Preparing to Confront Fascism

Stay ready or get ready, think things through, act accordingly. This piece by Yale historian and Holocaust expert Timothy Snyder is making the rounds on Facebook. I would amend or supplement his reading list but his points are well-taken:

“Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.”

Snyder is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (which includes former Secretaries of State), and consults on political situations around the globe. He says, “Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.

1. DO NOT OBEY IN ADVANCE. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2. DEFEND AN INSTITUTION. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

3. RECALL PROFESSIONAL ETHICS. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

4. WHEN LISTENING TO POLITICIANS, DISTINGUISH CERTAIN WORDS. Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

5. BE CALM WHEN THE UNTHINKABLE ARRIVES. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.

6. BE KIND TO OUR LANGUAGE. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps “The Power of the Powerless” by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.

7. STAND OUT. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.

8. BELIEVE IN TRUTH. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

9. INVESTIGATE. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Bookmark PropOrNot or other sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

10. PRACTICE CORPOREAL POLITICS. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

11. MAKE EYE CONTACT AND SMALL TALK. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

12. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE FACE OF THE WORLD. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

13. HINDER THE ONE-PARTY STATE. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

14. GIVE REGULARLY TO GOOD CAUSES, IF YOU CAN. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.

15. ESTABLISH A PRIVATE LIFE. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

16. LEARN FROM OTHERS IN OTHER COUNTRIES. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.

17. WATCH OUT FOR THE PARAMILITARIES. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

18. BE REFLECTIVE IF YOU MUST BE ARMED. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)

19. BE AS COURAGEOUS AS YOU CAN. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

20. BE A PATRIOT. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

Ya Gotta Have Art!

“Art is the symbol of the two noblest human efforts: to construct and to refrain from destruction.” – Evelyn Waugh

My art has become an obsession. I now have four paths for my art, and it consumes most of my waking hours. This is probably an improvement over thinking about the current election cycle, no?

The first path is decorative; the faux finish subway tiles, including the cartoon characters, etc. The second path is painting portraits to illustrate my book: “Other People’s Children”. These are portraits of people whom I have known who society has labeled throwaways: the homeless, prisoners, etc. The third path is a challenge from my psychologist to explore the abstract. This is a tall order, as I believe in order to do abstract well, one must have a firm grasp on realism. You see my problem.

heidnikThe fourth is meta in that it goes beyond all of these to challenge my own stated belief in the universal pro-life position. I need to paint a portrait of serial killer Gary Heidnik that is done with love and respect, recognizing that he was born with all of the same potential and hope that I was. I was once in his presence and could feel evil emanating from him before I turned to see who it was. Yet, immediately I was struck by the fact he was still alive. There was still hope for change, still potential for good. He was still a fellow human being. We should never go down the rabbit hole to attempt to understand why he did what he did, yet there are those two words of Jesus of Nazaeth that keep calling me up short: “Condemn Not!”

Line Painting as Entry Drug

DSC02939I started out just painting two different colors on the same wall. Then I stepped it up to include thin white lines to make the colors appear to be rows of tiles. Next thing you know, I’m freehand drawing cartoon characters to paint onto ‘special tiles’. The first three were from physical models I could hold in my hands: Rubber Ducky, Pokey & Gumby. Then my appetites led me to scour the internet for images to draw: Rocky, Bullwinkle, Sylvester, etc. I published these on Facebook, and my public clamoured for more! They were surprised by my talent. My wife was surprised by my modest talent. Quite frankly, I was the most surprised of all. I have never been able to draw!

This was quite intoxicating. I took the next step and graduated into original art. Well, you can be the judge. It’s a cartoon self-portrait. Before condemning me, remember that it was you, my public, who drove me to this! I would not have gone so far down this cartoon art rabbithole without others enabling me and coddling me along the way; not allowing me to hit bottom.DSC02933

Here is the selfie that is the basis of my painting:DSC02960

Here is my 9″x 12″ cartoon selfie:selfcartoon





To think, it all started with a seemingly innocent line. Of course, in reality, it goes back to the Rubber Ducky that set me on the path to painting the bathroom to begin with. To think of it, I never would have gotten that Rubber Ducky if the bathroom didn’t have an antique, clawfoot tub.  It was that tub that put its talons into my soul to put me on the path to perditionDSC02936 of cartoon art!DSC02935



40 Year Skillet Maintenance

When Bethann and I got married in 1975, we received Corning Ware Centura dishes with matching cookware that was supposed to be unbreakable, oven to freezer to microwave, last forever. We had four daughters, worked full time, rehabbed a couple of houses we were living in; exercised radical and exuberant hospitality and disproved that theory, or whatever it was. When those unbreakable pans hit the floor and broke, they shattered with panache! (Let it sink in. … OK … now ,,, both parts? groan?  Thanks.)

So we replaced the dished with cheap apple stoneware dishes for years. They take up too much room in our limited cupboards in our current old house, so we bought speckled enamel tinware in Amish country for our everyday plates. We can fit so many in our cupboards, we don’t need paper plates any more for parties. That’s right, the post is about skillets!

Back in 1975, we were given a set of three cast iron skillets. We have probably used at least one of them almost every day since. That set cost far less than a placesetting of our CenturaWare® or than one Corning® pan. Cast iron is superior to Teflon® for several reasons, the most significant of which is the production of it does not poison seals at the North Pole. If we had been given Teflon® pans, we wouldn’t be talking about them now. They would be long gone. Any bits we would have ingested would have been carcinogenic; whereas bits of cast iron pans are iron, which most people need in their diet.

Cast iron skillets take some basic maintenance. We wash them with hot water and steel wool. Then we put them on the stove with the flame on low to dry. Occasionally, if it looks too dry, we put a little olive oil in it while it is still hot and rub it around evenly with a clean rag or paper towel to re-season it.

After 40 years of use, your pan may look like this:

Medium Skillet with 40 year accretion of crud
Medium Skillet with 40 year accretion of crud on bottom

It was time to take action to restore this skillet, so it could continue to serve for another 40 years. It was simple, I took a spent oscillating cutter tool blade and scraped the accumulated charred crud off the bottom and outsides of the pan. Then I scrubbed it with steel wool and rinsed and repeated. Then I finished by scouring the bottom and outsides with comet and hot water with steel wool and rinsing thoroughly.

Almost done.
Almost done.
Good for another 40 years
Good for another 40 years

Now it should take less energy to heat and cook. It will distribute heat more evenly, like when it was new. So mark your calendars to do your 40 year maintenance on all your cast iron skillets. It works the same way for Dutch Ovens, too. With them, you could probably get away with 50 years, as there isn’t so much stovetop use.

This was one of my “sidetracks” from home repairs. I get in the mode of fixing things, then that mode sort of generalizes in me. I get sidetracked onto these little projects as breaks from the bigger ones. Not to worry, I did manage to finish replacing the fan in the upstairs bathroom.

I work on these projects and write about them to combat my severe depressive disorder and cPTSD. Maybe you find something helpful.

This house is not just our house. It is also the base of operations for The King’s Jubilee to which we have dedicated our lives and resources for three decades. It is also a small native plant refuge for birds, insects, butterflies and small mammals in the middle of an old borough in part of the urban sprawl outside of Philadelphia. If you want to help us save our house you may make a donation via The King’s Jubilee using the Paypal button below or go to GoFundMe and help us out there. Thanks!