I woke up this morning to a less kind, generous, humble, strong, elegant, loving, and compassionate world. A woman who I have known since I was born left my world in a sudden void of what I considered traditional no-nonsense values we so lack today. A woman so far removed from my personal life yet so entangled and part of it that I find myself very sorrowful and sad. It’s like a long friendship has suddenly been rudely severed. An unexplainable ache for the familiarity was taken away without a chance to get used to the void.
Last week I had a strange dream that left me very unsettled because I could not explain it. It was a comforting dream. I woke up in a warm state of mind but utterly confused. A week ago, I dreamt that I was at Buckingham Palace for tea. A concept as foreign to me as even thinking of being inside Buckingham Palace, period. But there I was on a huge soft sofa sipping tea from a delicate cup watching people without faces murmuring across the room. Someone sat beside me and to my astonishment it was Ma’am herself. In blue. We sat silently until she turned to me to remark that today’s generation are soft. I took the bait. “They have no grit” I replied. She softly took my arm and the next thing I knew we were walking through London waving at people. I woke up feeling as warm as the imaginary tea I drank in my dream. Last night, my dream friend passed and left the streets of London quiet with sorrow.
Elizabeth was crowned a year after I was born. One could say that I have known her all my life. I grew up a colonist in the smallest colony of the empire, but the one that Elizabeth and Philip chose to visit and bring their children to for rest and relaxation. In her lifetime, Elizabeth always spoke fondly of Malta. They were the happiest two years of the newlywed’s lives. A Navy wife who could roam around the island unhampered and without care. Malta and the Maltese carry warm memories of the Royal Family as they routinely passed through the island with love and joy.
What was special about this woman? Brought up by strong traditional parents, she was taught at an early age the importance of responsibility and service. Her father took on the kingship against his will but with stoic determination for the good of the country. In turn he taught his daughter that service outweighs personal desires and choices. When Elizabeth took on the role of queen, her first broadcast was a promise to the nation that she would always be of service to the people she was chosen to take care of.
Elizabeth knew her role as a monarch to be without bias or political leanings. She lived through 15 prime ministers, some she liked, some she could do without. But she was the strength that often gave her prime ministers the counsel and advice that helped them lead through the eyes of a woman, mother, and queen. She never shirked from her family role of a mother. She ruled as a mother and later, grandmother. The various tragedies, scandals, challenges, and pain that hit her family did not change her approach to what is right and wrong. She rode the wave of popularity and unpopularity with calm and conviction. Two attributes so lacking in all of our leaders today.
As a woman, Elizabeth was a role model of strength and determination without apologies. She was the ultimate feminist when feminists were still a thing of the future. She was the glue that held a family together even when ready to split apart. She had the strength to reprimand, rebuke, and even “punish” family when needed. But at the end of it all, it was her love of God, country, and family that led her to continue to serve. And serve she did. From WWII as a mechanic to ruling for 70 years, Elizabeth served with honor, integrity, and most of all, love.
As Paddington put it so succinctly: thank you ma’am for everything.
One time I asked my mother what it felt like to be 97, and in her stoic noncommittal way she answered “tiring”. This will be the sixth anniversary of my mother’s death. She died a few months shy of 100! We have a strong female gene in our family, the women hang on, but the men tend to drop like flies. A combination of female resistance to the mundane and a compelling urge to keep on going just because we can. We can be stubborn (very non-committal here) overbearing, loud and opinionated, but shirkers we are not!
My mother was born in Malta in 1916. The beginning of the most tumultuous century in world history. She was born at the onset of the Great War (WWI) and the influenza pandemic that proliferated through the awful trenches of WWI in Europe, and later transported to the rest of the known world. Malta’s strategic location smack in the middle of the Mediterranean made it an attractive crossroads to trade activity from North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia,, to the rest of Europe. The pandemic travelled these routes and eventually found itself on the island. Historians have written very little about the 1918 pandemic in Malta, but it was a turning point for life on the island.
365 churches stand on an island the size of Manhattan. Some older than the US by several hundred years. Internal church burials under coveted mosaic and marble chiseled floors were the norm. When the 1918 pandemic broke out, the Catholic Church in Malta stopped the practice and started building cemeteries outside the confines of the churches. Internal burials ceased for health reasons. Besides traditional Catholic cemeteries, Malta has a Muslim Cemetery, British Forces cemeteries overseen by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and a small Jewish Cemetery. The first burial outside a church was in 1872 at what is now the State-owned Cemetery Addolorata, but it took the pandemic to get burials out of the church and into the cemetery. This is the world that my mother was born into.
The lives and survival of our parents is a combination of wonder. A generation that moved from one life challenge to the next matter-of-factly without the imminent need of ‘safe spaces”, counselors, and the self-inflicted psychoanalytic crap of today. They faced trauma reasonably unscathed and left themselves open to the possibility that when one door closes another will open. Some cynics might call it a cliché, but my mother’s generation lived by it.
In August 1920, my grandfather left Malta to the other side of the world to find a better life for himself and his family in the New World. New York City to be exact. A man who looked toward the future and wanted more for his family than the life a small island had to offer. Out of the ravages of WW I and the pandemic, he realized that things will not be very easy in Malta. He wanted more for his family. For the next eight years he set up a career and a home in NYC before asked the rest of the family to join him. In August of 1928, my grandmother, my mother then eleven years old, and her brother then eight years old, travelled to NYC to start a new life in mid-town Manhattan and an area fondly known as Hell’s Kitchen.
In her last years of her life my mother could care less whether she remembered what she ate for lunch, but she could name every store, church, and neighbor who lived between 47th and 50th in her NYC neighborhood. After graduating from High School, and in her late teens, my mother accompanied her mother, my grandmother, to Malta to settle family affairs. While in Malta, she met a handsome man with twinkling green bluish eyes, and I want to think that it was love at first sight. They corresponded, my mother from the US and my father from Malta. In December 1938, they got married in Malta.
During WW II, Malta suffered the brunt of both the Italians and the Germans. It would not cave in to the constant bombings that the Luftwaffe threw at it in an attempt to bring the British to their knees. Malta located between Italy and North Africa, was imperative to the Germans to continue their dominance in the Mediterranean and North Africa. But Malta was not going down without a fight. This was to be my mother’s early married life.
My parents, newlywed and young, spent most of the war underground in a shelter. Malta was sieged from the air and the sea. By 1942, the British could neither sustain the attacks nor feed the island population bombed to its core without fuel and food. The British tried for months to get supplies through to Malta but without success. Finally, in August 1942, a convoy with much needed supplies limped into the Grand Harbor, but not before sustaining the loss of several merchant ships, a cruiser, and a destroyer. The rest of the convoy so badly damaged that the Maltese still consider it a miracle that it made it through at all. Convoy day is still celebrated today. This was my mother’s world as a young bride and a mother.
My elder sister was born in 1941, smack in the middle of this horror. She spent most of her infant years with underneath the ground in a war shelter. Up until she died, my mother refused to eat “bully beef” a British take on Spam, and the only reasonable staple during the war, if one was lucky enough to get it. She also tended to hoard supplies if a hint of war was anywhere in the world. She hated the sound of sirens because they reminded her of air raid warnings. Nowadays they call it PTSD. She called it “not wanting to live through another war again”.
My mother was the poster child for motherhood. She raised seven of us in conditions that today’s generation can neither emulate nor wish to. Our parents managed to raise a family on one bread winner, one car, one phone line, one radio, much, much, later in life, one black and white television, one bathroom, and several other single amenities of the day, quite common to the early 50’s and 60’s households. We thrived, we grew, we left home, none the wiser and none the worse. An era when all families faced the same challenges of raising children without the excess of today. We didn’t know any better because all families we knew were leading the same lives. We took pleasure in simplicity. Swimming until dusk in the summer, playing marbles on a newly washed marble floor, sleeping outside on Malta’s terraced roofs on hot summer days, and letting our rolled-up hair dry naturally in the hot Mediterranean sun. Nobody locked their front doors, and everyone watched out for everyone else.
Throughout our childhood, our mother was the first to rise and the last one to sleep. Frankly, I never remember her getting up because when we got up, she had already been up several hours, and peeling vegetables and preparing lunch. I don’t remember her going to bed either. She was the last one to put her head down from what I assume by today’s standards would be labeled a “stressful” day.
Our mothers didn’t have microwaves, electric coffee pots, dishwashers, or often washing machines. These were the proverbial super women. Eventually their arms developed muscles like Schwarzenegger from washing clothes, wringing clothes, hanging clothes, carrying kids, and lugging everything in between. They managed households of nine and more without a single trip to a life counselor, psychiatrist, stress manager, or life guide. A breed of women who went through wars and life challenges without drama or blame. They gathered their strength through their own upbringing and sense of responsibility. Our mother never attended “birth” classes before giving birth to my sister in 1941. She didn’t have to be taught to be a mother or a parent. It was common sense. What sets women like my mother apart is not only their resiliency, but their intrinsic ability to raise families sans books, child psychologists, or how-to manuals.
To this generation blaming my parents’ and our generation for everything from climate change to the economy, here’s news for you. My mother never went shopping without carrying a reusable shopping bag. There were no plastic bags. She went shopping for fresh groceries and fruit every morning, she didn’t spend money on microwave crap and didn’t spend money on junk food either. I remember her peeling potatoes and slicing them in thin fine slices to make us potato chips. She didn’t use plastic cups, plates, or cutlery. We went on picnics or had parties and ate on china plates with real cutlery. We also had cloth napkins at table not paper. She walked or took the bus and found no need to either buy a second car or drive. We were taught to turn off the light as soon as we leave a room to conserve energy. We were also taught not to waste water. At Christmas we expected one gift not the entire Amazon truck under the tree. She made us school lunches neatly tucking a fruit for desert and not expecting the school to feed us. A phone was for an emergency not to give an opinion or take pictures. We ate everything she put on the plate because her kitchen had a set menu, and because if we didn’t we would have gone hungry. We didn’t suffer from ADD or any other alphabetic ailments so prolific among kids today. If we misbehaved in class, in church, in public, the ADD was quickly slapped out of us by some adult in authority, and if there was any ADD residual it was immediately removed by either parent as soon as we got home. We didn’t have allergies we can’t pronounce, and riding a bike was an adventure that often meant getting bruised, which we wore like a badge of honor and which our mother took care of with a swab of alcohol that burnt like the dickens and a band aid. Playground equipment was mounted on gravel or concrete floor. We learnt pretty quick not to be stupid. We played games like hopscotch, hide and seek, four corners, and various other games we made up on the spot. We weren’t fat because we had a life. My mother’s generation did with less and achieved more.
In her twilight years, my mother remembered as much as she forgot, or at least said she forgot. Sometimes I think it was a ploy to change the subject. Her hands fragile and bent from acute arthritis didn’t stop her from still puttering around until her late 90’s. She had very little patience with the nonsense the current world was gradually falling into. When I visited her during her last few years of her life, I began to realize that there was more to this woman than we siblings ever realized. Her life was a tapestry of color and time that spanned almost a 100 years. She lived through most of what we read about in history books. But she never uttered one word of regret. She regretted loosing her husband my father, so soon in her life. They were married 40+ years and when he passed at 73, he left a void in my mother’s life she could never fill. She missed him till the day she died.
On my many visits to my mother’s assisted care facility, and speaking with other female residents my mother’s age, I discovered the communality between these women; they all had a story. Remarkable stories. Like my mom, most were war brides raising children in shelters or bombed out homes. As they recalled those years, they weren’t angry, spiteful, or even regretful. They were of the same mind that they did what they had to do. Their stories might have varied but their courage was across the board.
My mother has been gone for six years. A few months shy of a 100 she left the world as quietly as she had entered it. A woman of so many complexities and dimensions that we often mistook for old age. Her mind was as sharp as a tack, and in later years her tongue matched it. She was pragmatic to a fault. She connected the dots with clarity. On one of my later visits, she sat next to me listening to a conversation of a young first-time mother visiting her grandmother at the assisted care facility. The young mother bemoaned her lack of personal time because she had a job and a child. It was stressful. Without missing a beat, my mother looked at me and said: “Why did she bother wanting a child if she couldn’t take care of it?” Who can argue with that? A difference in generational needs: one wants it all, gets it and bemoans it, while the other did what had to be done with grace and fortitude. I miss my mother. I miss the connection between her past and my present. Her legacy is not found in any library, it is buried within the DNA of me, my siblings, and our children. I know that there is a little bit of my mother’s tenacity, resilience, and courage in me. Her legacy is in a blessed memory of a woman who never asked for much but gave so much of herself willingly and unconditionally. “God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers.” Rudyard Kipling
Until I was 15, my national anthem was “God save the Queen”, and my passport was British. Malta was a colony of Great Britain for 200+ years. Yeah, the Brits could be stiff, arrogant, and a general pain in the ass. BUT they gave us the best education in the world when subjects like Math, English, Literature, and writing in impeccable cursive mattered. When passing as many GCE (General Certificate of Education equivalent to a High School Diploma but 100% harder) subjects also mattered. The GCE was given to Secondary School leaving students by Oxford, London, and Cambridge Universities. Students could choose one university or sit for exams from all. Competition was high. Finding a good job either on Malta or abroad meant getting the best GCE results
So, I will let you on my little secret. I still have a soft spot for Britain, especially the Queen. The Queen personifies everything a woman should be. Strong, determined, assertive, but also caring and loving. Throughout her 70-year-old reign, this woman endured failed economies, dorky Prime Ministers, and often dorkier relatives. But forward she literally marched with courage and a stiff upper lip that she learned from her mother, father, and grandparents. The Queen was raised to be strong.
Eventually, the British Empire disintegrated into a Commonwealth which meant very little to anyone. Symbolic in nature, it combined the yearnings of an era when young Royals travelled, waved, and smiled at people they often had very little interest in. Colonies were strategic or resource assets. When in the late 20th century, colonies started getting antsy and wanting independence, British Parliament and the Crown were simultaneously nervous and relieved. Basically, Britain could not afford the colonies any longer. However, Malta was not so easy to let go because of its historic strategic presence in the Mediterranean, especially post WWII and during the Cold War.
Post WWII Malta headquartered the Allied Forces Southern Europe Command for many years. Former NATO headquarters are still visible in Floriana, and now open to the public, one can appreciate the role Malta played in the Empire and in NATO. After Malta’s Independence, NATO re-organized and eventually moved to Naples, Italy. But the British influence remains strong on a small island barely the size of the town I currently live in Germany. An island historically rich and amazingly diverse. Barely 60 miles off the shore of Sicily and 180 miles north of Libya, Malta remains an island with the best natural harbor and the best shipyards in the world.
Malta’s British heritage is imbedded in the island and its inhabitants. English is the second official language, we drive “on the wrong side of the road”, we serve British food, we have a shitload of pubs, we have the largest Manchester United fan base outside the UK, and we enjoy British holiday traditions. The Maltese incongruently eat, drink, drive, and celebrate like Brits. One can go for a full English breakfast in the morning, a Maltese meal of pasta and Mediterranean fish for lunch, a Guinness in the evening, and a fusion of chips and Maltese entrees for dinner. Cuisine influenced by Italy, north Africa, and Britain makes eating in Malta a culinary experience.
But nothing says Britain more than at Christmas time, when Maltese homes are filled with aromas of mince pies, Christmas cakes, Christmas puddings, trifles, and perfectly roasted potatoes. Christmas dinner may start with baked macaroni, but followed by a roast bird of some kind, roast potatoes, and occasionally Yorkshire pudding. Desert is a toss between Christmas Cake, trifle, or a beautiful Mediterranean almond cake. A compellation of tastes, traditions, and heritage very few places on earth can boast about. You can take the Brits out of Malta but not Malta out of Britain.
Coming to my point: like the millions around the world, I watch all Royal weddings and find myself standing when “God save the Queen” is being played. So here I now sit watching the 70th Jubilee of the Queen with a box of tissues because I intrinsically feel the joy of these celebrations as if I was still a colonial. I tell my American and German friends as they raise their eyebrows questioning my emotional state, that for a chunk of my youth “she was my Queen you know”. That says it all. She was my Queen and this weekend I feel that she is still my Queen. The woman in the picture who adorned all our classrooms, government offices, and often our homes those many years ago is still part of my life. I can still sing “God save the Queen” in harmony with the best of them just as I remember singing it in primary school every morning.
I am a mish mosh of allegiances and emotions. Holding two passports, one Maltese/EU, and one US, I appreciate my past as a British subject. The British with their often-insufferable stiff upper lip taught us discipline in our lives and our establishments. With a smug we secretly enjoyed passing more GCE subjects than they did. Most Maltese students sat for 8-11 subjects the majority from Oxford University, and passed them effortlessly. We competed with British students and the rest of the Commonwealth at the same June time frame. We had to write in ink pens when ink often melted on our papers in the Maltese summer heat No student names were allowed on our often-three-hour long papers, just our student numbers. The universities were oblivious as to the location or nationality of the student. We were all graded as British. But its this effort and competitive spirit that instilled in us the urge to do well in school and our lives. A concept our current politicians and school reformists seem to miss entirely today.
The colonial in me will continue to watch the celebrations and secretly wish I was in London with the throngs waving flags and singing “God save the Queen” or some other patriotic ditty I may remember from childhood. I want to party hearty and enjoy 70 years of an incredible female who didn’t need a movement to make a difference, or activists to tell her how to determine her destiny.
At 26, Elizabeth took on her role as monarch with strength, fortitude, grace, and very little drama. Elizabeth knew her responsibilities just as she also knew that her life would change forever. She reigned with poise and an intrinsic deep sense of duty she learned from her father. Attributes which future princesses like Sarah Ferguson, Diana Spencer, and Meghan Merkel seem to lack or have lacked in their world of ego centric expectations and entitlement. Queen Elizabeth never doubted her role or her position in life. She embraced it through an unconditional love of family, country, and empire. The Queen always knew her “place” constitutionally and morally.
As Queen Elizabeth, Lilibeth, (fondly referred to by her father), slowly fades into her much deserved royal sunset, we nervously ponder on the future of the monarchy and Britain without her. Her image on currency and official photos morphed with age, but her spirit as a monarch remained young. As we celebrate her 70th year as a monarch, we inadvertently celebrate our own youth, heritage, and traditions. Memories of the British forces on the island, their parades, royal visits, and pomp and circumstance are still fresh and etched in my mind. Yes, Your Majesty, you were and for the next few days, still are My Queen. God save the Queen.
Whatever and whoever we may condemn in the Catholic Church, many nuns have dedicated their lives to the wellbeing of children, mothers, families, and neighborhoods. The Ursuline order in Malta has been providing shelter for “unwanted” children for over 119 years. The Sliema Creche has been an integral part of the neighborhood and that mission for over 70 years. Out of the two “homes”, one in Gwardamangia and one in Sliema., the latter I am most familiar with. Nestled in a corner of Dingli Street adjacent to St. Patrick’s Church, Salesian Hall and Theater, these women were angels to children who needed them the most.
The news of the closure of the Ursuline Creche in Sliema hit home. In the 60’s, I was part of a girl’s organization called “helpers” of the Creche. We helped several days a week with the babies and toddlers the nuns were bringing up. We loved it. We were inundated with a sense of “good” and charity at an early age. We were part of a special group of people who saw the love of a group of women dedicated to making children’s lives better up close and personal.
The creche depended on private donations. So, we held annual concerts and entertainment at the Salesian Hall around the corner to raise money for the home. Names like Johnny Navarro, a local famous comedian, made appearances and brought with him his comedy routine and colleagues to perform and raise the roof in laughter and much needed funding. All pro bono. I participated in these concerts and entertainment. Still have wonderful memories of being on stage with Johnny Navarro.
In an interview with Times of Malta, Sister Magdalene Cauchi recounted how in the late 50’s early 60’s, nuns were sent to the UK to train and learn about modern childcare. They were pioneers. The concept was to develop an environment as close to a home as possible with age specific group space and resources. Sister Cauchi recalls stories of babies left on their doorsteps at all hours of the day and night, some under odd circumstances, but the nuns were not concerned where they came from only that they had to be taken care of. I personally recall those times, when on various occasions new babies appeared in the nursery overnight.
These formidable women judged no one. They knew that problems existed especially among young girls, who often found themselves pregnant facing hostility within and outside their families and neighborhoods and left with no other choice but to give their babies up. With smiles and love, the nuns asked no questions but took in every child as if their own and as a blessing.
My happiest times as a young girl were spent there. The nuns taught us basic child care. They were big on cleanliness and safety. Only a few of us were allowed to feed the babies and change their nappies. But we were also happy to assist with the daily chores of cleaning the nurseries or just entertaining the children. We also took the babies out in prams for walks and fresh air. I never witnessed any stress among these brave women, only unconditional love.
The EU in its wisdom and lack of consideration to individual countries and their needs, have established policies to de-institutionalize children under three. They should be with a family they argue. Well go figure. In the meantime, what does one do with unwanted babies or abused children? I don’t think the EU has gone that far in thinking that through yet. The nuns have been taking care of both problems for decades. Without asking any questions or demanding payment, they raised children of poor families who could not afford another child. They raised children of prostitutes who had neither the resource nor wanted a child in the environment and situation they found themselves in. In recent years, addiction, abuse, and mental health were the main reasons children were placed in their protection. To comply with the EU, the last three kids have been transferred to the home in Gwardamangia. I guess there was still no “happy family” for these three tikes.
The EU is oblivious to its policies’ consequences because it exists within a bubble of bureaucracy and political ineptness compensated by opinion miles away from the source. A tunnel vision body of policy makers without a clue. If it sounds good, it must be good. This one shoe fits all thinking is outright inane. In today’s world of so much mental illness and inadequate assistance to single mothers and domestic abusive families, one would think that any governing entity would be happy to have an organization that not only assists but is good at it. Assuming that children under three are going to find a happy home right away is absurd. But then the EU is absurd on so many levels it is hard not to just nod and accept this policy as another self serving attempt at “over reach” into a country’s individuality and specific needs.
Going forward, the Ursuline Creche in Sliema will turn into a Day Care Center. The nuns are happy to continue caring and loving children. Their love of children draws from their love of family. The nuns lived like a big family. As a young “helper” I was part of that family. I wore an apron and shared in the joy of taking care of those that couldn’t take care of themselves. These women never asked for anything in return. They gave to those in their care unconditional love and attention. They didn’t pick or choose who to take in, their door was open literally at all hours. Donations came from private organizations and companies. They made do with what they had.
They are the unsung heroes who quietly changed lives for the better. They went beyond taking in children, they also helped poor families by providing resources like prams, cots, and other baby accruements Never ask or asked for anything in return. The EU didn’t have to tell them to do good, they did it because they were and still are exceptional women. They are courageous and dedicated to their mission.
Many of the Sisters I knew as a child have long since been gone to a better place. Their legacy was taken over by those who came after them. They were the pioneers of women’s rights because they understood the plight of women and instead of shunning and judging, they embraced and helped. My memories of those years helping the Ursuline sisters raise babies and toddlers are edged in my heart and mind. They taught most of us the joy of caring and of motherhood as most of us went down that road later in life.
““We cried. We consoled each other. But, with a past like ours, when you think about how many babies and families benefitted from our services, it is not something to cry about, it is something to celebrate,” Sister Magdalene Cauchi May 23, 2022
As I sit at my computer trying to type and wipe my nose at the same time, I reflect on the past year of COVID hysteria and unprecedented dumb. I have been jabbed three times. This coming from a woman who does not take the flu shot and would rather drink a hot cup of tea than take drugs. I never get the flu, and normally while good flu-shot citizens drop like flies around me, I survive winter after winter flu-less and cold-less. Not this year.
Christmas Eve my throat tickled and Christmas Day it became a full blown sore throat. But I marched on with a fabulous dinner and bore it stoically. As Boxing Day approached I had swallowed a large frog. As much as I despise going to doctors, I had to pull myself together and go. My doctor’s office was closed for two weeks. Of course, we’re in Germany. How dare we get sick on Christmas. What was I thinking? But I digress. I masked and covered myself burqa-like and made it to a doctor’s office, who in the most prudent manner made me wait outside in the snow because of COVID. This is where stupid hits me like a bag full of nickels. We are all masked but we can’t go inside. And we must maintain distance. So what’s the point of the mask? So I waited with who it seemed half of my town. They are German, they comply.
The doctor irritated by the fact that he was the only one in the area open for business was not exactly Dr. Marcus Welby M.D. He wouldn’t look at my throat but he lifted up my sweater and poked my back with a cold statoscope. He gave me a decongestant and cough medicine and as I rose to leave, he told me to stand by the open window, and true to the script and before I knew it, I was poked in my throat and both nostrils for a COVID test. Again, another moment of stupid occurred at least by my standards; I had to wait up to 12 hours for the test result but I was sent to the pharmacy next door to get the medication and then home. So I guess, COVID does not even hover while waiting for the result. The result a few hours later came negative. I had to download a COVID test AP from the Koch Institute. What happened to Apple downloads just for funky music?
As the days progressed so did my condition which got blown into a sinus infection from hell. So once again I drag myself to the good doctor who was more amiable this time realizing that he had fucked up three days ago. He gave me antibiotics. Had he done that three days before I would not have had to go back to see him. But the new generation of “woke” doctors are now reluctant to make you feel better immediately in case you get addicted to meds like antibiotics. You might start demanding them and they will ruin the liver or whatever. Instead, I took medicinal crap for three days that obviously I really didn’t need. Of course, the fact that my face was swollen and I looked like a cabbage patch doll did not leave much to the imagination. No COVID poking this time. I guess even Marcus Welby realized that being sick in 2021 does not eliminate the common flu, cold, or seasonal winter crud.
Israel just announced an unseasonal rise in flu and flu hospitalization. This made headlines like it’s something out of the ordinary. According to the CDC the number one cause of death in America is heart disease. WHO also places heart disease as the number one cause of death worldwide. Cancer comes in second, and in 2020, COVID came in third. We have no statistics for 2021. Between October 1, 2019 – April 4, 2020, 39-56 million came down with the flu, 410,000 – 740,000 were hospitalized, 24,000 – 62,000 died, and 195 children died. My point: get over ourselves. There are serious diseases out there that kill more people than this virus. Get a grip.
Announcing having a cold or the flu is like announcing a robbery at Tiffany’s. Gradually those around you disappear like rats on a sinking ship. I announced my cold to my family on Sunday. Faces contorted and I could literally hear their thoughts. “Oh my God, she has it.” I had to remind everyone that there is still the common cold around. A lot of people I know came down with COVID despite the vaccines. According to politicians and COVID groupies everywhere they were the good citizens. They took the jab and most probably announced it on FB with a cute picture and sign “I took the Booster”, like they had just saved the world from destruction. Obviously, we’re going to be boosting till doomsday because whatever is in that jab is not doing much good. People are still getting sick. Yes, but they must be going around without a mask, say the COVID aficionados. They wore masks say them. They must not have disinfected their hands. Really? On a normal day we touch door knobs, shopping carts, and a million other public items that have more germs than a petri dish in Wuhan.
I believe that there are those among us who are reveling in the COVID era of restrictions, control, and shame. They follow case numbers as religiously as they follow sport scores. They are social media’s superheroes. They are the righteous, the conformed, the committed (in more ways than one), the COVID warriors. They are the COVID elite. They wallow in self-righteous condemnation of the unworthy. The unvaccinated, the only twice vaccinated, the mask refusers, the rebels of society who should be dragged out into the street and quartered. We have created a COVID club where smug masked vaccinated tyrants pass judgement armed with ignorance and scientific information from talk-show hosts. They are almost disappointed if one is sick with the flu, surely one jests.
COVID is around and will remain around forever because the genie was released from the bottle. In the meantime, big PHARMA is making a killing on “vaccines” that seem to loose their fizz every three months. I’m sure we’re in for the 4th and 5th booster because the virus will again mutilate. The last version is very mild and those who had it suffered less than what I’m going through right now with the flu. But having the flu is almost disappointing to some. A friend of mine just called me and on telling him I was sick with the flu he asked me if I was sure it wasn’t COVID. My confirmation was under whelming. “Oh, so its only the flu”. And just like that my swollen face, my blocked sinus, and runny nose were dismissed like yesterday’s bad lunch. COVID is now a status symbol.
As I pick my nose off the ground where it has fallen from my last three sneezes, I realize that I haven’t had the flu for years. I always prided myself of being healthier than most of my employees half my age. Now I joined the ranks of the flu season sick. Evil conspiracy thoughts have entered my mind, possibly because I have been binge watching Upstairs Downstairs and the Golden Girls for the past week. I feel vulnerable. Did the three vaccines screw up my immune system and I will be subject to the crud every season? Is this a conspiracy by big Pharma who never made a cent from me and are now getting their revenge? Am I a pawn in this big game of subversive government and political control? Come to think of it, am I a pod person? How would I know? Something is definitely wrong with me because I only have the flu. I’m almost disappointed in myself.
On November 2, 1861, Union Col. Richard J. Oglesby of 18th Co Illinois Infantry Regiment stationed at Birds Point, a small Missouri town across the Mississippi River, received orders from General Grant to take command of an expeditionary force against rebel opposition troops in Stoddard County, Missouri. Allegedly, Col. Oglesby arrived in Bloomfield, Stoddard County, on the morning of November 8th. Forward detachment Union troops had looted abandoned homes and businesses prior to the Colonel’s arriving, compelling him to order the looting to stop, and the soldiers to remain in “garrison” aka tents. In the meantime, ten Union Officers found the abandoned printing offices of the Bloomfield Herald, and that night decided to publish a “newspaper” for their troops. Excerpts from a diary by Captain Daniel Brush of C. Company, 18th Illinois Infantry Regiment, described the effort, and how the next morning, soldiers were given the unprecedented task of naming their new “paper”. The soldiers decided unanimously on Stars and Stripes.
Fast forward to several other wars and deployments across the globe, and the one certainty for every active-duty military member and his or her family remains the morning edition of the Stars and Stripes. We were one of these families and I am one of those subscribers who still enjoys my home delivered Stars and Stripes with my proverbial “cup o’ Joe”. Unfortunately, technology and “paperless” activism or some other equally pseudo eco cliché has led to the gradual demise of the paper edition and consequently, my home delivery of the Stars and Stripes.
I joined the ranks of military wives in 1969. Vietnam was in earnest, the Beatles were on top of the charts, and man had just made a “giant step for mankind” on the moon. Thrown into a life of PCS (permanent change of station) moves for the next 21 years, and giving birth on different continents and countries, certainties in the military remained few and far between. However, amid the constant change in location and country there still remained a few certainties that withstood the test of time long after uniforms were put in moth balls and new lives started anew. In our case, when the uniform was put away, we both started serving as DoD (Department of Defense) contractors/civilians. We both gave another 25 years in service to the military and the country. Throughout these years of service, the Stars and Stripes remained the sole means of connection within the global military family we spent 50 + years in.
During the 2003/2004 deployment to Iraq, Stars and Stripes reporters and other news agencies were imbedded with our troops who had deployed from Friedberg, Germany. I served those troops as a DoD contractor with the Overseas Military Banking Program. My job was to manage the small banking facility on Ray Barracks, Friedberg. Ray Barracks hosted Sgt. Elvis Aaron Presley from 1958-1960. In the late 90’s it became home to the 1st BDE, 1st AD. These were the soldiers who in 2003 deployed to Baghdad. During that deployment, my staff and I created “News from the front”, daily Stars and Stripes stories directly involving our brigade and deployed soldiers which we painstakingly cut and glued onto a flip chart which stood in the entrance to the bank lobby. A throwback to past wars, The Stars and Stripes became a conduit between loved ones down range and military families that remained at “home” in Germany.
The Stars and Stripes is delivered free of charge to overseas deployed troops, most overseas PX’s (Post Exchanges), Commissaries, and other garrison/base establishments. Subscribers like me, pay a modest $52 a year subscription for home delivery. The paper also has an online version which put the final nail in the proverbial coffin of congressional funding, making it difficult to justify paying delivery personnel and thus sustain the home delivery service I got accustomed to and enjoyed.
What folk in the US fail to understand, including current pinhead politicians, is the impact the paper has on the lives of those stationed overseas, aka active duty, DoD civilians, and retirees. The Stars and Stripes is unlike any other daily newspaper one is accustomed to because it was and still is specifically created and published for those who serve or have served. It is non-partisan and gathers the majority of its articles and reporting from major news outlets like Reuters, Associated Press, Washington Post, Bloomberg, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, and Stars and Stripes reporters. Opinion columns are balanced on either side of the political spectrum. Most important: military news is gathered from the Pacific, European, and US theater of operations. It is a vital link between branches of services across the globe and their military activities.
In Germany, where we served, retired, and now volunteer, there are approximately 50,000 troops, DoD civilians and families living on various garrisons and bases. The Stars and Stripes paper edition as of date, has 200 home delivery subscribers. None are active duty. All are either retirees or DoD civilians. Years ago, Army promotion boards found it necessary to ask those up for promotion to assess and discuss articles they had recently read in the Stars and Stripes. The paper was considered a pseudo-obligatory read to maintain a high level of general knowledge on world affairs and military developments imperative to leadership skills in lead positions. This “tradition” has gone by the wayside together with daily “formations” and starched uniforms. Social media like Facebook and Twitter have replaced First Sergeants and face-to-face communication between soldiers, commands, and units. A breakdown in traditions have contributed to the lack of intellectual conversation and reading deficiencies. Unfortunately, in a survey conducted a few months ago, Stars and Stripes discovered that the subscription readership was in the 40+ age group. The younger generation are content with getting their news from rapid digital sources.
I have just received notice that as of November 30, 2021, I will not be receiving my morning edition of the Stars and Stripes in my mailbox. I need to activate the Digital edition for my daily read. Somehow, a “cup o’ Joe” and my mobile do not conjure up a warm morning reading routine. The joy of unfolding the paper even the smell of fresh print is now history. A lazy afternoon with the Stars and Stripes Crossword is also a thing of the past.
A morning newspaper is more than news in print, it’s a ritual in individuality. I personally love to read the headlines first, then work my way quickly into the paper to get a glimpse of all the articles before I peacefully sit down with my coffee and start reading. I keep the newspaper for several days, going back to it perhaps as a source for a blog, or to reread an article that I might have missed or had come up in conversation at work. This personal relationship with a newspaper is sacrosanct and it galls me to think that it has been set aside in lieu of the impersonal digital world.
I have kept many significant copies of the Stars and Stripes. The most notable being the one published on September 12, 2001. The front page had one picture and one headline: the Twin Towers in flames and the headline: U.S. attacked. This edition was followed by many others that I kept leading to the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. Losing the printed version is losing another important tradition. History and tradition are being slowly and deliberately eroded with little regard to consequences to future generations. The Stars and Stripes is the one substantial voice to all those who served and still serve. Some may say that progress and change is inevitable. I say that change is not always progress just change.
This generation of tweeters and texters are missing out on the basic discipline of patience found in gently turning the page of a book or newspaper. They are also missing out on the joy of keeping significant newspapers and cuttings like we did, and our parents and their parents before them did. The treasure trove of historic information that has been located in family attics and basements has proven invaluable to all of us. The current penchant of living in the now without viable context to the past is the unfortunate cause of so much historic misinterpretation that leads to the visceral division so prevalent in today’s society. To be fair, one can access Stars and Stripes archives digitally but the thrill of having such an archive at home is lost in the impersonal habit of online browsing. Those of us who kept important editions were part of the headline. We remember. We know the truth.
Alas, my countdown to the last delivery has started. 52 years of the familiar will soon vanish into Login and digital passwords. I already miss the smell of the printed paper, the swish of pages turning, and reaching for my second “cup o’ Joe” while I slowly turn to the Opinion page, a daily ritual perfected to utter contentment. Thank you Stars and Stripes for the many faithful years of early morning delivery and thank you for allowing me to be part of your history. The Union soldiers chose well. In print or digital, the Stars and Stripes remains true to those who served and still serve.
Were the 20 years in Afghanistan a waste of time? Not to the women of Afghanistan. Between 2001 until the coalition left, young girls and women enjoyed women’s rights equitable to other western countries. Prior to 2001, young girls were not allowed an education and women were shunned from any public appearances. Being a female in Taliban Afghanistan was being invisible. Unseen, uneducated, irrelevant, and dispensable. The withdrawal caught in political quagmire and visceral rhetoric dismissed the importance the US, NATO, and foreign NGO’s had on the female population of this tumultuous country. But western women activists remain conspicuously quiet. No #MeToo protests. No rabid Madonna speeches, and no Hollywood participation. A deafening silence of abandonment.
In August 2021, CNN reported Afghan women’s worst fears as the US and NATO withdrew in haste, leaving women and girls the most exposed and vulnerable at the mercy of the Taliban. International journalists tell of Taliban intimidation and destruction as they moved rapidly from village to village and province to province. In July 2021, the Taliban moved through the province of Faryab. During one of their raids, they knocked on the door of a mother with three sons and a daughter. They demanded she cook for the 15 Taliban fighters outside her door. She refused because she barely had enough food to feed her family. According to the daughter and eyewitnesses, the men proceeded to beat her up with the butts of their AK-47’s until she died, then for an encore threw a grenade and set fire to her house. These are the people the US made a deal with. Thugs armed with guns preying on defenseless women.
The rapid taking over by the Taliban had women scrambling for burqas to cover themselves in protection from anticipated whippings and beatings. After 20 years of normalcy, most of the women did not own a burqa, and had to scramble to buy one. Stores soon ran out, and some women resorted to covering themselves with sheets. The urgency was real especially among Afghan women who remembered the 90’s public beatings for not being completely covered.
Women and girls were suddenly thrown into a world they did not anticipate. They found themselves loosing rights overnight. Rights they had enjoyed and which we in the west take fore granted. The right to work, study, move freely and live in peace. In 2009, Afghanistan had even passed the Elimination of Violence Against Women law which prohibited rape, assault, and forced marriages. It also prohibited anyone barring girls and women from going to school, university, or employment.
The new Taliban government has informed female workers to stay home unless they are the bread winners. High school girls have also been told to remain at home. University female students have been segregated and forced to wear strict dress code and complete covering in contrast to the past 20 years, when the university was coed and students were free to wear whatever they wanted. The Women’s Affairs Ministry has been shut down and replaced with the ministry for “propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice”. These are the morality thugs who go around neighborhoods beating women for inadvertently showing skin under their coverings.
For 20 years, the women of Afghanistan tasted freedom and equality and now are not as timid as they were in 1996, and not easily persuaded to give up their rights either. Last weekend, several women protested in front of the former Women’s Affairs Ministry demanding equal rights and respect. A few weeks ago the BBC interviewed a young Afghan teen (name remained anonymous for security reasons) who together with other teenage girl friends confronted the Taliban as they tried to remove the Afghan flag and replace it with the Taliban flag. The Taliban fighters were taken by surprise. The young women continued their protest until the men drew guns on them. But as the young teen said, “we gave them something to think about”.
Kabul had approximately 3,000 women working in public and private sectors. The new mayor announced that several were allowed to go to work in areas where they could not be replaced by men, like in “design, engineering, and women’s public toilets”. Obviously Taliban men can’t create, build, or take care of sh-t.
The country’s situation is compounded by the growing poverty in the country. The Associated Press (September 20, 2021, Stars and Stripes) reports that small markets are opening up with people selling belongings at an attempt to either raise money to leave or to simply eat. Attacks by ISIS are still prevalent in the east. Recently, a huge explosion in Jalalabad killed five people among them a child. Women are normally hit the worst by a poor economy especially if they are deprived of employment.
In 2013, a book by a young teenager Malala Yousafzai, brought the devastating reality of life under the Taliban to the world. This young Pakistani teen insisted she attend school in defiance of Taliban rules and in an attack on her school bus, was shot in the head at point blank. This is what being a girl under Taliban rule is like. The world responded to this young girl’s story with awe and in 2014 Malala was nominated and received the Nobel Peace Prize. Previously in 2013, Malala was invited to address the UN assembly on girls’ rights. Malala was passionate about girls’ rights to education and the world listened. There is no “Malala” in Afghanistan. No published best sellers, no UN speeches, and no Nobel prizes. There is only fear and pending destruction of hope.
As quickly as the US and its allies raised the quality of life of a quasi medieval country to western ideals they just as quickly dashed it. To those who still beat the “we should have left a long time ago” drum: we should have left with dignity and relatively secure in the knowledge that those we encouraged and helped to be free have the means to remain so. It would have been the noble thing to do.
Unfortunately, the vulnerable are always on the losing end. They offer nothing. They are easily discarded and conveniently forgotten in political justification and campaign votes. We close the door on a country we changed for the better and turn it over to the same thugs we had previously removed. We conveniently forget that we were the protagonists of Afghanistan’s rebuilding and now its ultimate destruction. Afghanistan is yesterday’s news and Afghan women are a story that we will read about when nothing else of significance makes print.
Historically, women in third world countries are dispensable. For years young girls have been abducted, molested, married off, beaten, and compelled to a life of servitude with only the slightest platitudes from human rights groups or the UN. The latter often elects countries that condone women’s persecution to serve on human rights world committees. A repulsive insult to the thousands of girls without freedom or a life. Add forced marriages and genital mutilation to the mix, and we commit generations of girls and women to horrors that would make Epstein look like Santa Claus. Yet the silence is deafening. Why? Because there is no economic gain from taking on women’s rights especially in countries who provide no economic or political resources. Women’s rights don’t sell unless one is from New York or California.
The news has already gone to other “stories”. Afghanistan is being touted as a success story regardless of those who are still left behind trying to leave, those who died trying to protect, and the women bracing themselves for the inevitable. Female politicians across the globe have remained relatively quiet. Patronizing reprimands from the UN are as insidious as the organization itself, currently debating whether to allow the Taliban to address the UN assembly. An insult to the thousands that died at the hands of these men, and the women still in danger of being disposed of like yesterday’s bad lunch. The west shrugs their shoulders in resignation and self-righteous narrative that we did the best we could. How magnanimous of us!
A single young Afghan woman places men’s shoes outside her front door pretending to be married. She earned her PhD and was until recently, a university professor. She has lost her job and is frightened that being single, is in danger of retaliation and subject to stoning or beatings. Being single is not condoned. The world might have forgotten about the Afghan women, but they remain resilient. As one of the protest organizers told CBS: “We take this risk and protest to show the Taliban that we are not women of 1990, to be scared of whipping and forcing us to wear hijabs or forced marriage…” They might stand alone, but Afghan women have courage and tenacity on their side. Nothing says it better than the signs women protestors carry: “No government can deny the presence of women.” “I will sing freedom over and over.” Amen.
Talib00000an tell female workers to stay home. Associated Press. September 20, 2021. Stars and Stripes.
After 16 years as Chancellor of Germany, Frau Merkel will depart politics with little fanfare and much mixed populace feeling. Love her or hate her, Angela Merkel was Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir rolled into one. Born in 1954 in the northern German city of Hamburg to a student of theology and a teacher of Latin and English, Angela Merkel became the first female and East German Chancellor in modern day German history. Stoic, unapologetic, resilient, pragmatic, and determined, she shaped Germany into one of the strongest economies in Europe and the world. Who is Angela Merkel?
As soon as Angela was born, her father received a pastor ship and moved the family to Brandenburg, in East Germany. In 1973, after finishing High School, Angela entered Karl Marx University (renamed University of Leipzig) in Leipzig to study physics. She met and married fellow physic student Ulrich Merkel in 1977. A year later she earned her diploma and became a member faculty of the Central Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Academy of Sciences in East Berlin. Her marriage only lasted five years and she divorced in 1982 retaining her married last name. In 1986, she earned a Doctorate on her thesis on quantum chemistry.
Like most children and youth growing up in the former Eastern Bloc and in the former DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik), Merkel participated in state owned youth organizations. However, as she grew older, she never opted or applied to become a member of the Socialist Unity Party. It’s interesting that at one point in time, the State Security Service (Ministerium fur Staatsicherheit) or STASI approached her to become one of their informants. Angela refused. The STASI were close “relatives” to the KGB.
In 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, Angela joined the Democratic Awakening party and eventually became their press spokesperson. In February 1990, the Democratic Awakening party joined with the Alliance for Germany, which formed a coalition with the German Social Union (DSU), and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). In August 1990, Angela joined the CDU and found herself in the position of Deputy Spokesperson for the government of Lothar de Maizière of the same party. These parties were counterpart to similar parties in the west. Maizière’s CDU formally joined with its western CDU on October 2, 1990, on the eve of Unification Day.
Angela Merkel caught the eye of then Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and in January 1991 Kohl appointed her minister for women and youth. This earned her the nickname of “Kohls Madchen” (Kohl’s child). She became his protégé, and when Maizière resigned as Deputy Chair of the CDU in September 1991, Angela was elected to replace him. Maizière’s resignation was compelled by accusations that he was allegedly a STASI collaborator. In 1994, Angela was elected as Minister of environment, conservation, and reactor safety. She also presided over the first UN Climate Conference held in Berlin in 1995.
When the CDU lost to the SPD (Socialist Democratic Party) in 1998, Angela was elected Secretary General of the CDU, and in that year also married a long-time friend and chemistry professor Joachim Sauer. But 1999 was not kind to the CDU. The once popular and revered Helmut Kohl became embroiled and implicated in an illegal campaign contributions scandal which divided the party into Kohl loyalists and those who wanted change. In December 1999, Angela wrote an open letter to the CDU encouraging a fresh start and accountability. Her charisma raised public focus and approval. Inadvertently, in April 2000, Angela Merkel was elected as head of the CDU. She was the first woman and the first non-Catholic to lead the party. Although facing division and hostility from Kohl supporters, and Kohl’s financial scandal, Angela continued to lead the party in the hope that she would be selected to run for Chancellor in 2002. But that role was given to Edmond Storber of the Bavarian CDU counterpart, CSU (Christian Social Union). In 2002, the CDU-CSU lost the election to Gerhard Schroeder (SPD) by a very slim margin, and Angela was elected as leader of the opposition. In 2005, Schroeder’s popularity plummeted, and he called for early elections. The CDU-CSU won by only 35.2% of the votes and settled for a coalition with the SPD. In November 2005, Angela Merkel became the youngest person to become Chancellor of Germany at the age of 51. She was also the first woman and the first East German.
Angela’s Chancellery had its moments. The Eurozone financial crises almost saw Greece out of the zone with a close possibility of Italy following. Years of government mismanagement and unchecked spending brought these two countries to their knees. Angela’s determination in forcing austere financial demands slowly and eventually stabilized the union. But when Ukraine ousted its pro-Russian Prime Minister Yanu Korych, Russia quickly annexed Crimea in retaliation. A move that brought anger in the west and prompted Angela to lead efforts in sanctioning Russia. But Angela’s love hate relationship with Putin drew both admiration and criticism. While sanctioning Russia for Crimea she was later negotiating a pipeline. The 2015 European refugee crises brought approximately one million refugees to Germany, a move that angered some Germans, especially those in the former eastern states, where unemployment remains the highest. This gave rise to the AfD party (Alternativ fur Deutschland) which in 2016 placed second in regional elections ahead of the CDU. 2016 was the year when global nationalism resulted in Brexit and Donald Trump.
Throughout her political tenure, Angela tried hard to remain a centralist. In 2017 she reversed her opposition to same sex marriage legislation and the measure was approved. This won her overwhelming support among the majority of Germans. However, her CDU-CSU and SPD coalition had their worst electorate results in 70 years. Minor parties like the Greens and AfD gained enough votes for parliamentary representation. Angela reached out to conservative voters who were leaving the CDU-CSU party in favor of the AfD which gained votes in the former East German states. Angela’s immigration policy alienated the CSU which resulted in her Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer’s resignation. This threatened to topple her government, but diplomacy and tenacity held the coalition together albeit huge losses for the CSU and CDU in both Bavaria and Hesse. In 2018, Angela Merkel announced that she would not seek reelection as either CDU leader or the Chancellery in 2021.
Where is Germany heading to? What’s next? Who is the next Merkel? Is there a next Merkel? Several polls and pundits have determined that the German people are not really enthusiastic by any of the candidates. The flavor of the month word is “uninspiring”. Three candidates are leading the pack. Armin Laschet, governor of North Rhine Westphalia for CDU, Annalena Baerbock, a relative unknown and the Green’s hopeful, and finally, Olaf Scholz, Germany’s Finance Minister & Vice Chancellor for SPD. “Uninspiring” describes these candidates to a tee. They are either politically bland, inexperienced, or intellectually deficient.
Armin Laschet, governor of North Rhine Westphalia lost most of his credibility and points when flooding in his State took life and livelihood. His response to the disaster was often flippant and disconnected, leaving his constituents angered. Unprepared and overwhelmed, the region watched in awe as homes, property and people were lost in uncontrollable flooding. Reports of poor evacuation and non-functional alarm systems added to the malcontent and loss of confidence.
Annalena Baerbock at 40, is the youngest candidate and the Greens’ hope that they might finally have a chance at the Chancellery. Educated in Hamburg and London, she earned a degree in International Law, and for a while worked in Brussels for an MEP. She is charismatic and energetic, but inexperienced. She has been accused of allegedly beefing up her resume and of plagiarism. Most Germans find her fake and out of touch.
Olaf Scholf, fondly nicknamed “scholzmat” has the habit of repeating himself and is regarded as intellectually silent. A former Hamburg Mayor and Federal Labor Minister, he is SDP’s lead candidate to replace Angela Merkel. To avoid gaffes, which he is prone to make , he is said to answer all questions virtually the same. As it has been reported: “…not saying anything seems to be his main achievement.”
A few minor party candidates have also thrown their hats into the ring. Christian Lindner of the centralist Free Democratic Party (FDP) runs for free market and social economic reforms. Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupala, the hard right AfD, are mostly popular in the former east German States. Janine Wissler and Dietmar Bartsch of the Linke (left) party espouse government run economy and withdrawal from NATO. It is not surprising that the majority of pollsters agree that German voters are skeptical and opting for “none of the above”.
Germany is prepared for the prospect of several months without a government until a viable coalition is formed. The Merkel magic of forming governments even during stalemates and rocky alliances seems to be absent in this lack luster collection of candidates. Angela Merkel provided stability and dependability even during the worst of times. Her appearance seemed to provide comfort, confidence, and resiliency. The pending election is bringing jitters to a nation used to a “mother” figure that speaks with authority but also with empathy. This was apparent during the pandemic, when borders were closed, and lockdowns and restrictions were implemented. Her appeal to the nation were heeded, and although some protests were held in large cities like Berlin and Munich, most Germans remained attentive and appreciative of her guidance.
While writing this blog I had the opportunity to discover the woman behind the Chancellor. Few women would I consider leadership quality let alone intellectually superior. Very few public figures would I want to meet. My list has always been extremely minimalistic. My women’s Hall of Fame includes Mother Theresa for her courage, Margaret Thatcher for her tenacity, and Golda Meir for her intelligence. Angela Merkel will be added to the list for resiliency and leadership. A quantum chemist raised as a communist lived to lead one of the strongest economies in the world with strength and determination.
My admiration for Angela Merkel is on several levels. As a woman she went “mano a mano” with the likes of Putin and Trump and remained unfazed. She exuded confidence without arrogance. She ran against a historically paternal and patronizing establishment and managed to part the seas of doubt through four terms in office. Her strength lies in her ability to maintain equilibrium in the midst of chaos. Qualities so hard to find in current politicians and world leaders.
Angela Merkel led Germany for 16 years through the good, the bad, and the ugly. She was mutually admired, disliked, and respected. She was the lone woman ranger at world summits and conferences. Her steady stride never faltered. In 2011, Angela Merkel was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then President Obama. The first time a foreigner received the prestigious award. But ironically, and only two years later, in October 2013, she accused the NSA and the Obama administration of tapping her phone. During a European summit she openly rebuked the US by saying that “spying among friends is never acceptable”. That show of defiance pushed her into her third term in office. Such is the character of one of the most important women politicians in history. Such is the reason why Angela Merkel will be missed by most Germans and Germany. Such is the reason why I admire Angela Merkel. Frau Merkel, auf wiedersehen und viel gluck!
Scenes akin to Saigon in the 70’s have brought bad memories to those of us who remember Vietnam and the disaster that followed the US exit from the region. We left pain, suffering, and years of devastation as the US decided it had had enough. Images of people hanging on to helicopter skids in a last-minute futile attempt into freedom, still haunt us. That was 1975 and this is now. The images out of Afghanistan are no better and equally disturbing. After 20 years of sweat, treasure, and often blood, we are “getting out” in a similar way. Lacking planning and leadership, a populace is again abandoned and left to fend for itself. We came, we fought, we died, we pseudo trained, and we left.
The original withdrawal plan from the prior administration was to open dialogue with the Taliban and ease into a withdrawal by May 31 of this year. The Taliban sat for a few discussions but talks stalled. They didn’t agree to some terms, which included their demand for the release of 5,000 Taliban fighters in Afghan jails which was refused: well go figure. In the meantime, the Taliban reorganized and came back stronger than ever. They had 20 patient years to train and recruit. Resuming withdrawal and draw down plans should have remained shelved until a livable agreement was drawn that included safe passage of Afghans who supported US & coalition troops, and secure civil rights for women and girls. This was not given the time and diplomacy that might have saved Afghans’ return to pre-9/11 conditions.
The US Military and its allies, “trained” the Afghan Forces under conventional methods and ideology assuming all Afghans were of one intent. Afghanistan is historically tribal and factions dominate various areas and provinces combining fundamentalism, feudalism, and a flavor of the month ideology that keeps the local population inadvertently loyal and in some cases purposely medieval. From Alexander the Great to the USSR, rough terrain and fragmentation of authority has made the country impossible to control and worse to rule. Furthermore, the “new” Afghan government was fraught with corruption and weak in attaining its own populace trust. What is worse is the total misdirection of the US military in a concrete objective for the country. As one good friend, officer, and US Army veteran told me: “poor leadership with little thought to what we were supposed to be doing there.” The Taliban waited in the wings patiently. In the meantime, they quietly and strategically crept toward their previous strong holds and willing sympathizers.
The military is not a nation building tool. Soldiers are trained for war not social community service. They can train within their scope of training other soldiers with the same ideology and mindset, two attributes that the Afghans do not have and will never have. It’s a cultural and ideological difference of significance. The USSR learned their mistake after wasting 10 years in a hostile tribal terrain that left them defeated and determined to take the failure in their stride. Historically, Afghanistan is not conducive to be conquered. Many tried, and almost always failed. However, Afghans’ lives did improve, especially for women. Girls went back to school, teens played music, and women went back to universities and into politics. The invasion of Afghanistan was initially called Operation Enduring Freedom. Great words that unfortunately did not endure.
China is salivating as it sees itself a step closer to Europe. Rumor has it that they are already in contact with the Taliban. In the meantime, women are back in Burqas, girls out of school, and female Afghan politicians targeted for retaliation. The biggest fear is among interpreters and informants who risked their lives and helped US and NATO troops maintain a viable presence and minimized causalities . They and their families have a target on their backs. Basically, we are back to square one.
A combination of poor decision making, and politics has brought us back to pre-9/11. A July 2, 2021, Stars and Stripes article (“US Leaves Bagram Airfield as America winds down its longest war”) described the insidious way the “winding down” was accomplished. US troops left Bagram Airfield, once home to 10,000 troops, at night, leaving the front gates open to looters who ransacked the place while Afghan Special Forces were waiting for the official transfer of power which they later received in a Twitter message! The airfield was a “fortress” with a state-of-the art runway that cost $68 million to renovate in 2006. The Afghan general and troops waiting to take over the airfield arrived finding the place deserted and trashed. Courtesy was obviously not part of the Washington plan either.
This is a question of incompetence surrounded by incompetence. Asinine and child-like hatred of anything Trump, compelled this administration to go at it “their way”. The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal (August 15) called President Biden’s August 14 statement on the withdrawal from Afghanistan as “one of the most shameful in history by a Commander in Chief”. The editorial was referring to Mr. Biden confirming without apologies the abandonment of Afghanistan by the US while absolving himself from any responsibility and blaming of course his predecessor. A common theme among incompetent individuals who are arrogantly clueless and ethically deficient. Washington is culpable of both.
The rhetoric that the Afghans were not prepared to fight is not only disingenuous but disrespectful to the many who tried to fill in the gap that the US military left as they bugged out of the country. As the Taliban approached Kabul, the Afghan President Ghani fled as well. No surprise there, it’s not like him and thugs like him were ever held responsible. The same Taliban that was chased 20 years ago in the hunt for Osama Bin-laden, will fly its flag on the US Embassy compound. The same embassy, where evacuations are going in earnest, and where plans by the same president that capitulated on the 14th, are in earnest to send in troops to evacuate those left behind. Where they will be operating from is still a mystery. Every military installation has been abandoned.
A “Keystone Cops” moment by a President who has been in public office for 50 years. He was Vice President when ISIS ran amok in the region. Obviously, he has either forgotten what it was like when his boss abandoned the region as ISIS decapitated people, or he is truly incompetent and not fit for the office he has been elected to serve. This is his shift and his shit. His responsibility. His shame. Infantile deflection of blame is futile. Your watch and your buck.
Mr. Biden’s reasoning is unbecoming the title of Commander in Chief. Saying that it would not have made a difference if the US left now or five years from now is demeaning to the many Afghans who risked their lives for a better Afghanistan. Ignoring advice from military leadership and senators, as early as April, President Biden continued the road to a withdrawal without a plan. The Taliban advance took the queue from a White House that bumbles its way through decision making with little resistance from a Congress that is just as out of tune as Mr. Biden himself. The Taliban divided and conquered as it took over major cities on its objective to take Kabul and overthrow the government. Their objective is to reinstate Shariah law and go back to the fundamentalist ideology that threw acid on little girls’ faces as they walked to school, and stoned women in public for adultery. After 20 years of war, rebuilding, hope, and treasure, incompetence and arrogance threw a country back to where it was in 2001 under worse conditions. But hey, it was Trump’s fault. Frankly it was everybody’s fault from B to B: Bush to Biden. All presidents in between were clueless leading with partisan ideology instead of military strategy. Add partisan general officers who threw their two cents in with however was in the White House for a career move and a retirement as military ‘experts” on major cable news networks.
What could have happened? The White House needs to open some history books and read about the Marshall Plan after WWII. A plan that gave assistance to the local population to rebuild their country while keeping a presence as a deterrent. There were barely 3,000 troops left in Afghanistan, but enough to keep the Taliban out of major provinces and give moral support to local armies. The Taliban would have been pseudo contained and possibly compelled to come back to the discussion table. The complete withdrawal just signaled utter indifference to the country that we invaded and had promised to assist. We basically gave them the birdie.
“Experts” in Washington still hold on to the inane self-centered opinion that there was no solution for Afghanistan. Really? The Taliban found one. They also managed to replenish their ranks with 5,000 released prisoners. Negotiations didn’t succeed because there was no superpower across the table that determined an outcome less than favorable to the Taliban if not in agreement. The Taliban could smell weakness in the water, and it bit where it hurt the most. Kandahar and Kabul have fallen, and so has the US reputation.
The same incompetent geniuses that advised against staying are now scrambling to send a few thousand US troops in to “evacuate” Americans and hopefully rescue Afghans who are in danger of retaliation and death. To the rest: tough shit. The building is burning, and we locked the front door. And if the same incompetent fools think that this is the end of a war, then they must have forgotten what caused 9/11.
The strengthening of terrorist groups is in the weakness of western governments eager to appease until terrorism hits their shores. New York, London, and Paris are as close to Afghanistan as we allow them to be. We have emboldened the terrorists who had 20 years to recruit and strengthen. Stupid in our government has reached epidemic levels. Idiots like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who gave a warning to the Taliban on the abuse of women. I’m sure they are sweating under their turbans. In her Washington glass house, she has the audacity to even utter a word to those women. An offense to Afghan female courage that is now a death sentence. Incompetence wrapped in arrogance and tied in stupid.
Afghanistan will go down in history as another Vietnam. A betrayal to a people who have had little choice in their lives by either the Taliban, the Afghan government, or the foreign occupation. Now, those who arrived 20 years ago bringing some semblance of hope, especially to women and young girls, are scurrying away like rats in the night. The only superpower on earth built on integrity and the promise of freedom sends a Tweet that its leaving, and the Commander in Chief gives them the proverbial finger.
Shame on a self-righteous global community obsessed with human rights until they become inconvenient. Shame on every politician, general, and advisor in Washington who bought into the “withdrawal” cabal without accountability. And shame on you Mr. President, for blaming your incompetence on someone else. The buck stops at your desk. You own this as you will own every persecution of every female, informant, and family that was willing to fight and resist alongside our troops. On the doorstep to the 20th anniversary of 9/11, incompetence has never been so apparent and obvious in the White House.
The vulnerable are silent. Everyone who knows me also knows my deep love of horses. They are the reason that I walk every morning in our beautiful Bavarian neighborhood and countryside. Every step I take away from the front door takes me closer to the stables that I end my walk at. I know most of the horses by name and if not, they seem to answer to any name that I give them. They gently come to the fence or stable window for a soft rub or pat on the cheek, under the neck, or for a short “talk”. They recognize my voice, my silly hat, and in the winter, my jacket. They are gentle and lovable and give so much tranquility to my undisciplined character. They start my day.
Horses have sustained economies and have died in service alongside soldiers and warriors. But its their beauty that fascinates us. Watching a horse run and enjoy its freedom is a mesmerizing experience. They are created with strong muscular bodies that often defy gravity. A horse twice my height can run and jump like a graceful nymph with little effort. These are animals that withstand pain silently. They give birth without human drama. They bond with humans on equal footage. They trust and love unconditionally.
This is the time of year when the US Bureau of Land Management (B.L.M) goes on a full-fledged assault on wild horses and burros. The roundups are disproportionally overhanded, dangerous, and often fatal to the approximately 70,000 wild horses roaming the American West. No muscular image of Marlboro Man rounding up herds of wild horses with lassos. The US government is more sophisticated and ups the ante with helicopters. Whizzing low on the herds, they force them into areas where they are rounded up and incarcerated. Terrified and disoriented, they run for their lives, often loosing young foals in the melee. The tragedy does not end there. Observers with the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) organization have witnessed wild horses running blindly into barbed wire fences that suddenly appear in their paths, courtesy of cattle ranchers.
Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post Writers Group wrote a scathing admonition of B.L.M and the reality behind these annual roundups. (This is no way to thin the herd of wild horses. June 29, 2021.) B.L.M justifies these roundups as a means to ‘thin out” herds that deplete public land resources through their unchecked grazing. The truth is that cattle ranchers want more grazing land for their cattle. The meat industry lobby is large, powerful, and rich. And if truth be told, cattle cause more harm to land resources than wild horses. The practice of rounding up wild horses is under the pretense of herd control. What the taxpayers do not know is what happens after rounding up thousands of these beautiful animals, all paid for by tax dollars.
Currently, B.L.M is holding approximately 50,000 wild horses in mass incarcerations. The government has an Adoption Incentive Program which allegedly allows adoptions at approximately $1,000 per horse, limiting the number of adoptions to four per year. But this does not deter nefarious backdoor horse-trading businesses. Horse traders who “adopt” wild horses have been known to sell them at a profit to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico. They pile them up in double-decker trucks often on day-long trips to their final destination. Animal activists and reporters have taken footage of wild horses being prodded and beaten as they are pushed toward a killing “booth”. Depending on where the animals are finally sold, their death can include stabbing in the neck to render them motionless or hung by one leg while their throats are slit. One can only imagine the pain and the fear.
The rounding up by helicopters is supposed to nudge the animals to move. But AWHC reported helicopters flying low enough to almost touch horses’ heads. They also attempt to separate herds. Stallions are forcibly kept separate creating a serious problem because stallions lead their “families” which include mares and their foals. Horses arrive at the incarceration camps exhausted and some close to death. Nose and leg injuries are common resulting in pseudo “humane” euthanasia, a double standard of animal cruelty with impunity.
Follow the money. Both horses and cattle graze and eat grass. Cattle make money while wild horses do not. According to Grace Kuhn, Communications Director of AWHC, B.L.M permits approximately 2,000 wild horses to run free and live on 2.5 million acres of Utah public land. At the same time, it allows approximately 100,000 cattle to live on 22 million acres of Utah public land. Approximately 200 acres per cow or calf. The double-edged sword comes into play when we start discussing predators. Wild horses are subject to attacks by mountain lions, wolves, bears, and coyotes, especially the young. These predators are hunted down by ranchers to protect their cattle. A human interference that disrupts the ecosystem and throws it out of whack. If nature is left to take care of itself, it usually does.
The AWHC understands the problem with proliferation of wild horses, but it has suggested humane fertility control that would stabilize the number of wild horses roaming public land in the “wild” west. However, horses intrinsically and biologically feel the need to procreate when numbers go down. Another option offered is relocation. B.L.M had the nerve to justify their wild horse management using climate change narrative. Less ground to graze and eat is starving the horses. Really? What about the cattle? Cattle are obviously immune to climate change. What a load of garbage. The real problem is the increase in ranch property and consequent fences that have reduced the amount of land these horses can run freely on. More land for cattle means less land for horses.
No administration has ever done anything to curtail the cruelty associated with thinning wild horse herds or prevent them from being exported outside the US for slaughter. However, Senator Diane Feinstein has recently written a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland requesting a suspension of the helicopter round up pending an investigation into the practice and also into the Adoption Incentive program under B.L.M. 30 other House members have written similar letters urging for the passage of the Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act, that would ban horse slaughter in the US and ban export of horses abroad for the same reason. But this will not stop the process that will start in a few days in the Southwest.
Humans have always managed to screw up what G-d created, a manageable ecosystem that takes care of itself. Countries have tried to tweak nature and completely fucked it up. The wild horse “problem” didn’t materialize until money and greed made its way to the prairies and Capitol Hill. Cattle make money, wild horses don’t. Ranchers lobby for more land and they get it. They are louder and more powerful than horse conservationists. There are more cattle feeding on horse land than the opposite. Every year, ranchers move closer into horse territory also infringe on coyote, bear, mountain lion, and wolf indigenous land. Feigning protection for their cattle, they kill the predators who keep the balance of nature constant.
The bond between humans and horses is historic and unique. When a human owns a horse, they both merge into an understanding of spirits. They are one in trust, loyalty, love, and compassion. Horses are trusting to a fault. They trust us to take care of them in return for watching their beauty, giving us hours of pleasure. They have served humans through time immortal. When a horse allows me to touch it, we share mutual understanding and trust. A silent bond.
Santaro is one of the many horses I visit every morning. I call him and he gently pokes his head out of the window. On cue he raises his head to be rubbed on his neck and under his chin. A ritual we have both perfected. An area he can’t reach on his own. He often rests his large head on my shoulders, and I feel his warm breath on my neck as he relaxes and enjoys the few minutes of love and attention I give him. At that moment we are no longer human and animal, but friends. The suffering of every horse is a betrayal of this special bond. None of us should be allowing it.