The Tape

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Of all the issues I have to deal with, and believe me I have more issues than National Geographic, the most pernicious and debilitating is what I affectionately refer to as “The Tape.” That’s the short name. It’s full name is The Grievous Recitation and Replay of Misery, Misfortune, Doom and Failure Inside My Head. So, see, it’s much easier to just say “The Tape.”

The Tape consists of basically everything bad that I’ve ever said or done AND everything bad that has ever happened to me as far back as I have memory. I realize some of you will read that and think it impossible, but ask people who know me and they can assure you I am quite capable of remembering all that and more. What many people wrongly believe to be a superior intellect on my part is actually just an above average memory. It’s not photographic or eidetic like Dr. Spencer Reid on Criminal Minds, but it’s been a true blessing to me in my academic career . . . and a blackened curse on my emotional life.

The Tape functions like so, all my bad memories are stacked like cord wood inside my brain. One really old one is me falling into the man eating rose bush outside Aunt Mary’s back door. One minute I was standing on the top step waiting on her to open the door and the next I was bum over teakettle in a rose bush that could have made an admirable crown of thorns for an Easter Passion Play. Another one — a seriously horrible one — is of me feeding one of our bulldogs when Rusty, a fat little waddling beagle puppy stuck his nose in the food dish and Lady snatched him up and tore his throat out right before my four year old eyes. My fault because I knew better than to let any beagles near the bullys and I should have been paying attention. I never knew what happened to Lady. Daddy told Mama he gave her away, but Mama always believed he took her out and shot her.Image result for tape recorder

Tons of episodes just like those, or worse, all stack up in my memory just as crystal clear as if it were yesterday. I’ve got all the usual biggie baddie things: Daddy leaving, reading the divorce papers, every death of every pet, every friend who moved away, every time I was bullied or embarrassed in elementary school . . . the usual. I’ve got some HUGE ones like breaking up with the first girl I ever loved and ever made love to just because I thought I was getting “cool enough” to “play the field” only to find out just how stupid that move was within only a few weeks. Then I have senior year high school which seemed to be one train-wreck after another from January til graduation, including finding out the aforementioned girl was pregnant and it wasn’t mine.

Every stupid thing I’ve ever done, every time I made Mama cry by hurting her feelings, Every girl’s heart I ever broke along with every girl who ever broke my heart . . . and I had six engagements counting Budge, all of it is sitting on those brain cell reel to reels waiting along with my hearing before the Greenville County School Board that ended my teaching career in Greenville County AND the nice, terse “we don’t have room for you next year” email that effectively ended my teaching career once and for all. The current reigning champion is listening and watching Mama rasp out her last breath and not being able to do anything about it but weep and howl.

It’s all sitting up there waiting for the right time.

The right time is usually a stressful period or a bout of depression, but truly anything can trigger it and when it’s triggered, something in my brain hits “Play” and we’re off on a trip down memory lane only this one is the Poop Colored Road instead of the Yellow Brick one. Once it starts, it’s a doozy of a ride. Bad memory after bad memory followed up with mistake after mistake flash through my head in an unbroken, dizzying swirl of negative emotion complete with voice over narration by people who hate my guts with a passion. Sometimes, I get lucky and it’s just a two minute teaser trailer; usually, it’s a double feature of Gone with the Wind and Ben-Hur; however, every so often, and it’s been much more often since Mama died, that tape will settle in for a genuine combination Sundance, Cannes and Telluride jumbo festival of woe. Those bouts are the killers. They damn near shut me down because one can only take so much.

Historically, only two things have been successful at derailing a lengthy Tape run — obscene amounts of very good (or very bad, brain’s not picky) alcoholic beverages OR some nifty and not always legally obtained pharmaceuticals. Unfortunately, both those solutions closed to me. Budge will put up with a lot of my wild hairs, but me being drunk is not one of them — she’s heard a few too many stories from people who REALLY needed to keep their mouths shut. So now, all I can do is white knuckle it through with some wimpy anti-anxiety meds and poor attempts at sleeping, which brings it’s own bag ‘o fun in the form of trippin’ nightmares.

That’s how The Tape works and it’s a bitch and a half, let me tell you.

Now, before anyone gets the genius idea to make an asinine comment, think about this: if I had a dime for every time some well meaning person without an obnoxious tape in his or her head has said, “Well when those thoughts come, you just need to push them aside and think of something pleasant,” I could make Warren Buffett look like a beggar. Similarly, if I had just a nickle for every well-meaning, super spiritual fellow Christian who has told me, “If you just pray about it, it’ll all go away and be fine,” I would have a fortune making Bill Gates look like chump change.

Before you quickly judge my inability to conquer this tape once and for all as some form of attention seeking or self pity, try this little experiment. Picture a purple pig riding a unicycle in a pink tutu playing “It’s a Small World After All” on a ukelele. Focus that in your mind. Experience that imaginary pig . . . now, forget about it. I command you to think of ANYTHING but purple pigs, unicycles, ukeleles or pink tutus. If a violet porker slips through your mind just for a second, you lose. Forget the pig! Hurry up! It’s only a memory. Why can’t you forget it and move on?

Harder than it seems it should be, isn’t it? That’s an imaginary thought exercise. Try REAL events that resulted in REAL negative consequences, sometimes physical scars, and always emotional scars and pair them with a mind that doesn’t seem to have a “Delete” function and see what you can do. In short, it’s not like I WANT TO THINK ALL THESE THOUGHTS!! I am not a masochist. I don’t enjoy misery or pain, so if it was as easy as “just thinking of something pleasant” don’t you think I’d have done it already? Do you not realize how many times I’ve tried in over 30 years?

No, you don’t realize it because you’re still thinking about the pig!

Anywho, love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Great War Wednesday: And the Band Played ‘Waltzing Matilda’

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By the spring of 1915, both sides in the conflict were desperate to find a way to break the stalemate on the Western Front because, while it hadn’t occurred to the top brass, others in and out of the military began realizing the carnage of the repeated forays into the meat grinder which was No-Man’s Land was ultimately unsustainable. The impetus for launching another front perforce came from outside the military because the highest generals in charge could not be swayed from their conviction that the sole path to Allied victory lay through the mud of France and Belgium. The idea came from a British politician, Sir Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty. He proposed a campaign that nearly cost him the rest of his political career, launched three nations forcibly onto the world stage, and ultimately proved no less bloody than the bloodiest battles along the Western Front. What Churchill proposed was an amphibious assault aimed at bolstering the flagging Russians and knocking the Ottoman Empire out of the war. The place he picked was a small peninsula in modern day Turkey called Gallipoli.

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ANZAC Cove today.

In the world before air power, Gallipoli was a small piece of land bearing supreme importance. It guarded two narrow straits called the Bosporus and the Dardanelles which in turn connected the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Since ancient days when Xerxes marched his Persians to Thermopylae, whoever controlled the straits controlled access to the Black Sea and a huge swath of Russia’s interior. In fact, the only port the Russians had (and still have for that matter) which did not ice over completely in winter was located on the shores of the Black Sea. During the First World War, with the Ottoman Empire firmly in control of the straits, the entire not inconsiderable might of the Russian Black Sea Fleet was essentially unavailable to the Allies because no ship afloat could force the passage of the two straits. Churchill’s plan aimed to change that.

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Map of the area of the campaign.

Unfortunately, the Gallipoli Campaign — also called the Dardanelles Campaign — encountered serious problems from the very beginning. The first part of the plan called for a naval bombardment by a combined British and French fleet with the twin aims of knocking out the string of fortifications protecting the straits and guarding the civilian manned trawlers which acted as minesweepers for the larger battleships. This attempt met with disastrous results. Initially, the battleships were able to punish the forts with accurate and overwhelming battery fire and this enabled the trawlers to remove many mines standing in the fleet’s way. What the commanders could not know however, was their magnificent firepower was reducing mostly abandoned and de-armed forts to dust.

In a brilliant move, the Turks had stripped the forts of most of their guns and mounted them on movable carriages. They added these guns to the highly mobile batteries of howitzers well hidden and back from the shore. After the fleet let up its bombardment, it began taking indirect fire from previously unknown gun locations behind a line of screening dunes. To make matters worse, a terribly brave Turkish destroyer captain slipped behind the fleet under the cover of darkness and laid mines in areas previously cleared and therefore thought to be safe. When the flying batteries ashore began dealing serious blows to the attacking ships, the French admiral in charge ordered a strategic retreat . . . and backed his ships right into the newly laid minefield. The naval campaign had failed miserably.

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Well, that’s one way to land troops.

Unfortunately, the lack of naval success in no way diminished the planned invasion. In the next war, amphibious assault would be developed to a high art form. That would be the next war though. In this war, what passed for an amphibious assault meant landing men and materiel on shore through the surf zone in small motor launches whilst under murderous fire from the Turkish positions on the high bluffs overlooking the landing site. The Allies would have been hard pressed to find a less hospitable area on the whole of the Gallipoli peninsula to land their forces than what would come to be called Anzac Cove.

Of all the Allied forces involved in the campaign, the most remembered was the combination of the Australian Expeditionary Force and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force into one unit known as the ANZACS. The ANZACS were supposed to land at Anzac Cove and push inland, overrunning the Ottoman forces as they went. Two fatal flaws became immediately apparent in this plan. First, pushing “inland” was more like pushing up a mountain. The Aussies and Kiwis landed on a nice smooth sand beach, but 100 yards away the Turks held the high bluffs and their machine guns were lethal to the invaders from Down Under. Second, no one informed the Turks they were supposed to be overrun.

Much of the planning for the Gallipoli Campaign predicated on the Ottoman Empire being a spent force, a kind of paper tiger. Sure, it appeared large and imposing, but the Turkish soldiers couldn’t match the British and French Empire troops in courage and fighting ability. Several thousand graves on the land overlooking Gallipoli give the lie to that fatal presumption. The Turks were far from paper tigers. While they may not have had all the modern weaponry available, they had made strides towards modernization with liberal German help. What is more, these were the descendents of the men who fought for and against Genghis Khan. No tougher men lived on the planet. One amazing example is the order given by one commander to his troops in the face of a massive Allied attack. The Turks had expended all their ammo and had nothing left but bayonets. Their commander gave the order to fix bayonets and shouted his last order to his men, “Men, I do not order you to fight! I order you to DIE! In the time which passes until we die, other troops and commanders can come forward and take our places.” His regiment fought til the last man was killed.

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The main Gallipoli memorial in Turkey. The inscription is a quote from Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and says: “Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours … You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

Nothing Churchill envisioned in the Gallipoli Campaign went as planned. By the end of the month, the operation which was supposed to relieve pressure on the Western Front had dissolved into a stagnant version of the Western Front, South. Allied troops would attack from their precariously situated bases on the beachheads they managed to hold and the Ottomans would counterattack downhill and attempt to drive the invaders into the sea. As summer descended, the heat and humidity became nearly unbearable. Sanitation was mostly unknown and the presence of so much human waste added to the massive amounts of putrid, rotting unburied bodies killed in the fighting gave rise to a biblical plague of flies which then spread diseases among both camps.

The ANZACs at Anzac Cove had much of the worst time of it. Where they were situated, no cooling sea breezes managed to penetrate to give even momentary respite from the flies and the stench. What’s more, several of the Turks on the bluffs overlooking the ANZAC beachhead were excellent shots and possessed extremely accurate modern rifles. Sniping casualties piled up each day as staying hunkered down under cover meant suffocation in the stale, rancid air. The ANZACS even lost a major general to sniping as he tried to review his troops to raise morale.

By the end of August, the Allies were done. They’d had enough. Bulgaria had entered the war on the German side opening up a flank and giving the Germans breathing space to rearm the Turks. Also, the French High Command announced their plans for what was becoming an annual fall offensive on the Western Front and demanded the British send the troops they had promised late in the previous year. The Gallipoli Campaign was abandoned and the remnants of the attackers got off the peninsula in the same small boats under the same withering fire that had greeted them almost nine months before. Back in London, Sir Winston Churchill was sacked as First Lord of the Admiralty and by his own account figured his political career had come to an end. Of course we know now his “finest hour” was still to come.

The legacy of Gallipoli probably casts its longest shadows over the ANZACs and what would become the country of Turkey. The First World War in general and the Gallipoli debacle in particular marked the last time Australians and New Zealanders would take the field beneath the Union Jack. From World War Two onward they would fight as separate and fiercely independent countries, still loyal to the mother country, but unwilling to take orders from her to slaughter her sons. Since 1916, April 25 is celebrated in both countries as ANZAC Day, sort of a Memorial Day and Fourth of July all rolled into one.

For the Ottomans, Gallipoli was the end. Commanding the troops on the peninsula was a young ethnic Turkish general named Mustafa Kemal. He would rise to great power during the three year Turkish War of Independence that followed the Great War. His guidance and vision combined with the respect he had among his countrymen earned him the rulership of Turkey and the honorific surname “Ataturk” which means “Father of the Turks.” In many ways, he is the Turkish version of George Washington.

The Gallipoli Campaign is entirely too complex and interesting to hope for one blog entry to do justice. If you find your curiosity about this seminal part of the Great War, I invite you to read probably THE definitive account of the events around Gallipoli. The book is simply titled Gallipoli by Robert Rhodes James.

Until next time, love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Ringo Says It Best

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I had long planned for today’s post to be an ANZAC Day post about how today is the 100th anniversary of the Australian and New Zealand part of the invasion of Gallipoli that is such an important watershed in the history of those two former colonies . . . that was the plan.

Then came last Sunday night. Ringo Starr became the last of the Beatles to enter the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame with his own discography finally joining bandmates John, Paul, and George as double inductees. Then, Paul gave the induction speech and talked about how great a drummer was. THEN, the two of them performed a couple of songs together.

One of those songs happened to be “Photograph,” which is an absolutely amazing song Ringo co-wrote with his best friend George Harrison and which, since George’s 2001 death from cancer, Ringo ALWAYS dedicates to George.

Three things . . . Ringo was always Mama’s favorite Beatle because she loved drummers, “Photograph” was Mama’s favorite solo song by her favorite Beatle, and – in addition to being 100 years since Gallipoli – today is also 25 months since Mama left me in this foreign country almost all by myself.

So that shot the plan all to Hell.

If I can, I’ll get out a Great War Wednesday post about ANZAC Day and Gallipoli.

Until then

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

Great War Wednesday: A Fresh Hell at Ypres

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http://sod-a.rsc-cdn.org/www.rsc.org/periodic-table/content/Images/Elements/Chlorine-L.jpg?5.7.0.0The colonial soldiers of the French 45th and 87th divisions — mostly Moroccans and Algerians — must have been longing for home as dusk fell around 5:00 PM on April 22, 1915. The damp, muddy French and Belgian fields of the Western Front were a far cry from the hot desert sands of North Africa where most of the soldiers dwelt when not in service to their French colonial masters. At least this day was better than most; a light breeze blew into their faces from across No-Man’s Land. This was a change from the ordinary since the prevailing winds in this part of the world tend to blow west to east.

Then something strange occurred. A faint acrid smell began slowly overpowering the overpowering stench of blood soaked mud and the cloying odor of the decaying corpses of their comrades who lay dead amidst the barbed wire and shell craters between the two lines. The smell grew stronger. Men’s eyes began to water. Suddenly someone in the first line of trenches raised the alarm and all eyes turned to No Man’s Land where a sickly greenish-yellow miasma rolled slowly, inexorably towards them borne upon the breeze. Men watched with fascination turning quickly to horror as the cloud enveloped the first trench and the screams began in earnest.

All along a four mile section of the Ypres Salient, soldiers — those who could — boiled out of their trenches like so many ants whose mound has been kicked over by a roguish schoolboy. With no thought of order or duty but gripped by a primal terror and driven with the instinctual urge to survive the men abandoned the lines and sprinted for the rear as fast as their horrified legs could carry them. A British soldier described the mounting chaos he witnessed

men were still pouring down the road. two or three men on a horse, I saw, while over the fields streamed mobs of infantry, the dusky warriors of French Africa; away went their rifles, equipment, even their tunics that they might run the faster.

The officers’ first inclination was to invoke the traditional somewhat racist view of the colonial troops as generally unreliable cowards apt to flee at the least provocation . . . until the cloud’s nauseating odor reached them and they too felt compelled to flee.

The entire four mile stretch stood abandoned by all but a few of the hardiest or most fearless soldiers. Had the Germans so desired and so prepared, they could have launched a massive attack and streamed en masse through the gap in the heretofore impermeable line, but such was not to be. The Germans had never foreseen their little experiment could have such amazing success and no reserve troops capable of carrying such an offensive stood ready to exploit the opening both sides had sought so tirelessly and at such cost of life for the past nine months.

The “little experiment” in question was the first use of what was to become the Great War’s signature weapon — poison gas. In this instance, it involved the release of over 150 tons of industrial chlorine gas from hundreds of cylinders carried up to the front line by hand over a period of several days. The Germans then waited for a day when the wind was favorable and when the conditions materialized on April 22, 1915, combat engineers opened the valves on each of the cylinders and released the green devil to do his evil work.

The Battle of Second Ypres wasn’t the first use of any gas in the war. Both sides had deployed tear gas at various times in the previous months and the Germans had even attempted to use the chlorine attack before on the Russian Front, but there, at the indecisive Battle of Bolimov, extreme cold rendered the gas inert. Strangely, by using cylinders, Germany aimed to abide by the “rules of war” laid down by the 1899 Hague Convention which banned the use of “shells or explosives designed to deliver poisonous or asphyxiating gasses.” Since the convention mentioned nothing about regular gas cylinders, German military leaders figured they were in the clear . . . legally anyway.

The first attack used chlorine gas, which had an easily recognizable smell and color. While chlorine was quite deadly if inhaled or if one was submerged in it, this gas was actually much easier to avoid than later agents. Since chlorine is heavier than air, a soldier who could gain higher ground would be relatively safe from its deleterious effects. Those in greatest danger were the invalids and immobile wounded lying in the trenches. For them, trapped as they were at the bottom of the trenches, the green cloud was their death shroud.

While the gas attack was a theoretical success, it provided very little tactical and ultimately no strategic advantage to the Germans. As stated earlier, the high command didn’t attach much importance to the experiment so the line commanders had no reserves to press the attack, but more telling, the German troops were themselves loathe to attack across a field they had just flooded with a deadly fog of chlorine. Having witnessed the panic and chaos effected by their gas attack, the German soldiers realized they were one wind shift away from the same fate and had to be threatened with punishments by their officers to get them to move forward.

The final tally of casualties in the attack numbered around 6000 French and colonial troops killed. Hundreds more were blinded by the chlorine which attacked any moist tissue such as eyes, mouths, and mucous membranes. Others suffered lifelong damage to their lungs as the chlorine mixed with the moisture in the lungs to form hypochlorous acid, literally eating the lungs from the inside out.

In the end, Canadian troops halted the German advance. The Canucks were able to stand against the gas because some bright egg figured out that urinating on a bandanna or other cloth, then tying said cloth around the face would blunt the effect of the chlorine by causing the gas to react with the urea in the pee and become inert. Personally, I’d love to know the thought process this unknown Canadian used to arrive at the conclusion he should piss into a cloth and wrap it around his face and head. What’s more, he must have been one incredibly charismatic and persuasive individual to get the rest of the company to follow his example. Definitely an outside the box . . . or pants . . . thinker.

In coming installments about the Great War, I’ll discuss the origins of ANZAC day which is coming up quickly, as well as the development of gas warfare during the First World War. Until then, love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Sympathy for the Devil

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http://www.world-war-2-diaries.com/image-files/baby-hitler-fullsize.jpgNo one is born evil. We are all born sinful, thanks to the impromptu fruit snack Adam and Eve had in the Garden, but sinful is far from evil. I’ve known many a vile sinner who was a joy to be around. I’m actually related by blood or marriage to quite a few, but I’ve never actually known or known of someone who was born truly, irredeemably, black-heartedly evil.

I say that because today is the 126th anniversary of a man widely viewed as the most evil person who ever lived — Adolf Hitler. I realize just writing a blog post about him on his birthday and including “Sympathy” in the title puts me in serious danger of losing followers, being branded a Nazi, and generally dismissed as a complete kook. Please give me a hearing.

I am not a Nazi or Hitler apologist. I agree with the prevailing historical interpretation placing Der Fuhrer at or very near the top of a short list of extremely evil people who perpetrated crimes against civilization which will forever coat their names in anathema for as long as mankind’s collective memory exists. I agree with the usual evangelical Christian opinion a special place in an exquisitely real and burning Hell for Hitler to roast and reflect on his misdeeds for all eternity. I believe, without qualification or prevarication, Adolf Hitler was a thoroughly evil man — one of the most evil who has ever existed.

I just don’t believe he was born that way.

That’s his baby portrait up top of this post. Does he LOOK evil in it? Do his little chubby fat rolls on his legs and arms simply EXUDE vile antisemitism and abject megalomania? Does anything in this picture, besides the bowl haircut, belie the human monster this baby will become? This isn’t a portrait of someone with visions of grandeur who plans on plunging the entire world into the flames of the most destructive conflict ever envisioned while executing the most thorough and organized genocide since Pharaoh ordered the slaughter of the Hebrew male children in Moses’ infancy.

That’s a baby; a sweet, chubby, innocent baby. Had he but pitched forward suddenly and fallen from the chair in which he sits, perhaps he would have had the good fortune to snap his neck fatally and in the process save not only his immortal soul but also the world from another War to End all Wars and millions of people from annihilation.

But he didn’t.

Instead, he grew. He became a young boy who grew up on a farm. He watched his beloved brother die of measles. He became a hard-headed youth fighting with an equally hard-headed father over what the future held for him. His father wanted him to become a bureaucrat and settle into a good career with a steady income and a comfortable life carrying on the family name . . . just as many fathers everywhere throughout time have wished. Hitler wanted to be an artist — like many young men before and since. His father died, his mother gave him part of his inheritance and he struck out for the big city (Vienna, in this case) to make his fortune as the next great painter.

Like many young men before and since, he had his dreams crushed by gatekeepers. Turned away twice from art school, he eventually ran out of money and became a wanderer sharing hostels and men’s shelters with other wayward dreamers like himself. He counted several Jewish boys among his friends. He was drifting and drifting objects tend to get sucked into the worst possible places . . .

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/55/Hitler_1914_1918.jpg/170px-Hitler_1914_1918.jpgThen came the Great War. The young man fled his home for a neighboring country and enlisted in a well-known fighting regiment. Finally, he found something he was good at; he found a home and a sense of belonging among his comrades-in-arms. By all accounts, he was brave when called upon but not reckless. He became a corporal, earned the prestigious Iron Cross-First Class for his actions in battle, and then, he was gassed. He lay recuperating in the hospital from his gassing and other wounds when news came of Germany’s surrender. His beloved adopted country fell into ignoble defeat. Another dream crushed and again he began to wander.

Since he had no other skills, he stayed in the military, now as an intelligence gatherer. Then, he met Dietrich Eckart. Like other young drifting souls before him, he fell in with someone he’d have been better off avoiding. Eckart introduced Hitler to the seminal ideas of what would eventually become Nazi ideology. The National Socialist’s ancestor party, the DAP, discovered Hitler’s talent for haranguing huge crowds into revolutionary fervor. They pressed him to go into politics. He delighted in the political sphere — the speeches and intrigue — and he started a series of poor choices ending with the infamous Beer Hall Pustch of 1923. He was arrested, convicted of treason, and sent to prison. One year later he emerged, having written Mein Kampf. Now he wasn’t drifting. He had a plan; he’d made his choice.

The rest, of course, is history.

So, emphatically no, the baby in the picture wasn’t evil. He hadn’t had time to be evil. He wasn’t born evil, but he certainly died evil. He gained his evil the same way all evil men and women do — choice by choice, each worse and more soul-searing than the last. Somewhere along the way, the little boy who sang in the church choir and was an ardent admirer of Martin Luther, the German Reformer, made one wrong choice too many and became Der Fuhrer and the world would burn because of it.

What if? What if the Vienna Academy of Fine Art had accepted the young painter. He wasn’t exactly http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/d/de/The_Courtyard_of_the_Old_Residency_in_Munich_-_Adolf_Hitler.jpg/220px-The_Courtyard_of_the_Old_Residency_in_Munich_-_Adolf_Hitler.jpgMatisse or Gauguin, but he wasn’t horrible. What if they had eased their criticism of his work and encouraged him just a little instead of saying he was, “unfit to become an artist?” What if he’d met a good Lutheran minister instead of Eckart? What if he’d served his entire prison sentence and the Nazi party had been given time to die out before his release?

So I write this on his birthday, not to praise him, but to call attention to his choices and his influences. How close are any of us to becoming an Adolf Hitler? We’ve all had shattered dreams. We’ve all had family conflicts. What’s more, we interact every day with untold numbers of people who are in the midst of who knows what kind of crisis. Which way do we push them, towards goodness or evil? See that ragged soul walking around homeless? How will you treat him? It may be the difference between a Hitler and a helper.

Love y’all. Keep those feet clean.

RIP, Lauren Hill

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Friday, Lauren Hill, the 19-year-old basketball player, lost her battle with an inoperable brain tumor. Cancer may have defeated her, but it could not conquer her. Taking Dylan Thomas’ advice, she did not, “go gently into that good night,” but — in her own inspirational way — would “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

For those who may not know her story, it is a deceptively simple one. A basketball crazy young lady from the basketball crazy state of Indiana, this Hoosier had one desire — to play college basketball. After her senior season in high school, she signed to play for Mount Saint Joseph College in Cincinnati, Ohio. She wasn’t after a scholarship MSJ is a Division III school in the NCAA’s hierarchy and so does not award scholarships . . . it didn’t matter because she wasn’t in the game for the money, she just wanted to play. Unfortunately, during that senior year, Lauren received a chilling diagnosis from her doctors. After testing because of increasingly frequent headaches, they had found a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma — in layman’s terms, a brain tumor — completely inoperable. Her prognosis was two years at the outside.

Still, she refused to give up and continued on with her senior season, playing though the nausea of chemotherapy treatments. By the time her freshman season with Mount Saint Joseph drew near, her symptoms had started to worsen. It seemed the two-year time frame may have been a little too optimistic. But, she wanted to play. Her coach made some calls. Some other people made some calls and the usually intractably draconian bureaucracy that is the NCAA actually showed a soft side. MJS would begin their season two weeks early.

By tip-off, Lauren’s condition had progressed to the point where she couldn’t reliably use her dominant hand. Instead, she scored the game’s first points with a left-handed lay-up in front of a packed house at Xavier University’s Cintas Center. She bookended the game with another lay-up as time expired to end the contest. In all, Lauren managed to play bits of five games, scoring ten points for her brief collegiate career, but everyone knew this was a fight against an unbeatable opponent. All too soon, Lauren could no longer take to the court. She left school and went home to face the inevitable.

From a wheelchair and a hospital bed, Lauren still inspired others. Unable to play the game she loved, she turned her full attention for her remaining time towards raising money for cancer research. Her nonprofit organization, which will outlive her through her school, raised over $1 million dollars towards finding cures for pediatric cancer. Her goal was to raise $2.2 million before she died so she would match her jersey number . . . she almost made it.

Earlier today, her family, friends, teammates, and school honored her life at the same 10,000 seat arena where she made her first points as a college player. Everyone who spoke talked about her courage and determination. She realized she wasn’t going to beat this cancer early on, but she resolved not to let it beat her either. In the end, her beautiful ship slipped beneath life’s waves . . . broken and battered, but with all flags still flying.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean.

Why People Hate the Empty Tomb

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http://slcbc.org/media/images/articles/Easter.jpgTomorrow is Easter Sunday when Christians in non-Eastern Orthodox traditions celebrate the single most important event in the history of the universe . . . a man, dead and buried since the previous Friday . . . walked out of a borrowed tomb alive. This event, The Resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth stands alone in the annals of time. It is a unique event that now serves as the fulcrum of how we measure time worldwide — even in officially non-Christian countries. Jews, Muslims, and other religions may have calendars they follow to schedule religious ceremonies, but all business gets conducted on the Gregorian — the Christian — calendar. Christ’s return from the dead is so powerful, it changed our calendar from BC, “Before Christ” to AD, “Anno Domini” or “In the year of Our Lord.”

As powerful as the event, as essential as the sacrifice leading up to it, and as all-important as the Man involved, to many people the empty tomb of Easter is not an object of reverence, a touchstone of faith, and a symbol of life everlasting, it is an object of derision, a touchstone of folly, and a symbol of a corpse of a rotting religion whose time has passed. Many people hate the empty tomb and everything it stands for and while some disparage the Resurrection out of ignorance of or antagonism towards the Person and message of Christ, some have much more specific reasons for their antipathy towards that bare cave in the cliffs outside Jerusalem.

One reason many hate the empty tomb is they mistake what Christians have done in the world for what Christ did on the Cross. I will not sully the memory of those who suffered under the heel of the Christian boot during the Crusades, the Inquisition, the forced conversion of Native American children and many other atrocities committed in the name of the Lamb of God. However, it is unjust of anyone to judge the Gospel based on the actions of sinners . . . and we are all sinners. Crusaders were sinners, Inquisitors were sinners, abortion clinic bombers are sinners, and, what’s more, every single person sitting on a chair or in a pew in any church in the world today is a sinner. The only One who has ever lived who was NOT a sinner died so all the sinners who came before and all who would come after could have hope their sins would not be held against them, and the people of His time killed Him for His troubles. You cannot measure the value of the Gospel using the scales of a sinner.

Another reason people hate the empty tomb is the feeling of guilt and shame acknowledging the sacrifice of the Cross and victory of the Tomb creates. People will rail at the Heavens about how they did not ask for anyone to come die for them. They feel angry at the idea of not being “good enough” for anything they may want. No one wants to feel ashamed or guilty and in our modern culture “guilt” is today reserved almost exclusively for legal proceedings while “shame” is just the product of a backward mind unwelcome in this brave new world. After all, we’re all okay. If we just tolerate and celebrate each other and embrace the diversity of sins around us, everything will be fine. We just have to get passed the false guilt Christianity via the church has bound our freedom with for centuries. We aren’t shameful or guilty as long as it is politically incorrect to equate ANY behavior with shame or guilt. We would follow a truth to avoid The Truth.

That brings up the strongest reason people hate the empty tomb. As long as “open-minded moderns” can believe Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett are correct and God truly does not exist so no tomb ever really was empty, we can go about our merry way and do what we want, when we want, as long as we want, with whomever we want and no consequences will ever weigh us down. As the Wiccan Rede says, “Do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt anyone.” We can die peacefully with Bertrand Russell’s thin, reedy voice intoning in our fading hearing, “”Death is nothing to us; for that which is dissolved, is without sensation, and that which lacks sensation is nothing to us.” As long as God is dead and the Tomb either full or fairy tale, we are the “Master of our fate; the captain of our soul.”

However, if the opposite is true and Jesus rose from the dead, they are not only guilty, but they are also in debt and facing judgement. The presence of a just and holy God who provided a way to escape eternal capital punishment through the deliberate sacrifice of Himself in the form of His Son absolutely plays havoc with their lives — inner and outer. If that God is real; if that Christ is real, then I don’t get to live any way I want. I don’t get to rob and thieve and steal whatever from whomever I please. I can’t have sex like some randy alley cat willy-nilly. Most of all, though; my life doesn’t belong to me. I owe my life, my existence to Someone else and one day, I will stand before Him to give an account of my actions.

That possibility at once terrifies and enrages every atheist I’ve ever known. The very possibility they are not in control of their precious little existences rankles at them like a rock in their shoe. Man likes to think he is top of the food chain and the pinnacle of all in the Universe for that is what the Enlightenment has taught him, but no . . . There is One; the Three in One to whom everyone from the most devout Muslim to the most strident atheist will one day bend a knee and proclaim thrice holy . . . and each of them despises the fact and by extension the Empty Tomb which gives them a way of escape from that day of wrath.

An interviewer asked the aforementioned Bertrand Russell what he would do if, after his death, he found himself standing before God. Mr. Russell replied, again in that wispy whisper of his, “Well, I’d simply say, ‘You didn’t provide me enough evidence!'” So what you are saying, Mr. Russell, is if confronted with the King and Creator of the Universe in all His power and glory, you — a mere human — would lead your defense of your miserable unbelief with “Not enough evidence?”

No, sir, I don’t believe you would. He has given us enough evidence and chief among it all is that stark, empty tomb which so many in the world hate . . . to their own peril.

Love y’all, Happy Easter, and keep those feet clean! He is risen indeed!

Two Years

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Just ignore the fat kid with the stupid grinny smile, but see what I mean about Mama's hair? Why would you cover that up?

It’s nine months until Christmas and two years since my little Mama left me in this foreign country by myself (inside joke).

I’ve learned a few things.

First, the second year is harder than the first. All during the first year, people are rooting for you. Everyone realizes its the “first” Christmas, “first” Mother’s Day, etc. so you get lots of support at those times. What’s more, YOU are more prepared. You see the date on the calendar and start mentally psyching yourself up to face the impending sadness.

In the second year, the sadness enters stealth mode. The initial shock has worn off and, whether you want it to or not, life keeps going so you have to start trying to adjust; you take your mind off the calendar for just a bit and when you turn back around, it’s some important date and the grief hits you in the gut like a serious sucker punch.

I’ve learned Nietzsche was wrong. What doesn’t kill you doesn’t necessarily make you stronger; it just doesn’t kill you and keeps on hurting like Hell, but the world HAS to go on. I still wake up some days wondering how in a universe ruled by a benevolent God does the Sun have the audacity to shine on an Earth that my Mama no longer walks upon? But it does. It has to; we just don’t have to like it and it can somehow seem diminished.

I don’t think I’ve cried enough for her and that bothers me because I’m one of those strange people who equates the violence of my emotions with the depth of love I have for a person. The fact I can still function like a normal human (with a very liberal definition of “normal”) instead of being reduced to a jibbering heap huddled in a corner has surprised several people closest to me . . . myself not least of all. That worries me because if I’m not actively mourning her, does it mean I didn’t love her and don’t miss her as much as I thought I did? Intellectually, I can see the falsity of the statement, but grief and emotion are seldom intellectual.

I know one reason I can keep moving is I have no regrets where Mama is concerned. I know that sounds completely unbelievable, but it’s true. Mama and I kept very short accounts where the other was concerned. If we had a fight . . . and we often did, especially in my teenage years . . . we never parted ways angry. The last words I said to her each night before bed and the first words I said to her every morning were the same, “Mama, I love you.” When the time came to preach her funeral, I didn’t have to apologize for anything. We’d cleared those accounts up long ago.

It makes it bearable, but it’s far from easy. I had too much love as a child and a young person. Mama doted on me. I had all four grandparents and four of eight great-grandparents. That’s a tremendous amount of warmth and love to pour over one person and I don’t think I took it for granted, but I never imagined what life would be without it.

Now I don’t have to imagine. All I have left is Granny Ima and I have to look after her — like I promised Mama I would — rather than she looking after me. I wasn’t prepared for the loss of so much love in such a relatively small amount of time, but I am thankful I had it while I did.

I miss Mama as much today as I did when I stood by her closed casket two years ago; I just manage most days to hide it a little better. I don’t know how I’ll spend today. I know I’ll remember her, but I do that every day. I just don’t know.

And so it goes.

Love y’all. Keep those feet clean, and hug your mothers; they get gone too soon.

Of Aiding and Abetting

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Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine, Making the green one red.

It might surprise people who know me and those who follow this blog to learn that I am an accessory before the fact to premeditated murder. The case never came to trial; in fact, no arrests have ever been made, but lately, to quote Eminem, “I’ve been cleaning out my closet” and the guilt I’ve toted over this incident in my life — in my youth (not an excuse, just time frame) — has grown heavier over time. Writing about this unhappy episode isn’t going to change anything. It won’t erase my part in a sad story. In fact, I don’t know what is behind the overwhelming compulsion to preempt my usual World War I post to air out this particular load of dirty laundry. I just know it’s time I told my part.

Anyone now expecting sordid details, copious finger-pointing, and salacious name naming is going to be sorely disappointed. I will name no names but my own. The guilt others feel, if any, is theirs alone to continue hiding or expose to the world. To my knowledge, less than ten, maybe fifteen, people know any of this story. Again, as far as I know, only about five know the entire tale and I’m not one of them.

I was one of the few members of my circle of friends to have a job during high school. The majority of my closest associates relied on regular, sizable handouts from upper middle class parents for spending money, gas money, and any other teen essentials. Daddy provided me with a car and when I wrecked it, he bought me another one. Mama paid my auto insurance and kept a roof over my head. If I wanted to party, date, or in any other way raise Hell, the funds to do so were up to me to obtain so I went to work the week after I turned 15 and I worked as hard as I could for the next twenty-five years until my deteriorating mental health landed me on government disability.

Late in my senior year of high school, I attended a huge bash at the spacious and beautiful ranch of one of my inner circle of friends. Alcohol flowed freely, but I consumed precious little because I was in a black mood. I had begun a downward spiral that would take two decades to land me in Carolina Behavioral Center, but I didn’t know that at the time. I was still operating under the assumption I was a prickly, hard-to-like asshat.

In any event, one of my comrades in arms for most of my life showed up at this party with his flavor of the month. After a few visits to the keg and a shot or two from the pickup truck tailgate bar, he and said girl disappeared, as had several couples during the night, to “explore” the ranch grounds. They eventually found their way to the hay barn and proceeded to give literal meaning to “a roll in the hay.” When I saw them next, a couple of hours later, they were both wearing looks of deep chagrin . . . not horror, not disgust, and not worry . . . they just looked chagrined. Upon a conversational investigation, I ascertained during the aforementioned hay roll, their preferred barrier method of contraception had suffered a catastrophic failure and they worried about the ramifications of this potential disaster. A couple of hours after this revelation, I left the party and by morning had forgotten all about their quandary.

My selective amnesia continued for approximately six weeks until the phone rang unusually early on a Saturday morning. My friend was on the other end of the line, “Wham,” he said, “Could you come over please, I need some help.” I’ve made it my policy throughout my life to go whenever and wherever any of my friends call. This willingness to demonstrate my loyalty has caused me no small amount of suffering through the years, and I’ve seldom encountered any like-minded reciprocity from those I have helped, even those I’ve helped greatly, but I can only control my behavior. What others do is between them and their conscience.

I arrived at my friend’s home a short time to find him still lying in bed wearing a perfectly haggard look on top of his t-shirt and sweatpants. He got straight to the point, saying, “Wham, I need to borrow some money.” Now you know the purpose for that seemingly random paragraph about my work history above. I laughed a bit and replied, “Why don’t you ask your dad or grandpa? They can give you a whole lot more than me and you won’t have to pay them back!” He looked at me and simply said, “I’m trying not to involve my parents.” I nodded. So, he’d gotten a speeding ticket or some such and didn’t want to catch Hell and endure the inevitable grilling lecture that would surely accompany a bail-out.

So I asked, “Okay, how much is the ticket and how fast were you going?” He looked away and shook his head, “It’s not a ticket, Wham. It’s something else.” I found that odd, but — you know — loyalty. I said, “Well, okay. How much do you need then?” He then looked me in the face and said, “$247.00″ I know my face blanched because that’s what it always does when I’m overcome with some emotions. See, I’d had conversations with other friends and acquaintances about the high cost of living, and one particular item came up a few times and it always cost $247.00. He went to speak, but I put up my hand.

He fell silent and I pulled out my wallet — I didn’t carry a man-purse back then — and pulled out twelve twenty-dollar bills and a ten. It was basically my entire week’s pay with a little overtime. I folded it and handed it to him as he took it, I said, “I don’t want to hear anything else. Don’t bother saying anything. I don’t want to know anymore than I do right now. Never speak to me about this again, don’t bother trying to pay me back, but don’t you dare come to me if you ever have this ‘problem’ again.” He nodded his thanks and I left with a sick stomach knowing I’d just become an accessory to murder — premeditated murder.

I don’t know other people’s politics or views on what I paid for. I know — if statistics are to be trusted (ha,ha) — probably half of you think I did nothing wrong. In some other cases, I’d be happy to agree with you, but not this one. This was a healthy mother and father with no genetic issues. No life was on the line. No one was in any danger . . . except the danger of scandal. To follow through with this would just have been “inconvenient” and might have “shut some doors” in the future. Both were headed for college, after all. Never mind this “problem” could have been the answer to some infertile couple’s prayers and dreams. This is the type of adoptibility social workers and agencies dream of.

The scandal though. The gossip. The “inconvenience” of the matter. Nine months are too long to hide and people were bound to find out. After all, who were they hurting? This was the late 1980’s, not the 1950’s. They weren’t interested in marrying each other, which — and don’t lose the irony — my friend’s parents did years earlier when they had the same “problem.” I happened to be with him the day he found his birth certificate and his parent’s marriage license and did some quick math . . . it wasn’t pretty. As far as I know, the two of them only went on one more “date.” No one was the wiser and no one seemed bothered at all. To this day, if it bothers him or her, they’ve done masterful jobs at hiding it.

It’s bothered me for years though, and even though I know it is theologically untenable, I can’t help but wonder when I’m at my lowest points if my part in such a sin — yes, SIN, S.I.N. damn it all, call a spade a spade for God’s sake, right is right and wrong is wrong whether you’re an atheist, Buddhist, agnostic, or Hindu– has something to do with why I don’t have children today. Rationally, I know it doesn’t work that way, but sometimes I have a hard time being rational.

Love y’all. Keep those feet clean.

 

Great War Wednesday: Death in Armenia

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Wer redet heute noch von der Vernichtung der Armenier?
(Who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?)
Adolf Hitler, 22 August 1939

Of all the burning questions still smoldering in the unresolved coals of The Great War, none glows so brightly as the events surrounding what most of the non-Turkish, non-Arab world calls “The Armenian Genocide.” Depending on which source one consults, somewhere between 500,000 and 1,500,000 ethnic Armenians perished during World War I beginning in 1915 and continuing even after the official Armistice in 1918. These deaths were not from enemy attack but were carried out by the military and cooperating civilians of the Ottoman Empire.Under the cover of a world wide conflict, the Ottoman Empire sought to finally and definitively find an answer to what a long line of sultans referred to as “The Armenian Question.”

This “question” began plaguing the Ottomans during the 16th century when they first annexed the ancient kingdom of Armenia into their growing empire. At the heart of the issue lies the fact Armenia is the oldest officially Christian nation-state in world history. Way back in 301 AD, just when Christianity was still kicking off in the Middle East, King Tiridates III made it the one official state religion. Throughout the next seventeen centuries, the Armenian heartland remained a stronghold of Christianity if not always an independent nation. When the Ottomans took over from the Persian Empire around 1600, trouble for the Armenians began in earnest. The Ottomans were strongly, almost militantly, Islamic; thus the Christian Armenians came to be seen as a possible “fifth column” for any invader. Beginning almost immediately, the Armenians became a persecuted minority.http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/c/ca/Ravished-Armenia-The-Story-of-Aurora-Martiganian.jpg

The fate of the Armenians in Anatolia throughout the centuries leading up to World War One was not dissimilar to the position European Jewry found itself in for most of its history leading up to World War Two. Just as the Jews in Eastern Europe suffered almost cyclical pogroms and faced constant discrimination, so to the Armenians were the targets of raids and even massacres from time to time. The worst violence occurred during a two year period from 1894-1896 when the Armenians asked for more autonomy from the ruling Ottomans. The Ottoman monarch at that time, Sultan ‘Abdu’l-Hamid II, disagreed with the Armenians’ request and responded to their push for limited independence by slaughtering somewhere between 80,000 to 300,000 people in state sponsored massacres. With this type of persecution in their history, the Armenians couldn’t have been surprised when, in another eerie foreshadowing of events of the Holocaust, the Armenian elites and intellectuals were arrested en masse beginning in April 1915; however, their fate was a new twist on an old persecution and signaled the beginning of the Armenian Genocide.

Instead of the usual period of threatening and roughing up, the jailed intellectuals were summarily executed. In May 1915, the roundup of the Armenians began in earnest. Grand Vizier Mehmet Talaat Pasha colluded with the other two members of the ruling Young Turk triumvirate to institute a version of martial law and stated anyone “suspected” of “possibly” giving aid to the enemy would be detained. Within weeks, soldiers and paramilitary guards began marching any Armenians they could find towards a final concentration point at Dir ez-Zor in what is now Syria. Men, women, and children, infant and elderly alike herded into the small town and the desert surrounding it. Contemporary sources note the Turks provided no shelter or provisions for the detainees despite the insufferable conditions. It was a de facto death camp with thirst, heat, and starvation doing the work gas chambers would later perform.

The Armenians died by the thousands at Dir ez-Zor, but the Ottomans had only begun their cruelty. From the Syrian desert town, groups were force marched to a network of around 25 concentration camps near the present day Iraqi border. These camps for the most part became the final destination for the flower of Armenian Christianity and here many reports of the worst atrocities originated.

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One more reason I’m proud to be from South Carolina.

One of the most notorious camps was Ra’s al-‘Ayn which I feel could be called the Auschwitz of Armenia. Only women and children went to Ra’s al-‘Ayn — on foot. Those who did not die in the desert along the way entered the camp ragged, dirty, and suffering with disease. It was not unusual for an entire group of refugees to arrive at the camp completely naked, having been stripped and repeatedly raped by their guards during the march. Unfortunately, reaching the camp brought less safety than the desert. Unlike their Nazi counterparts two decades later, the Turks made no pretext of using the gathered people for even slave labor. The Armenians had one job to do from 1916 to 1918 — die, as quickly as possible. To this end, groups of as many as 300 souls were herded out of the camps daily and butchered in the nearby desert after a 20 mile march. More than once, the entire camp would be exterminated at once in order to “prevent the spread of typhus.”

In other camps, high ranking officials perused the arriving refugees as a buyer would cattle. They were representatives of local emirs and dignitaries whose task was to pick out the most beautiful and healthiest of the young women to increase the size of the eminent men’s harems so those poor girls survived hellish conditions only to secure a position where they would be repeatedly raped begging the question, is rape on a Persian rug atop silk pillows any different than rape in the open desert?

Besides rape, the Armenians were subjected to other brutalities of the most uncommon violence. Some commanders did not wish to overload their caravans so entire villages would be herded into the church, the doors would be nailed shut, and — like something out of a Dante’ passage — the building set afire. One Turkish soldier reported seeing as many as 5000 people at once thus burned alive. In other places, water was the preferred means of execution with entire families loaded onto small boats under the pretext of taking them across the Black Sea and giving them to the Russians. The Armenians were justifiably terrified of the water since, originating in a high, cold, and rocky climate, precious few of them ever learned to swim. Their fears came true more often than not as the boats would be purposely capsized once out of sight of land and in this way many more thousands died.

No blog post, indeed no book or series of books, can adequately describe the events of the Armenian Genocide. It stands beside the Holocaust as an example of the supreme hatred of one group of people for another. Ironically, several Germans who were advisers to the Ottoman government during the Great War and witnessed the atrocities committed by the Turks would later go on to hold high positions in the Nazi government of Germany and more than one would become an architect of the German “Final Solution” to the “Jewish Question.”

Love y’all, and as you keep your feet clean . . . remember.