A year or so ago I picked Shelby Foote's fourteen volume history of the Civil War. The American Civil War is chock full of fascinating characters and great stories, and Foote is a brilliant writer. His prose sings, even better than Bruce Catton's, which is high praise indeed. It isn't the best book on the origins of the war, Catton's The Coming Fury and James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom are better, but in putting flesh and blood on the men and women who lived that war no one did more.

I'm only just starting the fifth volume, which begins with the Battle of Fredericksburg, but Foote's undying love and respect for Abraham Lincoln shines through like a bright light. At the end of volume four, he devotes a chapter to Abraham Lincoln as a writer. Foote argues that Lincoln was not only a great President, a man of amazing capacity at a critical time in History. Lincoln reached out to everyone, and he talked to people when walking the streets. Whenever a man like Horace Greeley would excoriate one of his policies Lincoln lamented, and wondered why Greeley wouldn't come and talk to him first. He talked to everyone else, and one of the reasons he held the Union together in this most difficult war was his ability to reach out to those who dissented against him.

Foote pointed out something, that the only time people couldn't get in to meet Lincoln was when he was writing. And he was more, a thinker. To those of us who struggle with the printed word it becomes clear that the process of writing is also the process of organizing the mind. A lot of ideas sound good when rolling around in your brain. They have no defects, no logical weakness. But when you go to put them down on paper everything changes. Somehow you have to organize these ideas and present them in logical chains. The things you didn't think through so well appear. The direction you chose to begin with sometimes leads you over a cliff. Sometimes you end up restarting and going in a different direction entirely.

One of the biggest examples of this came during the Lee v. Weisman decision. In the case the local school board had made a habit of inviting local clergy to offer opening prayers before various school events, which was challenged as violating the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. The principal provided clergy with a pamphlet suggesting how the talk should go. Justice Anthony Kennedy sat down to write the majority opinion, which would have upheld the schools right to continue the prayers. Most Americans see such things as innocent acts, and normal for people who still ask the Blessing before every meal. But as he wrote things like the pamphlet began to bother the Justice. He saw that principal was in fact guiding and suggesting the content of the prayers, and because these were public events were just that they implied endorsement of a certain set of religious beliefs. In the process of writing them Kennedy thought his beliefs through and reversed himself.

Lincoln was such a thinker. His 1858 Senatorial debates with Democrat Stephen Douglas were illuminating and represent the complete opposition of political debates today. Today candidates strive to offend no one while generating sound bytes. They want to look good on T.V. But in 1858 Kansas was bleeding and Douglas had been part of the compromise that created popular sovereignty, where each state would choose for itself to whether it would be Slave or Free. Douglas wasn't particularly pro-slavery. He was pro-union, and saw the compromise as necessary to maintain a bitterly divided land. Douglas defended his choices vigorously, and in defending himself was compelled to recognize the fundamental issue of slavery, that it denied the humanity of an entire race of human beings. The debates were political, but fought by brilliant men who expressed themselves clearly and well, it was a debate of ideas and educational to its listeners.

Back then men didn't see their candidates on TV. Debates were too distant for most to attend in a day when the Foot Mk. 1 was primary transportation. Speeches were posted and people read them. Today we elect men we'd like hang with, and suffer from our choices. Back then we sought great and articulate men, men who proved through their words their ability to think and to lead. Lincoln was the man who said "A house divided against itself cannot stand. "

But the best proof of all resides in his Gettysburg Address, fought after the great victory that ended the Confederacy's last major offensive, and the turning point in the east that led to the final defeat of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Gettysburg was a savage battle, as was typical in the war: Battle of Shiloh, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, Antietam, the war was fought in a day when the musket was giving way to the rifle and the machine gun and breech-loading cannon beginning to appear on a battlefield filled with men.

Consider these words, simple, humble but clean and pure, striking right to the heart of person. Not a word wasted, not a comma out of place. Lincoln wrote and thought words that reflected and shaped his times.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

It may be that America has produced better wordsmiths than Abraham Lincoln. But whenever he had to he produced the right words, the exact words to express the feelings of bleeding and battered land. No one who has ever lifted a pen has done more.

As a 10 year old, I got my first video game system - the NES - and spent hours playing Super Mario Brothers. As a teenager I thought that the Mario Brothers series were video games, but lately I've become convinced that they were really a field training manual for navigating urban environments.

I say this not because a city is literally filled with goombas and coopa troopers, but because considering my experience, it might as well be. You see, as you walk on a crowded street, at a certain point you won't be able to help but to see most of the other pedestrians as little video game villains. Now, of course, all of us as human beings are special and unique. Little Susie's gotta a lovely red pimple above her lip, and the way that that lad Johnny's nose oozes out moist boogers are unlikely to be replicated among other human beings. But when you are walking along a very crowded street with 100s of people squeezing past each other, you kinda forget that each person is an individual and they all blend into a one solid mess of identical villains that you have to navigate past in order to get to your destination. So, it's a very Mario Brothers like experience, because you are basically trying to clear a path for yourself and treating the other pedestrians like physical objects. Of course, just like in Mario Brothers, your attitude towards your fellow pedestrians is hostile avoidance. In the video game, you gotta jump over those annoying coopa troopers and goombas to get to the end of the level. If they all looked like unique individuals, you wouldn't be so hurried to rush past those villains, but would instead be prompted to stop and admire them.

Unfortunately, many other video games have made the deadly mistake of creating interesting enemies that lure the player into indulge in a visual feast of cute villains. For those of you who know the Commander Keen Series on the PC, beware of the dopefish. This huge green fish with huge swirling eyes and a smile whose two jutting teeth that clearly huge overbite seemed like the most insane video game villain I've met at that point. Now, I was too busy looking at that freak of nature to actually want to avoid being eaten by it so that I could beat the game. Unfortunately, the "cute villain" problem doesn't escape you in the city either. Thing is you'll manage to successfully navigate past thousands of pedestrians if they are just ordinary, but if someone really interesting comes along, they might just get your defenses down. If you are a guy like me, a polite person who approaches you with a friendly smile and a nod of the head will cause a momentary confusion and shake up your interest. They might even have something interesting to say and get a good conversation going.

But as dopefish proves, cute villains are still villains. Half of the time, such an encounter is bound to end in your conversational partner asking for money. I don't know about you, but I am likely to interpret this as a very hostile gesture, even if the money is for a good cause. Either way, some of these people don't take the refusal to donate very kindly. Insults and harshly-voiced reprobation do happen in some cases but only those who have experienced this themselves are likely to believe me. Now, in this extremely difficult situation, it's once again best to look to Mario Brothers as inspiration. If you are stuck chatting to whatever person is pressing you for money or whatever else, it's because you are treating them like a human being and not a villain. Faces, gestures, voices, and emotions make us sympathize with people and treat them more kindly than their behavior warrants. To get rid of your own sympathy, it's best to dehumanize this extortionist in your eyes by thinking of him as a simple Mario Brothers villain. In my mind, an extortionist has to be dealt with like those Mario Brothers' turtles with huge shells who stand on their hind legs and throw hammer sledges in your directions. These human-turtle hybrids whose eyes are too small to be seen on the screen are repulsive enough that you cannot mistake them for anything other than an enemy. Thank god, video games make villains ugly enough to make you respond with appropriate hate. In this one aspect, they are superior to life.

Now that you've been able to turn your tormentor into a reptile, your contempt and indifference towards that creature will help you abruptly end the conversation and leave the scene without feeling guilty. (Remember: After all a reptile that makes sad eyes and comes up with a pitiful voice to convince you to donate his charity is still a reptile, so he won't be able to play on your sympathy any more.) However, for the sake of safety, you need to put as much distance between you and that person as possible. In dense urban spaces, it's hard to get away quickly. But a special case like this warrants you running past a crowd even if you bump into people by accident. Remember Mario's trick: He sometimes gets a magic star and runs quickly towards the end of the level while brushing up against every one in his way! Heck, if anyone ever says that video games are too abstract to offer any connection to real life, this one point certainly proves the contrary. "Run like the wind when danger faces you" may be one of the most important lessons to learn from a Mario Brothers Video game. Take my word for it, this is not something so obvious it needs mention. I, for one, have spent too much stuck in conversation with threatening people for the sake of politeness. And not everyone's out to get a donation either. Some want to sell you on God, others want to saddle you with a fierce delivery of their staunch held political convictions without letting you get a word in edgewise. Remember: though we always start talking to human beings, in the course of the conversation they can turn into repulsive reptiles with sledgehammers.

Now, a small disclaimer: I don't mean to demean people who raise money for charity and approach people on the streets to ask for a donation. I really only take issue with those who adamantly and persitently pressure and or attempt to manipulate a person into making a donation after they refuse.

Day Eight

Strattera, Day Ten:

(Day Ten technically should have been here but, oh well.)

I've skipped a few days because things have been very unusual around here lately as some of you are already aware. From one morning to the next night plans were very quickly made and flights very quickly booked and before I knew it I was in Phoenix, Arizona. So things in my life the past 48 hours have been a whirlwind to say the least. And I want to be clear on the fact that I am not out in this god-forsaken desert for a vacation, although I respect that many do travel here for planned getaways. It has beauty, especially in the scenery, but it wasn't high up on my list of places to visit before I came here and now it's probably last on the list of places I'd like to return to.

Yes the searing heat is part of it.

I have found, however, out in this gigantic frying pan, that this Straterra is actually working quite well. First of all, I've always been terrible with directions. As is often said, I can't find my way out of a paper bag. To be able to drive in an area well I need to have driven it many times. But... despite a misstep this morning getting back to my sister's house from the Enterprise rental place, driving around here hasn't been too difficult. As a matter of fact, I've been challenged heartily several times tonight and I came out completely unphased and unscathed.

I had to drive out to Mesa, pretty much one of the Phoenix 'burbs, to visit my sister. (Wait, you might ask, you're at your sister's house, but had to go somewhere else to visit her? Well we'll get to that later.) Thanks to Google I had no problems. But I think I also have Strattera to thank because, before, even with Google, I'd almost always make a wrong turn at least once. But there and back, not a single one. It's quite surprising in retrospect.

But the real challenges came driving only a few miles to a barbeque restaurant and back to the house. (By the way, if you ever do find yourself in this suburb of Hell, go to Honey Bears BBQ, it's so far been the only enjoyable thing so far about this jaunt across the country. The ribs were excellent.) We had to go there anyway to go pick up my sister's vehicle which she had hidden there a few days prior. So my grandma and I decided we might as well check it out and I'm glad we did. On the way back we had to make several detours because of construction - they're building a light rail system here presently - and some police activity. I would have watched the news later to find out what it was but apparently my sister's cool television Microsoft Media Center setup does everything but actually let you watch TV.

It was quite amazing. Normally I would have been a basket case, driving in a completely foreign environment, almost no idea where I was going, and suddenly the only directions I have are thwarted... not once but twice, not to mention the fact that I was driving a vehicle I was totally unfamiliar with (I'd never driven a gigantic SUV before).

But tonight, I come across a right I can't make, "OK, just keep going, take the next right, take the next right, go left on the street you'd originally intended on making a right on," boom, boom, boom, done. Piece of cake. I did that not only once but twice. I do not believe I could have accomplished that, at least not that easily with no stress or any wrong turns, before Strattera. My grandmother sure was glad, she was following behind me in our rented Cobalt, and she has absolutely no clue what I was doing or where we were going.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry a lot the past few days. I think that if I didn't at least try to keep a sense of humor about this tragic mess I think I'd lose my mind, too and the mood swings this drug tries to impart on me isn't helping. For example, instead of "Oh my god, wtf!?" I think "Gee, the front lawn is quite an interesting place to toss your computer printer out to" and "Hey, the pool is a great place to throw your dishes into, why didn't I think of that?"

The young woman I went to visit over in Mesa was not my sister. The person I saw at that place resembled her in some ways, but, excepting when I popped into the hallway and surprised the shit out of her and the hug-filled beginning of the conversation, this woman was quite belligerent. My sister doesn't trash her house, destroy furniture and throw it out on the street, and half-joke about it being an art project. My sister would never tell me that the creepy neighbor that she had been afraid of and had gotten a restraining order against was a great guy whom I should totally go introduce myself to. My sister would certainly never swear at dear old grandma. And there is no way she would ever find herself locked away at a place with signs on the doors that say "Close Securely, Escape Risk" and think for a second that she had a handle on things. And most importantly, my sister would never tell me to just go away after only a 20-minute visit after I flew over a thousand miles to just see if she was OK (well, as far as she knew that's all I was there for).

There was one thing the two had in common, though: my sister also wouldn't have fancied having that conversation near a guy who, the entire time I'm there, would sit in a chair looking down the entire time doing nothing but saying "Oooog!" over and over again.

By the way, the people at the facility were super nice and caring, and the place was wonderful, and I have a really good feeling that that they're going to bring my little sister back to me sometime soon.

About a week ago or so, the announcement was made that British troops were to be withdrawn from Basra. The question of whether this a good thing or not (to leave Iraq in its current state or to continue at the expense to our country in terms of lives and money is a whole other debate which I won't get into) is something that needs to be put aside.

Some of you may well be aware of the plight of Iraq interpreters. The fact that, because they have worked with the British Army or its contractors, they and their families have become targets for insurgents. Many have fled the country, gone into hiding or have been murdered.

The Governments response to this is tell these people to register with the UN refugee agency. The agency is already flooded with refugees and it seems likely that many workers and interpreters won't be able to leave Iraq safely.

It is entirely possible for the British Government to gave asylum to these people. A large number of troopers seem to support this option.

This is my opinion- right now it is still fiercely debated by critics and proponents of the Iraq War as to whether the war is a disgrace to the Britain. But if we let these brave people, who may not have carried a gun but most certainly carried a dream, die out in Iraq, there will be no debate or doubt.

This is why I'm asking British noders to hassle your MP's and get people informed, because the situation is getting bad, very, very quickly.

Links: The latest news on the situation: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/iraq/article2448785.ece-
Older news but relevant for background info:
Suggestions for what you can do:
Current petition:

coffee tastes better when its cold
when I can inhale the heat
when its aroma steams up my glasses and
I can wrap my hands around its warmth

Put on a sweater darling
Let us take a walk outside
there are blue skies and
geese overhead;
chilled benches outside the coffee shop
for two.

I think it's fair to say that I'm in a bad state these days.

I know when it started. Why it started. But it's gone beyond Kübler-Ross and into any excuse I can get for hating myself.

I feel worthless, truly and completely worthless. So many things I could have done, could have been, and look where I ended up. Sitting in my room, alone and crying. I keep trying to make myself get up, go out, do something, but I can't stand the thought of anyone seeing me the way I am now. I hate my tears. I'm weak. Pathetic. Pitiful, but not pitiable.

I despise everything about myself. — Of course, when you've got so much material to work with, it's not hard to do. I fail at everything I try to do.

— School? I took two years off because I "felt bad" and moved back in with my parents. And now that I'm back studying again, what am I doing? Using the few skills I have and learning to do something worthwhile? No. I'm an "art" major. A talentless hack who's probably going to wind up mooching off her parents for the rest of her life. I can't even support myself now without their help, not even with two jobs.

— Relationships? Huge fuckup there, too. I couldn't give the person I cared about most the things he needed. I just held him back, dragged him down. He'd've been better off if he'd never met me. Who wants a girlfriend who cries when you touch her, anyway?

— Then there's just me. I can't bear to look at myself in the mirror anymore, not that I could much before. I loathe how I look. I'd look for a paper bag to wear, but they don't make them in full-body models. I'm ugly, a cow, a freak. No wonder my mother gave me away when I was born. She should have taken it a step further and used a coathanger. I'm just someone's accident that should never have been born.

...And that's how I'm feeling today, thanks. I'm trying my best to fight it, but any reasons why I should are just getting slimmer and slimmer. I'm just getting older, and the future most definitely isn't looking any brighter.

This week has been a stressful one for a multitude of people. It has been a hard week for the survivors of the 9/11 attack. It has been stressful for General David Patraeus, who testified before Congress regarding progress in the war in Iraq. It has been a hard week here where we have lost a member of our family.

Our loss was that of one of our pets. I know, that loss pales into insignificance in comparison to the loss suffered by others. I submit that loss is relative. The loss of a dime can be as hard as the loss of a dollar if all you have is a dime.

Our dog was named China. She is responsible for many positive things in our lives over the last decade. She is the one who cured several members of my family from cynophobia, the fear of dogs. She did her part in maintaining a relationship of trust. She taught our kids what unconditional love and acceptance looks like on four paws. She often did it better than myself or my wife.

I'm a sucker when it comes to pondering words and what they really mean. I can choose one and spend an hour dissecting it, turning it about like a piece in a puzzle, looking to see how it fits into the big picture of life. The loss of China causes me to do that with the word relationship.

Webster 1913 carries the following definition of relationship: The state of being related by kindred, affinity, or other alliance. We all have a variety of relationships, some valued, others unwilling.

Relationships based on kinship are obviously not always good ones, though they are undeniably some of the most powerful. Most people would say the relationship (or lack of one) with their parents has been one of the most significant in their lives. Siblings follow closely, and in some instances may eclipse the parental relationship. Other relatives fall closely into line, each rated according to the influence that person has or has had in our life. Following these are friends and acquaintances.

Relationship based on an alliance can also be powerful. We have business relationships which hopefully enable us to do our jobs, further our goals. We may have financial relationships with lenders or other institutions. We ally ourselves into teams to participate in sports, allowing us to compete and enjoy the company of others as we do so. We are here on E2 because we are allied by a common interest in writing, or at least an interest in reading the writings of others.

The relationships we cherish most are the ones we are in simply because we want to be in them. That brings me back full circle to our relationship to China, our lost pet. She of course didn't really have a vote in forming the relationship. My son and I bundled ourselves into my pickup truck on a cold April morning 10 years ago to go meet her. She was about to become orphaned by circumstance. Her owner was the male half of a couple, the female half having absconded to find romance via an internet tryst. The remaining partner was a trucker, and due to his job simply could not provide the care his 2 dogs required. He was putting them up for adoption.

We arrived and made the acquaintance of China and her companion. My son decided China was the dog for him, so we took her into the warm truck and made our way home. My son was thoroughly licked, trampled, and sniffed by the time we traveled the 25 miles back home.

China was a bundle of energy, a spring wound too tightly, looking for a chance to uncoil. She ran about our yard, describing an elliptical orbit which terminated at my son. China bowled him over on the return leg of her orbit. I waited to hear him cry, concerned that she'd frightened him. What I heard was the sound of his laughter.

Time passed as it always does, her clock running faster than our human chronometer. She became mature, settling down from that bundle of wild energy. She became the mayor of our small village, going her round and greeting everyone along the way. I've encountered people whom I don't know and had them ask about China. She somehow was known by everyone.

The last couple of years saw her decline. She suffered from a hip disorder common to her breed. My fear was that she would lie down one day and simply be unable to rise again, necessitating a decision to have her put down. Many times I've thought she was almost done in only to have her chase a stray cat. I think she did it just to show me she still had game, tell me not to be too quick rushing to judgement.

Last weekend I was sitting on our porch swing with my wife. Our modest home doesn't have anything as grandiose as a veranda or patio. We have a porch with a swing, good for sitting and talking. It's where we go to steal a few minutes to enjoy each other, talking about whatever needs talking about.

China was there too, enjoying our company. She had a habit of sitting on my foot, as if she wanted to simply have physical contact with me or my wife. I thought she looked a little worn, like she'd lost a couple of pounds too. I thought the weight loss was a good thing. Both she and I have had too much of a relationship with our respective tableware.

I went to work, leaving home for another interminable week on the road in my job as a trucker. In my nightly call home on Tuesday my wife told me China was acting strangely, whining and being unsettled. I told her to keep an eye on her. I know that sometimes when a dog is near their end they can sense it and act strangely. We have an inside dog too, and when my wife took her out for their evening stroll China accompanied them as she almost always did.

The next morning came, but there was no China to be found. Calling her brought no response either. My wife called me and I suggested that my son and his grand dad might want to go looking for her. I suspected she'd gone away to find her end. Dogs are like that sometimes, slipping away like their final moments are an inconvenience to their family. I'd had a conversation with her, told her that if she needed to go it was alright and that I understood. I forgot to tell her to stay home when her time came so we could take care of her properly. She should have understood that I'd have wanted it that way, that I owed her that final respect. God forgive me for the things I've left unsaid in my life.

My son has given me a long distance update while I was gone. No sign of his first dog, his friend, his companion. She taught him some things everyone needs to know in this life. She taught him about love and acceptance. She taught him about responsibility and caring. Finally, she has taught him about loss.

My son has never experienced the intense pain of losing someone dear to him. My parents both died when he was quite young, too young to understand. This is the first loss of someone with whom he has a significant attachment.

We talked about her disappearance, and he agreed that it was her time. I was glad that he displayed a mental preparedness for this event, that it didn't come as a complete surprise. In some ways I think he was better prepared than myself. I don't turn loose of things I value easily.

I told him that in my opinion God probably could always use a good dog. That He could enjoy her until the time came when we could be together again. That Heaven is supposed to be a place full of good things, so there was no reason for there not to be dogs there. That China was one of the very best, and that she could now be free to run again unfettered by a tired and failing physical body.

I hope in some small way she has innoculated my son, given him protection from the ravages of future loss. I hope when that larger loss comes,(as it inevitably must), he will recognize it and that it is simply a matter of degree. All loss hurts our spirit. The only question is how deeply we are hurt and how long the hurt endures. Recognizing it as a natural part of life is the beginning of coping with its ravages.

My wife still has her parents, a blessing to her, our kids, and myself. Her dad will be 80 years old this fall. He is still healthy and able to get out and do things. As an over the road trucker my time with my son has been limited in many ways. My wife's dad has been there for my son, taking him fishing and hunting while I've been gone. The value of that has been incalculable.

I know the world keeps on spinning and time will finally run out for my wife's parents. I'd spare everyone the pain of that loss if I could, but of course that is impossible. It's been said time heals all wounds, but the truth is time also is the source of all wounds. Live long enough and you will suffer loss.

This is my attempt to say goodbye to a friend and companion who just happened to be born as a dog. China always greeted me with her smile and affection. It didn't matter that she had gotten old, didn't feel well, or that she couldn't run like when she was younger. She gave all she had to the absolute end, and that's a tribute to anyone no matter how many legs they might have. We'll miss her and remember her for all she did and all she was. Farewell, my friend.

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