STUPID IS THE NEW NORMAL – Marilyn Armstrong

96-OneRuleToRuleThemAll

My motto and I really should remember it more often

For the past couple of days, I’ve been dealing with the customer service for the medical plan I was trying to join. I spent — LITERALLY, NOT KIDDING — four hours on the phone yesterday until the battery on my phone died. It has never died before. Ever. In like five years. It’s not a cell phone.

They couldn’t answer a simple question, they gave me wrong answers, transferred me to the wrong departments, but to be fair, they didn’t disconnect. A miracle indeed. At the end of the conversation, I said: “SEND ME BACK TO BLUE CROSS!”

And then and there, I switched back to my previous medical provider. Because if this was before the plan had even gone into effect, it was going to be like the year I spent with Fallon when I needed to see a medical oncologist and the person on the Customer Service line told me there were doctors listed, but not their specialties.

“So how do you list them? Alphabetically?”

My doctor’s (not this doctor, the doctor before the last doctor) dimwitted secretary sent me to a cancer surgeon and when I called her back and explained that I don’t need a surgeon, I need a medical oncologist because I had cancer and what I need NOW is a checkup. I went with that company for a year and never actually got the checked.

Then came Blue Cross and life got better. This plan would have saved me around $150 a month which is a good deal of money, but I was pretty sure it would also ruin my life. I can’t do it anymore. I cannot spend the rest of my life fighting with customer service to just answer a simple question. I’m too old, too tired, too beat up.

I’ll pay the money. Just let me have people who answer the phone and know what they are talking about. Please!

And for all the comments I haven’t answered and posts I haven’t read? I swear to you I have spent about 9 hours over the past two days straightening out my medical plan — well, OUR medical plans. I’m exhausted. And I’m running out of birdseed again.

THE JONESTOWN MASSACRE – Marilyn Armstrong

Jonestown_entrance_welcome

Koolaid anyone?

I run this every year because people forget. We should not forget where blindly following a leader can take you. This happened. I remember it. Everyone who was alive and able to read or watch TV remembers.


On this day, the 41st anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre grew a saying everyone uses. “Drink the Kool-Aid” or “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.” I feel sort of like those people these days, though no one is trying to poison me. Yet. I wonder how many people who say it so casually, referring to products, buying into a corporate culture, or political philosophy, or realize to what they are referring?

I’ve written this before, but this is a major revision and it bears repeating. It’s true. It happened. We need to make sure it never happens again.

Drink (or don’t drink) the Kool-aid

The popular expression “drink the Kool-Aid” has become a common verbal shorthand in American business and politics. Roughly translated, it means “to blindly follow or accept a set of beliefs.” At work, it means you endorse what your bosses tell you. In politics, it means you fully buy into the platform.

It carries a negative connotation, but not as negative as it ought.

Kool-Aid was the drink for children on summer afternoons in the 1950s. The saying is now just bland rhetoric, stripped of its context and thus the horror it ought to evoke.

The Peoples Temple

Jim Jones, cult leader, and mass murderer was a complex madman. A communist, occasional Methodist minister, he founded his own pseudo-church in the late 1950s. He called it the “Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church,” known in short as the “Peoples Temple.”

The lack of a possessive apostrophe was intentional. The name supposedly refers to “the people of the world.” Jones called it a church, but it was a twisted version of a Marxist commune. At first, it combined with miscellaneous Christian references Jones used in his diatribes, er, sermons.

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It was not a church. The Peoples Temple was a straight-up cult requiring total personal commitment, financial support, and absolute obedience. The characteristics which define a cult.

Jones was the leader. A homicidal maniac, but he had positive qualities. Jones and his wife, Marceline, favored racial integration. They adopted kids from varying racial backgrounds and were the first white family in Indiana to adopt an African-American boy. They also adopted 3 Korean children, a Native American child, and a handful of white kids. They had one child of their own.

Jones called his adopted kids the “Rainbow Family.” He made a name for himself desegregating institutions in Indiana. Before you get all dewy-eyed, note that this climaxed in murdering these children.

The Peoples Temple expanded through the 1960s. Jones gradually abandoned Marxism. His preaching increasingly focused on the impending nuclear apocalypse. He specified a date — July 15, 1967 — and suggested after the apocalypse, a socialist paradise would exist on Earth. Where would the new Eden be?

Jones decided on Redwood Valley, California. Before the expected Big Bang, he moved the Temple and its peoples there.

When the end-of-the-world deadline came and went, Jones abandoned his pretense of Christianity and he revealed himself as a madman using religion to lend legitimacy to his views. He announced, “Those who remained drugged with the opiate of religion must be brought to enlightenment — socialism.” Prophetic words in view of the fact that Jones was a drug addict.

As media attention increased, Jones worried the Peoples Temple’s tax-exempt religious status was in danger. He was paranoid about the U.S. intelligence community — with good reason.

Jonestown aerial view

In 1977, Jones moved the Temple and its people again. This was a major relocation. He took them out of the United States and resettled everyone in Guyana, a poor South American nation. He modestly named it “Jonestown.”

It was a bleak, inhospitable place. On 4000 acres of poor soil with limited access to fresh water, it was too small for the number of people it had to support. Jones optimistically figured “his” people could farm the new utopia. He had put together several million dollars before getting to Jonestown but didn’t share it with his followers. He barely used any of the money at all and lived in a small, bare-bones shack.

All Hell Breaks Loose

U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown in November of 1978. Rumors of peculiar goings-on were leaking out of Jonestown. Ryan decided to investigate the allegations of human rights abuses in Jonestown.

Jonestown headline Milwaukee

Ryan didn’t go alone. He took a contingent of media representatives including NBC News correspondent Don Harris and other reporters, plus relatives of Jonestown residents. During his visit, Congressman Ryan talked to more than a dozen Temple members, all of whom said they wanted to leave. Several of them passed a note saying: “Please help us get out of Jonestown” to news anchor Harris.

If the number of defectors seems low (there were more than 900 people in Jonestown), but the congressional party was unable to talk to most of the “fellowship.” It’s impossible to know how many might have wanted to leave.

Ryan began processing paperwork to repatriate Temple members to go back to the States. In the middle of this, Ryan was attacked by Don Sly, a knife-wielding Temple member. This would-be assassin was stopped before injuring Ryan. Eventually, the entire Ryan party plus the group of Jonestown defectors drove to a nearby airstrip and boarded planes, intending to leave.

Jim Jones had other plans. He sent armed Temple members — his “Red Brigade,” after the Congressional party  These creepy “soldiers of the Temple” opened fire, killing Ryan, a Temple defector, 3 members of the media, and wounding 11 others. The survivors fled into the jungle.

jonestown massacre anniversary

When the murderers returned to Jonestown and reported their actions, Jones promptly started what he called a “White Night” meeting. He “invited” all Temple members. This wasn’t the first White Night. Jones had hosted previous White Night meetings in which he suggested U.S. intelligence agencies would soon attack Jonestown. He had even staged fake attacks to add realism, though it’s hard to believe anyone was fooled by the play-acting.

Faced with this hypothetical invasion scenario, Jones told Temple members they could stay and fight imaginary invaders, or they could take off for the USSR. Another tempting alternative would be to run off into the Guyana jungles. Finally, they could commit mass suicide as an act of political protest.

On previous occasions, Temple members had opted for suicide. Not satisfied, Jones had tested their commitment and gave them cups of liquid they were told contained poison. They were asked to drink it. Which they did. After a while, Jones told them the liquid wasn’t poison — but one day it would be.

Jonestown Koolaid

Indeed Jim Jones had been stockpiling cyanide and other drugs for years. On this final White Night, Jones was no longer testing his followers. It was time to kill them all.

Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid

After the airstrip murders outside Jonestown, Jim Jones ordered Temple members to create a fruity mix containing a cocktail of chemicals that included cyanide, diazepam (Valium), promethazine (Phenergan — a sedative), chloral hydrate (a sedative/hypnotic sometimes called “knockout drops”), and Flavor Aid — a grape-flavored powdered drink mix similar to Kool-Aid.

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Jones urged his followers to commit suicide to make a political point. What that point was supposed to be is a matter of considerable conjecture.  After some discussion, Temple member Christine Miller suggested flying Temple members to the USSR.

Jones was never interested in escape. There was only one answer he would accept. Death. Lots of it. He repeatedly pointed out Congressman Ryan was dead (and whose fault was that?) which would surely bring down the weight of American retribution. An audiotape of this meeting exists. It is as creepy as you’d expect.

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Then it was time for the detailed instructions which the followers followed. I will never understand why. Probably it means I’m not insane.

Jones insisted mothers squirt poison into the mouths of their children using syringes. As their children died, the mothers were dosed too, though they were allowed to drink from cups. Temple members wandered outside — where eventually more than 900 lay dead, including more than 300 children. Only a handful survived — primarily residents who happened to be away on errands when the mass suicide/massacre took place.

Jones, his wife, and various other members of the Temple left wills stating that their assets should go to the Communist Party of the USSR.

Jones did not drink poison. He died from a bullet to the head. It’s not clear if it was self-inflicted. Jones likely died last or nearly so. He may have preferred a gun to cyanide, having seen the horrendous effects of death by cyanide.

Why Kool-Aid?

In the wake of the tragedy at Jonestown, the phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” became a popular term for blind (or not-so-blind) obedience. Temple members had apparently accepted their cups of poison without argument or objection. Various accounts say the beverage used at Jonestown was mostly Flavor Aid, sometimes “Flav-R-Aid”). It doesn’t matter, does it?

Kool-Aid was better-known than Flavor Aid. It was introduced in 1927 in powdered form, so when Americans thought of a powdered fruity drink mix (other than “Tang”), “Kool-Aid” sprang to mind.

Jonestown-Tomb-Flower

Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were at Jonestown, but the phrase “(don’t) drink the Kool-Aid” is popular lingo. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. Does it help sell Kool-Aid?

I never touch the stuff.

MORE THAN EVER, THIS MATTERS

I’ve written about Jonestown before, but it bears repeating. I write it on the same day each year. Fewer and fewer people even know about it, but everyone should know.

It’s a cautionary tale for our times, reminding us where fanaticism and hatred can lead. Over the course of history, fanatics and those who blindly follow them have caused millions of deaths. Untold misery. Incalculable harm.

When you follow your “leader” into the darkness, there is no “good” side, and nothing positive will ever come of it.


This is where blind obedience leads. This is the result. This was the biggest horror story, but it has not been the only one. When you follow blindly, beware of cliffs.

VIOLENCE OF THE SENSIBLE KIND – Marilyn Armstrong

The thing about “senseless violence” is that it implies there’s some other kind. The sensible kind.

Everybody talks about senseless violence … but what about the other kind of violence? How come no one talks about sensible violence?

sensible violence

Sensible Violence: Good reasons to kill


“He needed killing” is still accepted in some American courtrooms as a defense against a charge of murder. If he needed killing and you kill him, you have committed an act of sensible violence.

“No one was supposed to get hurt.” You found yourself short of money, so you held up the bank. Using automatic weapons. You had a perfect plan which went unaccountably wrong. “But your Honor, no one was supposed to get hurt!”

“I had no choice.” You could have gotten a divorce, but you were put off by all the paperwork, lawyers, and courts. Not to mention having to share your stuff. So, you killed your husband and shoved his body in the wood chipper and use his remains as fertilizer. Sensible. tidy, and green.  “Your Honor, he really pissed me off. And it wasn’t easy getting him into the machine. He was being really mean to me, so what choice did I have?”

“Anyone would have done the same thing.” Really, no kidding. Anyone. It was the only sensible response. “Your Honor, she burned the roast. I had to kill her. Anyone would have done the same thing.”

“I lost my temper.” You said I wouldn’t like you when you were angry. You were right.

So you see? Not all violence is senseless. If you didn’t mean it, you had no choice, anyone would have done the same thing, or your plan went awry … it’s sensible violence. The good kind.

JUDGMENTAL PLATITUDES – Marilyn Armstrong

I am more than one judgmental platitude over my limit. So here’s a short list of aggravating nonsense people spout when they have nothing intelligent to say.

“God never gives you more than you can bear.”

Not only does God (via the bible or any other sacred text) never say that, but it’s not true, whether God is or isn’t the giver. Life gives us all kinds of things we can’t bear. Heart attacks. Unemployment. Losing your home, your kids, your loved ones, and finally your life.

This goes back to the fundamental false belief that we — individually — control our personal destiny. People who say this stuff are also people who have never been faced with an overwhelming issue that they cannot solve.

Moreover, if you say this to someone who is really suffering, you are an ass.

“Age is just a number.”

No, it isn’t. It’s a stage in life. The time where you can’t do what you did when you were younger not because your head is in the wrong place, but because you’ve got arthritis, maybe a heart condition, or whatever else life and DNA have dropped on you. Such statements include layers of not-so-subtle judgments as if you are weak because you have “given in” to age.

If you tried harder, you’d be younger. How does that work? I’d really like to know.

“Everything happens for a reason.” 

Does it now? Including disease? Financial disaster? Death on the highway? What might that reason be?

“Everything works out for the best.”

Tell that to the person getting fired, evicted, dying, in mourning. Don’t stand too close when you say it. It could be dangerous to your health.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

What doesn’t kill you, doesn’t kill you. You get to live a while longer. Maybe it will make you stronger, but it is just as likely to cripple you.

Soldiering on is not valor or bravery. It’s simple survival.

“It’s mind over matter. You can do anything you want to do.”

This is the biggest lie parents tell their children. Closer to reality is that you can do anything you want if you have the talent and an opportunity. Not everyone can do anything they want.

Film at eleven!

Mind over matter as in “conquering pain by thinking it away?”

If it isn’t your pain, you have no idea what you’re talking about. Saying this to someone in real pain may actually pump enough adrenaline into their system so they leap from their wheelchair and kill you. No jury would convict them.

“For every cloud, there’s a silver lining.” 

Do I need to dignify this with a response?


Skip the judgments and please, if you have nothing to say, skip the platitudes. If all you have to offer are clichés, shut up. Please.

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG? – Marilyn Armstrong

Mid-Week Word Prompt – Haywire

We have a guaranteed way of making everything go haywire. All you have to do is say the following words:

I absolutely guarantee should you speak these words prior to any planned event … the universe will conspire to prove exactly how much can indeed go wrong!

These are the “haywire” words. You should never say them and if possible, don’t even think them!

STANDING ON THE ACHING SHOULDERS OF THE PAST – Marilyn Armstrong

Don’t you absolutely love pithy quotes? They always get me thinking either because I agree with it, or because I don’t.

Today I went wandering down the mental pathways of history because someone repeated something I’ve heard a million times before, the ubiquitous quote everyone has heard and at which, we automatically nod in agreement. Everyone says it, so it has to be true, doesn’t it?

Everything that is happening or will ever happen, has happened before. That most people don’t remember and have never read any history is sad. Yet I have come to believe that ignorance of history has little bearing on what we (collectively) do.

I love history. I want other people to love it as much as I do, if for no better reason than to give me more people to talk to who share my passion. As a history buff, I want to believe if people knew history, they would not repeat the same bad behavior, make the same errors as we’ve made in the past.

That’s wishful thinking. We think a lack of knowledge is the root of the evil but there are other reasons. The biggest one? Ego.

Hitler (for example) wanted to be Charlemagne or Napoleon. He knew history. He was not unaware or unread. He wanted to rewrite history, stand on its shoulders and laugh at the past.

Lack of awareness or failure to remember is a symptom, not the problem.

It’s our human determination to prove history wrong which is so destructive. More to the point, we — humankind — want to prove we are above or outside history, not subject to its rules. This stubbornness is at the core of many of the most monstrous, terrible things we do. We keep trying to prove we aren’t subject to the same forces that have directed the past.

Not remembering history does not condemn us to repeat it. Refusing to accept the outcome of history because we want what we want — usually in combination with greed and a lust for power — that is what condemns us.

BY YOUR OWN PETARD, THOU ART HOISTED – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night I said to Garry “Aha! He is hoisted upon his own petard!”

By which meant he had just become the victim of what he (in this case a movie character) had planned for someone else. Then, I paused, thinking.

“What,” I asked Garry, “Is a petard?”

“I have no idea,” said my husband.  Which is when I realized I’ve been using this expression my whole life and don’t know what it means.

Petard sounds French, but what is it? I grabbed my laptop and typed  “hoist on his … ” into Google. Before I got to petard … up it came. Don’t you just love when that happens?

petards

Voila! Courtesy of Wikipedia, here is the rest of the story.

petard was a bomb used to blow up gates and walls when breaching fortifications. Castles. Walled cities. That sort of thing. The word was originally (duh) French and dates to the sixteenth century.

Typically, a petard was metal (bronze or iron), shaped like a cone or box. Filled with two or three kilos (5 or 6 pounds) of gunpowder and using a slow match for a fuse, the petard was a primitive, powerful and unstable explosive device.

After being filled with gunpowder, it would be attached to a wooden base and fastened to a wall, on or under a gate. The fuse was lit. If all went as planned, the explosion would blow a hole big enough to let assault troops through.

Thus the phrase “hoist on his/her own petard” came to mean “harmed by one’s own plan to harm someone else.” It suggests you could be lifted — hoisted — by your own bomb.