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      Some time back I read a book called The Foundations of Early Modern Europe, 1460-1559. One thread I picked out as particularly clear was their explanation of the effects of gunpowder. The first bit is what as known as pike and shot. Early gunpowder weapons were slow and inaccurate. But late medieval pike units had already changed warfare: not only could they […]
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My Favorite Betty White Moment

She died today at the age of 99.

Here’s Betty White on SNL’s Delicious Dish😉

Where the Real Battle is Being Waged

I saw a report about how Republicans are trying to take over the election and policy infrastructure of various states. They are running for Board of Elections positions. They are trying to get positions on education boards which oversee the school systems. They are thus “working from the ground up,” in their efforts to exert control at levels which most people who follow politics scarcely have thought about until the last few years.

But this is something that the evangelicals have been doing for years. I remember reading an article in “The New Republic” decades ago, which recounted at length the efforts being made by the growing evangelical movement to take over state legislatures and local groups. And I didn’t think too much of it then. But we should have. I didn’t realize how large this movement was, and how unremittingly dedicated these mostly devoutly intransigent and even fanatical people could be.

I have read that the evangelical movement now is not what it was decades ago, that it has gotten more radical, and that it is now a religion which often is awash in weird conspiracy theories, akin to the QAnon cult. I do not know that much about evangelicals from personal experience, I had thought that they were mostly in the South and then lower Midwest, “Bible Belt,” the types of people who were portrayed in the play and movie “Inherit the Wind,” about the Scopes trial in the 1920’s, where a high school teacher was imprisoned for teaching about the theory of evolution. When William Jennings Bryan came to town to prosecute the trial, they greeted him by singing, “Give Me That Old-Time Religion.”

Those people may actually have been Baptists, or of various religious groups. It really doesn’t matter that much in this context, what exactly the Evangelicals believe in, or how they rationalize their behavior as always being godly, while their enemies, the Democrats, the liberals, the intellectuals, are evil. I don’t think that any of us is going to change their perceptions or beliefs, though it is important to know more about them.

What they do have, is almost a fanaticism, maybe not “almost,” where they are absolutely determined to have their way. The key fact is that most people, and certainly most on the liberal side, do not have such an intensity of pursuit of their goals.

How many of us, or how many of the younger people who would see themselves as “Progressives,” would take the time to run for School Board, so that they could have great influence on what is taught in schools? How many of us would spend our time working on election boards? Yes, some would, but the evangelicals are apparently now all over the Red states, and maybe some that aren’t Red, trying to force their positions into practice. And without much in the way of pushback from the populace, they can get away with it.

I remember some of this from boyhood. We lived in a nice suburb in the foothills, where the air was dry and clear, and my mother’s and my allergist strongly recommended they move, because I had severe allergies to pollens, and coughed all the time. My parents essentially moved there for me, and my mother said that in three months I stopped coughing. It was a nice enough town, but it was filled with what we would now call right-wing people from various states. It actually became one of the centers of the growing John Birch Society.

This didn’t affect me much; the kids were pretty decent, and the parents I met at their houses, were polite. But there were residents who were trying to purvey Far Right issues, such as warning about the dangers of fluoridation of water, that it was some kind of Communist plot. More directly, since my mother volunteered to be on the PTA, they were trying to label the PTA as a Communist front organization. This might seem ridiculous to you, but it was very real to them. I didn’t follow much of what was going on with that, but I know that my mother was frustrated with their efforts to get rid of PTA, and to go to the meetings and interrupt them.

That gave me at least some background in what we are dealing with in rural communities, particularly in the less populated states. We can analogize the Evangelicals as a horde of religious fanatics who seek to control everything, and to destroy their perceived enemies. If overrunning election boards so that they can simply install the Republican candidate as the winner, is the task for them, they will very energetically do it, as they are doing now.

This is bad enough, and we hear about it on the news. But the real concern is that there does not appear to me, at least at a distance, to be much in the way of resistance. And of course I am generalizing, but how many liberals or even moderates are there out there who not only want to take their time to volunteer or run for these positions, but who even want to stand up and fight against these angry and even dangerous people?

We have heard about how well meaning people who have worked at the polls or on school committees are being physically threatened, to the extent that they are quitting, for who wants to subject themselves an their families to that? And pretty obviously, the people supposedly charged with protecting them, are on the side of the fanatics, and thus do nothing. So we have a virtual physical takeover of these positions, with potentially dire consequences.

Again, I did not really experience religious fanaticism growing up, though I did certainly meet some adults who were steeped in right-wing conspiracy fantasy, such as the nice mother of one of my best friends, who gave me a copy of books like “None Dare Call It Treason,” and urged me to read it. My parents, very intelligent, told me that it was complete nonsense, these books saying that the Democrats and other people were selling out America to the Communists, in the State Department, Hollywood, everywhere else. But these folks believed it,. That was bad enough, but not nearly as bad as the insanity coming from the Far Right today, about which we all know, so I won’t go over it.

They have, for whatever psychological reasons one might imagine, turned into people who will believe things out of medieval superstitions, all in service to a way of seeing the world which makes Democrats in league with dark forces who are trying to destroy them and the America they love. Thus any actions in service of their attempts to defeat them, are considered necessary and heroic, which include handing all local and state elections, and national electoral votes, to Republicans.

We saw some of this in the Virginia election for governor. The rich Republicans like Youngkin and his backers, know what they are doing, know the power of the forces they are calling into action. So they somehow made the election about whether parents should have strong influence over what is taught in schools. “They are trying to indoctrinate your children into Critical Race Theory!” (Give us that old-time religion instead!). And you can be sure that this is going to be one of the major themes of the next elections; not necessarily CRT, but rousing the evangelicals to fight and cheat and threaten their enemies, in the name of protecting their belief system from liberal and freethinking forces.

Do liberals have a counterforce, one which will impel their voters to turn out? Maybe, though “The Supreme Court! Abortion Rights!” did not seem to sway enough of the Far Left into voting in 2016. Obama as a “transformational candidate” seemed to. Getting rid of Trump did. But is there still enough of that fervor to bring out enough voters? There was not in Virginia last year, though that is just one off-year election.

But beyond that, into the realm of Stalin’s and now Bannon’s “It doesn’t matter who votes, it matters who counts the votes,” are there enough fair-minded and caring people to do the kinds of things the evangelicals are doing to pack the election and school boards?

Very unfortunately, fanaticism can only be countered, not with fanaticism, but with a desperate effort to stop the fanatics from gaining control. That was what World War II was about. But in a mostly non-shooting war, the kind of relentless effort needed to protect the foundations of democracy, has to be there. And most unfortunately, but realistically, it is now not just going to the polls on election day, and standing in line for hours, it is is stopping the Far Right, the millionaires, and their troops of devoted fanatics from completely overtaking the apparatus of elections, so that, as in all totalitarian countries, they are just a convenient sham which lulls the populace into thinking that they still have a democratic system.

Does anyone think the Supreme Court, stacked with Opus Dei, is going to ever stand up for democracy as against religious fanaticism? No one should. We can only hope that there are forces in these Red States which are determinedly trying to stand up for it, and are doing something concrete to stop the evangelicals and QAnon cult from taking over the internal apparatus of state and local governments, from schools to voting sites, in the service of their increasingly insane, and ultimately fascistically theocratic, belief systems.

End of Year Musings

In just a few days, it will be January 1, 2022, the beginning of another year. You already knew that, of course. This number is meaningful to me, because my birthday is June 22. My mother’s birthday was June 21. My father’s was February 22, the same day as George Washington. So 22 has always been a number I liked, and my girlfriend is always excited when it comes up in an article or statistic. And it certainly was important in the movie “Casablanca.”

So she thinks that this will be a very good year, and I hope so, too. Very few people ever get to see the same year in different centuries, and I have not. Betty White will, though, and so did the charming and talented actor Norman Lloyd, whom I got to see twice; once when doing a table reading presentation of Shaw’s play “Heartbreak House,” I think just about on his hundredth birthday, they had a cake for him; and then when he made a special appearance at a classy independent theatre to introduce the movie of his close friend Charlie Chaplin, “The Great Dictator.”

I am sort of worried that like all years, 2022 will have bad moments, thus perhaps spoiling the specialness of 22. One of the bad moments could occur on the first Tuesday in November. I am not at all looking forward to that day and night, and may just lie under the covers for a month, but that doesn’t accomplish anything. Or maybe I will seriously think of leaving the country, but I still hope that this will not be necessary for any of us.

But with all the gerrymandering probably literally costing us 30 or so House seats that we would otherwise have; and then the other manipulations, it seems almost impossible to imagine that we could somehow hold onto the majority. However, if somehow, some way, the Voting Rights Act would pass, we might have a small chance. So we’ll cling onto that spar for now.

As a boy, and as an adult, I have always loved presents. That might sound superficial, but I am not greedy, all I wanted was books to read, some balls to play with, maybe a few board games, and a few record albums. I never wanted a big present, although Dodgers tickets, where the whole family would go, was a summer highlight.

I thought I had a great day for a birthday; it was just the beginning of summer vacation; it was the day after my mother’s birthday, so we could celebrate hers and then mine; and it was six months away from the holiday season, giving me and my parents lots of time to think of more presents. “22” has always brought up nice images for me.

There is always this significance placed on the beginning of a new year. All the celebrating, and then New Year’s Resolutions. All the “year in review” articles, as well. I usually skip those, because they seem obligatory, and also because I do not share that much of the popular taste, so that I am not too enthused about reading what they have to say about the trends and achievements.

And then the “Best of” lists. I used to like those, but it seems to me that the quality has diminished in most of those areas. I am somewhat chagrined to admit that I probably have not read even one of the books listed in any critic’s top ten. I haven’t gone to a bookstore lately, whereas I used to spend a good deal of time at them. But when I go, and I quickly peruse the “new fiction” area, I don’t see any that I think I want to read. And I’m probably right, though I may miss one here or there.

I would love to discover a great new writer, who can capture the spirit of this age, with insight and vibrancy. I just now thought of a book I don’t think that many here have heard of, “Riddley Walker,” by Russell Hoban. Actually, that is set in a time in the future, but one still recognizable from the past, and it is written in its own language.

It is absolutely brilliant; and I remember reading about it in the Los Angeles Times Book Review section, in the early ’80’s, and then buying it. It is so good that a professor I had who taught Milton’s works, had enough status to be allowed to do a course in science fiction, and taught “Riddley Walker” in it. It is a book that one never forgets, and I have not, but I would like to find something as groundbreaking and brilliantly written as that one.

I greatly miss Graham Greene, and John Le Carre. Kingsley Amis, and Irwin Shaw, and of course Philip Roth; and Philip K. Dick, and Robert Silverberg, who may still write, but only in the pure fantasy realm, and Russell Banks, and others. There has to be somebody out there whose new book every few years, one is excited to pick up, but I haven’t recently found someone like that. I miss Agatha Christie and Rex Stout, and John Dickson Carr, and Ross MacDonald, the great mystery writers of a fairly recent time, whose books I was always so excited to open.

There still is this sense of excitement as New Year’s Eve approaches, and then a few days later, we are in the new year, and pretty soon it seems not too much different from the last one, which is of course not surprising. And the days start to get longer, and then in a few months, they yank the clock forward, which I hate, if you remember my essay on that. And each day brings us closer to the first week in November; otherwise, I would enjoy the progress toward Spring.

I rarely do anything for New Year’s Eve. I guess I must have gone to a few parties, but not many. I do not like to drink, I do not like boisterous merriment which always seemed forced. And I hated to be out driving then. I mostly remember sitting at home watching the Gator Bowl, which was always on that night, and usually was a pretty good game. This was not out of loneliness, I just had no wish to be out with the revelers. And then I usually bet some of the New Year’s Bowl games, and I wanted to be up early for them. This year, Bowl season is not the same, as game are being cancelled because of Covid.

Even with all that, I am looking forward to 2022. And if it weren’t for political matters, I would be looking forward to it even more. I wonder sometimes if it would be better if I did not care that much about those things, but I always did, and my family did, too. I just did not think I would see a time where the entire future of America as a democratic country was in serious jeopardy.

I think this is sinking through to at least some people, but perhaps not enough of the right ones. David Plouffe, probably the most thoughtful of the Obama campaign veterans, seems very worried. And yet the other day, he went back to talking about how Trump might not run; and then, that most potential candidates in a party would not run against an obvious frontrunner, but that he and the Obama team did it, even though Hillary was in a very strong frontrunning position in 2008. Well, how wonderful for you, David, but perhaps ultimately not for the country.

And then I thought, for the hundredth or more time, that if only Plouffe and those others had not been so taken with themselves, and had not felt that it was so important to put all their efforts and support behind a man who had been a U.S. Senator for a year and a half, we would have had gotten Hillary elected. And I guarantee you that the Republicans would not now own the Supreme Court and most of the state legislatures, which combine to give them an immense reach and almost impregnable control.

Sometimes I almost think that Plouffe realizes that on some level, but probably not. That was the most costly and misdirected fun and excitement that the Democratic Party ever indulged themselves in; and yet we who knew better, and who had a very good idea what would happen, don’t even get to say, “we told you so” to them, because they think they did a great thing. All of them: Plouffe, Favreau, Gibbs, Axelrod, what do they have to say about the Obama years now? The Democrats could conceivably have had eight years of Hillary, and then possibly have gotten Obama if they wanted him. It did make those people a lot of money, though, while it cost the country at least one, and probably three, Supreme Court seats, and a vibrant Democratic Party at the state level.

The end of a year can bring such thoughts. The Romantic poets wrote poems about rebirth and renewal and the promise of a new age. The sense of a year ending and a year beginning, has an elemental power to it, at least for a few days. I have a few resolutions to make, and will have some ideas about how one might want to look at the next year, personally, and collectively. A toast of fresh lemonade, my favorite drink, to the New Year to come! Let us fervently hope that it is better than this last one.

What hasn’t been acknowledged yet

I’m watching Station Eleven on HBO Max, which has the distinction of being a series about a pandemic that began filming in 2020 at the beginning of a pandemic. Great series, by the way. The epidemic that hits the world in Station Eleven is so apocalyptic that it makes the Black Plague look mild. It’s a Chicxalub type event. Halfway through and I’m still not sure human kind is going to make it, even though the virus that killed 99.9% of people on earth has finally died off.

As for our own pandemic, which has a fatality rate of about 2%, or at least started that high, we have lost almost a million people in the US alone. Even though the number of dead is lower than it was last year, the hospital systems in some states are still close to collapse. There will be people who die not from Covid but from lack of a hospital bed and emergency treatment when they needed it most.

But what we haven’t acknowledged yet is how much higher this number would have been if we hadn’t practiced social distancing and didn’t have access to a vaccine.

Vaccination doesn’t mean you’re never going to get infected. It means that your chances of getting severe disease is greatly reduced. The people dying from Covid now are overwhelmingly unvaccinated.

If a 2% fatality rate has the ability to grind the healthcare system of one of the most developed countries of the world to a halt, imagine what might have happened if we hadn’t had access to vaccines in the past year. Just think of how much worse it could have been. Now, project that thought to what it must be like in parts of Africa, Asia and South America.

This virus is going to keep mutating and spreading until everyone on earth has had vaccinations.

It could be a lot worse. The original SARS from coronavirus that hit China in 2002 had a fatality rate of 9.5%. And MERS, or Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, another coronavirus disease, has a fatality rate of 34.4%. Either SARS or MERS would be catastrophic.

We are not out of the woods yet.

Let’s Go, Biden!

Everybody probably knows this story by now, but it is not something that we should pass over lightly. First, I will note that holiday sales this year rose by 10.7%, which is the greatest one-year increase in the last 17 years. That 10.7% increase is directly compared to the sales in 2019, which was pre-pandemic, so it is very meaningful.

Not that many people are going to give the Biden Administration any credit for it, of course. Most of them just refer to their handy narrative pad which says that the economy is doing very badly; that there are major supply chain problems, rampant inflation, families not knowing what to do to make ends meet, not being able to buy holiday gifts, all because of “Biden policies.”

So there was a NASCAR event a few months ago, at which the good old guys and gals in the stands started chanting, “Eff You, Biden!” Over and over. And this was on national TV. The announcer, maybe out of innocence, or more likely to cover for it, said that the crowd was chanting, “Let’s go, Brandon,” to cheer on driver Brandon Brown.

But those MAGA folks knew what they were chanting, and to show their cleverness and contemptuousness, they started using “Let’s go, Brandon,” as a “code” to mean, “Eff you, Biden.” They said it, they wrote it. This is what they think of Biden, and what they think of America.

There was a pilot for Southwest Airlines, who said it over the intercom on a flight. It did cause a reaction, and protests, and it appears that he finally was fired. There have been other instances. And the day before Christmas, a man from Oregon named Jared Schmeck, a former police officer, and his children were connected with President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden, when he called into the NORAD Command’s lighthearted annual Santa Tracking Center.

His children talked to President Biden about what what they wanted for Christmas. Then Schmeck jumped in, and said “Merry Christmas, and Let’s go, Brandon.” And Biden innocently replied, “Let’s go Brandon, I agree.”

And so Mr. Schmeck (“Let’s go, Schmuck!”) then found himself the subject of controversy. But no MAGA lets that kind of thing bother him, unless he is going to get fired or sued. Schmeck said that he “meant no disrespect to the President.” We could stop there, and judge Schmeck to be incredibly stupid, or a spiteful jerk (both! both!), but there is more.

Schmeck said, “At the end of the day, I have nothing against Mr. Biden, but I am frustrated because I think he could be doing a better job. ” Of course, that is what you say to the President if you are frustrated with his job performance, you say, “Eff you.” Schmeck wanted to point out that he “was not a Trumper, but a free-thinking American and follower of Jesus Christ.” Ah, yes, a devout Christian who tells the President of the United States, on a livestream, with many parents and children listening. “Eff You!”

Schmeck, thinking, as all MAGAs do, that everyone is as stupid as they are, went on to say, “I understand there’s a vulgar meaning to ‘Let’s go Brandon,’ but I’m not that simple-minded, no matter how I feel about him. There’s no animosity or anything like that. It was merely an innocent jest to also express my God-given right to express my frustrations in a joking manner.”

So let’s see, Schmeck wanted to insist he was not a Trumper; that he was just joking; that it is his God-given right to tell the President to eff himself; that he is a follower of Jesus; that he meant no disrespect, but wanted everyone to know that he does not like the President’s work in office, so thought it was his right to make a “joke” which all the MAGAs know is a code phrase for “Eff you, Joe Biden.” And he gets that message out.

Do these people have a site they can go to, which tells them what to say, to cover themselves, emphasize that whatever they did or said was a joke, presumably sanctioned by the deities they believe in; and then maybe try to get some donations from the rest of the MAGA world? It is not dissimilar to what some of the people at the Capitol on January 6, have been saying. It is what “Fox News” people (their company has used as a defense in lawsuits that they are not a news network, but an entertainment network) always say: they were misquoted; they were just joking; they are highly religious people who want to instill Christian values in every part of America.

I’m sure that Schmeck (“You’re a Schmeck!”) thought it was a great joke for him and all his Trump friends, to say Eff You to Biden and his wife on the telephone. They think that “the libs” are too stupid to understand it, or that they do, but can’t do anything about it. This is somewhat similar to, but below the intellectual level of, five-year-olds who say things intended to insult their teacher, by mispronouncing his/her name, or making mumbled reference to a physical characteristic.

And then we have the Trumpist news stations and broadcasters who affect surprise and outrage at the fact that “liberals” are upset at this innocent joke. These are the same people who will talk for days about some person having written a sign at a rally, or yelled something in a crowd.

They will bluster about how unamerican this is, and how these people have no respect or decency, and should be pilloried or put in the stocks, or fired from their jobs. They say this, because they, like Mr. Schmeck and the rest of his MAGAs, have not the slightest interest in decency when it comes to themselves; they think they are insulated by saying “god” and “Jesus” over and over again, and they can express anything they want to anyone. They would love to have the power to burn all your books and art, but don’t you dare to try to censor any of theirs.

Just another little story which shows us where we are as a society. We could say that Biden is far too classy to react to it, that he has far more important things to do. We can say what children trying to defend themselves from cruel and bullying classmates, respond, that “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

But these are adults, and have no excuse, and no defense for a charge that they are stupid, rude, and grossly inappropriate; and that if one of them had tried this a few hundred years ago in Europe, they would have been imprisoned at the least, summarily executed at the worst, and with all their property taken from them.

And who were those people over the recent centuries, who so often wrote and spoke and fought for the rights of people, even stupid, cruel and obnoxious ones, to make such comments? Let’s see….could it be….the liberals? It certainly wasn’t the Church, or the totalitarian rulers, that Schmeck admires so much. But of course he and his fellows are so full of themselves, thinking that it is clever to vulgarly insult the President virtually to his face, and then laugh at him and slap hands. Another revealing look at the world of the MAGAs, where there are no norms or rules for them, but all sorts of restrictions on everyone else.

Merry Christmas!

Sorry this post is a little late. I did a Christmas Brunch today featuring ham, cheese and leek bread pudding (so good), home fries with sweet peppers, shallots and green onions, citrus salad with pistachios, and Briney Mary’s.

It was the Briney Mary’s that did me in. 🤪

It’s still nutcracker season, friends, so let’s celebrate day 1 with two Waltz of the Snowflakes. The first, from the Dresden State Ballet, features a violet backdrop and the most perfect corps de ballet ever. The second is the American Ballet Theater and is a classic from the Gelsey Kirkland and Mikael Baryshnikov years.

Let me know what delicious thing you had on your day 1 and what the weather is like where you are. It’s rainy here in Pittsburgh but in my mind, I’m in the land of the sugarplum fairy.

Superheroes and Multiverses

I have never been drawn to the “superhero” movies, the Marvel franchise which has really taken over the film industry, in an almost frightening fashion. $220 million in the first week for “Spiderman,” very impressive, but while so many other films have lost money, or are trying to barely make a profit? Well, I cannot mandate taste, and I know that many millions of people love the superhero movies; and they are lucky, because there are another fifty or so in the works. They expand outwards, one giving rise to another, with sequels and spinoffs, and new characters and emanations.

I suppose it does not take much perceptiveness to understand why so many are drawn to these movies. Big budget spectacular graphics, sweeping scores, good vs. evil, but where you are pretty sure that the good, while never completely prevailing, will triumph against most of the villains, of which there are many. And of course the escape from the worries of this world, and one’s daily life, to a place which is part complete fantasy, part somewhat recognizable, but which, like comic books, I imagine, is never too close to the mundane or frustrating parts of one’s normal activities.

There is certainly a place for escape, and we need what the arts can provide in that way, though we may have differing opinions as to what constitutes great or even good art, and how much time we will spend on the various manifestations of it. For my part, I worry that the good drama, the mystery, or noir (!), or touching human drama, will be not only pushed to the side, but perhaps rendered almost nonexistent, by the almost irresistible force that Marvel has become. Why is a movie house going to show such films, when they are desperately trying to stay afloat, and they see that showing the newest superhero blockbuster twenty times a day on five screens, will bring in far more money?

Well, just one more thing to worry about, I suppose! I do not want to begrudge people the enjoyment they get from these movies, I just want there to be enough of the other kind, but I really wonder if there will be. I want there to be enough different kinds of movies and books and TV shows for everyone, but the nature of capitalism is that whatever is shown to bring in the most money, whether it was Model T Fords, or McDonald’s hamburgers, or Starbucks lattes, is going to proliferate and often drive out the competitors which try to make better food or movies which are only appealing to smaller segments of people.

I cheerfully admit that I have so rarely watched a superhero movie, so I really don’t know much of what they are about. I saw the Christopher Reeve Superman movies years ago, and I pretty much liked them. I like the Superman origin story, there is poignancy and drama in it. I saw one Batman movie, I think the one directed by Christopher Nolan, which certainly was atmospheric; but from what I read, most of the other Batman movies are not as good, and repeat the same themes of Gotham City being filled with darkness and evil. Superman and Batman were DC Comics creations, not Marvel.

I saw the first Spiderman movie, which I thought was okay, but sort of silly, and that people would not want to keep seeing movies about him, and I was completely wrong. And there are so many more superheroes who now have movies about them, than there were in the comic books which I would sometimes read at the corner barbershop, where all the boys would go to have their haircuts, and you had to wait an hour or more, so you read whatever comic books were on the tables. Even then, I would mostly look for the Daffy Ducks and Scrooge McDucks, and then some of those which rather imaginatively rendered famous suspense or horror stories, rather than the superhero ones.

One aspect of some of these newer films which is a general subject that I certainly am interested in, is that of the “multiverse.” Now, I am not going to research the science of this to write about it now, so I almost certainly will miss some of the film aspects of it. My understanding is that various scientists in the last fifty years have speculated about the possibility that there are other universes. This is based on various scientific theories and observations, but cannot be proven.

We know that we exist in this universe, and that at some point, all the stars and planets will either burn out, or in the expanding universe, will become so far apart, that there will be no light, just an endless darkness, essentially the end of the universe. Anything like this always upset me; and when I read that the sun would burn out in billions or trillions of years, and expressed my concern, my parents laughed and said that there is no sense to worry about it, we would not be around for it. I think that parents, well-meaning, usually say things like that! It worried me, though! And I read some scientist not that long ago saying that the invevitability of it is infinitely depressing to him.

But if there is this universe, there could theoretically be more! The question I had never seen satisfactorily answered, is, “What was there before the big bang?” Scientists had developed the theory of “The Big Bang,” that every element of the universe was contained in a singularity which exploded, sending all of the elements to expand outward. But what does that mean? There was always this singularity, nothing before it?

Now scientists are reshaping their knowledge and theories, and believe that there was no “big bang,” no singularity, but rather “cosmic inflation.” They do not imagine that the universe began with a singularity, based on various observations. But of course that causes us to ask, “What was before this cosmic inflation? Was it always there? Was there something before it?”

Scientists cannot answer that. “Let there be light”? But if so, where did God come from? Isaac Asimov wrote a short story where the universe was going to end, and the scientists created the biggest and best computer ever made, which assembled all the knowledge of the other computers, in an effort to save existence. And the computer typed out, “Let there be light.”

I can understand how our solar system began, and then the miracle of how this one planet, over millions of years, slowly cooled, and then that minute organisms were created, and over more millions of years, evolved into different life forms, all the beautiful trees and flowers, the water creatures, some of which ultimately crawled onto land, and became all those amazing amphibians and reptiles and birds and mammals.

And then humans, who somehow seem to be destroying all of it, so that a few of them could make immense amounts of what they call “money,” so that they can have more land and food and water and power than their fellows. To think of that is to be filled with anger; which is why some commentator the other day wrote that this is probably why the concept of the multiverse is becoming so popular, because people desperately hope that there is a better world than the one this is becoming. That is not very profound, but it is still worth considering.

So if there is this world, created in whatever fashion, there could conceivably be other worlds; that would seem logical, although it seems to me that the “big bang theory” made it more likely that something like this could happen many times over eternity. Someone once compared it to pancakes bubbling up on a griddle. But if it is cosmic inflation, maybe this is the only cosmos? If we think that yes, there are other universes, are we in them? Different versions of ourselves? Is each of our actions potentially giving rise to an alternative universe; i.e., if we take a step this way instead of that way, does an entirely different universe create?

The problem with that idea, for me, is that every single action could lead to a different universe. Not just the big ones: whom we marry, what job we take. That is fun for fiction stories, but it would seem that it would not be controlled in that way, as to importance. So if I type the word “the” here, that is in this universe, but if I deleted it, and typed. “or,” that would create another one? Hence an unlimited amount of universes, since there are almost an unlimited amount of potential actions at every second?

That seems logically possible, but what is the import of it, if we could never have access to one of these worlds? Because I think that access is crucial to any fantasies we might have about alternative universes. Could we ever reach a world where people or pets that we loved, are still alive? Could we interact with them? Could we leave this world and go to one of those?

I don’t see how it could be possible to inhabit more than one universe at the same time, but maybe the scientists who theorize about the most abstract concepts have ideas about that. It seems that we are stuck in this one, and have to somehow try to make this a better one.

If we cannot visit an alternative universe, it would seem that the conception of them is more of a palliative to give us hope, but not a concrete reality. It might mean that we could live more lives after our deaths, but would we be aware of it? No one on this planet has ever given a believable account of their past life in this world, much less another one. Yes, there have been various people who have told about past lives, usually they were once kings or queens or something important.

Some have done it under hypnosis; sometimes, as in the Bridey Murphy case, it is almost believable, but usually debunked. There is a woman named J.Z. Knight, who lives in Washington State, who has made millions of dollars purporting to channel a past warrior being named “Ramtha.” And upsettingly but probably inevitably, I just read that she is a radical zealot who says that murder is not wrong, who has tied in with QAnon, who called for armed rebellion if Trump were not handed the election. Somehow it always comes down to human greed and hatred, no matter how much it is hidden in some kind of higher pseudo-religious language and performance.

One wishes one could believe in one of these reincarnation stories, or in mediums, who used to proliferate, particularly in the 1920’s, which the fine and unknown movie “The Awakening” described as “a time for ghosts,” since so many had tragically lost relatives in The Great War, and desperately wanted to believe that they could communicate with them. But we are still waiting for some indisputable proof of it. The great Harry Houdini promised that if there were any way that he could communicate with people on this side, after his death, he would do it. But he has not, though there are a few stories about candles burning on or out after he died.

So we have the question as to whether alternative universes can exist? Then, do they exist, and are there an infinite number of them? Then, can we, here, ever access any of them; go there; or see them in our mind and interact, see different versions of ourselves?

Immensely fascinating questions; but without the ability to ever interact with a different universe, it seems to have no import to us, other than in the realm of the movies, where I imagine that different entities cross over, and that there are multiple versions of heroes and villains fighting each other.

If that is the case, I would imagine that the excitement over multiverses will wane, and Marvel will come up with another theme. Now, while I am very much not a computer person, the concept of simulated worlds does seem possible; lives which seem real, but which are controlled or at least initiated from computers. Someone wrote something about how, if we are all in a simulated world, and want to survive for another round, we have to try to make our lives so interesting or unique, that the gameplayer will want to keep us around. I don’t know if such a concept is encouraging, or depressing.

“I am not a number! I am a free man!” Points if you know what that is from! Perhaps the greatest show in TV history, and without any of the Marvel superhero elements, but just one man, without superpowers, fighting for the survival of human individuality and freedom.

The Sounds of Winter

I turned on the cable news on MSNBC for literally one minute today, and there was a reporter shouting about Covid tests, and how Biden has said that there will be 500 million tests available, “But how he is he going to get them out there?” “And there are 300 million Americans, so does that mean one and a half tests for each person??!” “And how are people going to know what they should do for the holiday season??!!” (That’s right, the 70 million people who refuse to get vaccinated or to wear masks, are desperate to take Covid tests at home).

So I turned it off, but I can still hear the echoes…”And what about the empty shelves in the stores?!!! Oh, there aren’t any empty shelves, there is 99% supply now? (David Muir doesn’t know that, he asked Biden about the ’empty shelves.’) Well, what about the 1% that isn’t there?? What will those shoppers do, if the thing they want is part of that 1% which is not there?? What do they do then?!”

“And what if they want to buy a Mr. Potato Head, but there aren’t any more of those now? What do they do? Are they supposed to go out into the field and plant potatoes and then put their own accessories on them? And it takes a year or so to have the potatoes grow, so what do they do meanwhile? Why didn’t Biden anticipate this?! What has he been doing all this time?!!”

“And where are the Dr. Seuss books? Gone! Well, not all of them, but some are! What are children supposed to read? Uncle Wiggily? Mary Poppins? The Wizard of Oz? Olivia Pig? Angelina Ballerina? But what if they want ‘Green Eggs and Ham’? Oh, that’s still there; well, what if it’s out of stock, just like the Potato Heads? More trouble for Biden!”

“And let’s talk about gas prices! Well, they have gone down, but not enough! Why didn’t Biden stop them from going up! Why didn’t he focus on the economy?! Look at consumer confidence! Okay, it’s up, but for how long, huh?! And GDP, well it’s 5.5%, but that’s not good enough, and it’s going to go down, when the BBB doesn’t pass! It has been a terrible year for Biden’s economy! (The stock market just hit an all-time high today). Just wait, things will get worse!!”

“Remember when it was Morning in America? The sun was shining, we saw it on the ads! Everyone was happy, well, except for some people in labor unions, but we don’t focus on that kind of thing. It was a new day for America, the ads said so! We didn’t have scare headlines, and anchors complaining, and field reporters yelling! Now, under Biden, everything is bad! Economy, pandemic, empty shelves, Potato Heads, Dr. Seuss, War on Christmas, you can’t even say Merry Christmas any more, without being sent to an indoctrination camp! What has happened to this great country??!!”

“Where is Joe DiMaggio? Willie Mays? Wee Willie Keeler, who said the secret to his hitting was, ‘Keep your eye clear and hit ’em where they ain’t’? Back in the 1890’s, that’s when he played, when Casey would waltz with the strawberry blonde, and the band played on! Me and Mamie O’Rourke! The sidewalks of New York are now old, and filled with strange-looking people of different types! And all they see is empty shelves!”

“Once the angry voters get rid of Biden, and put Trump back in, or maybe DeSantis or Cruz, all these problems will go away! Well, at least we won’t talk and yell about them, so you will think they have gone away! And that’s all that matters, right?! We’ll talk about cancel culture, and football games, and how the highways and bridges are safer, because of the infrastructure bill in 2021, which Republicans worked hard to pass! And how religion can now be taught in schools! And how thoughts and prayers are offered to everyone who has been shot in the last few hours! And we will cover all the book-burnings, so there will be plenty for you to watch! Just keep your remote handy, and we’ll be there to offer more of our completely unbiased coverage to you!!”

I turned the TV off, and I listened to the soothing sound of the always much-needed rain. I hope that everyone here has a relatively nice Christmas. I do not celebrate it, but there are always holiday presents. And I am always touched by the better shows and movies about “the spirit of Christmas.” My recommendations might be “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” and the new Shaun the Sheep short movie, “The Flight Before Christmas,” but there are many classics. Ignore the TV noise right now, and the next year may well be better, whether or not the media want to portray it that way.

What else can you do?

Paul Waldman writes in WaPo that Republicans hate Anthony Fauci, not because he’s given out information in a scientific fashion without absolute certainty, but because Democrats like him for that very reason.

I think we can see this anti-Democrats attitude in many aspects of modern American life. Joe Manchin represents a state that went for TFG by something like 50 points. But by taking the majority of the country hostage over the Build Back Better spending bill (Waldman again)he’s in a position to also issue demands. He could make West Virginia a swanky place with the best of everything with the exchange of his vote. He hasn’t done it.

Do his constituents know they can get whatever they want or are they so hell bent on screwing over Democrats that they would deliberately squander a once in a lifetime opportunity to remake themselves from being a destitute state reliant on coal?

I think West Virginia was supposed to be the model for district 13 in the Hunger Games and we know how that turned out.

Hatred of Democrats is a version of oppositional defiance disorder that’s very difficult to treat. What can you do when a person’s reason for being is contradicting everything you say?

I’m going out on a limb here but I think it’s because no one has been held accountable for perpetual contrarianism that’s serves no other purpose than to make other people mad.

This week, I reluctantly had to apply a little accountability. I didn’t want to do it. But the situation with Covid kind of forced my hand. I don’t get a lot of vacation days and I don’t want to be even a little bit sick when I have some time off, especially around Christmas. My vacations have been of low quality for the last decade. At this time of year, I feel like I’m crawling to the finish line and a week off between Christmas and New Years. Maybe this year I can go ice skating or something. I’m sure not going anywhere. So let me be healthy at least. I ask for little.

I’ve been vaccinated. Are you kidding?? I’m not a immune system denier. It’s not a technology so advanced it’s indistinguishable from magic. I got my booster over a month ago. But I don’t even want a mild case. And I don’t want other people I care about to get a mild case either that is going to screw up their Christmas plans and kill their taste buds during hors d’oevre season.

I get it that some people think they are making a principled stand on their personal freedoms regarding the vaccine. But all I can see is an obstacle to me enjoying my break. The principle goes right over my head. Sure, a person can hold out forever and never, never, NEVER get the shots under any circumstances. How does that make me feel? Um, like my Christmas break is not very important to a vaccine denier.

So now we come to immovable objects and irresistible forces. I’m not going to get the dug in resister to get a shot. And in a way, resisters are shoving their personal freedom in my face and saying “deal with it”, like MY Desire to not get sick is inconsequential.

So, for this holiday season, if you’re not vaccinated, you will need to wear a mask, get a test or stay home. It will deprive me of your company. I will be disappointed. But not nearly as disappointed at waking up on December 27 with a scratchy throat and dead tastebuds.

I haven’t been treating the lack of vaccination as the aggressive, in your face, feasting on liberal tears that it apparently is. Now I have. It has made me completely deaf to any reasoning about the vaccine. Reasons are just cover for what they’re really up to. The boundaries have been set. Violating them is an act of aggression.

Gotta make alternate plans for Christmas.

All or Nothing

There is a musical group I like, called Au Revoir Simone. I had never heard of them until 2017, when I watched “Twin Peaks: The Return.” An absolutely amazing series, and perhaps I will write about it some time here. The end of each episode featured an artist, an individual or group, playing a song at “The Roadhouse,” also known in that season as “The Bang Bang Bar.” Both David Lynch and his music director made some brilliant musical choices, introducing me to some artists which I had never heard of; and I have a pretty good background in pop and rock music, except not so much in the last ten years, when my favorite music shows went off the air.

The first artist which played was the Chromatics. Then the next one was Au Revoir Simone. Three very bright and talented women from the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, who all play keyboards. They are not some kind of insipid novelty act, they are brilliant melodically and lyrically, and their vocals are also pleasing. I think that they were David Lynch’s favorite new group, as he met them when they were both touring in Europe, though not together. He has raved about them, and I can see why, as sometimes their melodies have the dreamy and haunting quality of “Twin Peaks” and the great music created by Angelo Badalamenti and Lynch himself for the earlier shows.

Anyway, as is often the case, I found out about Au Revoir Simone just as they were going on “hiatus,” as they call it, each doing various solo work. I do not know if they will ever reform, but they are still friends, and have their website up. If you like pretty, sometimes dreamy, sometimes catchy, other times sweeping, melodies, check them out, as a rather famous DJ in Los Angeles, Rodney Bingenheimer, used to say.

The specific reason I am writing about Au Revoir Simone, as that sometimes I think of their song “All or Nothing,” as sort of a theme for our current time. The song is not political, it is probably about romance, making a decision to do something, move forward, not just sit there and feel like you are not getting anywhere. “Everywhere is somewhere, baby/ So can’t you see we’re in the middle of somewhere/ Nowhere just means knowing nothing/ Of where you’ve been or where you’re going/ Feels farther.” (By the way, do not rely on the lyrics of this song printed on the internet, they have them wrong, as they often irritatingly do).

Yesterday I listened to another scholarly person, a professor at Harvard, talk on air about how our government is simply not functional, in that it has enabled a radical minority party to basically control things, because of the way the Founders set up the electoral system. We know all about that, how we ended up with this bicameral system where the House reflects popular votes, and the Senate is constituted with two senators for every state, no matter the population.

And then the system of the Electoral College, perhaps a novel idea at the time, and designed to keep the Southern states from refusing to join the union. but awful now in how it continues to give more disproportionate power to the small states, since their electoral votes are based on the number of legislators; and the provision that “each state gets three electoral votes, even if their population is very small,” is completely undemocratic.

California gets 55 electoral votes, they just lost one in the recent census count. Wyoming gets three. If it were based on population, California would have 210 electoral votes, as the population here is about seventy times that of Wyoming. Without doubt, the vote of a resident of California is worth about one-seventieth as much as a resident of Wyoming, which is beyond appalling, and contrary to the principle of “one person, one vote,” which must be central to an actual democracy.

As the professor described, somehow this went on for centuries, with no one saying too much about it. But now as the Republican Party has become totally anti-democratic, we can easily see how they have taken advantage of the inherent inequalities in our system, plus added their own gaming, in terms of completely undemocratic and sometimes racist gerrymandering, to virtually destroy the democracy, which is supposed to accurately represent the votes of the people. And we are very aware of how even that is not enough for them, they want to rig it so that their own people can decide who won their elections. Steve Bannon was exultant about that the other day, and he is a thoroughly evil, anti-semitic totalitarian who wants to create a dictatorship in America, patrolled by a militia like the one the Nazis had, and with concentration camps as well.

So we hear all about this; and the educated professors come on the shows, and point all this out; and the well-meaning host never seems to ask them, “Well, what can we do about it?” That’s the only answer I want to hear; I am well aware of the current tableau. But either the host can’t think of that question, or he or she and the guest both seem to think that there is nothing we can do about it.

That brings me back to “All or Nothing.” Because if you are losing a crucial game or match or situation, because you are being cheated, or because of terrible structural unfairness in the system, your two choices seem to reduce to doing nothing and just lose and give up, or “going for broke” as the gamblers and sports coaches and players say.

Of course none of these analogies is the same as the political one, nor are any of them exactly like any other, but they are still meaningful. If you are a football team which is outmanned, and the other squad is just grinding the ball down the field, and stifling your side, as the clock winds down, your only choice is to take gambles, even if they are low-percentage plays. Throw deep, trying to hit a big play, or get a pass interference penalty. Blitz on defense, trying to create a turnover.

You might give up more touchdowns, but who cares if you lose 24-7 or 48-14? Of course, in real sports, there are many games, and the coach might prefer not to demoralize his team by being routed, and hope to improve in the next game. In our situation, we do not have any next game, if we lose this one. And thinking so, as we have always done, might be a dreadful mistake. So we have to pull out every play in the playbook, and not save it for some other possible situation.

Or if you are playing in a poker tournament, you have to stay in until all your chips are gone, or you win the tournament, you cannot just cash in what chips you have left. So if your stack is steadily going down, you can’t just sit there and ante the rest of it away, or play conservatively, waiting for a great hand. The next decent hand you get, you probably have to go “all-in,” bet all the chips you have, in a desperate effort to get back in the game

There are other analogies, but I’m sure that everyone gets the idea. So here we are, with the Republicans setting it up so that they can never lose another election cycle. And so what do we do about it, what can we do?

This essay is not about trying to concoct and lay out a step-by-step strategy, because it is possible that none of it will work, but still we have to try. I do know that some of the ideas floated, even by Democrats in office, seem to ignore certain electoral realities, such as the fact that to add seats to the Supreme Court, you would need a majority of both Houses; and wouldn’t the Republicans be able to keep such a bill from the floor in the Senate, via the filibuster? And why is it that the Republicans seem to have a whole group of people who spend every single hour figuring out ways to game and cheat the system, and we don’t seem to have our own strategists, not cheating, but finding strategies that might work?

If there is a way that this could be done, to somehow override the filibuster. to add seats to the Supreme Court, then we must do it. And add something like eight Supreme Court seats. We are told that if Democrats do that, Republicans could add even more seats when they had power. And I would say, “So? How would we be worse off than we are now?” If Republicans add twelve seats, we can add twenty the next time. They could not all fit in one room, so? Have 809 justices, make it all impossible to function; how are we worse off than being ground down by a Radical Right, undemocratically chosen Court, and a set of rules which are either completely inapposite to this century, or in the case of the filibuster, were made up by the Far Right? “But it’s a Senate rule!” Well, then we should make up new rules when we have the majority. Because what do we have to lose, as against just watching our democracy get taken away step by step?

We really have little time. Some suggestions I have, and I certainly didn’t come up with them, include the aforementioned trying to add Supreme Court seats in some way. Enacting all sorts of Executive Orders. Passing the Voting Rights Act.

Of course, we can bet that the states which have enacted draconian voting laws will just ignore the bill, even if passed. Then we must send federal troops in, as in the ’50’s and ’60’s. If they come out and start shooting them, then we will have the Civil War which many of them want. Or if they want to secede, I’m all for it, particularly if we are running the government, and have the crucial weapons to keep them from trying to attack us. Or maybe the Trump forces have infiltrated those levels, and they will have the weapons of mass destruction. I very much hope not. But we cannot just let them take the democracy away, as their massive voting suppression, and putting radical partisans in charge of election boards, is overwhelmingly obviously intended to do.

It is possible that the Supreme Court is now so radical, that it will nullify any laws we pass, or hold them in abeyance until Republicans can take over Congress in 2022. We have to have an answer for that, too, It might get so desperate that Biden has to cut off government funds to states which do not comply with a Voting Rights law, and that we start ignoring Supreme Court rulings, rather than letting them turn this country into a Heritage Foundation’s dream. Again, if we are in such a last-ditch position, who cares what the corporate media says, or what the Republicans threaten to do? They will do it anyway, once they gain unfettered power. They are truly fascists, it is not just a term of opprobrium, they are Hitler and Mussolini and Franco and Stalin, even if some of them talk in folksy drawls, and like NASCAR and pro football.

I do not mean to alarm anyone, but it seems to me that rather than just say, “Things are bad,” as they do every day on the news, we would want to do something very proactive. Non-violent, of course. But again, we have to throw deep, put all our chips in on one or two hands, take a risk that the boss will fire us if we stand up and tell him how he is violating our rights. Bob Dylan said it not so long ago, “If you ain’t got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.” It feels as if our political system is heading that way, so we don’t have anything to lose by taking some big chances and making some longshot bets. It seems like all or nothing, at this point. Actually, we will never get the “all,” but we cannot ever let ourselves slowly end up with the “nothing.”