Winter Has Come

(I do apologize for the blatant GoT reference while simultaneously stating that I do not own any rights to the trademark or franchise, nor, sadly, a Direwolf.) 

 

Winter. Once upon a time that season was greeted with dread. Winter meant a struggle to survive. A slow and agonizing death for those who did not have enough food put away during the time of plenty, or who did not ration wisely, or were simply unlucky. For some, a quicker death if you got caught in a storm, or an avalanche, trying to supplement your dwindling rations by hunting. And if the snow and the cold didn’t get you, disease and exhaustion and malnutrition were just waiting their turn.

Since the advent of central heating and supermarkets, with airplanes flying in fresh apples from New Zealand and 18-wheelers carting guacamole even deep into the Great White North, “Winter Is Coming” has lost its terror. It is even anticipated with joy – at least it always was by me, perhaps not so much by my dad, who every year dragged the snowblower out of the shed while mumbling astonishingly creative bad words (under his breath of course, so I would not hear. And of course I did, and marveled at his artistry).

DEFCON cucumber, aka “throw on another layer and the BIG hat!”

Winter meant pond hockey, hot chocolate, and a magical forest covered in glittering white.

Maybe that’s why ‘Snowflake’ is deemed such a cute insult. Who fears Winter? Well, maybe Texas does, considering the “The End is Nigh!” panic on social media and every single Interstate as soon as an errant cloud accidentally drops some deadly crystals.

Anatomy of a Snowflake

This particular insult has puzzled me since the first time I heard it, and in the beginning I only derived from the context that it was, in fact, meant as a slight. I mean, they’re pretty, right? Awww you think I’m exquisite, and intricate, and I refract light in tantalizing ways, and I look awesome in closeup pictures? Why, thank you!

A short while ago a young man decided to vent his frustration with the world at large and the female population in particular in the direction of my older daughter. What started as clumsy attempts to get her attention and assert his masculinity by wolf-whistling and strutting around like a rooster with to basketballs pressed to his chest (the latter earned him a “Ru would be proud” comment from the target’s younger sister), quickly deteriorated into becoming an all out nuisance. The unholy trinity of familiar bullshit, from mocking the very physical traits he had glorified earlier (aka “If I can’t touch this radiantly magnificent bosom, I shall now declare I never liked it in the first place”), to questioning the attached young woman’s character (aka “Only a mean and stupid woman would reject me!”), to the carpet bombing of blaming everything and everyone other than himself (aka “If not for evil Feminazis and Liberals my crude advances would be enthusiastically reciprocated!”)

Well, no. Like her mother, the young lady with the Mae West figure and the brains to match the cleavage, does not respond well to rudeness. Unlike her mother, she remained serene in her responses. And was declared a “Snowflake” for telling the young man that he was being vulgar and hurtful.

It got me thinking.

pucksmiley

A 17 year old military brat (and if you’re not familiar with the slang, ‘brat’ in this context is a tender endearment), a hockey-playing, horseback-riding cowgirl who could shoot the wings off a gnat at 300 yards but cries when a dog dies in a movie, a soul so gentle she lets her mother win at Monopoly every damn time, who bakes Christmas cookies for soldiers who are away from their families and unable to get home for the Holidays, who could have planted this rude boy on his hind end with one good shove but chose to politely point out that he was being an equus asinus … is a snowflake.

Well. Alright.

To be sure, this one’s a Northern Snowflake (“You better get your scarf and mittens, dude, where I come from the snow don’t play” – sic) . The kind that rides a blizzard down from the Arctic and delivers a few Canadian pines to your doorstep before settling on your roof along with a few billion buddies. Best get shoveling before the cousins show up. They look fluffy and harmless and very pretty, but only until that roof caves in. Do trust me on that one.

A Tale of Ice and Fire 

Now, my stalwart teenager may not have solved her ‘persistent bully problem’, but her wintry cool response allowed me to look at the situation from a different angle.

Here I was, ready to cover my baby’s six at her “Need backup!” call and breathe fire and doom upon that hapless lad smaugwho felt entitled to her attention, and resorted to increasingly crude and abusive tactics when it did not materialize (cue Smaug: “I am FIRE! I am DEATH!”). Here was my younger daughter, channeling her Norse ancestry (95 lbs of Viking fury sounds funny – until it comes straight at you). Here were the high school teachers poised to intervene and chastise the luckless suitor turned bully, and last but far from least, my daughter’s friends and teammates, ready to unleash a blizzard that would warrant a state of emergency in 47 States (and at least an annoyed “Eh!” in Canada).

It was not needed.

Because there is something terribly sad about the “Suck it up, Buttercup!” and “Fuck your feelings!” crowd. About the raging and ranting and the “I’m just blunt and you can’t deal with it!” cries. There is a hurt in there somewhere, a helplessness, and – so my daughter mused when I expressed my marvel at her composure – perhaps a fear of those feelings we’re supposed to ‘suck up’. A fear that allowing yourself to feel, to have empathy, to show but a flicker of insecurity, would instantly deflate the carefully constructed facade of strength. And then one would see the boy who simply doesn’t know how to talk to the adored young lady, who’s terrified of rejection, and whom noone has ever taught about honey and vinegar. About the courage to show your softer side, and the strength one finds at the heart of vulnerability.

Image result for elsa frozen
Perfectly harmless Snowflake

It’s so much easier to double down on the bluster and the anger than to deal with the feelings of “I wanted her to like me but I’ve hurt her”. So much easier to shift the blame to the perceived ‘snowflake’ for not being able to handle a strong, masculine personality. So much harder to admit “I was being an ass to her, and that’s why she doesn’t want anything to do with me”.

I might not be able to summon the same compassion as my Snowflake for this angry, rude young man. I still think he would greatly benefit from a right ding behind the ear, preferably administered by the collected works of Lord Byron. But I can see where she’s coming from. Or rather, where she stands. On her frozen plain, being a lovely, glittering bit of frozen water, and quite content with it. Just don’t insult her on the other ice. The one where pucks fly. That’s when all bets are off and she will surpass her grandsire’s creativity in unleashing utterly majestic expletives. In three languages.

Let it Snow!

It’s -14ºC in Germany today, or about 6ºF. For three ladies hailing from the Adirondacks, that means one extra layer of flannel, and the good boots when walking the fluffy dog.

A fine, crisp cold that nonetheless creeps into your bones and reminds you why our ancestors didn’t mess around with Winter. That even with our sturdy walls and readily available fuel to heat them, even with our internal combustion engines that tirelessly bring food and supplies, even with mighty power plants, we are not quite so safe as we like to think. When the sap freezes in the trees and only the bitter wind breaks the deadly silence of the forest, that bright white blanket of snowflakes is still beautiful. But you don’t feel inclined to call it harmless.

Said the youngest of the ladies, her breath forming small clouds in the crystal clear air: “This ain’t no joke, brother. Yegawds. You two keep going if you want, the dog and I have enough brains to go home and hide under the furs. Auf Wiedersehen!”

February 2018 - Snowlflakes

 

 

 

Confessions of an Accidental Liberal, or: Speak Softly and Have Air Support on Standby

I should have listened to Nancy.

“Just say no!”

But like millions before me, I saw no harm in a little curiosity, some entirely legitimate

Mrs Reagan and 99 Luftballons?

scientific spirit of inquiry, and I tragically misjudged the slippery slope that my wide-eyed, guileless poking at the unknown should lead me onto.

The unknown of differing political viewpoints, that is. Radical, exotic, tantalizingly extravagant viewpoints. Elitist, even (don’t blame me, elite sounds so charmingly French! How was I to know the word that once meant ‘choice’ and later meant ‘of great quality’ is now yet another bad thing)?

Honestly, I thought I could quit any time. Even as my descent into flower-powered liberaldom was already painfully obvious to innocent bystanders, I still firmly believed myself the poster-child of the Moderate Independent. You know, the girl who goes both ways. The reasonable one who balances the scales and chooses political candidates not based on party affiliation but on (oh, dear) common sense.

It took nothing less than a full frontal intervention by a trusted buddy for me to see the terrifying truth. Engaged in the time-honored military maneuver known as “Hurry Up and Wait” we were completing a tactical analysis (debating which Hollywood movie contains the biggest FUBARs in terms of depicting the military), when Murphy (don’t ask)  declared in a matter of fact tone: “You’re such a Liberal!”

Naturally, my response was a decisive “Am NOT!”

“Are, too!”

“Am SO not!”

“Are so, too!”

Yes, we’re the people entrusted with your safety.

 

And it all had started out so well

Granted, mom has always been a staunch Democrat. The proud blue collar daughter of 3rd generation German immigrants (add a generous dash of Louisiana French for spice, and of course there’s great-uncle George the cranky Alaskan but every family needs one of those) has always been pro unions, pro reasonable taxation in exchange for social safety nets, and has some rather fierce views on healthcare. Yet to many of her fellow Democrats in the Empire State her political leanings tend rather a bit too far right of Mr Bill Clinton, disqualifying her from the “Centrist” label by 20 degrees starboard of fiscal responsibility. And please don’t get her started on Mrs Clinton. Or Mr Sanders, for that matter.

One wonders how she ever gets along with the Republican she married -holy cow – in 1967. Or perhaps not, seeing as the gentle Scandinavian bear, self-chosen blue collar son of a white collar East Coast clan, declares himself a Moderate Republican (when he can be bothered to have any label affixed to his broad shoulders). Far, far out of right-swirling waters in matters of environment and education, he was (and is) nonetheless the poster-man of Reagan voters (“Bad actor. Good president”), and still champions supply-side economics and much of the Gipper’s free-market philosophy. Dad also quite reasonably decided that voting for Bush the Elder and (less enthusiastically) the Younger, gave and gives him license to exercise his 1st Amendment rights at his leisure by offering mild rebukes and occasionally scathing commentary on either’s performance in the White House. Please don’t get him started on Mr Trump. Seriously. Please don’t.

So what happened?

How does a child destined to walk the moderate, centrist ground of politics suddenly find herself tumbling out of that comfortable, stable middle ground and slide headlong into the rabbit hole of the (gasp) Libertarian Left? cartesian plane with horizontal left-right axis and vertical authoritarian-libertarian axis

As a good Snowflake/Hippie/[insert insult of your choice here] should, I blame my parents. That’s right, the ex-Catholic (aka Agnostic with an Attitude) Democrat and the laid-back Protestant Republican, who huddle snugly in the political middle. The couple who for over 50 years now have made an art of not merely coexisting with a different opinion, but celebrating their differences (admittedly, that celebration sometimes involves ballistic kitchenware from the Democrat and pithy retorts worthy of a Spartan warrior from the Republican).

On the political compass it’s astonishing just how close these two warring lovebirds are –Image result for churchillboth are floating companionably near Winston Churchill in the middle to lower left of the blue, with mom but a bunny-hop and a skip left of dad on the economic scale, and him (my goodness) beating her and any other self-respecting Republican on the social scale with a noticeable southward drift. “Must have been the porn questions” spoke the Viking and went to stack some firewood.

Mother dearest disputes this conclusion and places the blame squarely on his insufferable feminism. Sometimes I really can’t tell when she’s joking.

And I guess therein lies the rub. They don’t fit the stereotypes. Despite loud (or laconic) protestations to the contrary, my parents are fierce individualists, liberal in the literal sense of the word. The “Believer in Liberty” sense. The “Freedom and Pursuit of Happiness” sense. Each of them may have chosen to align with a party that most closely resembles their views, but within that framework they refuse to be pinned down, corralled, labeled, or herded along party lines.

How did they end up raising a scion who snuggles up with Nelson Mandela (not that I’m not mildly flattered, if bewildered) in the green square?

I believe it’s because they’re Americans. Yes, you read that right. Solid, patriotic, “Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground” honest Americans. Firm believers in

Image result for statue of liberty
Looking good, old girl!

the First Amendment (please don’t get them started on the Second, though. The last time that discussion happened we had to evacuate half the county and apologize to Canada for that friendly-fire teacup), in self determination and inalienable rights. Including their daughter’s right to be a gun toting Hippie, a grown-ass woman in uniform who volunteers for animal rescues and pesters the commissary for more organic food (I draw the line at kale, though), who believes that putting her hind end on the line for her country means she damn well can argue for renewable energies and better health care. And don’t get me started on minority rights, or protecting my beloved rivers, lakes and mountains. Seriously, don’t. My weapon was made by the lowest bidder.

The Oxymoron resolved

How does this individualism square with the lovebirds’ relatively high scores on the authoritarian scale, and mine own willing endurance of the most hierarchical command structure available?

I recall asking dad many years ago, before donning my own uniform, how he had resolved the dilemma for himself. Thusly spoke the Viking: “Freedom isn’t saying no to authority just because it’s authority. It’s saying yes when and because you choose to. Now go help your mother with the horses.”

Yes, dad.

 

 

 

About that “National Security” speech…

Picture it: Bavaria, 2017. A cold wind stirs the snow over the nightly hills, and inside a charming, rustic inn a small group of American soldiers huddles up to friendly natives. The intoxicating aroma of ancient Bavarian brewing art mingles with the scent of pine branches, wet dog, and just a hint of cowshed. In the background a small TV set mumbles on about soccer stats, occasionally acknowledged by the indigenous population with a small groan or a satisfied huff. All is peaceful. Until … a strange man appears on the screen, his frowning visage framed by the familiar colors of the American flag. The soldiers tense. One of them discreetly scans for viable escape routes. But they are in luck. As the man with the toupee waves and gestures, his uncharacteristically stilted speech drowned by the far more pleasant German translator, the natives barely acknowledge him beyond an occasional eye roll. They have more pressing matters to attend to – one of the hunters has brought in a boar that afternoon, and there is disagreement over the sauce (Madeira. The answer is Madeira). The soldiers however keep casting wary glances at the TV – this is their Commander in Chief speaking. And his speech, painfully obvious as it is that he is parroting someone else’s words, does not do much to soothe their uneasy hearts. But whether it is the famous Bavarian aplomb with which the natives dismiss the strange man, or the rich, mouthwatering scents that begin to waft from the kitchen, or the unbroken stream of beer glasses flowing forth from the gates of Bavarian heaven – slowly, the soldiers relax. Let themselves be drawn back into the magical realm where peace on earth is found among the clinking of glasses and the telling of badly translated jokes, and a muddy dog snoring beneath the table…

When you least expect it – German Blitz

“So, exactly how is ‘America First’ different from ‘Deutschland uber alles’ anyways?”

It wasn’t so much the question itself – left field though it was – that caused the delicious Weizen beer to end up in the wrong pipe, and prompted some good natured “Americans can’t handle ze real beer” heckling as I desperately tried to stop coughing before Max the volunteer fireman succeeded in pounding my lungs out though my ears (the Bavarian approach to people choking on their beer is as robust as it is effective – a slap to the back that plants your face on the table, followed by what feels like an elephant performing the “In the air tonight” drum-solo on your ribs until shock and survival instinct prompt a huge intake of air and frantic “I’m fine!” waving of arms).

It was rather the casual, ‘a propos’, tone of the question. The mildly inquisitive expression, as if Mr Florian were trying to puzzle out the reason why Americans shun

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Never saw that one coming

the delicious Obazda but will eat every scrap of liver cheese in sight. It was the fact that the very same people who, for all their nonchalant approach to any number of sensitive subjects, almost unilaterally shut down at the mention of Hitler, Nazis and suchlike, suddenly tossed this Blitz-question into an unsuspecting American’s lap. It was admittedly also the implication. The unspoken but perceived “Why are you allowed to say this, but we are evil when we do?”

My first instinct was to say “Because we don’t mean it like that!” Not in the “Germany above all” sense. The “We are better than everyone else” sense.

But with a band of agreeable Teutons waiting patiently for the American to gather and line up her scattered ducks, I choked on the words worse than I had on the beer.

How is it different?

Because it’s US saying it

It was the second thought popping into my head, and it felt imminently reasonable. Cheap, yes. A classic cop-out of the high horsed sort. But it makes sense, right?

We’re the country who fought the Nazis, for crying out loud. We’re the Shining City on

https://i0.wp.com/cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0436/4061/products/America-the-Beautiful.jpg
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

the Hill. The champion of the underdog, the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. We’ve sacrificed our own, all over the world, to help others.

Yes, fine, the Brits fought the bad guys, too, and the French and the Russians did, after the Reich had overrun them with brutal German efficiency, but we saved the day, right? And maybe others have done some good around the world since those days, and built functioning democracies with Liberty and Justice for all, but we’re the ones who came up with it. We the People got the ball rolling.

So we get to say it, right? We got the moral high ground, the highest horse in the stable. If we want to put this awesome thing first, this admittedly still flawed country that nonetheless is ours, and the only one we got, and it’s a good thing we have … we get to say it. Right? Because it is different.

Why are they looking at me like that?

Because economy, stupid

They’ll understand that. Germans are practical. Infuriatingly so.

Because we really don’t mean it in the “we’re better” way, but in the “We need to look to our own people first” way. Sure, our current administration blows trade deficits out of proportion and sometimes flat out lies about important economic issues. Sure, their way of going about it could stand some scrutiny (alright, a lot of scrutiny), but the sentiment is valid. Right?

Because we’re not talking about isolationism, just maybe scaling back the globalization a little bit until we can sort out the troubles at home. Yes I know we’re depending on the world market to an extensive degree, and protectionism is a short term fix, if that. Yes I know our government is selling it as our deliverance from evil, which it is not, but…

Ah, damn.

Stuff the excuses, buttercup

Arguing economy with Germans is like playing table tennis with an octopus. Arguing nationalism with the guys whose grandparents invented flag waving hyper-patriotism

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“Is it true your Nazis smell like lemons?” – (German humor)

and mood lighting with 1000 torches, is entering a spitting contest with a llama on steroids.

And it would be pointless anyways.

Because it isn’t different.

It wasn’t different before Charlottesville, it isn’t different now.

America First. Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles, uber alles in der Welt.

So, with my capacity for speech restored and my ribs mildly bruised, I cowgirl’d up. Dismissing the first, second, and third sorry excuse my frantic mind had conjured up as the bison-sized dungheap they are, I looked my friends squarely in the eyes.

“It isn’t, guys. Not really. Not the way my people are using it right now.”

But hear me out…

It’s no secret my opinion of the current administration has gone from an unenthusiastic “Meh” about a year ago, to an irked “Do any of them have a clue what they’re doing?” around summer, to an all out irate “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, anyone? F*ckssakes!” by now.

Neither is it a secret that I’ve sworn an oath to defend and uphold the Constitution of the Image result for john wayne quote whiskeyUnited States, with my life if need be, and that I damn well meant those words when I said them. That I love my home, right or wrong, and may whatever deity you believe in have mercy on you if you try to harm it. Because you’ll get none from me.

But do my hackles rise automatically when I hear “USA!” chants, see people cheerfully wave Old Glory (I do cringe when she’s drunkenly dropped in the mud, or pretty airheads – looking at you, Tomi Lahren – think it’s OK to cut her up and wear her like a cheap scarf), or when anyone crows about how awesome our country is, and what a marvelous place to be? Hell to the no. Somewhat jaded, cynical battle horse that I am, I still smile at that kind of oh so American enthusiasm.

It’s the intent that matters. And that’s where our “America First” crowd has gone tragically off the rails.

Not only in their “National Sovereignty over Alliances” approach, because no man is an island, and even a superpower can not stand alone. Not only in their perceived moral superiority, because guess what guys, we’ve forfeited that for the time being. Not only in their at least somewhat understandable “Economic anxiety” roundhouse kick, because trade is simply never a zero-sum game, and anyone claiming otherwise might want to find a dictionary and look up the word “Recession”.

But also, distressingly, in their tolerance, even open acceptance of the “Blood and Soil” crowd, the David Dukes of KKK fame, the white supremacists and ultra-right religious groups; in the legitimizing and normalizing of hatred, blatant racism, and mad conspiracy theories (looking at you, Alex Jones. Gay frogs indeed). When you’re listening to these people, really listening, you will soon hear the theme beyond the hogwash. The “Me first! Me first! Only me!” that wraps itself in a patriotic fanfare. In their world, there is no united America that must come first, there is only their respective group. Or rather, they are America, and the rest of us are not. So naturally, being the only real Americans, they must come first, and everyone else may comply or leave at their leisure. Or die. That offer is extended disturbingly often.

Sorry, guys. Mr Duke, Mr Jones, Mr citronella tiki-torch. You’re messing with the wrong country.Image result for united states constitution

We are Americans. Our ancestors actually fought a war against would-be dictators. And then another, because we didn’t quite get that “Unalienable Rights” with the “Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness” part right the first time around.

There’s actually a lot we got wrong during our short existence. But not everything. Never everything.

Unless and until you understand this, that true love sees flaws and accepts them, takes them as incentive to do better, to become greater, you’ll never put America first. Until you realize that an ideal is something that can never reasonably be fulfilled, but is nonetheless worth striving for, fighting for, moving mountains for and changing history for, you’ll never even glimpse a shadow of what it means to be great. Unless you accept that admitting “we were wrong” is not unpatriotic and weak, but taking responsibility and reclaiming your own humanity, you’ll forever be stuck feeling like a victim and carrying silly torches to protest the mean, mean world daring to change and move on without you.

Unless and until you dare to open your eyes and look at this marvelous country we had the impossibly dumb luck to be born to, and see it, see all of it, the ideals we built it on and the countless ways we found and still find to mess up, always getting back up and trying again, trying harder, how can you love it? Really love it, in that stupid, inexplicable, unreasonable way that, yes!, makes you put it First?

“So it is different, and it isn’t”

At least, that is how Mr Florian summed up our lively debate, nodding sagely over the foaming crown of his Weizen. I did mention that German practicality, yes?

I’ll have Knodel with my Wildschwein, thank you.

 

“Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”

  “A Republic, madam, if you can keep it.”

(Benjamin Franklin, 1787)