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Vlad the Impaler: Villain or Hero?

Being a pacifist Christian is a sweet thing for those who live in countries where there is infrastructure and laws and a cohesive military, as well as active local police forces that keep society functioning and orderly. The United States and Canada are, therefore, great places for pacifist Christians to live. Somebody else can do the dirty work, while they farm and raise their children and attend their churches without consequences.

The world for pacifist Christians was not always such a pretty place. In fact, it wasn’t such a pretty place for many people groups. In the days of Vlad the Impaler, the Ottoman empire was a huge threat to Christian nations, as the Ottomans were effective in their empire-building schemes and striking terror into the hearts of citizens who would have preferred to farm and raise their children and attend their churches without consequences, too. But that wasn’t going to happen. And, of course, it wasn’t just the Ottomans. European nations were quite happily engaging in the Hundred Years War when Vlad was just a lad. This was also the century of Machiavelli; although he was born just after Vlad died (Vlad didn’t live very long: live by the sword, die by the sword, etc.), you could work backwards and call Vlad Machiavellian in his political affairs. To be fair, this blood-thirsty world must have at least partially inspired the first Anabaptist movement, which began in the early 16th C. And they suffered for centuries at the hands of Christian political states for their convictions.

When I sat down to write this post, I was ruminating on the difference between modern warfare and ancient warfare, not to mention the concept of no warfare at all. Vlad the Impaler lived in “modern” times, more or less, but the warfare of his day resembled the variety one finds in ancient literature like the Bible. It was bloody and brutal in a way we’ve pretended can’t or shouldn’t be done these days — really, what is water-boarding compared to impaling your enemies or chopping their heads off and shoving them on stakes for the world to see first thing in the morning? That kind of blood sport is deeply terrifying to humans on a psychological level. It’s, therefore, successful. Who wants to mess with a nation of men who are willing to conquer in this way?

I mentioned the Ottoman empire earlier because Vlad is primarily known as a hero in Romania for holding the Turks at bay. Romania has long been an Orthodox Christian nation, tucked in an awkward position between Eastern and Western Europe, with Turkey a hop and a skip across the Black Sea. In Vlad’s childhood, he was held as a quasi prisoner to the Ottomans. His brother converted to Islam, but he refused. What he did convert to was their idea of striking terror into their enemies, and he used it against them when he later became prince of Wallachia (i.e. Romania). Vlad did what he had to do to protect a Christian nation against the inevitable invasion of non-Christian people who didn’t then and don’t now believe in freedom of religion.

So was he a hero or a villain? It’s difficult to say. Partly, this is owing to the advent of the printing press and his short life span. The people who didn’t like him published a lot of tall tales about him, such that our modern minds have a hard time parsing reality from fiction. He’s the inspiration for the most famous vampire story of all time, for heaven’s sake. Vampire stories aside, I’m pretty sure historians agree that he was an extremely bloody ruler.

So was he or wasn’t he a hero? I would call him a hero, albeit I’m inclined toward pacifism. I have that push and pull most humans find inside themselves, the pull to live at peace, and the push to not just defend one’s country or family, but to cut off the problem at its source. To get the job done, even if it will take brutality to achieve it.

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Moments Amid Madness

We’re in the middle of a move and have been, consequently, painting, cleaning, and laying tiles in our new house. This is exciting, but leaves me little time for luxuries like blog posts when I have work to do that makes me money. I’ve shelved all my blog ideas and am sharing a couple points of interest from the last week:

First moment: I read an article about Joy Harjo’s appointment as the US Poet Laureate, the first Native American to achieve this. She’s achieved a lot more than this in her lifetime, to be honest. As a jazz saxophonist, a writer, and a teacher, she’s garnered an impressive list of accolades. But my interest in this latest achievement is more personal because she was one of my writing professors at UNM.

When I signed up for one of her classes, I had no idea what I was getting into. My method for taking classes was to let my own schedule determine them and to call it “fate”. I was a busy homeschool mom; I didn’t have the time or luxury to take pleasure classes. I suppose a poetry class might be considered a “pleasure” class, but it simply fulfilled a requirement for my degree.

While familiar with Joy Harjo, I didn’t anticipate constantly butting heads with her, which is what happened. Our visions are entirely different — hers obviously a little more expansive than mine, as she’s quite accomplished at her craft and I’m not. But I would guess it was our personalities that clashed. I’m a stingy curmudgeon; she’s not. She’s interactive with other humans; I’m not. She’s a political progressive; I’m not. I should qualify that last statement. She’s anything but an average progressive because her feminism and political beliefs are influenced by the experience of her people, the Muscogee Creek. This is going to put her odds with standard progressivism in this country…but standard progressives tend to be very out-of-touch with the very people they presume to stand for.

It was a fascinating trip, to say the least. Ultimately, though, despite our differences, she was very kind and generous to me. She’s generous to all her students, giving them one-on-one conferences to discuss their writing and vision. I doubt anyone leaves her classes without being challenged. She leaves her mark, that’s for sure.

Second moment: One of my longest-time friends landed a job in publishing. It’s not just any publishing house, however, but one known for academic Christian work. More recently, the imprint has expanded to fiction, and my friend is now working for the fiction line, which is very appropriate for her. It’s been a number of years since I was able to see her — right before moving to Roswell, to be exact, which is about five years. And even then, we only had time to go out for wine and a snack at happy-hour; my husband had already arranged a dinner date with someone else.

Recently, we’ve talked on the phone a couple of times because she was the kind, enthusiastic friend I discussed here who filled out my convalidation paperwork. After talking for a few hours via phone, she put me on her potential reviewer list, and then proceeded last week to send me a couple of review books and a couple of birthday-present books. In the middle of crunch time on our new house, my husband sent me back to the residence we’re moving out of to fetch needful things (you know, needful things like stepstools and tools), but I also discovered book packages in my mailbox.

There is nothing like the elation of unwrapping physical books from mailing envelopes. Nothing. And I say this as a hardcore Kindle ebook reader. The first book I pulled out was one I’d been wanting to read since she’d recommended it to me: Into the Deep: An Unlikely Catholic Conversion by Abigail Rine Favale. I started that one first, too. I have a lot to say about this book. I can’t wait to review it, but I’m not quite done with it. Some of the author’s story is very familiar to my own conversion story (albeit, mine is a not-quite-yet story). But more than that, it’s a story very relevant to our times and what happens to unmoored evangelicals when they enter the academic sphere.

If you want to know more about the friend I’ve left unnamed in this post, you can read this one. Sallie (that’s her name) is in a number of my coffee memoirs, but this one is specifically about her. I apologize for the bad formatting; a lot of my older posts were transported from an old blog to this one and look wonky. Occasionally, I fix one, but it’s not worth my time right now.

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A Few Short Thoughts On Diet Nuts

You might as well call me an anti-utopianist because that’s what I am philosophically. It also seems to be the theme of my recent posts. In this one, I’m going to focus on diet vloggers. Most diet vloggers are utopianists, either by actual disposition or because they are attention seekers (which is, admittedly, a disposition).

I got my start in the diet vlogging world when I was doing keto last summer/fall. There were and still are a number of helpful keto vloggers who have made names for themselves by doling out shopping and cooking advice — in the case of the health professionals like Dr. Berg, by doling out health advice. Not all of these vloggers are attention seekers. Marketers, maybe. Are marketers attention seekers? I guess they are, when it comes right down to it. But marketers aren’t narcissists as so many of the food vloggers tend to be.

Watching keto diet videos naturally compelled YouTube to recommend that I watch vegan and carnivore diet videos, too. Heh. That’s the crew that’s got narcissism practically tattooed on their foreheads. If female food narcissists walk the path of the mango, male food narcissists walk the path of meat. Preferably raw, or at least bloody.

I watch these videos for entertainment because they’re so compellingly odd. I don’t understand the compulsion to film oneself eating and exercising all day, half-dressed. Freelee the Banana Girl is probably the most iconic female version of this. She got her start years ago by bicycling all over Australia and eating tons — and I mean tons — of bananas. She hasn’t changed her diet much over the years, but now she lives in the jungle, harvesting jungle fruits with her Adamesque boyfriend, and filming herself scantily clad digging into mountains of fructose. She’s skinny — from malnourishment, most likely — and it’s not simply a rumor that she’s had breast implants to fix the problem of losing womanly curves on a diet not fit for longevity or fertility. She’s made videos defending her choice. Which is fine. I’m not picking on her per se. She just happens to have set the standard for vegan vloggers to undress themselves and show the world that they blend up mountains of figs, strawberries, and bananas for themselves all day long so they can have the energy to do their yoga. Which they demonstrate. Of course. High saturation is also very common, in order to give their complexions a rosy glow that they lack due to anemia. Also, fruit looks lovely in high saturation.

I don’t honestly know who the most iconic male version of this is. There is a guy from Sweden who calls himself Sv3rige, but his schtick is mockery of vegans more than it is showing off his musculature that he undoubtedly has obtained from eating mountains of raw meat. He’s a neo-pagan, let’s get back to our barbarian hunter roots sort of guy. Perhaps Frank Tufano qualifies as an iconic carnivore narcissist. He wears the muscle shirts and puts on the makeup to assist in his thick-eyebrowed manly beauty paradigm. Or DeLauer, who is a keto enthusiast who likes to be shirtless, or at least wear shirts tight enough to demonstrate his bulging biceps. The problem with male diet vloggers is they are male. They will show off themselves weight-lifting, but they aren’t nearly as iconic with the saturated colors and nakedness. I mean, don’t get me wrong, women like to look at men, but not to the same extent that men like to look at Freelee’s fake implants, despite their finding her lifestyle and behavior obnoxious.

The undercurrent to it all, though, is the selling of perfection. You can have perfection if you eat only raw fruit. You can have perfection if you only eat raw meat. If only, if only. And these vloggers go to great lengths to bring others into their neurotic playing with perfection. I guess if they can’t fully convince themselves, preaching to others will do the trick. There are shysters out there, and then there are utopianists. And there is a special place where the two meet as one, and the shysters begin to believe their lies because they’ve preached them so many times, and the utopianists begin to use deceit when their house of cards shows signs of collapse.

If you want to know what I believe about diet, you can read this old post of mine: Are Humans Vegetarians?

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Conservative Crack

My birthday is on Fathers’ Day this year. I’m happy to share it with them. I dearly love the fathers in my life: my own, my in-law, my children’s — aka my husband. There’s an episode of Blue Bloods, in which it becomes clear the Reagan dad is uncomfortable celebrating his birthday. This causes general angst to those who want to be kind to him on his birthday. Eventually, he decides to give his family a surprise party, in which he takes them to the ballgame. Perhaps I should give the father(s) who are near me a surprise party for my birthday.

Yes, I just used an anecdote from a TV show targeted at an audience just like me! Blue Bloods is what I like to call conservative crack. It has all the right elements to seduce conservatives who are tired of cynicism yet don’t want to watch the Hallmark channel. Its focus is on family, faith, justice, and the necessity of upholding law and order. The characters are Catholics who pray at their weekly extended-family dinners. And they don’t just pray generically, but specifically to Christ, which normally doesn’t happen on network TV.

Furthermore, it’s about the “Reagan” family, which is simultaneously a good Irish name and that of a Republican icon. Through Tom Selleck’s Dad Reagan character and his quietly stoic fight for justice, adjacent values such as loyalty and honesty are extolled. His character epitomizes the Theodore Roosevelt saying, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” In fact, he’s always quoting from Roosevelt.

So, yeah, it’s crack. But it’s ultimately subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) neocon propaganda preaching the mores of the day. When Erin Reagan has the opportunity to guide her daughter into Christian chastity, she instead tells the teenage girl to wait to have sex until she’s “in love”. When the dad goes against the church on homosexuality, he’s asked to recant his position, but he won’t. Not really. Because the church is clearly wrong. And on it goes, extolling every neocon value like a checklist: the police state, the virtues of mass immigration, etc.

So seductive! And I love cop shows, too, always have. Also, the Tom Selleck look is the best look; my husband has it, from his mustache and Euro-British features to his taste in clothes. Another also: Danny Wahlberg from New Kids on the Block. What a babe! Actually, he looks a little like Homer Simpson…. Now I’m being silly. But it is a good thing to recognize how I can be manipulated. I just pray that I can maintain my ability to recognize it.

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Yesterday’s Teaser

I left yesterday after mentioning the unmentionable: immunizations. Great. This is a subject that causes normally rational people to become rabid. I assume this is due to fear, and I don’t blame them, really, even if their memes are giant piles of nastiness.

Before you go rabid on me, let me make it clear that I’m not an anti-vaxxer. Rather, immunizations fit into the realm of “there is no utopia here; move on.” They are imperfect. They are old medicine, but the government poured their money into funding immunization development in the mid half of the 20th C; therefore, that’s what we have. And they actually work. That’s good in the same way antibiotics are good. They save lives and create unintended consequences.

And they really are old medicine, having been used in parts of the world for hundreds of years before ever being tested in the western world. Famously, the English writer Lady Mary Wortley Montagu discovered in the early 18th C that the Turks had been inoculating against smallpox for some time and consequently had much lower death rates of the disease than the English had. Her husband was the British ambassador in the Ottoman Empire, and being a curious person, she investigated their variolation process, i.e. their inoculation against the variola virus. It was a simple process of scratching the skin and infecting the open wound with a small amount of the virus. She brought this info back with her to England, but it took quite a few decades before Dr. Jenner (credited with inventing vaccination) developed a version using cowpox instead of smallpox (hence, the name). At the time, it was ingenious to use the body’s own immune system, especially since medicine at the time still relied on bloodletting and the use of mercury to combat disease.

Today, we know that basic hygiene can help prevent the spread of disease; we’re still aware of quarantine — we also have a much greater knowledge of nutrition (as well as the sun, i.e vit D) and its role in immune function. But we don’t know everything. The immune system is incredibly complex. And as we implement immunization schedules with multiple doses against more and more diseases, we also see the dignoses of autoimmune disorders increading at about 7% every year. Obviously, correlation doesn’t equal causation, but let’s consider for a moment what modern-day immunizations are meant to do: they are specifically designed to cause a strong immune reaction. Many do this through adjuvants, which are substances that enhance immune reactions…or, as I’ve often said in my non-sciencey language, bludgeon the immune system. This is a feature of immunizations; this is what we’re attempting when we give dose after dose to young children, beginning in the first 24 hours after birth.

But I’m still not an anti-vaxxer because it’s the only system we have right now. At the same time, I’m not now and never will be a utopianist. Nor could I ever become a rabidly cruel human being to others online. What few want to admit, or dare to admit, really, is that most anti-vaxxers are not fools. They are usually college educated with above-average IQs. Many have also taken on their own irrational anti stances because they have a child who was permanently damaged by an immunization. They feel pain and guilt and on top of that are bullied by people online who don’t understand that the cost when counting it might be somebody else’s child.

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