Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood

I’m not a normal American. I know that. I always have. Ever since I was in the first grade, and I stated my strong preference that it was a big bang that created the universe, not a steady state universe. Maybe I thought explosions were cooler, but that’s what I thought. In first grade!

I thought I could be a great athlete as a kid, but didn’t have the fast-twitch muscles needed to be good at any sport. No, I found plays and musical theatre as an outlet for my energy. That, and choral singing. The latter I still do at age 66, which is one way in which the pandemic has robbed me of a creative outlet.

I fancied myself as a potential novelist, but when I tried it, my dialogue came out like stilted lettuce. I found my real skill early on, when I competed in Informative Public Address in high school forensics. One time, when visiting my high school, I realized that a trophy in a trophy case was partially due to my efforts. It made me realize that I hadn’t wasted my time back then.

I really diverged from being normal when I went to college. Majoring in Chemical Engineering, I toured all of the hard sciences and math courses. I had to add in one choral group each year in order to maintain my own sanity by sustaining a creative outlet. Looking back, it was amazing that I didn’t end up in legal trouble in those days, due to a certain prohibited substance that is only now gaining legitimacy in many states.

When I got a job after college, I moved away from Nebraska and moved to Memphis. A bit of a cultural shock, I found a niche and not only grew at work, but also continued with musical theatre. The one show I was in at the premiere theatre in Memphis where I did a month with 7 shows a week (matinee on Sunday) and still maintained my work showed me I did not want to do this sort of thing for a living. Not that I had the talent for it, but there are plenty of opportunities for us abnormal people to find creative outlets if you let yourself open to those opportunities.

The opportunity came for me to transfer to a sister plant in West Virginia. Despite all of the stereotypes about hillbilly culture, the capitol city of Charleston offered very good cultural fare. I continued to seek out opportunities for musical theatre, and was rewarded with a leading role (for a male) in what is really a tour de force for the female lead (Sweet Charity). I met my wife during those days at a cast party. She was in the orchestra, and at that time I played as a table in Evita (along with many other chorus roles). After we got married, I had one last opportunity with the local theatre group, and can say that I was in a show with Jennifer Garner when she was in high school.

Children came along, and the time to take to rehearse and perform theatre went away. But it was replaced by singing in church choirs, and in a select choral group. It was through doing these abnormal things that I had opportunities to sing in churches in Scotland and Yorkshire, and perform multiple times at Piccolo Spoleto festivals in Charleston, SC. Later as our children grew and performed in vocal ensembles, we accompanied them to Europe and Hawaii. All of these opportunities came about because we were not normal, and never could accept being merely passive consumers of mass culture.

So, since we are both a bit iconoclastic, we’ve been a good match. We both are liberals in this most conservative state in the nation. Fortunately we’ve found an Episcopal church that believes in social programs, and we lend our support to those.

But we’ve become aware of just how out of the mainstream we’ve become. We don’t do Amazon. We don’t shop at WalMart. We don’t watch reality TV. We don’t stream. New forms of social media are created, flower, and die before we even become aware of them.

We try to keep our cars for 15 years. We’ve never owned a SUV. Commercialism is lost on us, though we’ve plenty of disposable income. If the economy had to depend upon consumers like us, there are entire industries that would become a tiny fragment of their current size.

What’s really important, is that we believe it is of utmost importance to use creative talents to entertain others, rather than always have the cultural exchange be solely one way. We find it difficult to live in a society where so much of your “worth” depends upon how much of your net worth you are willing to flaunt. And we especially find it difficult to live in a world where the definitions of Christianity are perverted into displays like the prayers offered by the QAnon shaman on the floor of the halls of Congress.

We know that we will never be pacesetters in the world. But by being consistent to ourselves, and continuing to create through instrumental music, choral music, quilting, and writing, we may serve as examples for those who also wish to tread a path less traveled. A secret here – often the path that is used less has softer grass growing underfoot. It makes it a more pleasant journey as compared to the thoroughfare trodden by the masses.

Fossil Fuels? What a Quaint Notion

Fossil fuels are responsible for the huge advances in living standards over the past several hundred years. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the economy has depended upon concentrated sources of energy which is converted into useful work. Coal was the first source of energy meeting this need. Once extracted, and moved to its point of use, a lump of coal when burned expanded man’s capabilities through the turning of turbines and through the production of steam, which could move large machinery.

Then we discovered liquid petroleum. That was an even better source, and quite literally, it seemed to jump out of the ground once we poked a straw into its hidey-hole. Now you could use liquid hydrocarbons to fuel the transportation revolution that unfolded in the 20th century. Humanity grew used to its availability and deemed it as a birthright to maintain access to inexpensive forms of liquid hydrocarbons.

But then the 1970’s happened, and the producers of liquid hydrocarbons realized they controlled the production of a substance the industrialized world was addicted to. Quite logically, they withheld their product, saw the reaction from the rest of the world as of an addict writhing in the agony of withdrawal, and then resumed selling, but at a higher price. Thus the US began a period where the foreign and military policy of this nation was directed to protect the producing nations and protecting the transportation lanes. The military cost for this was never factored into the price of oil, which stayed high but never reflected the full cost for the fuel.

Just when the US grew accustomed to the external costs associated with securing petroleum supplies, technology threw the US a lifeline. See, the true reserves of hydrocarbons greatly exceeded the stated volumes, but much of those extra reserves were locked up in sedimentary rock, instead of pooling in geologic formations. And those oil and gas bearing sedimentary rocks could be found in many areas of the country. Technology gave the tool to unlock these hydrocarbon reserves in the form of fracking.

So the great fracking revolution was unleashed. Since about 2007, fracking has resulted in significant increases in production. So much so, that for several years, we’ve been able to forego much of the imported petroleum we once depended upon. The new solution of fracking was going to replace our old sources of energy, and we could rely upon a new generation of American wildcatters going out and perpetuating the stereotype of macho men dealing with steel and oil.

There is just one problem with fracking, though. The input costs to get the energy out are a more significant portion of the energy produced when compared to standard oil wells. See, in energy production there is the little matter of energy return on investment (EROI). Similar to a financial ROI calculation, this ratio shows the energy return for any form of technology. And fracking has a lot of inputs that a standard drilling rig doesn’t have. The inputs for fracking are sand, water, and chemicals, and a large amount of excess water produced from fracking has to be disposed of. Anyone who has lived in or visited an area with active fracking can attest to the volume of trucks going to and fro dealing with the water from the wells. Plus, another secret with fracking is that the amount of oil and gas produced declines much faster with a fracked well as compared to a standard well. Declines of as much as 60% from year to year are noted in fracked wells, whereas a standard well may decline only at a 5% per year rate. Thus to maintain or improve production requires ever more drilling, and this vicious cycle perpetuates through the lifespan of the producing field.

The chart below shows expected EROI for various forms of energy. Note the steep drop off once you get below an EROI of about 10. In particular note the figure attributed to biofuels. Since corn-generated ethanol is the main source of biofuels, it is evident that it takes about as much energy to produce it as it releases. The original reason for the corn conversion to ethanol  was to reduce US dependence on foreign oil. But when all of the inputs are considered, it is obvious that ethanol from corn is strictly a political beast that has developed a constituency far beyond its original intent. That is a subject for a separate post.

Looking at this chart, one would think that fracked oil and gas offers a significant increase in the available hydrocarbon supply. It does, but not as much as standard reservoir wells. And the steep depletion rates for these wells masks another issue with fracking. The cost of hydrocarbons needed to produce a positive ROI is higher than the current price. In other words, fracking does not make economic sense while the cost of oil is near $50/barrel. At $80/barrel, you can show a positive cash flow, but not at the price we’ve seen for many years. So we now are in the situation where the technology we’ve used to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, is shown to be an endless dollar pit.

So now, as almost all problems go, this has become a political issue. One party in the US wants the fossil fuel party to continue, noting that our lifestyle is dependent upon an ever-increasing supply of hydrocarbons. And one side has looked into the future, seeing that the only way to keep the fossil fuel party going is to increase the cost of that fuel beyond the ability of the population to handle. So we should deliberately speed up conversion of the economy towards renewable sources of energy, in order to avoid falling off of the energy cliff.

You might bring in concerns about global warming into this discussion, but in my opinion, that is icing on the cake. It is a straight-forward economic calculation that will dictate our migration away from fossil fuels. By the way, one final thought on the EROI charts – if you are using a fossil fuel to convert it into electricity, you run into thermodynamic losses. Even in an extremely modern power plant, 40% of the fuel goes into waste heat, which greatly reduces the EROI of the fuel source. So wind and solar, even though they show up as lower on the chart than fracking, they have the advantage of having converted input energy directly to electricity, thus avoiding the thermodynamic losses.

We in the US are at the mercy of our political class understanding these issues and making decisions that are better in the long run. Given the track records of the parties, skepticism is warranted.

Visions for the Nation

I find it more than ironic that one party in the political spectrum has so closely aligned itself with a proven loser now holed up at a resort in South Florida, that it cannot shed its skin even when the loser has left office. We see the examples of state Republican parties castigating its members for inadequate fidelity to said loser, censuring the apostates in Arizona, in Oregon denouncing the betrayal of the 10 Republicans in the House who voted for impeachment, in Wyoming where rallies are planned decrying Liz Cheney’s act of independence, and supporting the QAnon-supporting elected member of Congress (Marjorie Taylor Greene) in Georgia. At the same time, they are vociferously calling for unity in their desire to not call the ex-President to account for his actions in inciting the crowd to storm the Capitol on January 6.

Though the party in control in Washington has changed, the tone of the discussion has not. Fox News and those on the extreme right of the political discussion now claim that any utterance from a Democrat is evil, socialistic, and reprehensible. Thus the sincere efforts to reach a bipartisan solution seem doomed before they start. If the proposal for additional relief due to the pandemic is shoehorned into a reconciliation bill, then maybe at least the Biden administration will be ahead of the Obama administration. It took a long time before Obama ever gave up on trying to include Republicans into signing on to legislation. Even 14 months after his inauguration, Obama tried to gather Republican support in favor of his Affordable Care Act legislation. If President Biden learns within the first month that it is not possible to seek agreement on a bipartisan basis, then he will be more than a year ahead of his predecessor in recognizing political reality, and dealing with the actual landscape instead of the idealized vista one could hope for.

In the long term, it is not Trump that is the problem. He is the nucleating center around which the precipitate of the party came crashing out of solution. But it is the toxic solution that is the problem, rather than the current center of attention. In the short term, even if Senator McConnell wants Trump neutralized, the belated second impeachment trial is unlikely to serve as an adequate repudiation. Maybe the two sides will at least agree to a censure, which will have as much impact as being repeatedly poked with soft cushions. But don’t look for any resolution to come from the trial in the Senate, because the upcoming failure to convict will only have the effect of validating Trump’s actions in the months after his defeat in the election.

The real question is how to detoxify the solution that resulted in Trump’s elevation to the Presidency. That solution has grown more concentrated as continued exposure to lies has convinced many more to identify with the conspiracies that drip with ease from the mouths of those whose only goal is to manipulate. I almost feel sorry for the followers of Q who had to face severe disappointment when the storm was not released on the day of Biden’s inauguration. To have such a strong belief ripped apart before their eyes as the A-list stars lent their voices to the inauguration, that dissolution of their belief system physically hurt many who had burrowed deeply down the Q rabbit hole. It is no wonder that there is a small remnant who have latched onto the Sovereign Citizen movement, and still expect Donald Trump to be inaugurated in early March as the successor of the true Republic of the United States. This is instead of the corporation we became as we signed our control over to the banks of London and the Rotschilds. (I’d better watch it or I’ll give myself a cheek hernia.)

In a way, it will be better if Donald Trump attempts the formation of a new MAGA party, aimed at perpetuating his hold on a segment of the population. We could become the new Argentina where we reminisce 60 years from now on how good things were under the Perons, and reach for each new generation’s version of a Peronist.  But realistically that would result in even more politicians like  Marjorie Greene being elected, thus legitimizing the totally ludicrous belief system she espouses.

No, right now it is instructive to see those elites in the political right stir up the emotions of their true believers. According to them, we are only weeks away from rounding up all dissenters on the right, forcibly removing their guns, and sending them off in boxcars to the nearest FEMA camp.

In this day of images substituting for content, one image stands out. On one side, the title says Young Democrat, and under it is an image of Amanda Gorman. On the other side, it says Young Republican, and beneath it is the image of Kyle Rittenhouse. Nowhere else can you find a more succinct description of the dichotomy we see here today. One side believes only in the power of their weaponry, and its ability to sow destruction, and the other side believes in the power of their words, and the ability of language to bring about unity around an ideal.

Slimey Bids Adieu?

The swamp around DC

Slimey turned towards me, eyes pleading. “What should I do?” he exclaimed.

Slimey, as you may know, is a 9′ tall reptile with typical claws and sharp teeth as you might expect from a creature of the swamp around DC. Yet somehow he is capable of blending in with others, and indeed, had served in lobbying firms dealing with this past administration, now in exile.

I let him in through my door and he ducked his head as he entered. “Slimey, I wasn’t expecting you. Last time I saw you, you were working for QAnon. What happened with that?”

Slimey carefully maneuvered his tail around so as to not knock over anything found on low surfaces in the room. “Q? The market for that kinda petered out after the election. I could see the writing on the wall. So I had a good offer, one that I really would like to accept. I’ve been offered a position with the Secret Service!”

“Why, that’s great,” I said. “I figure you would snap up an opportunity like that quickly” You know, it’s amazing how many times my words around Slimey focused on one of his overwhelming physical characteristics.

“It is great. It would involve working security for an ex-President. But it is contingent on something.”  Slimey swung his ponderous head from side to side, seemingly indicating his conflict concerning this offer.

“What’s the contingency?” I asked.

Slimey set his bulk down upon a sofa before replying. “It’s contingent upon my being willing to relocate to the town of Ossining, NY. And it is contingent upon the New York court system acting first so that there will be someone to guard there.”

Slowly I realized the central part of Slimey’s dilemma. “You’ve been offered the job to guard President Trump in Sing-Sing.”

Slimey looked up at me. I could see a tear forming in one of his eyes. I thought about crocodile tears, but quickly put that thought away before it escaped my mouth. “Yeah, that’s it. I could be one of the guards who would keep him safe while he’s in prison. You just don’t know what that would be like. I’d have to be kept there myself in order to prevent someone from taking him out.”

I thought for a minute, then I said “I’ll bet there’s some times when you wished you never left the swamp.”

“You don’t know the half of it. The problem is I’ve gotten addicted to having this stuff called money around. I can exchange it for things I never knew existed when I was down there. But the more I keep trying to get it, the worse it is for me. I mean, I have my standards. I just don’t know if trying to keep the ex-President from being shived is worth it. I mean, if the word got out, nobody respectable will want to talk to me.”

Part of learning how to relate to all kinds was knowing when it was best to just listen, and not offer any guidance. So I sat down myself, and just made a little noise of affirmation.

Slimey thought for a long moment, which seemed like a really long time when you are dealing with something as large as he is. You hope that the reptile portion of his brain wouldn’t grow active and take over, and slash out with his deadly claws and massive tail. Even if I didn’t lie in a pool of blood with my entrails scattered, he could make a real mess of the upholstery if he tried.

Finally, he stirred, and gathered his limbs to stand. “I know what I have to do. I have to go back to the swamp. I just can’t deal with this human world any more.”

I realized that our time together was near an end. Not just this meeting, but probably any meeting in the future. Once Slimey had re-acclimated himself into the murky waters, I couldn’t see any chance of him re-emerging and trying another round at taking part in human society. And I certainly had learned my lesson, and would steer clear of the Tidal Basin so as to avoid any accidental contact. I counted myself fortunate that I had managed my relationship with Slimey and still had all of my organs intact.

Slimey went towards the door. “Friend, I don’t know if I’ll see you again. Thanks for listening to me and helping me decide what to do.”

I held the door open as he once again ducked his head on the way out. I said to him “I’ll miss you.” And then he was gone.

Time Is Tight!

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

There is an illness stalking the inhabitants of this nation. No, it is not the illness caused by the corona virus, although that is still running rampant among our population. Instead, it is the illness of selfishness and ignorance that is causing so many who consider themselves Republicans to refuse to distance themselves from this President. Indeed, there is a hard-core constituency who still refuses to believe in the recent election, and cling to their fever dream of having Donald Trump remain in power as President.

The illness has taken hold over decades. It goes back to the belief that Senator McCarthy was correct, and members of the deep state (he never enunciated that phrase) were undermining the US by covertly inserting communistic beliefs into this nation’s consciousness. The stereotype was so engrained that a character in a 1964 movie, Dr. Strangelove, was a parody of the supporters of McCarthy and the John Birch society. General Jack D. Ripper spoke the beliefs that we were being undermined by fluoridation (amongst other things). So the belief system resulting in this illness began before 1960. It has taken this long for it to gain power in the nation.

I sincerely hope that the brazen display of those infected with this disease that took place on January 6, 2021, shows the rest of the nation the folly they would inflict upon us all. We needed something to burst the bubble of infection, and allow the pus of this disease to be excised from the body politic. Seeing the so-called patriots who believed they were defending the virtues of this nation, seeing them swinging the US flag and its attached pole against the skulls of those outmanned officers should disabuse anyone who is not fully infected with this disease from ever believing in the purity of their cause.

Now there is a great hue and cry among the fevered victims of this disease about having their constitutional rights violated by the banning of their chief from social media. They claim a tyranny of the left is being waged against those who espouse “conservative” views. If only they stuck to true conservative values. No, those who are missing their on-line forums were the ones that would institute true tyranny, and their leader was showing them how it is done. January 6, 2021 serves as an exemplary case study in how their leader used his voice to inflame a crowd already dripping with sweat from induced fever, into taking action on his behalf. And of course, he would be with them. Except, of course, he wasn’t. He was acting as his own executive producer, and watched the reality show he produced unfold on TV. His only regret was that the forces he unleashed did not achieve their objectives of capturing and executing those he had decried as enemies.

Now we are cleaning up the aftermath of the Capitol invasion of January 6. Chief among these aisle clean-ups is the action to impeach and remove this President. Know that this effort will never result in the removal of this President, because the majority leader of the Senate will not allow it to happen while he retains his powers. It still is a worthy action to take, although I am myself of the opinion that impeachment in the House should take place before the end of the presidential term, but the trial in the Senate would be better if we allow a couple of months for passions to die down before it proceeds. Then the full results of the invasion will be known, and some of those who were infected victims of the cult disease might have broken their fever, and realized the folly of their ways. The facts won’t change.

Indeed, one of the most severe symptoms of the disease afflicting so many in this nation is the inability to discern fact from fiction. They insist their fictional accounts of events is real. They believe that the doctored videos offered as conclusive proof by the President’s Keystone Cop lawyers showed a vast conspiracy aimed at silencing their views forever. It will take a long time for these fevered victims of the cult to realize the error of their ways. If we are fortunate, the cult victims will regain their senses by ones and twos, and realize how close they came to unraveling the fabric of this nation. If we are not fortunate, then we will have future fever outbreaks across this country, and the death toll of these outbreaks may exceed the toll of January 6 by orders of magnitude.

Be prepared for the fever to not subside with the change in administrations. The disease is deeply entrenched in the soul of this nation, and will resist control as violently as the corona virus is resisting our so-far futile efforts to contain it.

Exponential Decay Curve In Politics – Post January 6, 2021

Way back in March 2017, when this blog was barely a month old, I penned a post titled Experimental Decay Curve In Politics. That post was intended to show that the effectiveness of Donald Trump’s tweets was likely to follow an exponential decay curve. In May of 2019, I wrote an update of that post that showed the frequency of retweets of his posts, seemed as if it were following an exponential decay curve. In order to keep the same impact from his account, he had to post more tweets to counteract the lessened effectiveness of any individual tweet.

Even though I had tried to update my original post with new data, it is the older post that keeps getting read across the globe. Many of my “hits” on this blog go back to the first post. Well, as of January 8 2021, it will no longer be possible to measure the “effectiveness” of Trump’s tweets, since he has been banned from the platform. In some ways this is the logical conclusion of this administration, with its pledge to bypass the media and speak directly to his followers through his social media platform. After much deliberation, and perhaps the threat of removal of the safeguards of Section 230, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have all banned posts from Donald Trump as long as he remains in power. It has become clear that since the election, where he was effectively repudiated, his own posts had increasingly become reflections of the violent fringe of the internet rather than any sort of meaningful posting.

So there will not be another post discussing the further decay of the effectiveness of Donald Trump’s tweets. It is obvious that the ones that he had been posting were adequate to inflame the fires of passion of his most ardent supporters, and provided the fuel that energized the crowd that overwhelmed the outmatched security forces at the Capitol. I for one am hoping that the interim time till Joe Biden’s inauguration passes without further violence, either aimed at domestic enemies, or directed at foreign adversaries in misguided attempts to justify his own sense of power. Then I do hope that the much-maligned justice system in this nation does hold Donald Trump accountable for his actions of this week, and by extension, for his actions since he was inaugurated on that dark day in 2017.

Here again is the text of my original post.

Today’s topic concerns exponential decay curves. This is what happens when “something” declines over time. A classic exponential decay curve is shown here:

Exponential decay curves are often found in nature. The classic one that is taught in classrooms concerns radioactive decay. For a given radioactive isotope of an element, the half-life of the isotope determines the shape of its decay curve. A half-life is defined as the amount of time for 1/2 of the radioactive decay for an isotope to have occurred. This can vary among isotopes from fractions of a second, up to 4 billion years in the case of Uranium 238. Half-lives are very important when calculating the potential radiation exposure to a radioactive isotope. Isotopes like Cobalt 60 are powerful radiation sources that are used industrially to examine welds and metals for defects. They provide plentiful gamma rays since the half life of this isotope is only 5.3 years. That is why there is concern about the use of this isotope in a dirty bomb, since the radiation from an explosive dispersal of Cobalt 60 would cause significant exposure to high powered gamma radiation.

Exponential decay curves may be found in other natural and also artificial systems. A new example of an artificial system that appears to be following an exponential decay curve is the Presidential tweet. The response to a Presidential tweet appears to be following a typical decay curve function. It is too early to get an accurate measurement of the half-life of tweet effectiveness, but a preliminary estimate is that the half-life of the response to a Presidential tweet is about two months.

Since this system of Presidential tweets is an artificial system (one not normally found in nature), it is uncertain as to what the response of the originator of the Presidential tweets will be to an ongoing decrease in tweet effectiveness. Most observers believe that the originator will greatly increase both the frequency and objects of tweets so as to continue to receive a total response to the tweets that approximates the effect of the first tweets.

However, it is nearly certain that since the effectiveness of any individual tweet will continue to decline, eventually the response to all Presidential tweeting may approach zero. There is a school of thought though, that maintains the belief that we may begin to see an inverse function develop for the tweet response. That is, instead of receiving a positive response to tweets, each subsequent tweet may result in a negative response. It is possible that the magnitude of the negative response may increase with additional tweets, so that Newton’s third law may be given a test in the political arena. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Observers of politics will be watching this process with rapt attention.

A Final Temper Tantrum?

Donald’s sad, very very sad. What a sad day Donny had.

This was a verse I used to sing to my children when they were pouting or crying for what I perceived to be inappropriate reasons. It seems appropriate now to sing it to our pouter-in-chief as he concludes his tantrum against the foundations of democracy. How is it that he could deceive as many people as he has into believing it was impossible for him to lose, because he had all of the visible energy of his fraction of the electorate. How could he lose when he got more votes than all of the previous successful candidates?

Easy. The energy that was stored in those who voted for his opposition was potential energy, waiting for the opportunity to be released through the ballot. And thus, an even greater number of citizens voted for Joe Biden, and the primary reason why they supported him was because he was not Donald Trump.

We’ve run our little experiment on what it would be like to withdraw into our own borders, and not interact with anyone else. What have we learned? We’ve learned that the vacuum that develops from our withdrawal gets filled. The Chinese in particular have stretched their legs and made inroads across the globe, especially in what used to be considered the non-aligned world. But in Europe, a recognition has grown that the US is not to be depended upon, since it is capable of electing such an imbecile as has graced the White House for the last four years. The enduring image from this administration will be Trump sitting at a table, arms crossed in the body language of rejection and defiance, while Angela Merkel leaned across the table as if lecturing the wayward boy while the rest of the western leaders stood by in support of Merkel.

Photograph: Jesco Denzel/AFP/Getty Image

But now we see the last stages of the four year long temper tantrum, and the desperation in Donald’s demeanor is coming out in droves. “So what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break.”  Begging, pleading, threatening. All of the behaviors we have expected from this excuse for a President coming to the fore in a single perfect phone call. Well, after the final card is played on January 6 with the official declaration of the Electoral College vote, and no miracle is forthcoming to overturn the will of the people of the US, then Donny can go off and sulk in the corner. Just so he doesn’t do further damage to the fabric and substance of this nation on his way out.

I hope this is the last post I have to write denouncing this abysmal President, but I fear he is capable of much mischief not only while he is still officially in power, but in the political wilderness he will descend into after January 20. There are still tens of millions who believe he is the rightful winner of the election, and who will not recognize the legitimacy of the Biden administration. There are still tens of millions who believe that the ultimate evil has been unleashed upon this nation, and we can expect another batch of child abductions and dismemberments at the hands of the satanic Democrats. There are still tens of millions whose image of Trump is as a ripped man holding the automatic weapon of vengeance ready to pounce on those who object to his manifest greatness. It is obvious that all the facts in the world will not change the mind of a single one of these true believers. What we must be ready to do is make progress while we step around those who are screaming and holding their breath as they denounce the unfairness of the world.

The real problems we face as a species have not gone away over the past four years. In cases like climate change, they are now worse, and we have squandered a significant chunk of time in a futile attempt to recapture our past fossil fuel greatness. In others like pandemic preparedness, we’ve seen only too vividly how important it is to have early warning systems in place, and respond appropriately when a true signal is sounded. There are many other problems that can cause our intricately constructed house of economic cards to collapse. Supply chain issues come to mind as demonstrated by the pandemic, but it is our electric infrastructure that is most vulnerable to attack, either from nature, or from cyber threat. We must make it feasible for these problems to be addressed. The four years we spent on a circus sideshow now appear as a wasted opportunity.

When I used to sing this verse to my children, I would repeat the first line.

Donald’s sad, very very sad. What a sad day Donny had.

The second time through, it was slightly lower in pitch. Then I’d break into the following final line, raising the pitch:

But then he got happy! He really got happy!

When I sang that, usually it caused the boy who was pouting or crying to forget what he was mad about, and get mad at me for making fun of him. In Donny’s case, I’m afraid he is congenitally unable to become happy. If four years of near absolute power cannot make him happy, then there is not a thing in the world that will work to make him happy. That is undoubtedly the curse he will take with him to his grave.

We Keep Facing The Wrong Enemy

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Once upon a time, there was an inhabited planet where the inhabitants had divided themselves up into little enclaves, and pretended the divisions were there by divine right. They looked out into the heavens, and even gained enough knowledge to perceive thousands of planets in our little corner of our galaxy, but so far had not received confirmation that we were not alone in having life.

The inhabitants focused on differences in skin pigment, on the languages spoken, and even on the differences in how the inhabitants dealt with their beliefs about divinity, and were convinced they were the only true representatives of a civilized species. All others were part of the “other” and were dismissed as unworthy. Nowhere was there a recognition that the elements of commonality were much, much greater than the tiny amounts of differences.

The inhabitants worked themselves up into frenzies, and when they did not have other differences to fight over, they invented them. When faced with a need to battle a viral vector by wearing a face covering, they created yet another division, where covering your face (or not) became a declaration of what political camp you lived in. Nowhere was there a recognition that the true enemy was a novel virus, one that happened to find refuge in the respiratory system of the inhabitants. Nowhere was there a desire expressed to unite in opposition to the littlest invader, one like others we had battled over millennia.

The inhabitants grew their number explosively over the decades. There was no recognition that the planet of the inhabitants had any limitations whatsoever. So the contents of the seas were vacuumed up, for use as direct sustenance for the inhabitants, or for feeding the domestic companions of the inhabitants, or for addressing a dietary / medical need for the inhabitants. Since the surface of the seas were translucent, the changes in the population of the denizens of the deep were concealed from the gaze of the inhabitants. Likewise, many of the inhabitants believed they could not influence the chemistry of the atmosphere. Surely the spirit of he who created this planet would not allow for his creations to violate its limitations. So in the interest of not disrupting the economy, no plans were made to establish a world where providing heat or cooling, or enabling transportation, would not cause damage to the planet.

Certainly there were those who decried these trends. Some of those who spoke for the deity cried out in the wilderness for a critical need to actually become stewards of their little ball floating in the true wilderness of space. But many other voices drowned them out as they called for a continuation of their divine right to consume and possess everything within reach.

At some point, there will be a reckoning. That reckoning will come when a tipping point is reached, and there can be no mistaking what is happening. It may be that the seafood catch plummets catastrophically, and the skeletons of sea birds and seals and whales bear mute testimony to the lack of sustenance below the surface. It may come when ice shelves collapse at both poles, and for a few years, immense icebergs pose an ongoing hazard to shipping. It may come when the number of tropical storms within a year require use not only of the western alphabet, and Greek letters, but also some other nomenclature system in order to keep track of the increased number of cyclones. Once those tipping points are reached, will it be possible to ratchet back our influence and change the set point for our planet? Or will there still be those in positions of power who continue to deny the evidence staring them in their face, and exclaim a moral right to continue their pathway of greed and ignorance.

When will we recognize how unique and precious this life we share is? How few places in this galaxy are habitable, and how important it is for us to band together as a species, instead of battling unwinnable fights to keep the “others” from affecting our comfort? How long will it be before we learn how to share the bounty we’ve been given rather than covet what others have?

Given the unfortunate diversion over the last four years I’ve witnessed in my own nation, I am not optimistic. That it took a massive display of incompetence during this pandemic to even convince a small majority of this nation to vote against the current inhabitant of our Maison Blanche, it seems like it will be a slow battle to realize we do have common enemies – just not those that one party declares as the enemy. The true enemy is the emptiness of space. If we do not recognize that, and work to make our lifestyles sustainable, then the emptiness of space will win. Eventually, in billions of years, that will happen anyway. But we as a species, having been given reason and knowledge, must use those faculties to prevent our ultimate fate from overtaking us well before our time.

You Will Be Visited By Three Spirits

jacob marley

One of the advantages of having had a blog for several years, it allows you to revisit past posts. Here is one originally put up in September 2018 that has maintained its relevance in the world today. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

Donald lay in bed, waiting for the gastric discomfort caused by the double cheeseburger and fries to settle down a bit. He had his comforter in his hand, and was just about to send out a tweet denouncing all NFL players who ever spoke out about any social issue ever, when his comforter buzzed. On the screen popped up an image of Richard Nixon, and his words were spelled out in the form of a text.

“Donald, I have come to warn you of the path you are on.”

“Donald, if you do not change, you will wear the chains of disgrace that I bear.” With this text, the image on the comforter drew back to show the entire body of Richard Nixon, shrouded in chains binding his arms and legs.

“Donald, I am sending you three messengers, to show you how you have come to this point in life, and to offer you a chance to repent. If you ignore these, your fate is sealed.” And with this last text, the image of Richard Nixon faded from the screen and only the unsent tweet remained.

“That was strange,” thought Donald. He looked up and Hannity was still on the television. Nothing around him seemed to show that he had just had a virtual visitor on his comforter. He put it down and reached for the television remote control. Better to try to sleep than to have to think about what had just happened.

Sleep was hard to come by, but eventually his mind calmed, and he was able to doze off. That is, until about midnight when his comforter suddenly began buzzing uncontrollably. Donald shuddered, then groggily reached over to the nightstand to pick it up. When he did, the visage of his old mentor, Roy Cohn, appeared on the screen. Donald sat up and looked dumbfounded at the screen, and as he looked, Roy began to speak. He was clad in his trademark robe, seated in his old apartment, and he said “Donald. Remember those days we spent together in the ’70’s? What is it that I taught you then?”

Donald replied to the image. “You taught me to never settle, never surrender. To counter-attack and counter-sue immediately. And no matter what happens, claim victory and never admit defeat. I’ve tried to follow your advice. Look where it’s got me!”

Roy’s cadaverous face nodded in agreement. The image was of Roy just before he died of AIDS, and he was hollowing out what was already a slender body. “Let me show you what you missed while we were together.” Roy’s face dissolved, and a pier on the waterfront appeared. A huge car was parked on the pier, and two men were approaching the trunk, which they opened. They hauled out a bundle shaped like a human, totally concealed by cloth wrapped tightly around it. They took chains and wrapped them around the bundle, securing the chains with a padlock. Then they lifted the bundle up and tossed it into the dark water. After the loud splash, the bundle sank beneath the surface without hesitation. The scene dissolved again, and Roy’s face appeared once more. “You see what happened there? I got Fat Tony off on that charge. We used my technique and it worked. It’ll work for you too. Keep that in mind. These times are tough and you need to be strong.” And Roy’s face disappeared from the screen, and the comforter went silent.

Donald turned the light on, then pulled up twitter. He wiped out the post he had intended to send about the NFL, and instead wrote yet another condemnation of his attorney general. He ended it with “Where’s my Roy Cohn!” and sent. Many would wonder about the tweet sent at 12:45 in the morning.

Donald turned the light back off, and tried to resume his sleep. He was just entering REM sleep when …. his comforter began buzzing uncontrollably again. He picked it up, and this time he was face to face with one of his nemesis MSNBC commentators, Rachel Maddow. She spoke not a word, but pointed with her long fingers at a monitor to her side, and his attention was drawn to it. He recognized the Oval Office, and saw himself seated at the desk, with papers cluttering the surface. He got up, and left the office for a state function, the meeting with the Emir of Losewhatchakan. Not five minutes after he left, he saw a hooded figure enter the room, and that figure crept over to the desk and pilfered two pieces of paper. Looking around to see if he had been observed, he crept cautiously away. When Donald saw himself returning to the office, he never noticed that the papers were missing. Rachel’s face reappeared as the scene dissolved, only this time he heard her say in that annoying way she had, “And to think that all of your staff is laughing at you behind your back. Never has a President been treated with so little respect that his own staff would sabotage him – and never has there been a President who would not notice that he was being thwarted. Now, watch this.”

She indicated the monitor beside her. On the screen appeared an image of an immigrant detention center. The chain link partitions indicated this was a serious place. He saw his agents approach one woman who was surrounded by three children. The agents took possession of the children, actually pulling one from the mother’s arms. Though there was no sound, the anguish of the mother and the children were apparent as unheard wails could be seen coming from each of the family members. The mother was escorted away to yet another place of confinement as her children disappeared down a corridor. The scene dissolved again, and Rachel pointed up once more with her long, long fingers. Longer than Donald’s, that’s for sure. Rachel said, “Your program was more successful than you could have imagined. But there were people who didn’t like what they saw in this scene. They actually thought this was cruel to separate the family in this way. But you know better, don’t you?”

Donald was confused. He could not force a coherent word out of his mouth, but did manage to shake his head in assent. His mop of comb-over flopped back and forth, deprived as it were of its binding chemicals.

Rachel had one more thing to say. “If you don’t crack down harder on those who disagree with you, your reign is in peril. Remember what Roy said,” and then her visage faded away.

Unable to truly focus, the only thing he could think of tweeting was “The FAILING NBC network keeps showing FAKE NEWS.” The tweet appeared at 2:30 on the time stream. Soon Donald was back snoring peacefully amidst the soft pillows.

But there was one more interruption on this endless night. His comforter began buzzing louder than ever, and he again reached over to grab it. When he did, what appeared was a stylish blonde covered totally in white fabric. Her body appeared to be similar to his daughter’s, but he could not tell because only her eyes and a wisp of hair protruded from the eye slot that showed flesh. She spoke not a word, but held her finger up to where her mouth would have been, and extended her other arm in an open invitation to follow. Donald did watch as the scene changed to that of a crowd of white-clad people marching along a street. Slowly the camera panned back to reveal that the crowd of people extended as far as the eye could see, an endless mass of pilgrims walking, walking, walking. The crowd was even bigger than at his inaugural. Who were these people? Then the camera pulled back further, and he realized there were tall spires around the crowd, and that all of these people were MUSLIMS! So! Many! MUSLIMS! If he didn’t act soon, they would be all over our country, flooding our streets, turning our daughters into abaya-clad disciples of Allah! Something must be done! But as he felt resolve entering his limbs, the scene dissolved into yet another scene. Now he could see a camp of some sort, with thousands and thousands of tents, and even more people milling about, aimless, idle. He recognized that this was some sort of refugee camp, the people looked like they were Asian, and there were just so many of them. He could see them storming our border as an unending horde. He must do something to prevent these hordes from overrunning our civilization. Then the scene changed once more, and he saw a dreadful looking ship, in danger of foundering on the ocean, crammed to the brim with dark-skinned people. He saw the ship list, and saw people fall or jump off into the ocean without any survival gear, hundreds and hundreds of people. He knew then that this was a vision of the future, that all of these people were intent on invading our shores. He tried to stir himself, but found his muscles frozen.

He awoke from this last vision at his normal hour. He was determined to share his lessons from the visits of the evening. He would be ruthless in his pursuit of those who denigrate him. He would be unceasing in the efforts to keep the nation pure by banning all immigrants other than those who had enough money to buy citizenship. He would keep the faith of Roy by striking out through the legal system at all who had wronged him. He turned to his comforter to begin to share his lessons of the night with his many followers.

What? You believed that the visits of the spirits to Donald would result in a transformation? That he would grow a conscience and his heart would grow three sizes? That he would show charity towards all, and malice towards none? You don’t know him very well, do you?

One Problem Ending? Another Yet To Be Faced

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

We may be finally nearing a solution for the current version of the pandemic facing this nation. A vaccine is being distributed across this nation, and if there are enough doses, and enough people are convinced it is safe to take, then it may be possible to begin relaxing the constraints felt by many across this nation. Felt by many, but by no means felt by all people. For there are still significant numbers who remain convinced that all of the past year represented a mere distraction orchestrated by shadowy forces intent on bringing in a new world order under the pretext of a global pandemic.

Such a view was represented in Washington this past Saturday when the newly elected representative for Virginia’s 5th Congressional delegate spoke before people who were holding yet another demonstration in favor of Trump’s claim of winning the election. He said, “It’s a serious virus, but it’s a virus. It’s not a pandemic,” said Good (R). Now one may quibble about semantics, but the degree of ignorance in his comments remains incomprehensible to me and to many who have recognized the dangers of viral spread since the beginning of this epidemic. Congressman-elect Good mentioned how good it was to see so many people rejecting the tyranny of the mask and showing their faces in public. I swear that far too many people in this nation will not recognize the seriousness of this medical situation unless we have someone going through our streets with a cart, calling “Bring out your dead”.

The voters in the 5th Congressional District had a choice in the general election, but also had a choice in the Republican primary. For in that election, the incumbent Denver Riggleman was defeated. Congressman Riggleman had the audacity to conduct a same-sex wedding while in office, and for that sin, he was expelled from his job. Bob Good, who was the athletic director at Liberty University, then faced Dr. Cameron Webb, who serves as a hospitalist at the UVA hospital in Charlottesville, and teaches at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. And, horror of horrors, Dr. Webb happens to be African-American. Can’t have that. So in a district that stretches along the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge parkway, from the Potomac to the North Carolina border, the voters rejected someone who has personal knowledge and experience in dealing with health matters, and selected a Republican instead who would follow the current President over the precipice.

But then, this is the conundrum that we face in this country. We are seemingly a nation that refuses to acknowledge the value of knowledge, and instead insists upon fealty to a single person as head of a party that is increasingly intellectually bankrupt. Though we have now seen the risk of turning over the reins of government to someone who disdains competence, still we have a significant percentage of this nation that refuses to give any credence to any statement coming from the government. Well, we do not live in a world where we can pull up our drawbridge and retreat to our island stronghold. Britain is trying that and in a couple of weeks, when the reality of Brexit hits them, they will soon wish they had never cast a vote to leave the EU. Maybe we can learn from their mistake, and from the mistakes we’ve lived through over the past four years.

We know that the world is now interconnected in ways inconceivable a few short decades ago. Supply chains for international corporations require seamless transfer of materials and funds across national borders. Any disruption of those flows increases the overall costs. In essence, we’ve traded lower-skilled jobs, for lower inflation for the nation. That has resulted in economic losers in many rural and ex-urban regions, where the current strength of the Republican/Trump party now resides. But the discussion about whether we are willing to pay higher prices in order to move manufacturing back to the US has not happened. And on the Progressive side, we’ve not discussed how consumers will respond to paying higher prices for fast food, and pizza, and child /elder care if we institute a higher, livable minimum wage. Face it, part of the bargain we have made over the last several decades is we’ve traded lower prices for the loss of economic security for the lower class of workers. Whether it is the displacement of main street retail for the low prices of big box retailers, or whether it is an assembly operation that can be done for $0.25 less by an overseas supplier, this nation has willingly chosen the lower price.

Maybe we have gained a slight awareness of the value of local enterprise through the course of this pandemic. Personally, we have made the choice to forego any chain restaurant during this time, and spending our dollars on takeout or outdoor dining at truly local restaurants. But we are only one small bit in the economy even of the small town we live in. We are long overdue on having a discussion about acceptance of higher prices in exchange for better economic conditions at the domestic level. Until I see a political party willing to discuss this, I won’t take any efforts they make as being serious efforts to improve the economy.