to make a wild dash past me. If she wanted in, she would wait at the bottom of the steps while I memorized the features of our stove at the other end of the kitchen, until a puff of air near my shins told me she was in.

Then, one crisp October night, I was typing at my computer and heard a meep. I glanced down, and there was Spook! She reared up and put a paw up on my knee, gave me a direct look, and meeped again. I very slowly reached down, and she gently head-butted my hand. It was the first time I had been allowed to touch her since that night in April. I got up and she scrambled back, but I was only going to check her food. She had to be starving to dare approach me, I reasoned.

Nope. Food supply was fine. And I went to the door and averted my gaze, and she didn’t take me up on the offer. She just wanted to say hi.

After that, she was a normal cat, if a bit timid. She even let me pick her up to examine her. We had come to think of her as a peripheral cat, a semi-feral who came in only to eat. She was in remarkably good shape, considering. She even let me run a brush over her and put some flea stuff on her neck.

At least once a day she would come in just to say hi. She loved having her tail tugged and would strop back and forth, waving it invitingly.

Then, one spring morning, she stared at me in abject horror, and made an insane dash for it. She had just SEEN me eat breakfast, and I hardly ever eat cats right after a meal. Trying to lose weight, you know.

And just like that, we were back in frenzied paranoia mode.

Until six months later, when she reverted to affectionate little house kitty.

The pattern became clear. She would revert to Spooky Spook when the nighttime lows were reliably above freezing and the last of the snow had melted. She would become Warm and Fuzzy Spook when the frost was on the pumpkin. Her affection for us was measured in Fahrenheit.

Normally we’re deep in Schrödinger’s Joke mode this time of year. When it’s baseball season, you don’t see Spook, or if she has to be seen, she doesn’t like it. This past year we added an enclosed front porch with a cat-sized portal next to the screen door and a cat flap in the bedroom window facing onto the porch. It didn’t take her long to figure out the implications. Unbridled access, inside and out! We usually didn’t see much of her in the summer. Now we barely saw her at all. The one good look I got at her was last month, one morning when I went out on the porch to read the news. A neighbor came by on the streets with her corgis. Now, the corgis aren’t a particular threat. Or any threat. Neither could manage three miles an hour with a tailwind, they liked cats, and what’s more, they were on a leash. Just a pair of nice old dogs.

Nonetheless the simultaneous appearance of me and the dogs threw the two cats that happened to be in the front yard into wild panic. TK, our Korat, darted for the porch. She understands that humans mean safety. Spook, who knows better, dashed for the large lilac bush that is her summer home. Both were staring at the affably harmless dogs with deep loathing, fear and disgust as they ran.

They collided.

It was so quick it nearly didn’t happen at all. Showing uncharacteristic wisdom, I decided it didn’t happen. Cats know when you’re laughing at them, and they can be vindictive. The corgis and their owners were clearly enjoying the show. No head-strops for them. Not from those two particular cats.

So last night I was in bed, doing some reading before going to sleep. I felt a cat jump up on the bed behind me and absently reached back to scritch kitty ears. After decades of cat exposure, I can reach back without even looking and accurately scritch between the ears. The cats agree that it’s my most useful, indeed only useful talent.

I figured it was TK. She likes to be hand-fed kitty crunchy treats. Spoiled rotten. I petted along her back. Not TK. Korats have thick, short pelts, silver and grey. This felt more like cotton candy, only not sticky.

I rolled over and blinked in amazement. It was Spook, not only letting me touch her, but inviting me to pull her tail! I glanced at the thermometer. It might go below 50 that night, but only a little. Frost was not in the forecast.

She let me pet her, which served as a thinly-disguised opportunity to check her weight, her pelt, and check for any injuries or tender spots. She seemed fine. She jumped down and trotted off to the kitchen to see if we had done anything lately to justify our existence.

But it’s only August. Schrödinger’s Joke isn’t supposed to be Warm and Fuzzy for two more months!

It can only mean one thing: an early fall. Frost is rare in the California mountains in August, but not unheard of. Rain is also seldom seen. But something has persuaded Spook that I am preferable to the Lilac Bush.

So I am bracing for an early fall. I would prefer not to see frost for another six weeks because backyard garden, but early rains in this fiery and smoky year would be cause for deep ecstasy.

Spook probably knows. But that is cat knowledge, and us balding monkeys are not worthy.

Hope for rain.

Kabuling for Dollars — The end of the occupation

August 19th 2021

It’s hard not to feel horror at the events this week in Afghanistan. The awful scenes of panicking Afghanis clinging to the side of a C-19 as it took off and falling to their deaths would shake anyone up. Rachel Maddow was reduced to tears recounting the incredible tale of the efforts to get a translator (one of thousands) out of the country with his family. The only other time that happened was when the story broke of what the Trump administration was doing to refugee children.

But Afghanistan was always going to end this way. It didn’t matter if it was now, or 2020, or 2002. The end of the American occupation of Afghanistan was always going to be bloody and painful, because that’s how occupations almost always end. That’s why they are against international law.

And make no mistake—this was never “a war in Afghanistan” as people who should know better keep calling it. It was an occupation.

Remember how it began? Nine Eleven had just happened, and the Bush administration decided that Osama bin Laden was the mastermind behind it. Osama was hiding in Afghanistan (and he probably was) with the connivance of the Taliban government (probably not the case). So the US sent troops into Afghanistan to find and arrest him.

Even I didn’t have any problem with that. ObL was an obvious suspect because of his role in the previous attack on the Twin Towers, and I hated and despised the Taliban, cruel, corrupt and often insane, like all authoritarian religious regimes. If they were hiding Osama, then fuck them. Go in, get him, and get out.

Only it became obvious within weeks that Osama was long gone, flown the coop to Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, two countries the US didn’t invade searching for him. Instead, the US stayed in Afghanistan, setting up a puppet regime and pouring billions into the place. Supposedly the US was going to rebuild Afghanistan, new roads, new schools, new infrastructure, all the shit the government wasn’t doing in America. In reality, the money covered the costs of occupying the country, billions in bribes to the local warlords not to cause trouble, and maybe 5% which actually went to “rebuilding”. All told, some two trillion dollars got poured down a rat hole, nearly all of it wasted and in the pockets of people we didn’t want to help.

The US paid people to be their friends there, and that went about as well as paying people to be your friend usually goes. And Bush and Obama didn’t have a clue how to end it, especially since the neo-liberals who engineered the disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq were ready to pounce, and declare any administration willing to pull out “soft on terrorism.”

The US occupied Iraq on the insanely stupid excuse that Saddam Hussein, mortal enemy to the Taliban and Iran, was secretly helping them. They managed to end that one by surrendering well in advance and letting the Iraqis choose their own government first. So the people didn’t have to overthrow a puppet regime.

Remember “Vietnamization”? Nixon figured, correctly, that if they let the Vietnamese people choose their government, there would be less unrest when the Americans left. Only the people in North Vietnam didn’t get to vote, and so they considered the Saigon government a puppet regime. Weeks later, it was gone, and Saigon was now Ho Chi Minh City.

In Iraq, they surrendered to the people they invaded Iraq to rid the country of first, and then left.

Trump actually tried to do something like this, releasing some five thousand political prisoners, including much of the new government in Kabul and a lot of warlords who didn’t toe the line, in hopes that there wouldn’t be a bloody dumping of the Vichy regime in Kabul when US troops were pulled out, originally slated for May 1st 2021. But the planned talks at Camp David never happened, and Biden had too much on his plate to take it up. So there remained a puppet regime in Kabul, which lasted nearly a week.

The Taliban moved fast, and swept into power. But a lot of people hate and fear them, and not just American puppets and lackeys. As mentioned, they are a theocracy, the most vicious and hateful form of government known to man, and women and anyone who don’t want strict adherence to Sharia Law (which would be most Muslims) have every reason to fear them. Expect Afghanistan to be a bloody mess for some time to come.

To Republicans who say this is Biden’s fault: Fuck you. Bush began the occupation, and Trump set things up so it would end as badly as possible. For the human sewage who are shouting they don’t want Biden dumping refugees on them from Afghanistan: double fuck you. Biden should offer to trade you and your family to the Taliban for every decent person and his family in Afghanistan who tried to help and now needs to get out. America is far better off with them and without you.

Still, the US is out of there, and the hemorrhaging of money has slowed. Maybe some of you will learn from this—occupations are a waste of time and money and usually end with many people getting hurt. The only way an occupation will work is through centuries of attrition (the Norman invasion of England) or genocide (the Americas by Europe). As foreign policy, they never work and usually backfire. Don’t do it.

I doubt it will work. The UK, the USSR and the US have both tried occupying Afghanistan and all left weaker and poorer for it. The USSR tried occupying eastern Europe. History is full of failed occupations, or ones that ended in mass murder and social destruction.

For people who think America had any friends in Afghanistan, don’t be an ass. Most of the flunkies were paid, and America is doing a marvelous job of screwing over the few who honestly liked the Americans now. Like the Fox News/GOP filth who are saying NIMBY to refugees from Afghanistan.

Stop trying to run other people’s countries. They don’t like you and your values for pretty much the same reason you don’t like theirs, and you’re no better than them. Stay inside your own borders, and work on making life better for your own people. That will attract better responses from other countries than all the occupations in the world.

The Bottom Forty — Vonnegut’s bastard children arise

The Bottom Forty

Vonnegut’s bastard children arise

July 14th 2021

Over 40% of new COVID cases this past week erupted in just two states: Florida and Texas. There were 903,471 new cases nationally, including 155,000 just yesterday. That means those two states alone made up some 360,000 new cases. Fifteen percent of the population, forty percent of cases.

Normally a disparity like that would have statisticians scrambling for answers. Sometimes the answer is evident: Maine and Wisconsin have far more cases of frostbite per capita than all of the South. Sometimes they are obscure (‘cancer towns’ which sometimes result from industries that closed a century earlier). But the most mysterious thing about the high rate of infections in Florida and Texas is that it isn’t mysterious at all.

It’s part of actions by state leaders in both state that range, at best, from feckless to at worst deliberate reckless endangerment resulting in multiple deaths. The governors of both states not only are anti-vaccination and anti-mask, but are pushing policies to prevent schools, towns, and even hospitals from requiring masks and vaccinations.

Sociologists and mob psychologists are going to be studying this for years. There’s many cases of a few individuals leading a society going mad and engaging in policies that harm or even destroy the societies they lead. Three major examples from the twentieth century would be Hitler in Germany, Stalin in Russia, and Mao in China. And there are far too many examples of leaders exhorting the mob to rise up and commit genocide against minorities in their own lands or adjacent. Cambodia, Rwanda, and Turkey all come to mind.

But in this case, Florida and Texas, you have mad leaders exhorting their followers to effectively commit genocide against themselves.

The followers don’t see it quite that way, of course. They have been convinced that COVID doesn’t exist or is no worse than a bad cold. Remember, this is a society where 10% of population believes the Earth is a flat disk, 40% believe in angels, and 75% think Windows is the best possible operating system to have on their computers. Ignorance is praised and expertise questioned, and it’s easy to persuade large groups of people that hidden knowledge, especially knowledge hidden for sinister purposes by malign cabals, is the best type of knowledge to have, and negates the open world of realization accrued through hard work and serious study.

Isaac Asimov, no stranger to the concept of societies gone mad, once observed that societal decay was inevitable when ignorance and knowledge were seen as being roughly equally worthy of respect. Certainly the United States has a long history of that. For example, we are supposed to treat biblical literalism with the same respect that we are the fields of biology, botany, geology and physics. Despite the fact that on the face of it, bible literalism is utterly preposterous.

Americans tend to be suckers for oblique concepts that don’t bear close examination. Christians endlessly witnessing for their faiths think they are earning Jesus brownie points even though the bible itself frowns on ostentatious displays of false piety. Americans aren’t alone in rallying to the cause of “freedom!” but it gets carried to weird extremes here, where one has the ‘freedom’ to refuse to take any measures at all to protect the health or others, or even permit others to take reasonable measures to protect their own health. This madness seems to have peaked with the governors of Florida and Texas passing rules forbidding schools from requiring masks, or even reporting cases of COVID outbreak amongst their students and staff. At least, let’s hope that’s the peak. It’s the same sort of madness we used to mock in the Soviet Union, where it was a crime (Anti-Soviet Agitation) to say that a state-run automobile was a rattletrap (they were) or admit that tractor production was below the goals of a five-year plan. You could be punished for that, just as in Florida or Texas you can be punished for admitting a potentially deadly disease is sweeping through a class full of children.

At some point this sort of madness implodes. That’s the good news. The bad news is that sometimes a great deal of damage is done before the implosion happens, and a normal part of the course of this mental infection is that the rule becomes more and more authoritarian in an effort to sustain the evident absurdities. In some cases, such as Hitler’s Germany or the Soviet Union, it required the collapse and near destruction of the society. In Turkey and China, it was just sheer exhaustion from the body count. There’s rarely a desirable outcome to this madness.

Kurt Vonnegut observed that the greatest danger humanity held for itself was bad ideas. While he was hopeful, convinced that in most cases the bulk of humanity could avoid the infection and carry on and even help those who were infected, he had no illusions about the destructive nature of those bad ideas.

America’s current mania, an amalgamation of Trumpism, allowing the neo-nazi sick right out from under its rocks, and the love of conspiracy theories, has yet to run its course. It is possible that with the disease wildfiring through MAGA-infested parts of the country (my own very red county set a record for most new cases this week), the requisite death toll will be high enough to rein in the crazies—or kill them, either way is fine.

But remember that you’re far more likely to die from an idiotic idea than you are from common sense, and conduct yourself accordingly.