Slimey to the Qth Power

I sat down on the ledge near the metro station just a couple of blocks away from Ben’s Chili Bowl. I was deep into the pleasure of a spicy half-smoke when I noticed someone (or something) plopping down beside me. Once more, my old friend Slimey appeared out of nowhere. For a 7′ tall reptile, he was able to move unbelievably silently and without drawing the attention you normally would expect from someone of his size.

“Greetings, friend” he hissed through his snout.

“Slimey, it has been far too long. What have you been doing with yourself?”  The last time I had seen Slimey, he had taken a position with a lobbying firm where he was trying to promote a fully-automated abattoir, aimed at eliminating the human interaction with the meat supply. I marveled to myself at how prescient that proposal was in light of the coronavirus outbreaks at meat packing facilities.  I asked Slimey, “Are you still with your lobbying firm?”

Slimey slowly shook his ponderous head. “No, I was unable to sell the idea about an automated slaughterhouse to the agencies. Imagine. The deep state actually thought humans were needed.”  He closed his eyes for a moment. “But in my new position, this idea has become really valuable”.

I took a bite of my half-smoke, then asked.  “What is your new position?”

Slimey’s face assumed an air of supreme satisfaction. “I’m working for Q now. I’m in charge of their next big assault into the public sphere.”

I shuddered. Q-Anon had grown in popularity by leaps and bounds, especially during the pandemic when so many folks had far too much time and far too good access to the internet where they could descend into innumerable rabbit holes. Finally, I could avoid the question no further and I asked, “What is the new Q theory?”

Slimey smacked his mouth a couple of times, then began. “There’s a new thing that Q will be reporting on. That thing with abducting the children and the elite distilling their blood to come up with their youth elixir? It just wasn’t revolting enough to draw in enough people. But this one, this one is a doozy.”  Slimey settled back onto the ledge, one enormous paw holding up his prodigious girth.

As often happened in my encounters with Slimey, I became aware of how vulnerable I was to a sudden swipe of his razor-sharp claws. Still, I summoned the courage to not be a species-intolerant person and continued the conversation. “What could you imagine that is worse than child abduction and harvesting?”

Slimey chuckled for a good half-minute before replying. Finally, he said “Imagine this. Instead of children being abducted, it is those who are wearing MAGA hats that are swept off of the streets. Once they disappeared, they are transported to one of my automated slaughterhouses, where they are stripped down to the bone. The meat? It goes to make certain sausage products.” He nodded towards the remains of my own half-smoke.  “I’m not gonna say one way or another, but you may be surprised by where we will claim this meat is going.”

I took one more look at my half-smoke, shuddered a bit, then laid it down on the ledge between us. I had to satisfy my curiosity, though. “Why do this? Why go onto such ridiculous extremes in order to keep the Q thing going?”

Slimey was glad to fill me in. “Of course, it’s the money. Do you know how much we are raking in with the social media posts? And then there’s the merchandise. Those Q posters and foam Q’s are just money plants, plants we keep on harvesting. None of this has to be true, it just has to be plausible enough to keep the clicks coming.”

For the first time in my encounters with Slimey, I found my anger and revulsion rising. “Do you mean to tell me that this entire Q thing is nothing more than an effort to make those at the top rich?”

“Why certainly. What else would it be? You don’t think any of us believe any of this crap, do you?” Slimey looked offended, tensed his limbs, and once again I took stock of the vulnerability of my position.

“I had hoped that was the case. I can’t believe that anyone with a lick of rationality would believe any of the stuff being posted in Q’s name, but after the events of the last few years, I have come to doubt my own sense of right and wrong.” 

Slimey looked satisfied with my answer. He seemed to relax back into leaning against the concrete ledge. He said, “It’s only been a few years since I moved out of the swamp, but it is amazing how much of a swamp I still find around me.

All I could do was nod in agreement.

He looked over at the remains of my half-smoke. “Are you going to eat that?” he asked.

“No. It’s yours if you want it.”

The remains of the half smoke were inhaled in that enormous snout with the reptilian teeth, paper wrapper and all.

The last episode with Slimey may be found here: evenabrokenclock.blog/2019/04/08/if-you-cant-beat-the-swamp-join-the-swamp/

You’ve Been Had (Part 3)

Treason drips off of the twitter fangs that inject his venom into the body politic of the nation. Hoax is bandied about as an explanation for anything unpleasant but true. The hypocrisy is blatantly displayed as word is disclosed about his real thoughts for those who serve and sacrifice for our country. Still, all of this matters not a whit to those who have drunk deeply of the Trump cult Kool-Ade.  They will still hold fast to their selection of someone who has shown himself to be totally incompetent at his job, as well as being so lazy he doesn’t even feign an effort at doing said job. All the while, his own words extol his own praise and discredits any attempt at criticism.

For nearly four years, we have been held hostage by the vagaries of this hulking wanna-be alpha male. All he’s learned over the years is how to bully others. That he has been successful at passing that off as leadership is beyond comprehension. Still, this year showed the logical conclusion of the folly this nation undertook when we elected a totally unqualified candidate whose sole skill was self-promotion. That self-promotion led many to believe the man was a master businessman. But, as has been said, anyone who can go bankrupt running a casino is not a paragon of business excellence. Over the decades, the failures of the Trump business plans have been strewn across the landscape.

Trump steaks, launched in 2007, discontinued in 2007. Product sold for all of 2 months.

Trump shuttle. Purchased from Eastern Airlines in 1989 for $365 million. Sold in 1991 to USAirways for about $100-110 million of Trump indebtedness.

Trump Taj Mahal – built in 1990 for $1.2 billion. Parent company Trump Entertainment Resorts filed for bankruptcy 4 times, in 1991, 2004, 2009, and 2014. All investment in this fiasco was lost.

Trump-branded buildings – due to the toxic nature of the Trump name, the affiliation with Trump has been removed from multiple buildings across the globe during the past few years. Examples include properties in Panama City, New York, and Toronto.

Trump vs. NFL – leading the New Jersey Generals, a team in the USFL, he convinced his fellow owners to go from a spring schedule, into a head-to-head battle with the NFL on a fall schedule. At the same time, the USFL engaged in an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL, which the USFL won. Damages awarded? $1, although that was tripled under anti-trust law. The USFL folded shortly afterwards.  Now Donald did receive something of value out of this. Herschel Walker, the football star of the New Jersey Generals, spoke favorably of Donald at the 2020 Republican convention as one of his token Blacks.

Trump University – this bastardized version of a real estate / wealth management seminar provider began operations in 2005. It closed down in 2011, and subsequently was required to refund millions of dollars to its defrauded “students” who went through the seminars but obtained no useful information or skills.

The fantasy that Donald Trump spun was that of a maverick businessman who would bring fiscal discipline and a business sense to the nation’s government. Well, he was very prophetic about that – he has brought just as much business success to the nation’s balance sheet as he has brought to the properties and enterprises he owned and operated over the years. But then came the TV show, and he found the vehicle to reinvent himself. If you present yourself as a wealthy decisive businessman who could use his Midas touch to enrich anyone he came into contact with, then you could brush aside the reality of past failures. And as this nation became more and more disconnected from reality by insisting upon binging on reality TV, enough people believed to form the core of his followers.

It is not enough to decry the utter failure of this administration in dealing with its multiple crises. It instead is time to take stock of the totality of this charlatan’s work history, and pronounce the verdict on this nation upon selecting and being subjected to the governance of this gamma male.

You’ve Been Had.

This is unfortunately the third in a series of posts about Donald Trump’s administration I’ve written during his term in office. To see the other posts, see https://evenabrokenclock.blog/2017/11/20/youve-been-had/ and    https://evenabrokenclock.blog/2018/11/16/weve-been-had/.

Late Summer Sights and Sounds

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Summer is winding down, but the battles of the animal kingdom on our front porch continue unabated. It was a long time ago now that we beheld the image of the two wrens feeding the baby cowbird that replaced their true children. The cowbird suddenly one day chose to climb up the flowers in the basket that held their nest, but still cried out for more food. Then it was seen for a few days in the rhododendron below the nest, not yet ready to fly away, but still begging for food. Then, all at once, it disappeared. The parents of the cowbird did show up one day for a look-see, but the battle where the original eggs were displaced by the female cowbird went unseen by me.

We put up a mealworm feeder next to the wren’s nest. First we put it up because we thought it would make the life of the wren parents easier, but it took the wrens a long while before they discovered its bounty. No, what came first were the mockingbirds and the tufted titmice. Soon they scolded us whenever the feeder ran dry. We’d replenish the store and were treated to seeing the mother mockingbird (assumption) having to provide to two fledglings who squawked noisily for their share. They were as big as their mother, but still were dependent upon her largesse. Soon, though, we’d notice the feeder was running empty much too fast. Then, one day when I was on the computer in the room adjacent to the porch, I heard a commotion out there.  I looked to see a squirrel hanging on to the swinging feeder for dear life, only to lose his grip and fall noisily to the plants below. We tried to coat the aluminum pillar with vegetable oil, and that worked for a while. The squirrel didn’t try the direct approach for a day or so, but would scale the brick wall and climb up onto the roof. There we were treated to seeing the head of the squirrel peer over the edge, first showing up on the yard lights, next trying one of the hooks for wind chimes, trying to figure out how in the world to reach the succulent treats found in the feeder. He ended up sliding off of the porch roof and landing directly on the walkway. Squirrels, though, are tough and resilient, and he just shook the fall off and scampered away. Now I am attuned to hearing the feeder being attacked, and go and open the door, which is normally enough to cause the critter to jump down onto the porch railing, staring at me for a while until I move in its direction. Then and only then will it jump down and go around the house.

mockingbird

I believe this is the same squirrel that found my hose from my propane tank to the grill to be so tempting. Normally the propane cylinder sits nestled inside of my grill and I’m able to close the door. This time, though, the cylinder would not allow the door to close, allowing the squirrel to find both the wonderful grease pool, and the reinforced nylon hose coming from the cylinder pressure regulator. I can’t imagine the squirrel’s surprise the first time he bit into the hose and it began hissing at him, but after a while the hissing stopped, and my guess is that somewhere up in a squirrel nest I would find the remains of my partially dismembered hose. I hope it keeps the squirrels warm in the upcoming winter.

Since it is nearly the end of the summer, the hummer wars have become even more intense. There are at least three birds engaged in aerial combat now, and the maneuvers go on through the yard and out across the street. It is amazing how you can see these tiny birds from so far away, but once you are used to looking for them, you can see them everywhere. I see them perching in trees even before they have approached the feeder. All because I know what I’m looking for. But someday soon, these birds will just disappear. Our local birds will begin their migration to more southern climes, and we will be left alone with just the flicker and the wasps gorging on the sugar water. We keep the feeders up for a while to tempt any migrants from up north, but we know the time for watching the hummer wars is short, so we enjoy them while we can.

flicker

There is a sound found only in late summer. It is the symphony of the insects as they buzz incessantly in search of a mate. Though we may have fewer insects now, you cannot tell it when you listen to the minimalist music of the crickets, katydids, and cicadas.

The season is inexorably changing. The streetlight now comes on at 8:00, while in the midst of June, it was nearly 9:00 before it turned on. Eventually we will be unable to sit out in the morning without long pants and sweatshirts on, as the temperatures begin their yearly plunge. We’ve taken part in outdoor dining during this time of the pandemic, but realize that we are on borrowed time for that as well. Just hope that the restaurants can survive this coming reduction in their business. While the virus keeps up its relentless pace, it reminds me of a wolf pack stalking humanity, seeking out the weaker and the elderly to attack and kill. Now, though, things become serious. This week we are seeing the first week of high school football being canceled in my county due to local virus conditions. You may infringe upon many things in this society, but if you cancel high school football, you are really in trouble. We will see what comes of this.

The End Of The World, As We Know It

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To many, these times we live in are reminiscent of Götterdämmerung, the twilight of the Gods. Certainly that is the image presented at the abomination called the Republican National Convention. They see the changes our society has undergone as being so threatening to their way of life that they cling to a would-be autocrat who has leveraged their fear into a term as President. He now himself clings desperately to the power he has enjoyed, and is pushing all of the levers of that power in order to gum up the normal electoral process. To the group that believes their way of life and unchallenged superiority is indeed challenged, all tactics seem fair to ensure their continued grasp on power.

The 2016 election proved this. While the Democratic candidate won by 2% of the popular vote, due to the small state bias built into the electoral college, the Republicans won the office. They proceeded to rule based as if they had received a massive vote in favor of their policies, though vote really did go against them. Therefore, they knew it was imperative to provide the tools to ensure the changing demographics of this nation did not prevent their takeover of all of the reins of power. In a way, we were fortunate. This President was so ignorant of how government worked, that his first year’s efforts at neutering government were mainly failures. Think of how many different iterations of the Muslim ban came down the pike, only to be swatted away by the judicial branch. But unfortunately, those within the government were able to learn how the levers of power worked. And by the third year, they were capable of implementing the family separation policy. Oh, they didn’t have a way of reuniting families, but who cared?

In a way, it is remarkable that this nation has succeeded in using a single set of founding documents to navigate through the ensuing 2+ centuries. The Constitution has stretched enough to deal with the intervening crises that swirled through this country. But the events of this year have shown that continuing to rely solely upon the document that preceded the technological age, does not always work in the current era of globalized material and people flow, and instantaneous flow of both real and misinformation. When so many people simply refuse to accept what appears to be unambiguous scientific facts, it becomes impossible to conduct a purposeful discussion. This shows itself in so many folks refusing to believe that we are in a pandemic, denying that the outbreak of disease is anything more significant that a variant of the normal flu virus.

Though the current administration insists that the country of origin for the virus was fundamentally negligent in allowing the genii to escape, what happened early this year was what epidemiologists have known and feared would happen in a world interconnected by human and material flow. Before this year, very few people in the US could have identified Wuhan on the map, and even fewer knew that the city and its environs had 11 million residents. But the outbreak of a virus that exhibits high infectivity showed that it could not be contained within a single country. Soon outposts of the virus were set up in Italy, and thence migrated into the US. But of all of the nations hit by the first wave of the virus, it has only been the US that has not brought infections down below a simmering boil. The virus has shown that it is still present, and shows up in all locations where the guard is let down even for a moment.

But in the US, a confluence of events and trends have prevented us from ever bringing the virus under control. The US has never viewed it as necessary to have the Federal government serve as a backstop to private enterprise. So when it was necessary to shut down commercial life in order to reduce the spread of the virus, the mechanisms to provide financial support were creaky at best, balky and unworkable at worst. And now, those mechanisms have been exhausted, and this nation still is operating under the assumption that it is a moral failing that so many people cannot find work, rather than accepting that we are in a fundamentally different era. Then the strain of individual liberty fanatics insisted that any mandated protective acts were an infringement on constitutional rights. Even the simple, though uncomfortable practice, of wearing a face mask has become weaponized, and blood has been spilled in defense of the right to infect others.

Those who were convinced that the blood of Jesus would protect them against any infection were also convinced that the government was infringing against their first amendment rights by preventing them from worshiping in person. You can see time after time where ministers were insistent on holding services in person, even though those services spread disease and death. Indeed, the American desire for a divine miracle to protect the faithful is fully in evidence as a response to this pandemic. The viral particle doesn’t recognize religious denomination, or even if someone is or is not a religious adherent. It recognizes only the opportunity to colonize a new host and spread itself. It is a mindless automaton with only the genetic information inside of it to allow it to propagate.

If there is to be divine intervention, it is because the knowledge of humanity has allowed it to understand the genetic code of the enemy, and to effectively devise biological weaponry to defeat it. That can be manifested through effective treatments for the symptoms of the virus, but all hope is on one or more of the vaccines in clinical trial will be found to be:  1) Effective at preventing infection through activation of the immune system, and 2) Able to provide this immunity without adverse side effects. Indeed, the rapidity at which vaccines have been shepherded into phase 3 trials has been amazing. But due to the same tendency within this nation to reject science and any uncomfortable challenges to beliefs, even when a vaccine is released to the population, a sizable fraction will refuse to take it. Whether it is due to fears unleashed by the anti-vaxxers, or whether it is the belief that the entire virus episode has been a New World Order conspiracy, there will be enough who refuse to take the vaccine that it will still circulate within the population, causing infection, and illness, and preventable death.

The upcoming election does offer the opportunity to return to a semblance of normality. Whether enough of the electorate will recognize that the Federal response to this virus represents a natural outgrowth of the belief system of this administration remains to be seen. The ignorance of the American public can never be overestimated. Let us hope that incompetence can be seen for what it is – a natural consequence of selecting a con man four long years ago.

Mad As Hades

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”  The words of Paddy Chayefsky in the movie Network resonate through the decades since that movie was released in 1976. The words ring true today. The tag line fueled my imagination as I realized a few of the things I’m as mad as hell about in this day.

I’m as mad as hell about the total incompetence of our Federal government in addressing the viral pandemic racing across the country virtually unchecked. Failures happened in destroying the infrastructure set in place by his predecessor to detect and respond to this future event. Failures happened in pretending that the virus would disappear of its own accord, and besides, it was hitting Democratic states harder than Republican states, so why bother creating a national strategy. Failures in taking responsibility for any of these failures.

I’m mad as hell about the total incompetence of the administration in realizing that the world is truly interconnected, and we as a nation cannot take our ball and go home and expect that the rest of the world will be there for us if and when we need them. About the destruction of relationships with other nations and with international organizations.

I’m mad as hell about the willful ignorance and subsequent stupidity exhibited by this administration when it comes to anything requiring applying a scientific perspective. It was bad enough when it involved ignoring any inconvenient truths about global warming. It was bad enough when it involved assigning unqualified personnel to leadership positions in Federal departments where knowledge of science was required. But with the response to the pandemic, we have really seen how the disdain that this administration holds for science has and will cost hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths.

I’m mad as hell about the petty grifting and blatant hypocrisy demonstrated by this administration, beginning with the example from the top. From the very start of this administration where the Trump hotel became the necessary venue for all who wished to make a visible display of financial support, to the recent revelation that the ambassador to Great Britain tried to strong arm the British to awarding a British Open to a Trump property, it has been apparent that everything is good that plows money back into the Trump business empire. And then the hypocrisy involved in declaring that it was so much worse in the previous administration. All of this manifests itself in a cabinet embroiled in personal petty privilege, whether through chartering private planes on the public’s dime, or driving around in a limousine in search of just that special lotion while department employees were paid as drivers

I’m mad as hell about the belief that this President had that it would only be a minor matter to staff and handle the transition between administrations. The belief that you don’t need to fill all of the available positions in the government. The belief that you could put your incompetent son-in-law in charge of intractable problems that had evaded solutions for decades and expect success due to force of personality alone. About the belief that he and Chris Cristie could go out after the night of the election and take care of the transition by themselves.

I’m mad as hell about the narcissism and thin-skinned nature of this President. About how his vindictiveness extends beyond the grave, so that he continues to denigrate the memory of those who stood up to him who have since died. About how he could not stand to see any accomplishment of his immediate predecessor left standing, so he has gone out of his way to destroy any trace of the previous administration. About how he has to be right, and can never ever admit making a mistake, since admitting a mistake shows your weakness.

I’m mad as hell about the racism unleashed by this President. About how the example he has set has freed a nasty strain within America to feel enabled and entitled to declare their hatred for anything other than lily-white ‘Muricans. About how when presented with support from a misogynistic racist like David Duke, he will feign ignorance of him and welcome the support. About how he has learned to stoke the fear and hatred that had lain dormant under the surface by trumping up the risk from asylum seekers.

I’m mad as hell that even after seeing the complete and utter disaster of this administration for nearly four years, there are still 40% of the voting public who think he’s doing a remarkable job for them, and they will go to their coronavirus graves still supporting this incredibly poor excuse for a human, much less the leader of the free world. Hell, had he his choice, he’d lead the nation of sub-human slaves as they marched in goosestep unison past his Presidential mansion. After all, he’s done such a wonderful job we just have to keep him in office.

Excuse me while I retch into the porcelain altar.

Off We Go, Into the Wild Blue Yonder

rocket launch space discovery
Photo by SpaceX on Pexels.com

We are living in a golden age of exploration. Part of the human nature has always been to push the boundaries, whenever and wherever there was incentive. The spices of the Orient, along with unknown riches, tempted the explorers of Europe. Now, we are in a race for space. With the recent launch of the Perseverance mission to Mars, that planet is now infested with both unmanned rovers, and orbiting observers. Participants in this infestation include India, China, the joint venture between the Russians and Europeans, multiple missions from the US, and the mission from the United Arab Emirates that recently launched. For millennia humanity watched the planets, convinced that they held great influence over our existence on Earth. Though we may laugh at astrology today, it is undoubtedly responsible for the growth of knowledge about patterns in the cosmos, due to the need to know what the positions of the planets were at the time of the birth of individuals.

Indeed, astrology still has millions of adherents, convinced that the orientation of the planets hold the means to provide order to a seemingly chaotic life. But once our understanding of the cosmos went beyond mere observation, to a systemic search for knowledge, we have been merciless at trying to uncover the mysteries of our solar system neighbors. We have seen evidence of great floods on Mars, and the search continues to see if we can find direct evidence of life elsewhere, either from the past, or tantalizingly, still alive somewhere under the Martian surface.

Now there are private businesses aimed at the conquest of space. These are not just the vanity projects of the new tech aristocracy, but serious attempts at commercializing both near Earth exploration, and eventually solar system exploration. It will be difficult to provide a positive cash flow from these activities, but what we’ve seen is that companies are willing to fund the immense investment in space vehicles. We’ve weathered the gap between NASA’s shuttle (2 catastrophic failures out of 135 missions), to launches to the space station from US vehicles. What is different now is that it is a private corporation, SpaceX, that has contracted with NASA for a series of launches. The first of these launches just splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico, completing a seemingly flawless flight. SpaceX is in competition with Boeing, Boeing concentrating mainly on heavier launch capabilities. Since private enterprise is funding the research, they will be looking for payoff well beyond what government contracts provide. And that is why there truly is a new age of exploration, one that will result in humans setting foot on Mars sooner rather than later. The moon will also be revisited, and with the current missions aiming at prospecting for ice on the surface of the moon, it may actually be possible to build a base on the moon itself.

Why do this? Well, I for one think it much better to use humanity’s creativity in exploration, rather than in building munitions and munition delivery systems. Although there has been significant advances in our understanding of physics, metallurgy, and chemistry through the development of better means of destruction, the use of these tools comes with immense human suffering. And as we’ve seen in the recent explosion involving ammonium nitrate in Lebanon, it does not take a lot of technology to spread a lot of death and destruction.  Spending the money on science to increase our range and knowledge instead of on destruction seems a much more humane way to proceed.

Besides, there is much to learn. Even beyond the possibility of life on Mars, there is the tantalizing thought that life may exist underneath the ice caps covering the oceans of the satellites of the larger planets. The question we have is whether life is ubiquitous in the universe, spreading wherever the chemical conditions couple with the source of energy to power life. If we do find life outside of our planet, it will have immense repercussions among the world’s religions. They must see if their theology can adapt to life existing in multiple locations, and allow for a creator that likes to experiment, rather than one totally vested on earth. I have always thought that limiting a creator to a single site in this immense universe did a disservice to the creator, since it imposed such tight restraints on its capabilities.

The age of exploration we live in goes well beyond the physical limitations of earth. We have been exploring the intricacies of the genome, learning the secrets to manipulate the formulas of life for our own benefit. Tools such as CRISPR, and DNA sequencing improvements, are leading to the possibilities for us to deal with the microscopic universe. Those abilities are coming into play now with the unprecedented speed in which vaccines against COVID-19 are being developed. Back a generation ago, we would not have to knowledge to sequence the genome, learn its tricks for attaching to cells, and develop multiple ways to fight against this novel virus. It would have taken years of painful trial and error work to possibly come up with a vaccine. Today? We may have 3 modes of action incorporated into vaccines, and testing could be complete within a year from the initial confirmation of the virus’s structure.

Many ask why do we spend money on exploration, when we cannot meet our needs on earth. My answer is that it is through exploration and research that we discover the ways to increase the economic pie, thus allowing for a greater share for each individual. It is only through the growth of economic activity engendered by the discoveries from research and exploration that we can avoid the Malthusian fate that would otherwise engulf us.

Darwin In Plain Sight

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To all those who do not believe in evolution as a guiding force for life in the world, I submit that the recent spate of incidents showing the reluctance of “conservatives” to wearing face masks presents a rare opportunity to see evolution in action. Will we see the portion of the population that believes in science ending up with an evolutionary advantage in being able to propagate their genes better than those who claim a constitutional right to march macho and bare-faced through the world? Many who decry the wearing of “face diapers” are far beyond the age of propagation, but it is clear that many of the younger generation are following the example of their elders, and are crowding into bars, and onto beaches.

Look, when I was in college, the lure of drunken parties was strong. There were parties advertised down in the cave at the southwest edge of town, where I managed one night to stumble home safely by following the railroad tracks. I was indeed fortunate to not fall victim to a steel chariot that would have borne me to the netherworld. I also survived the disco era, when bars were packed so tightly you had to turn sideways in order to avoid committing sexual assault. I know the appeal of these venues. But this is truly a once in a century pandemic, where it is necessary to believe in the power of microscopic viruses that defy detection by any normal means.

And thus the evolutionary challenge. To believe in science, with its dependence upon statistical trials demonstrating efficacy of treatments, or to not believe in science. Those who do not believe in the scientific method are prone to believe in anecdotal evidence hawked by those who use the internet to spread their own brand of phony facts. We will see whether there is actually a difference in the survival rates between these competing belief systems. My money is on those who do believe in science winning.

Into this discussion, a columnist from the New York Times brings up research that reveals why we may have this dichotomy of beliefs between liberals and conservatives. Thomas B. Edsall wrote a column titled “The Whole of Liberal Democracy Is in Grave Danger in This Moment” on July 22. He cites many papers and studies from social scientists, but the gist of his findings is that those who use facts and data to form their opinions tend to be more liberal, whereas those who are reluctant to change their opinions even when faced with contrary data tend to be more conservative. The whole of the column is damning against the conservative side of the culture wars, suggesting that the trend towards authoritarianism currently expressed by right-leaning political movements across the world can lead to the extinguishing of liberal democracy. Studies are cited that claim liberals tend to be more expressive in their writings, using complex words and thoughts to provide more nuance. Conservatives, it is claimed, use simpler and more absolute statements of fact that allow their followers to have absolute certainty in their beliefs, regardless of any evidence to the contrary.

I tend to agree with the surveys that are quoted. In my own experience, it can be extremely difficult to engage in a substantive discussion with someone whose mind is closed to contrary evidence. I remember a member of my church choir, who in a huge misreading of my beliefs, said at the dawn of this administration that it was good to finally have an alpha male in charge. He must have felt I would agree with that assessment. At the time, I believe I called the soon-to-be inaugurated President an epsilon male instead of an alpha male. But I have no doubt that the person I was discussing this with felt no need to even consider my opinion as being worthy.

I do have a problem with the way the data was presented in the column, though. It provides fodder for those who decry the elites who think they are better than the common folks. Well, that is undoubtedly true. Those who have more education believe that their thought processes are more capable than those who just accept what is being spoon fed to them by their media masters. So this NYT column (if it were read at all by those of a conservative bent) would reinforce their beliefs that the elites of the world are against those who have common sense.

Look, there is a reason why Rush Limbaugh popularized the use of the term “ditto-heads” for his followers. No other term I can think of so masterfully expresses the anti-intellectualism that has come to govern this country. The movement has gained ascendancy with this President, and we have now seen that having someone totally averse to science and the scientific method being in charge of our government can be an existential risk. Which is why I think we are actually seeing an evolutionary fork develop here. Is there an evolutionary advantage to believe in science, and follow the guidance of scientists, or is there an evolutionary advantage to being macho and looking to stare down the virus through the mask-free exhalations of those who refuse to follow scientific recommendations.

The thoughts from the Edsall column have given me more pause for thought, though. My own writing is much more complex than that of our current ruling class, and thus I realize that I have no possibility of changing the minds of any people who are leaning conservative/authoritarian. We need other tools that can break through the intransigent mindset of those who believe this leader is doing God’s work. All of the tools I have, logic, irony, sarcasm, none of them seem to be seeping through the skull calcification preventing the acceptance of information that is disturbing to conservatives. I must see if there is some way in which complex thoughts can be presented in small twitter-like bits that fit within the attention span of those who believe themselves superior to libtards like me.

Eyes Wide Shut

3 dollar bill

When I worked at a chemical plant, and was involved in statistical testing, I learned one lesson. Never try to extrapolate two data points into a line. Always use at least three data points to determine the slope of a line. Given the dire nature of what we are seeing in the government response to protests across the country, I am violating my long-held prohibition against use of only two data points.

Lafayette Park and Portland. In both cases, the Federal government has used law enforcement personnel that were unidentified, save for a single word:  POLICE. The first time these unidentified forces were used, it was to clear the way for our great leader to pose in front of an Episcopal church with a Bible held high. That was bad enough.

But in Portland, things have taken a darker turn, and now we have these unidentifiable troops snatching people off of the streets, throwing them into unmarked vehicles, and whisking them away into detention. At least these individuals have been released promptly and no charges have been filed.

Here’s where the need exists to not allow another data point to be created. That data point will likely involve similar government-sponsored kidnappings, followed by disappearances of the arrested protesters. Or, it will involve non-government groups using tactics similar to these government groups, where they take people off of the street to enforce their own brand of justice. We cannot allow this illegal and immoral effort to expand to any other location across this country, not if we want even a sliver of our Constitutional freedoms to stay intact. When the Federal government believes they have the right to abduct those who have participated in protests, and use the human equivalent of unmarked cars as their enforcers, then all of us are in grave danger. The stated goal is to prevent damage to Federal facilities. But as the tactics used in Portland have shown, any relationship between protection of Federal facilities and the abductions of people off of the streets of a city is purely coincidental.

We are unfortunate that we have a commander in chief who is desperate to create a distraction from his abysmal performance as a leader against “this invisible enemy”. Resurrecting the ghost of George Wallace, he believes that only a strong hand against disorder can save his electoral hopes. Thus he will be increasingly unrestrained in his use of force going forward from here. And should the next election somehow come out in his favor, then he will have his storm troopers in place, with their practices established, and he will be ready to unleash them on any dissent whatsoever. Heaven help all of us who still believe in the rule of law when the person at the top of the Federal pyramid has corrupted the tools of government to only further his own misshapen fever dreams of converting this into a Great America.

Now, as I’ve sat on this post for a while before uploading, we’ve seen the list of cities expanding where Federal forces are to be applied whether they are requested or not. It is happening before our very eyes, and we cannot stand idly by as the nation gets dragged further and further into self-induced chaos and authoritarian dictums. Use your voice to protest this ongoing usurpation of the nation under this President.

Revisiting the Innocent Days of 2016

Trump's world

As the writer of a blog, occasionally I claim a point of personal privilege. I chose to do so at this time. My writing has made it clear that I am not in favor of the actions of this administration, nor in favor of the personality cult leading it. I am showing in this message that I have been consistent in my denunciation of the leader of the Republicans. The following post was written as a letter to the editor in my hometown Charleston Gazette-Mail on July 24, 2016, immediately after the Republican convention where Donald Trump accepted the nomination of his party. I sometimes hate it that I saw so clearly what was about to befall the nation, but I commend it to you as a look back to those innocent days in 2016, when we thought we would probably avoid being subjected to a Trump presidency. Would that we could have had that alternative reality come true.

 

Here is the link to the original letter in the paper:

https://www.wvgazettemail.com/opinion/letter-united-states-feels-bereft-of-hope-gazette/article_44dd8ef3-1c7b-5bd8-902e-7188e6c1c75b.html

 

Editor:

A nation bereft of hope, buffeted by demographic changes and societal upheaval that made us an impotent caricature of our former glory. A nation divided by those who are evil and who are actively working with our enemies to weaken us further. A nation that teeters on a moral abyss, ready to irreversibly tumble into said abyss. A nation who needs the strong hand of leadership to restore our grandeur and prosperity. A nation that must retreat within its borders, and make those borders impregnable to hold back the Visigoths and Huns and cannibals who are attempting to overwhelm our weakened wimpy forces.

That is the vision presented at this week’s Republican convention. It is a vision of hopelessness and despair supposedly brought on by the administration of the last 8 years. It is a vision that thrives on petty name-calling. It is a vision that is the climax of the campaign created by Donald Trump and enabled by his legions of worshipers. It is a vision crafted in bites of 140 characters or less, matching the attention span of this reality TV-addicted nation. It is a vision that evokes revulsion and hatred among its adherents — revulsion against the society that is stacked against them, and hatred of those viewed as responsible for the conditions these champions of the American way have had to endure.

I, too, feel bereft of hope. But not because of the issues enumerated above. No, I am bereft of hope because I have seen our nation devolve into such a state that a total sociopath could hijack one of the two major political parties in my nation. I despair due to the shallowness of thought that causes my own demographic (white male in my 60s in a red state) to form the core of Trump’s army. I despair due to the knowledge that during the upcoming campaign, the real issues facing this country will not be addressed. Instead we will be subjected to a seemingly endless string of negative tweets, PAC-sponsored media messages, and scenes of angry mobs attacking angry mobs representing the opposing party.

But mostly I despair due to the real possibility that a charlatan such as Donald Trump could ascend to the leadership of this nation. That our nation is so foolish that we could ever be suckered into believing the lie that is the story of Donald Trump, and that his brand of evil will be foisted upon this nation and the world. If that were to happen, I can only pray that we are able to avoid the apocalypse he could bring down upon us.

 

2020 update: This was what I saw coming down the road back during the days of the election. Sometimes I hate to be correct. I have learned that those who believe in this sham of a president, still do so unabashedly. Accordingly, I do not believe that any words in this forum can change the minds of anyone. Still, it feels good to vent, and sometimes it is good to look back in time and see if the feelings expressed then still are current. They are in this case.

Summer Reveries

Summer flowers

It is good to know in the midst of all of the concurrent crises we face, that nature  proceeds at its own pace unconcerned with all of the worries humanity has. Thus we return to summer in West Virginia, where the biggest issue is whether the cowbird will be successful in laying an egg in the wren’s nest up in one of our flower baskets.

We are loving it out in our outdoor living room, where we enjoy our coffee and newspaper in the mornings, and use its space for our afternoon cocktail. In between we can read or just watch  nature as it visits our porch. The finch feeder is in use most of the daylight hours, with the purple finches unafraid to visit while we sit there, though the gold finches are shy and only visit when we are not present. We were treated to seeing a hummingbird chase a finch away one day, though what the finch did to draw this attention is unknown. This year we are not seeing any non-conforming finches, where a brood is raised that includes a foreign egg from a cowbird. Last year we saw a young bird that was unable to use the finch feeder, though it tried valiantly. Instead, it chirped and waited for its father to deliver a seed directly to it, since it could not reach into the feeder with its own beak.

A wren built a nest in one of our hanging flower baskets. You can see it dart in and out, and it often scolds us, especially when we are at the table with our coffee. That puts us directly next to the nest, and that is obviously too close for the bird’s comfort. But it is the cowbird couple that is the most interesting. Last week I saw the couple, with the male perched a few feet away while the female scoped out the nest. At that time there were obviously no eggs there, and they flew away. But just yesterday I saw the female eyeing the nest again, and this time the wren flew directly at the cowbird, chasing it away. It remains to be seen if the battle will have future acts.

The fallout from the finch feeder keeps other birds busy who do not have the physique to feed directly from the feeder. Often we can hear the whooshing of the morning dove wings as they fly away after having poked through the rubble looking for intact seeds. And chipmunks cross our porch regularly, stopping sometime to search for seeds, while other times stopping under the hummingbird feeder and lapping up the spilled sugar water. Then they hustle off to whatever their business is.

This year I’ve seen not only the neon blue skinks skitter across the porch, but another color of skink. They are fast and you have to really be watchful in order to see them. So far they are the only reptiles we’ve shared our space with.

The flicker loves the hummingbird feeder. It will hang off of the feeder, and you can see it drinking as it brings the liquid into its beak and works it down its throat. The hummingbirds know that they cannot force the flicker away (too big), so an uneasy detente exists where the hummer will visit the side of the feeder opposite the flicker. It is amazing how much entertainment you can get out of a half-cup of sugar dissolved in water. We have seen at least one hummer battle, but know that more are to come as the alpha male perches on the wires leading to the house, keeping watch and driving away any other hummers who dare to intrude on its designated home turf.

2018 flicker

Several years ago we had to take down the hemlock tree that graced our front lawn due to storm damage. We replaced it with ornamental trees that won’t grow as tall so as to threaten the wires. The ornamental cherry directly in front of our porch is growing daily, as you can see the new leaves stretching higher each time you look at it. It may never give us shade, but that doesn’t matter to the birds who use any location as a handy perch.

We have apple trees which have very seldom given us apples. Not because the apples weren’t produced, but because the squirrels get to them first. But until this year, they’ve always left the crab apples alone. The tartness of them must be a turn off even to voracious squirrels. This year, though, the squirrels are taking the crab apples right off of the trees and eating them.

Squirrel

It is good to take the time to really see the world around us. If nothing else, this time of physical isolation and separation from the rest of humanity, has intensified the desire for watching the world of nature. It is good to realize that the life outside does not care about human pandemics, or divisive politics, or any of the other matters that occupy the airwaves. Just hearing the sounds of birds, and the chirring of the crickets helps to put things into perspective.