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Opposites

I hope that most people saw the story about the School Administrator in Southlake, Texas, who told a teacher that if she teaches a book on the Holocaust in her classroom, she must also have a book with an opposing view.

This came about because Texas, which desperately is trying to go back to Tennessee before the Scopes trial, passed another one of their awful bills, one which seeks to stop the teaching of so-called Critical Race Theory in the classrooms. The law requires teachers to teach “differing perspectives.” But as with most of these repressive bills, it goes much too far, and so a teacher called the administrator, saying that she was terrified as to what to do. The administrator said that she should just be sure to teach opposing perspectives, and she gave the example of the Holocaust, and she said, “Believe me, it has come up.”

Apparently some Nazis in Texas do not like the teaching about the horrors of the Holocaust, and want there to to be “another side.” That is what the administrator meant when she said it has come up. There certainly are laws in various states which require that any book which has any mention about evolution, must also teach about religion, and give religious alternatives to scientific facts, and the theories arising from them.

This is born out of ignorance, and contempt for science. Now it has spread to contempt for facts, and for history. Anything is open to contention. I have for decades imagined a weekend news show having a pre-WWII debate between a rabbi and Hitler, presenting “both sides of the debate of whether Jews should be destroyed.” Does that sound ridiculously far-fetched, when “both sides” is the motto of the media? Ted Bundy and a nice gentleman from down the street, discussing the two sides of whether murder is a valid behavior choice?

Yes, that is very dark. Just going back to the state of Texas, they are terrified of their children being indoctrinated by Critical Race Theory, whatever that is. So, since they believe in passing bills to control behavior, they decided to force teachers to “teach both sides of it.” Which of course can be easily extrapolated, certainly in this administrator’s view, to requiring teachers to teach “both sides” of everything.

They obtusely think, “What could be wrong with teaching different sides of things? Doesn’t that sound inclusive?” If you are so stupid that you can’t tell facts from opinions. Shall we debate the law of gravity? Whether it is okay to ingest bleach? Whether the last election was full of fraud, which no one can specify or uncover? That if you draw a line with a marking pen moving the track of a hurricane somewhere else so that your initial contention will not be shown as ridiculously wrong, it is open to debate?

The Republicans, following the paths forged by totalitarian countries like Russia, which attempt to throw up so much misdirection and confusion so that no one can tell what is the truth, have made self-serving lying their platform. The media let most of it go, as we saw when the most insidious liar in American political history, Donald Trump, was President. And now this has spread like wildfire, to where there is no truth, there are just differing opinions; and whichever group has the loudest bullhorn, or the most money, gets to make the so-called reality.

So you have to teach theories supporting the Holocaust? The author of of the bill says, “That’s not what we meant,” but he and his fellow Texas legislators are too in love with what they think is cleverness, and control of dissemination of ideas, that they do not care to realize that laws are very often what legal scholars call “overbroad,” and cover far too much by extrapolation.

And never ignore the fact that this teacher saying she was terrified about how to follow the law, is part of the goal. If teachers are afraid to teach anything, that is a win for the barbarians of Texas. People who don’t learn anything will not have dangerous ideas which might go against what the folks of the Lone Star State want them to think. It worked in feudal times for five hundred years or so.

Well, even at the risk of undercutting this very important theme, I could not help but consider “opposite sides” in general How do you teach the opposite of geography? Flat Earth views? What is the opposite of mathematics? The opposite of spelling, we see on a daily basis. But maybe kids should be taught that any way you want to spell a word is fine, it is “you being you.”

Or in accord with Humpty-Dumpty, “a word means exactly what I choose it to mean.” Why not? Both sides! Multiple sides for everything! Well, except for abortion, which they want there to be no more debate about, just punishment–even though a vast majority of people favor the right to abortion–just not the minority which makes the anti-abortion laws and court decisions. No both sides for them there–or in any area where they have the power to tell everyone else what to do.

So I started thinking about what would be the opposite sides to various book titles, or play titles, or poems? For example, if you had to teach the opposite side to “Catcher in the Rye,” would it be, “Bourbon in the Pitcher”? Would the opposite book of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” be, “The Dour Husbands of Kent”?

Here are some possible “opposite titles” that the teachers of Texas should try to find, or have someone write, to counter some of the more famous ones. See if you can think of what more famous titles these would be the opposite of. Opposites are sometimes not completely exact, so there is room for quibbling here. These might be titles of novels, plays, poems, maybe even songs, if I think of some. Answers below. No scoring, just for fun.

1.”The Dark Green Number”

2. “Nothing’s Bad that Starts Bad”

3. “An Epic of 50 Towns”

4. “The Berries of Good Humor”

5. “Queen Sexual Harassment Lawsuit”

6. “The Sun and a Farthing”

7. “Taco Hills”

8. “He Stretches to Submit”

9. “A Few Days of Social Congregation”

10. “From There to A Couple of Circumscribed Minutes”

11. “Hate’s Indolences Won”

12. “Down the Up Escalator”

13. “Peace and War:’

14. “How Red Was My Peak:

15/ “Lawyer Yes”

1) “The Scarlet Letter” 2) “All’s Well that Ends Well ” 3)”The Grapes of Wrath” 4) “A Tale of Two Cities” 5) “King Lear” (!) 6) “The Moon and Sixpence” 7) “Tortilla Flats” 8) “She Stoops to Conquer” 9) “A Hundred Years of Solitude” 10) “Love’s Labours Lost” ” 11) “From Here to Eternity” 12) “Up the Down Staircase” 13) “War and Peace” 14) “How Green Was My Valley” 15) “Dr No”

A Halloween Story, from the Unparalleled Marjorie Bowen

(It;s a little early, perhaps, but they’re showing Halloween themed movies on TV all month, so I thought, why not have a scary story now? I think that those who like an atmospheric Halloween story will love this. You will likely want to read it twice, to be sure of exactly what it is about. .If you don’t like such stories, beware, it will unsettle you! I have the greatest appreciation for the literary abilities of the incredibly talented woman whose most well known nom de plume was Marjorie Bowen. If you did not get a chance to read my recent essay about her, you could find it by typing her name into the Search box on the homepage. I read this story in a collection of her short stories I had bought. I meticulously copied this printing from a literary site which apparently puts some of these up, so there is no copyright issue).

HALF-PAST TWO

The light had been put out on the stairs. Usually, when he returned late to spend the night in his rooms, he found it burning. Now he had to make his way slowly, striking matches as he went up the old dingy enclosed stairs.

It had been a long time since he had spent a night in this house, and he did not greatly care about doing so. It was an ancient, inconvenient residence, hidden away in a small square which had been partly demolished, and was hemmed in on either side by massive modern buildings. Only when, as now, the young man had been detained at a dance so late that he missed his last train to the country, did he resort to the expedient of spending the night in this makeshift fashion.

Roger Hoby knew that he would be alone in the house, as he always was when he spent the night there, with a great many other empty houses to right and left of him, and there was something in this silence more oppressive than that of the open country–so many buildings around him, so busy and crowded in the day, at night so empty and silent; and he blamed the caretaker, who had not left the old-fashioned gas (for there was no electric light in the house) burning on the stairs. So heavy was the sense of oppression on him that he decided the next night he had to pass in town would be at a hotel.

He found his own door, opened it, and entered the suite of chambers he occupied on the second floor, lit the gas on the first room, and passed into the second, which he used as his architect’s office.

It was a hateful, raw, cold and foggy night, and Roger Hoby was shuddering and shivering from having passed through the bitter, bleak streets and the damp cold of the dark stairway. He was therefore pleasantly amazed when he felt the genial warmth that met him when he opened the second door and saw the room full of all his own pleasant possessions, brightly illuminated by the glow of a large fire.

As he had not been there since the afternoon, he wondered who could have made up such a large fire to last until this late hour. The caretaker was seldom in the building after six; even as Hoby wondered he noticed that someone was sitting in the large armchair drawn up by the fireplace–a man whose dark shape appeared to be one with that of the chair and was outlined by the bright blaze of the coals.

“Hallo!,” cried Hoby, considerably startled, and not without an odd creep of fear in his blood, and more than ordinary amazement.

The figure did not move. One hand was hanging over the edge of the armchair, and Hoby noticed that it was a peculiarly shaped hand, with long splay-ended fingers. Roger Hoby, advancing with considerable effort of will, almost laughed with relief when he saw that the man sitting before the fire was Durant Loveday, the man who occupied the rooms above his own. He was a man with whom Hoby had no more than the most casual acquaintance, and for whom he did not greatly care. It was odd to find him sitting there at that hour.

“Oh, it’s you,” said Loveday, and he seemed almost as relieved to see Hoby as Hoby had been to see him.

“What do you want?” asked Roger briefly. “I didn’t know you ever spent the night here. How did you get in?”

“I don’t ever spend the night here,” replied Durant Loveday quickly This is the first time I have ever been here late. But you see, I have an appointment.”

“An appointment here, at this hour?

“Yes, it sounds peculiar, doesn’t it?”

Roger Hoby thought it sounded very peculiar. He wondered that he had never noticed before that Loveday had such ugly splayed fingers. But then he had never given him more than the most cursory glance on the stairs or in the street. He knew nothing at all about the fellow, and he had never liked the thin dry face, the eyes that were too pale, too deeply cut and deeply set. All he knew of Loveday was that he was an architect, and seemed to have an income independent of his work, which amounted to very little, as far as Hoby knew.

“Well, you didn’t make an appointment here, I suppose?” said Hoby, warming himself before the fire which his uninvited guest had kept so generously supplied with coal.

“No, it was because I decided not to keep my appointment that I came here,” replied the other. Someone was coming back for me–but I didn’t want to see him.”

“How did you get in?”

“I slipped in before your clerk left. I hid, and he went out and left me locked in.”

“Did he?” thought Hoby.

“I’m glad you’ve come back,” said Loveday in a confidential tone, leaning forward from the armchair. “I’ve been here for hours. I am glad of your company. I’ve kept on piling up wood to make a bright light, but still, I am glad of your company.”

“Well, I can’t keep you company,” replied Hoby. I want to go to bed. It must be two o’clock.”

Loveday put up his hand, his thick finger-ends traveled over this thin lips, and those pale deep-set eyes gazed at Hoby with an expression which the young man had never seen in a human face before–one of absolute terror.

“Why, you’re afraid,” cried Hoby involuntarily.

“I’ve got an appointment,” muttered Loveday, “at half-past two.”

Hoby went to his cupboard and set out the whiskey and soda. “Look here,” he said in a voice that he tried to make as practical as possible, “you’d better tell me what this is all about. You seem to have lost your nerve a bit ,haven’t you? What are you doing here really–hiding?”

“There’s someone coming back to see me at half-past two,” cried Loveday, “someone whom I’ve been avoiding for years.”

“Then why on earth,” asked Hoby, “did you make an appointment with him at such a place and such an hour?”

“He forced me,” said Loveday, his voice falling to a whimper, “he forced me to do it. You don’t know what power he’s got over me. I met him on the street, and then at a restaurant, but that wouldn’t do. He would come here at half-past two. I didn’t make the appointment, he did. He told me, ‘half-past two today, and I’ll be there.’ He came and went without saying anything except, ‘I’ll be back at half-past two tonight.'”

“How is he going to get in?” asked Hoby. “I closed the door behind me.”

“He forced me to give him the passkey” said Loveday. “He’ll get in all right. But–his voice dropped to an accent of cunning–“he’ll go upstairs to the offices overhead. He won’t think of looking for me here. And I’m locked in, aren’t I?”

“Yes, I shut the door,” said Hoby doubtfully. He took a drink, and gave one to Loveday, who, however, refused it. “You had better tell me what it’s all about, hadn’t you?”

“It would be a very long story,” grinned Loveday. “There’s a great deal in it. In fact, there’s everything in it..” Then, seeing that Hoby had taken up some matches, he cried out, “Don’t light the gas; he’ll know that there’s somebody here, and he might try to get in.”

“But he can’t,” replied Hoby briefly, “and we’re two to one if he does.”

“You don’t know Stiffkey,” said Loveday, still with a grin.

Hobey put down the box of matches. The room really was sufficiently illuminated by the fire, and it occurred to him that if anyone did come he would judge by firelight as well as by gaslight that the room was occupied. He did not, however, mention this to Loveday. He had come to his own conclusions about him, the usual conclusions which the ordinary man comes to when faced with anything peculiar or extraordinary–he thought that Loveday was ill or out of his mind.

“Well,” he remarked soothingly, “you can have a shakedown here all night if you like. I sleep in the other room. There’s a sofa there, too, if you would like it.”

But Loveday said no, he would prefer to sit by the fire. He looked at the clock on the mantelpiece,which now showed ten minutes past two.

No one will come, of course, thought Roger Hoby, the man’s been badly scarred by something, and this is the way it’s taken him. He imagines an appointment with an enemy, but no one would come to such a place and at such a time. Imagining again that snarl of terror on Loveday’s face, he was, however, himself slightly affected by fear, and said, “You had really better tell me something of what it’s about if you want me to stand by you in this, you know.”

“I robbed Stiffkey,,” confessed Loveday, “years ago when we were in Africa. He entrusted me with something of his own to sell–stones, and I brought them over to England and gave them to a jeweller to value, and then I told him that the jeweller had absconded with them. Of course, I had sold them and kept the money. That was the beginning of better times for me. I thought Stiffkey had died in Africa, I didn’t hear from him for years…..Hush! What was that?” He paused to listen, and Hobey listened, too, but there was no sound in the empty house.

“It seems a pretty rotten sort of trick,” said Hobey, drinking his whiskey and soda, “I wonder you care to talk about it.”

“There are other things,” said Loveday. “We were great enemies, but for years I haven’t seen him. I haven’t thought about him until I met him just the other day, and he insisted on this appointment–to settle scores, he said. I offered him money–a great deal of money–but he said money wouldn’t pay for all those years. Hush! I do think it’s his step on the stairs.”

“It isn’t,” said Hobey impatiently. “There is no sound of anything. It’s too silent.” He went to the window. “The fog is quite thick,” he added. “He’ll find his way through the fog, all right,” answered Loveday faintly. “He means to have his vengeance.”

“Vengeance?” repeated Hoby. “Do you think he’ll come here to revenge himself on you?”

“Of course,” said Loveday, huddling himself together, “he always said he’d get me in the end.”

“Well, I shouldn’t have met him in this space and at this time of night,” replied Hoby, trying to speak with more confidence than he felt. He also found himself straining his ears to catch the possible sound of a footstep on the stairs, a rap, or a voice at the door. “He would come, ” whimpered Loveday. “It’s his own fault, he would come. Nothing else would do for him, and I was in his power, wasn’t I? I’ll be back, he said, at half-past two tonight.” Roger Hoby shuddered and drew nearer to the fire. He didn’t want to go to bed, after all; he thought he’d prefer to sit up with Loveday, not to leave him anyhow until half past two. The clock now showed twenty minutes past that hour.

Hoby had no compassion for him. He had never liked the man, who on his own showing, deserved no friendship or respect from anyone–a thief, a traitor and a coward. No, Hoby had no compassion for him, but he was drawn to him by a stronger link than compassion, that of terror. He was infected by the fear that Loveday gave out–fear that was so definite that it seemed another personality in the room, and one that had laid its grip on Hoby, who was seized by this terror that had seized Loveday, and shuddering and dreading–whoever it was–this Stiffkey, who was coming at half-past two. So strongly and suddenly did this terror overwhelm him, that he made an impulsive movement towards the clock to stop the hands. Loveday, ,watching him, grinned: “I thought of that,” he said, “but there are other clocks outside.”

“Look here,”said Hoby roughly, trying to keep up his own courage, “this is all nonsense,you know; you’re imagining the whole thing; nobody’s coming and even if they did–“

Loveday interrupted, more by his movement and his clutch on the arm of the chair, and the look on his face, than by anything he said, though he did mutter for the third time, “Hush!”

“It sounds like the front door,” said Hoby, “opening and closing.”

“Can’t you hear?” whispered Loveday,”there’s someone coming up the stairs.’

“No, I can’t,” said Hoby roughly.

The clock on the mantelpiece struck half past two.

“Warmth, warmth!” cried Loveday. “I want to get warm.” He pulled his chair up to the fire so closely it seemed he must scorch.

Hoby went into the room and listened; that shivering man was afraid of murder. There certainly was someone coming up the stairs slowly and deliberately, as if unhindered by the dark. Hoby, moved by some unaccountable impulse of dread, saw that his own door was secure, and then returned to where Loveday crouched lower and lower over the fire. Hoby could still hear the footsteps, slow and deliberate. Had Stiffkey come for the purpose of murder? Hoby looked around–he did not know why–for a weapon, and picked up a heavy stone paperweight which had been left carelessly on the chimney piece to hold down a few odd papers beside the clock. He dropped it, and holding his fingers to the firelight, saw they were red.

“What’s this– blood?” cried Hoby.

Loveday began to laugh. “Half past two–exactly to his appointment.”

Hoby could hear the footsteps. They had passed the door now, He could hear them overhead–tramping to and fro. He had struck a match and was staring at the chimney piece. The papers underneath the paperweight were splashed and spluttered with red. A thin dark line was running down the wall. Hoby, looking up, saw that it was coming from a patch on the plastered ceiling, exactly where it met the wall– a patch that seemed to be spreading as he looked. Loveday’s room was exactly overhead, by the patch on the plaster.

“Up in your room,” whispered Hoby, dropping the flaring match.

“Stiffkey,” grinned Loveday, staring. “Stiffkey.”

“And who else?” whispered Hoby.

“:Only Stiffkey,” said Loveday.

The steps were again crossing the room overhead. and coming down the stairs. The two men listened, bending closer together. Loveday farther and farther leaning towards the fire. The footsteps paused at the outer door, and there was a sharp rap.

“I won’t let him in,” whispered Hoby.

“I doesn’t matter if you do or not,”whimpered Loveday, “the door is open.”

“No, I shut the door.”

But even as the young man spoke, he felt a draft of cold outer air. Driven by panic he went into the outer room.The door, which he was certain he had closed, stood open on the black staircase. The sound of footsteps had departed in the direction of Loveday, but he saw no one. Then he heard Loveday from behind him give a gurgle and a shriek of incredible anguish., and he did not dare go back to the fire. He knew that it was useless to do so, that Loveday was dead.

It was quite a long time before he was able to return to the room, light the gas, and stare at Loveday rigid in his chair, beneath that red patch on the ceiling.

Hoby had known that he would be there alone.

The fog was now so thick that even with the gaslight everything looked dim, monstrous and misshapen.

Torn by a fearful curiosity, Roger Hoby went into Loveday’s chambers. They were not locked. Hoby, striking matches, found what he had expected to find–a dead man lying by the wainscot, who had been battered to death by the poker which lay beside him. His watch was staring at the floor beside him–it had stopped at half-past two, which must have been the hour that Loveday murdered him

The appointment was for half-past two–but in the afternoon, not in the night–he had said he would return.

But who was the other? For whom had Loveday waited all those hours–first upstairs and then hiding out in Hoby’s room? Siffkey, waiting to keep his second appointment again, the next time the clock was at half-past two?

Adam Schiff, Potential American Hero

He would be my choice to be President, though I know it will never happen. He largely fits my perhaps idealized version of what an American President should be. He is not dynamic in the way that John F. Kennedy or Bill Clinton or Franklin D. Roosevelt were. But he is highly intelligent, apparently extremely honest, and very articulate.

I have often felt that we Americans, at least on the liberal side, tend to be most drawn to someone who seems as if he is a movie star, with looks, eloquence and charm. Not that Schiff doesn’t have some of that, but he is essentially a very sober, meticulous and forthright political person. Every time I see him on television, I am impressed.

Except for Bill and Hillary Clinton, I don’t know of anyone in the political realm who is so articulate and intellectual. His speeches and statements as Chairman of the House Committee which prosecuted the impeachment and conviction of Trump, were remarkable. His final speech to the Senate, when he knew that there was no way that the Senate would convict, but he wanted to leave them and the country with long-ranging words of wisdom, should be printed in a book of great speeches.

Schiff is 61, he and I share the same birthday! He is never mentioned for any higher political office. He might like to be Senator, but our Governor Gavin Newsom appears to want to make ethnic minority choices ; he appointed Alex Padilla to fill Kamala Harris’ seat, and has talked about wanting to choose a Black woman to replace Dianne Feinstein, who is unlikely to seek re-election. That is his right, but Schiff deserves the Senate seat. There is no path for him to rise politically; and even if he wanted to run for President, our next nominee will almost certainly be Biden or Harris.

If the Republicans take over the House in 2022, Schiff will once again be relegated to Ranking Member of the Intelligence Committee with no real power; a Committee which would be run by a dreadful Republican, whoever it would be, who would spend his or her time investigating Biden, Harris, and Hillary, maybe even Schiff. The goals of Republicans in Congress are purely radical and political.

Adam Schiff has just published a book, “Midnight: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy, and Still Could.” I will buy it, though I virtually never buy such books, because they are depressing and worrisome to have to sit down and read through. But he is so articulate that it would be worth it to read his undoubtedly perceptive insights.

On October 16, he will be at Los Angeles’ last great bookstore, Vroman’s, in Pasadena, with Jason Alexander, discussing his book. Schiff has also tried his hand at screenwriting, with a post-Holocaust story, a murder mystery, and a spy drama story. He has not sold any of them, but I would imagine that they are intelligently written. He is also a marathoner and triathlete, and apparently a very devoted family man.

I think that what we really need as leader of this country, is someone of the highest intelligence and analytic ability, not a natural politician. I used to remark with friends that we would never elect a pudgy man with glasses as President. (That is not a description of me, just an archtype!).

Actually, I guess that Al Franken comes close to that image, and if Republicans had not destroyed his Senate career by paying and encouraging very questionable women (read Jane Mayer’s after-the-fact article about how they were lying) to accuse him of whatever, he might have been a potential candidate in 2020, though I doubt that he would have been nominated. The point was that we so often choose based on looks or style. There is some study about how the taller of the two presidential candidates is almost always the one we elect, whatever that may tell us.

Electing a President is not giving out an Academy Award. Nor is it, as my brother would comment, like looking for a “genial host,” as on the late night talk shows. The template is flawed. This country is suspicious of intellectuals, they prefer “bluff, plain-speaking people,” like Reagan and the Bushes and even Trump, with his phony red cap, portrayed themselves to be.

Or on our side, we are looking for a combination of JFK and RFK and MLK, and many thought that Obama was that, so preferred him to Hillary, who always said that she was not comfortable on the political stage, but who has great gifts of intelligence and the ability to work with people to create important policies. Her husband said in his speech at the 2016 convention, that she was the greatest change-agent that he had ever seen.

That is what we need, much more than someone who can give eloquent speeches and talk in platitudes. Not that a speech cannot be helpful or memorable at times, but someone like Obama, whose entire career seem to encompass giving speeches, was never preferable to the intellectual and actually liberal Hillary. But we so often get fooled, and likely will again in the future.

I would feel very comfortable and optimistic with Schiff as President, because he is uncommonly bright, intellectual, knowledgeable, thorough, articulate; and from everything I have seen or read, scrupulously honest. Of course he is not a “minority” person, with the current cachet which this brings. He is Jewish, which is a minority, but a very small one, and would not gain him any substantial amount of votes by itself.

In short, he is not the kind of candidate we elect as President. Which is something to consider, since last time, we looked at the twenty or so candidates who were running in the Democratic primaries. and most of us had a hard time finding any of them who was both what we really wanted, and who could also win a national election. We need to have a better evaluation of what we want in a President, as we face a particularly dangerous era, not only in terms of issues to deal with, but a Republican Party which has no soul, no interest in fixing anything; only in power and wealth and tyranny. We need someone who will perceive this, speak about it, and can deal with the immense threat they pose to our civilization.

Make It All a Referendum on Trump

Chuck Grassley, who always liked to act as if he was a decent, reasonable man who just had Conservative principles, stood up at what was in essence a Trump rally, and cheered him on. Cheering for the man who not only instigated and plotted the violent Capitol insurrection, but was exultant at the violence, and would do it again, even right now, if he could.

That is it, at least for me. We cannot just treat this as interesting, or “How low will they go?” If we are going to lose our democracy (and I am not saying that we are, but we all realize that it is possible) then do so while we are courageously calling evil by its name. Do not let the populace get away with pretending to themselves that it is just a pleasant game of politics, or that both sides are equally unappealing.

If it is war for the soul, and even the survival, of America, then let us say that. There is no way to minimize the damage and destruction that any political party headed by Donald Trump would do to the country. Don’t just sit by, hoping that it won’t be so bad. Don’t expect that some “good Republicans” will dilute or mute any of it. There are almost none left; virtually any man or woman who identifies as a Republican at this stage is Trump in miniature.

So run against Trump in every national or local election. “A vote for Jones is a vote for Trump.” “Smith is a mouthpiece/surrogate/minion of Trump.” Every time. Obviously, some of these candidates will win, some are virtually guaranteed to keep their seats. But make them own who they are. Get people to realize that these men and woman are virtually slaves of Trump. See if they deny it. See if they will say that their opponent keeps focusing on Trump, instead of the “good people of our state.”

Keep attacking Trump. For his acts, his speeches, his immorality, his lies, particularly about the pandemic, and the nearing a million deaths as a result of it. Don’t be afraid to go over the top, if this were even possible with this monster. They lie about and misrepresent everything, anyway, so let their propaganda networks scream about that, too. The most important thing is to warn and warn and warn people that Trump is Hitler; that the only book he ever read was “Mein Kampf,” that he wants to turn this country into the Fourth Reich.

I would want every future election, starting right now, to be about Donald Trump. Let people decide if they want to elect him, in person, or his acolytes. Do not let them escape the implications of what they will cause with such a vote. I could never guarantee that most of them won’t do it anyway, but some might shrink from going off the precipice.

In a way, the news media helps allow them to avoid this moral reckoning, by continuously acting as if things are normal, that all we need to discuss is the fate of Democratic bills, or Afghanistan, or areas of disagreement in the Biden inner circle. What we need to be discussing, and reacting to, and dealing with, is the very real danger of a Nazi regime headed by Trump. That would completely subsume these other matters. If someone is threatening do destroy your house, you do not worry about which of the cereals in your cupboard is preferable.

If we got paid by the word for all the articles written about “What Should the Democrats Do?,” “Where Are They Going Wrong?,” we would be rich. No one writes articles about what Republicans do, because like the entities in the Kendra Smith song “Maggots,” “They do what they do what they do.” Or it is like analyzing zombies, there is no point in it. But Democrats, they are a good target. I say “target,” because I am not sure that some of these writers actually care if they win or not, they just dive into the juicy topic.

People who are Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to engage in self-searching and recrimination. One reason is that they are far more intelligent and nuanced than Republicans. Another is that they are a party of disparate identities and goals. So by mathematical probabilities, there is bound to be at least one segment of the party which is very unhappy with how things are going.

And Democrats cannot help but want to tell everyone where they disagree with the other Democrats. In a healthier time, this would be acceptable. Now, it is almost suicidal. To be fair, not many Democrats in office are doing it, but just enough are to let the Republicans win. It is the staple of the media; what would they do if there were no Democrats to criticize and mock? Write about their office parties? More likely, pledge obeisance to the new fascist leader. Like an alarming number of people, they probably are more comfortable being told what to do, and herded behind a rope, as Trump did to them.

The media is mostly hopeless, but the Democrats need to go out there and tell everyone, over and over, that they are running against pure evil. The devil, if they wish to use that term. Those who would subjugate them. And if they don’t believe that, then those who are grifting off them, stealing their money, taking away the social safety net, and all the benefits and programs the Democrats pushed through in the 1930’s and 1960’s. And throwing away the budget surplus that President Clinton once gave them, and now making them pay off the eleven trillion in debt that Trump and his cohorts in crime ran up.

Those who say that Democrats get too bogged down in policy details, are probably right. Most people don’t care, or don’t understand. What they might understand is what living in a totalitarian state would be like. No right to abortion for any woman. No Medicaid. No help for schools or medical providers. No disaster relief, unless you lived in Texas or Florida.

Show them pictures of the tenement slums of the 1880, and the Dust Bowl, which came because farmers who did not care about anything but short-term profits, over-farmed the land, leaving insufficient soil. What to they imagine is going to happen to our environment with another Trump term? One would think that the media would also worry about that, but they are apparently intoxicated with the high of chasing Democrats.

Tell them about climate change, what it has done and will do. I know that no one wants to think about it too much, but people have to be at least told what is at stake. And tell them what will happen with this or the next pandemic, with Republicans in charge. Tell them how Trump lied about it, every day, how he told people to take worthless and dangerous chemicals. Tell them what will happen if he or indeed any of this followers get elected.

We may lose even so, but at least we will have met the enemy straight on. Run against Donald Trump, the insane, sociopathic, brutal dictator in waiting who is the face of the Republican Party. Keep demanding that their opponent in any race tell the public what he thinks about Trump, and why he supports him. Keep them on the defensive, having to support or excuse Trump, and the insurrection. If Republicans go back to their talking points, keep hammering away at ours, no mater what the cluckers in the media keep telling us about how we Democrats should act, and what we should say. Ultimately, they are just surface noise; dangerous and misleading to be sure, but a kind of illusion thrown up, like the witch Mombi did in “The Land of Oz” sequel to the “Wizard of Oz.”

“We have only just begun to fight,” comes to mind. “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Fall

You may be wondering where I am. Or you may be a fan of William’s essays and didn’t even realize I was missing. I’m still here but there were a couple of things that happened recently. The first is that I *finally* got another job. It took long enough. And while it’s more suitable to whatever strengths I have, it’s still taking some creative problem solving skills. I’ll say no more at this time. Just saying that my mental elves are doing other stuff right now.

The second thing is I sprained my ankle. So, all that fitness work was for nought. It’s much better than it was a month ago but it’s taking a longer time than I like to be as good as new again and I am impatient.

Today, I’m taking a road trip to see the fall colors. Summer has lingered in Pittsburgh, maybe even overstayed its welcome. The temperatures have been in the 70s and low 80s. I still have peppers and eggplants growing in the containers on my patio. There is a fall colors festival in Clarion, PA. So off I go. The trees in Pittsburgh have little fall color. It looks mostly dry. You have to drive almost 2 hours north before you see leaves just starting to turn.

It’s too facile to pass it off as an artifact of climate change but difficult to pass it off as anything else. Europe had a crap summer with low temps and rain. Is that also a sign of climate change because of the decreased salinity of the water flow from the Gulf of Mexico to the west coasts of Europe? Where did I read that as a consequence of glacial melt?

There are shortages again. The global supply chain has bern disrupted by covid and a trade domino effect. Add that to the tendency towards strong men and it all feels a bit like one of those Fall of Civilizations podcasts. Each civilization seems to have been preceded by a natural disaster. Then pestilence. Then the trade routes are disrupted. Then the enforcers of civility are distracted. Then the sea peoples start marauding, the whole world goes to hell and the dark ages descend on us. What was it like for the people who witnessed the end of their civilization? Did they realize what was happening? Did they say, “well, that’s the end of the Bronze Age, people. Let’s head for the hills.” Or “The Romans just left Albion. So, that’s not good.”

Or a Hari Seldon type manifests the Foundation into being and the encyclopedists head to the edge of the galaxy to the appropriately named Terminus to keep the flame of civilization going until the barbarian hordes stop killing each other.

Not all natural disasters end in a dark age. It’s been argued that the bubonic plague of the 14th century lead to the scientific revolution and enlightenment two centuries later by eliminating the clergy and aristocracy that kept everyone else from defying the natural world order and trying new things. In our current era, it’s Joe Manchin and Kirsten Sinema who are playing this role. I’m not sure why it is that quality of life solutions that the rest of the developed world takes for granted are somehow *bad* for Americans. We really must be exceptional.

The thing is the world feels like it is standing on the edge of a knife. “Stray but a little and it will fall.”

The question is, which way?

The Persistence of Memory

I was talking to my girlfriend about the movie “The Aeronauts” which we had just seen, and somehow I forgot Felicity Jones’ name. I don’t know why, I could not think of it. I do seem to have trouble sometimes thinking of the names of actors. She does not, she knows virtually every one of them. She also knows the names of their children, including the middle names. She knows the direct line of succession to the English Crown, at least fifteen of them. I finally learned the first eight or so. but it was a struggle.

So she was a bit worried, because she thinks that I remember everything. I told her that one is apt to forget a few things, and that I particularly have trouble remembering the names of actors in a movie. But one I had just seen, that was a tiny bit discomfiting. So on my own, I tried to remember all of the coaches in the National Football League. I did pretty well, particularly since I don’t follow the league that much, and I don’t know some of the coaches just hired. Then I tried the names of college football coaches, and I was pleased that I remembered most of them.

And then I decided to tell her about all the teachers I had in early school. Miss Smith and Mrs. Ziegler in nursery school. Mrs. Ziegler told me that I should give her a lock of my curly hair when I had it cut, which I did, though in retrospect it seems a bit odd. First grade ( I never went to kindergarten), Mrs. Dyck, a nice somewhat older lady. B2, Miss Schillig, the classic pretty and nice teacher you always remember. A2, Mrs. Bradley, an unpleasant older woman who would make children she thought were misbehaving stay for fifteen minutes in a dark closet.

B3, I skipped. A3, Mrs. Perlmutter, a nice teacher. B4 and A4, Mrs. Trout, a very sweet older woman who liked me a lot. B5, Mrs. Lear, the school librarian, who did not, for whatever reason; she almost never called on me. A5, Mrs. Archibald, she was even worse, and I think she was a right-wing Republican. Sixth grade, Mrs. Moore, who was also a Republican, and was not very friendly.

On to Junior High School; and I will skip around a bit so as not to bore everyone with the list. B7, Mr. Hamilton for English. He was a fun teacher, liked to have the students diagram sentences at the blackboard, I loved that. He also brought a pomegranate to class one day, and asked what the significance was; and I knew it was what Pluto offered to Persephone to entice her to join him in Hades, in the Greek Mythology. He gave it to me as a prize, and I was proud, and I liked pomegranates, anyway.

Miss Darough, such a sweet woman, who taught General Music. She played records of great musicals and some famous classical pieces. A7, Miss Respiss for English; the antithesis of Mr. Hamilton; a waspish older woman with a Southern accent who I was sure did not like me, for whatever reason I have no idea.

Miss Clement in Math, seemed sort of out of an old movie; stern, steel gray hair, quite boring. Mr. Santoyo for Art; a nice guy, knew that I was not very good, but gave me a “B” for trying hard. Mr. Crippin for Gym, a decent sort.

I had to take Drafting (our junior high school required Shop classes, which I mostly hated).. I couldn’t draft much, but the teacher, whose name I will not mention, gave spelling tests every Friday, using words from the field ; and I never missed one, which is how I got my “A.” In the middle of the semester, he suddenly disappeared, and another kid said something about “molesting,” which I really did not know what that meant, since I lived a protected childhood, but it sounded bad. I also took Gardening, required, and I grew radishes.

Mr. O’Ryan for Woodshop. I hated that; my friend up the street helped me carve the required wooden duck. Mr. Asplund for Electric Shop. We had to make a radio, and I never got past step two. But he knew I was not suited for Shops, and he took me to a leadership conference with him, and that was fun. Later on, Mr Dyke for Metal Shop. The first project was metal tongs; he did one to show the class, and then gave it to me so I did not have to do it. And then finally the shop class I excelled in, Print Shop, where I was a whiz, and got my only “A” in Shops.

Mr. Pffeifer for Science, a friendly bespectacled man. Mr. Yorba for Spanish, who said I was “a gentleman and a scholar.” Miss Darough again for Choir. I had no confidence in my singing voice, and kept worrying that she would throw me out of there, but she never did, and a friend said that she told her that my voice was getting better and better. My girlfriend is sure that I could have been a singing star had anyone encouraged me. Mr. Powers, my homeroom teacher, for History. Mrs. Douglas for 7th Grade Social Studies.

Mr. Byrd for 8th grade Social Studies. We had a stupid assignment of drawing maps of countries and putting them in a notebook. I could trace the maps, but I had some trouble with punching the holes in he paper, so sometimes I put them in backwards. Mr. Byrd took it upon himself to open it up, show it to the class, and say, “Class, this is how not to make a notebook.” Everyone laughed. My junior high school friend Jane with whom I keep in touch, said that he was a “letch.” I have never forgotten his little remark, which he made because I was the brightest student in the class, and teachers seemed to really like me, or not like me, because of it. Maybe some thought that I was arrogant about it, although I don’t think I was pompous at all, though I did want to impress.

Miss Davis, what a sweetheart. She taught Algebra. She always gave me a very warm smile when I walked into class.. But she disappeared late in the semester, and someone said that she had some kind of nervous breakdown. I do hope that she recovered, I never found out.

Miss Moss in Science. She didn’t like me much. We were doing some kind of code game, and my little group of three made the message, one of the others’ idea, “We are all A students.” Miss Moss, who never said anything pleasant all semester said, “Well, that is a pipe dream.” I mentioned this to my mother, just in passing, and my mother said that I should have said “Well it hasn’t been.” And then she went to school to meet with Miss Moss, for which I was chagrined, but she never said an unpleasant thing to me the rest of the semester, and I got an A.

I took Journalism, with Mr. Ball, in ninth grade. I was editor for five weeks, and then they let other students have a turn, too. I remember doing an interview,, as an assignment, with Mr. Thompson, a gym teacher, and a good guy. He told me about his military service in the Korean War. He said he served in Juan San. I thought that he was joking, as he would do, and that he had served in San Juan. I wrote that in the paper. He saw me and said, “Hey, you wrote that I served in Puerto Rico during the Korean War! I was in Juan San, Korea!” I was very embarrassed, but he thought it was funny.

After Mr. Ball left, maybe to teach at a high school, Mr. Plog took over the Journalism class. One day, at the end of class, he asked me to take some papers to another classroom. There were only ten minutes between classes, and I told him that I was not sure I could make it, and I didn’t want to get a tardy slip. He said, “Follow me,” and he took the papers, and sped out of the room at a rapid pace; a short man with glasses walking like an Olympic champion. I could barely keep up. He made it to the classroom in about six minutes. He said, “Never say that you can’t do something!” I don’t know what lesson I derived from this, but it was entertaining. He could have just given me a note of excuse, and I would have delivered his papers for him.

Ah, Miss Roberts in French class. She was rather elegant, had some kind of advanced degree, and people wondered why she was teaching junior high school. We got along fine, but one day I was handing in something to her, and I had forgotten a requisite note from home about attending a class function at a French restaurant, and I said, “Oh, my god,, I forgot to bring it,” and she stiffened, and said, “Never say that in my classroom again!” She must have been very religious.

And then Mr. Means the gym teacher. I never had him, fortunately, but he would stand in the gym after class, when you were dressing after showering, and then he would say that we had five minutes to get out of there; and if someone did not, he lined them up, made them bend over, and he would whap them very hard with the locket or whatever was at the end of the chain he wore around his neck. This was a daily ritual, and most kids got whapped several times. Finally, for the only time, I was ten seconds or so late, and so I had to go through this, and it was quite painful. A student said to me at some point during the semester, that Mr. Means was a sadist; and I was not too familiar with that term, but got the idea; and he was, and should have been in jail.

What I should have done, was to just ignore him, and walk out of the gym. But you don’t get the chance to do those things twice. I have often spun out stories in my mind about getting to do parts of those years over again; always saying the right thing, being poised and with great teenage savoir faire.

Most of my experiences in junior high school were fine, though. I remember more teachers, but did not want to list them all. Miss Becker for 8th grade English; Mr. Goto for Biology; Miss Crawford for Spanish, were some others. And I could tell you about all my high school teachers, but you get the idea.

I remember all of it, particularly the things which had emotional content. I store them up, not deliberately. but I remember them, perhaps like some modern-day Madame Defarge. I would still like to tell Mr. Byrd what I think of him, but he is probably 90 or so. I wonder what happened to the other teachers I liked.

I have gone to some of my high school reunions, and it was nice to revisit the past. At the last one, someone I knew a bit in school, mostly because he was on the basketball team with my friend, came all the way over to my table to tell me that he admired me so much, because I always dressed well, and was intelligent and poised. I don’t remember at all feeling poised at any time during secondary school! It just shows one that, to use Robert Burns’ immortal phrase, it would be a gift if we could see ourselves as others see us.

Well, what was the point of my recounting all of this? Just for a change of pace; and to encourage myself that my memory is still quite good! She was very impressed, and said that there is no need at all to be concerned about my memory! I hope not, but this week I will see if I can name all the coaches of the college national championship basketball teams of the last fifty years or so. And I read a little about the career of Felicity Jones, so I will not forget her name again!

Some Thoughts Going Forward

All we have to do is watch a bit of news, or read a few things, and we can become dispirited and discouraged. We see that there is a force out there: they basically call themselves the Republican Party, but they are a loose amalgamation of insurrectionists, seditionists, destroyers, haters, racists, anti-semites, misogynists, crooks and cheaters, who keep battering at the gates. Their only goal is to take all the power. And as they batter, they also seek to wear out the energy and resolve of the good people who certainly do still exist. These evil forces never sleep, never compromise, they keep pounding away, as it is all that animates them.

Just reading a little about the attempted coup in the fall and winter of 2020-2021, would be enough to both convince and terrify. All the guardrails which we assumed we had built in this country turned out to be tenuously weak

These people that had spent parts of the last forty years looking for ways to take over the government, by finding weak spots, taking advantage of any ambiguities in the laws, and relentlessly pushing any possible electoral advantage of any kind, almost managed to get states to declare that the elections were fraudulent; and thus the Republican-dominated state legislatures must appoint different electors, and eventually throw the whole thing into statehouses, where the Republican candidate would end up with the most votes. They didn’t care how they got there, or how many rules or norms they trampled on the way; they just wanted to win, and take over forever.

And though they failed, it is said by many that it was a first effort, and now they will do it for certain, because they will win the Congress, and they have new laws in many states which would allow state officials to say that any result where the Republican did not win, was fraudulent, and that the Republican should be declared the winner.

This could happen, it would be foolish not to think so. There are a few anchors on cable news who repeat this nightmare vision every night, without really ever coming up with anything about how to stop it. I don’t think that it is very useful to do that more than once or twice. Otherwise, you demoralize everybody, and they either give up, or try not to think about it at all.

It is really up to us, after all. This is our country. There are more of us than there are of them, at least so far. It is true that a vicious and merciless minority could control a placid majority, but it is very difficult to maintain that. What we need to do, is to redouble any efforts we made in 2018 and 2020, and not somehow become complacent, or more likely, inert with frustration or despair.

What can we do? Well, it depends on each person, what she or he is capable of doing. But at least something. Be sure to vote in every single election, for every race where we can defeat Republican fascism. Anywhere they gain traction, they use it to corrupt other levels. Do not let them in.

Some can help others vote, or register them. Some can give some money; you can pick the most useful places to send it. We want every single person on our side to vote, no matter what kind of obstacles are put up by the totalitarians. There are organizations which are trying to register people, and make it possible for them to vote. If we ever take over more state legislatures, we can stop them from passing laws which limit the right to vote, and put in more safeguards to try to keep them from doing it the next time.

We have to figure out the proper framing of issues. Most of us do not get to have much input into that, but we can put it out there into the marketplace of discussion, at least. For my part, I would like to see us use the terms “fascism” and “totalitarianism’ more. You will note that as always, Republicans seek to preempt any of this, by accusing us of being the totalitarians, canceling them, forcing them to take vaccines, threatening Christmas.

We have got to stop being on the defensive, and we must be less afraid to insult or disparage the enemy. They are not our friends, we get no rewards for being nice to them. We must keep telling people what they represent and stand for, and maybe some of it will sink in. And we must warn and even legitimately scare people as to what they will do if they gain power. It is not even exaggerating for effect, it is true, so say it.

We must gerrymander as much as they do, even more. I am heartened to see that the state of New York is considering redistricting which would take away five or so seats from Republicans. Do it. This would balance the five that Republicans will steal from Democrats in Texas by siphoning the growing minority population into a few insidiously designed districts, there to be locked forever, if they have their way.

Attorney General Garland must do everything legally possible to uphold the right to vote, and to protect individual rights like abortion, under assault. He is a person of high moral standing, but seems very cautious and incremental, and there is no time for that, with the enemy at the gates.

I cannot guarantee how it will come out, but we can fight as hard as we are able., and in a variety of ways. I can get as depressed as anyone about all this, and I can perceive the arcs of history moving in the wrong direction. But just letting it happen is unthinkable. We have seen what happened in countries where the people thought, “Well, let’s just go along with this; resistance is ineffectual; we’ll just wait until it all blows over in a few years.” Or, “Let’s blame each other, and feel virtuous in our purity while we are getting routed.” That never worked, either; look at 1968 and 1972 for proof.

What we simply must not do is give up. We came this far, and the evil forces are not actually winning; not yet, at least. If we listen to too much media, they will suck us into their repetitive narrative that we are losing, and that any win is really the precursor to defeat. Whatever reason they do this for, is ultimately enervating to try to discover, so we must just ignore it as much as possible. Maybe they will get tired of repeating their phrases to an audience which ignores them. There are some good media people out there; follow them and disdain the rest of them.

I just rewatched the movie “The Aeronauts,” which I highly recommend. It is the kind of old-fashioned, well acted, literate, and thrilling entertainment which is largely missing from the screen, so it is always very gratifying when it appears. The last lines Felicity Jones’ gallant aeronaut speaks in voiceover, are, “You don’t change the world simply by looking at it. You change it by the way you choose to live in it. Look up. The sky lies open.”

“The Fall of the House of Usher”

Before I start, what an exciting win by the Dodgers over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Wildcard game Wednesday night. I do not like the concept of sports “Wild Card” teams, but that is a topic I will not subject you to, at least as long as the Dodgers, who won 106 games in the regular season, did not get beaten by a Cardinals team which won 90 games, and thus get eliminated from the playoffs.

It was a very exciting game. My mother and my grandmother were from St. Louis, so while I was always a Dodgers fan, I had a bit of fondness for the Cardinals; and I think that the Dodgers and Cardinals have the best uniforms in baseball. Anyway, now the Dodgers must play the San Francisco Giants in a best of five series. I think that the Giants are better, with the Dodgers’ best power hitter having been injured in the last game of the season, but at least the Dodgers have a chance.

Now, on to the actual topic. I think that “The Fall of the House of Usher” is Edgar Allan Poe’s greatest short story, out of so many superb ones. The atmosphere is unparalleled, and the tale itself is mysterious and opaque. There may be more levels to the story than it would seem on a first reading, as they are never completely spelled out. From the very first paragraph, the tale has the nature of a strange dream which cannot be dispelled.

It starts in this way: “During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, in view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was–but with the first glimpse of evening, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit…”

From the very first paragraph, a sense of doom, ominousness and dread suffuses the story. There are only three major characters: the unnamed narrator, his former boyhood friend Roderick Usher, who has written to him after not having seen him for years, and Roderick’s sister Madeline, who never speaks a word in the story, but is a significant and haunting presence.

It is a story told by the narrator, who I think we are to perceive as a reliable witness to the events he describes. Yet he mentions opium dreams on more than one occasion, so there is always this question, as with any Poe story, as to how much is real, and how much is imagined . What he describes is the falling apart of all aspects of the House of Usher: the physical nature of the two siblings, their mental state, and then the house itself.

There is a memorable poem which Usher apparently wrote, and which he reads to the narrator, “The Haunted Palace” It is in the nature of a medieval Conceit, where the house itself is the actual image and reflection of the state of its owner. It is the major theme of the story, though there are other intimations which are even more disturbing than that basic metaphor; and the reader might choose to focus on any one of them, or not; they are never spelled out.

One may or may not like this kind of story; I always did. What makes a horror story unforgettable is that it is usually self-contained; its relative brevity offers a glimpse into a strange and potentially frightening world. What it is not, is something that goes along at length. Now, there are of course great horror novels, though not too many; the best horror is in short fiction, I think. (If you are in the mood for a horror novel, read “The Monk” by Matthew Lewis, or “Ghost Story” by Peter Straub).

I am writing about this, because I just read that there is going to be a TV series “adapted” from “The Fall of the House of Usher.” It is being done by Mike Flanagan, whom I have never heard of, but who apparently has a reputation in this genre, with other adaptations he has done. This will have eight episodes, all written by Flanagan, who directs four of them. He says, “I’m so excited about this series. It’s like nothing else we have ever done.” The “we” apparently refers to his frequent collaborator Michael Finognan, who will direct the other four episodes.

Now if this itself were a horror story, I would think that Flanagan and Finognan were the same person, or perhaps tulpas, but I think that they are real people. And when I first saw this headline, I had an immediate thought of, “My favorite Poe story!,” and then immediately, “But there is no way this is going to be any good.”

I have no idea of the creative and literary abilities of Flanagan. Most script writers these days are not as good as the legends of the past, though of course that is just my opinion. But even irrespective of that, you cannot take a short story by the greatest short story horror writer ever (though Marjorie Bowen is close!), and make it into eight hour-long episodes. It would be like trying to make a long poem out of a sonnet, it belies the concept.

Poe’s story is meant to be the length it is, because he tells all that he wants to tell. One can extrapolate and surmise about some of it, but Poe does not tell us, nor may he want to. It can be exciting to explore deeper layers, but the writer usually wants to leave us with that ambiguity. If it is spelled out, the work loses much of its power.

There was a TV series a few years ago based on Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” I watched the first one or two episodes, but it got bogged down, as such things will do, because it is not something that should be stretched out. TV shows of course are usually meant to be stretched out. Some are meant to be open-ended, the longer they can draw an acceptable audience size, the better the producers like it, and the longer it will go. Some shows are circumscribed by length from the beginning, and those are usually the better ones, I think, because they are not artificially stretched out.

The only way that “The Fall of the House of Usher” can be stretched into eight hours, is for the writers to add all sorts of things that are not in the story. For example, there is no violence, but I would bet that there will be some in this one. There are only three characters in the story (except for the mention of servants), and only two of them, the narrator and Roderick Usher, speak. But you know that there will be new characters in this so-called adaptation, and they will of course say and do things, and turn the story into something else. It might be interesting, it might be ridiculous, but it will only partially be Poe’s story.

I get bothered by such things more than many. I know that it is just a show; and there are about 500 shows, it seems, from TV, to streaming services, so why should it matter? Well, I am a purist when it comes to great literature. And “Usher” is great, in that it may be one of the most atmospheric works of short fiction ever written.

It is somewhat over the top, perhaps, but it draws you in to what is almost a dream world, so much so that one could almost wonder if the narrator has imagined it all, or is mentally unbalanced, as many of Poe’s short story narrators are. But I think he is sane, and he is just telling a haunting story. That is Poe’s story, so it should not be very much tampered with. My feeling is that if someone has a great idea for a story, then they should write that, not purloin someone else’s story and gain the audience which is drawn to the familiar name.

So I will not watch it; and if I hear that it is really great, I might change my mind, but I would be amazed if it is, because it is not Poe, it is these two writers who are writing it, using the original story only as a launching point for whatever they feel like putting in it. I am stubborn about this kind of thing.

I would not watch Steven Moffatt’s stories about Sherlock Holmes, where he “wittily” changed the titles (“A Study in Scarlet” became “A Study in Pink”), and then created his own Holmes and Watson characters. Holmes a self-described sociopath? Nonsense! And I have read all the stories. Nor would I see the other show with Holmes in New York, and Dr. Watson being a woman. Try this kind of thing with one of Jane Austen’s stories, and those who love her novels would be outraged! But they keep doing it with Holmes.

The famed “B movie” director Roger Corman actually made some entertaining films of some of Poe’s stories. They were deliberately overplayed, usually with Vincent Price doing his unique mix of urbanity and malevolence, in stories which always had some humor in them, too. That was not Poe, he never had humor in his stories, but no one pretended that these were the actual stories, though they were filmed well, with fantastic settings filled with tapestries and flowing gowns. I must admit that I am curious as to what Flanagan and Finognan have in mind–but not curious enough to actually watch, and get upset at the liberties they are taking with the story. And of course there will be many who think that this version is actually Poe’s story, which is just not right.

Even so, this cannot be as upsetting to me as when I learned that a playwright named Bryony Lavery was adapting “Treasure Island” for the stage, with Jim Hawkins being a young woman. They actually filmed this for movie theatres, and I vigorously boycotted it by not going. An outrage! “Treasure Island” is probably the greatest adventure novel ever written. Leave my favorite stories alone!

The Soulless Network

This is a fascinating though upsetting topic. It is mostly about Facebook, which is a very big company, but it is about concepts even larger than that.

This is something that many of us had sensed from the beginnings of Facebook, and increasingly so in recent years. Frances Haugen, who had worked in the later disbanded “civic integrity division” at Facebook since 2019, revealed on last week’s airing of “60 Minutes,” that she was the whistleblower who had anonymously filed complaints with federal agencies, contending that the company was magnifying hate and misinformation in the service of greater profits. She said, “Facebook, over and over again, has shown that it chooses profit over safety.”

There is no doubt that Facebook is constantly collecting and analyzing its consumer data, obviously trying to see how it can make even more billions of dollars. I have never joined Facebook, on principle, but I have looked at some of the pages of my favorite musical artists, to see if they are coming out with new material, or touring. I used to be able to read the comments, but now I can’t, either because they have made it impossible for non-subscribers, or possibly because I need to update my browser. It is not a big deal, I do not need to even view a Facebook page.

I remember reading about an event in its earlier days, where Facebook was caught doing different versions of news stories for different readers., trying to test if the stories changed their moods. They got a lot of criticism for the mind control implied in this “experiment.” They said something about how they were just seeing if the stories they ran did have an emotional effect, which was obviously a lie and a deflection.. Right then, it should have been obvious just what Facebook was about, but the story died down.

I did not really know anything about Facebook, until I saw the movie “The Social Network,” written by Aaron Sorkin,and directed by David Fincher. It essentially portrayed the college-age Mark Zuckerberg as a burgeoning sociopath, who started Facebook as a device for him and his friends to “rate” women’s looks. He undoubtedly has some aspects of computer-level genius, but he was shown to have no empathy, honor,or soul. He stole the Facebook idea from two other Harvard students.

The portrayal was controversial, and Sorkin wanted to emphasize that it was meant to be a balanced portrait, showing that he also admired Zuckerberg in some ways. I thought that it was an entertaining yet chilling story of a man who paradoxically connects with no one, while he has constructed the world’s largest social forum. But I didn’t worry about it; I thought that Facebook was just another diversion for people, one that I had no interest in participating in.

But then (from a distance, as I did not have firsthand knowledge as to what they did there), I learned about the social experiment of trying to affect subscribers’ moods. Then I read that they were doing various social surveys, and that Zuckerberg was floating the idea of running for President. This then seemed very unnerving; a cold-blooded person devoid of empathy, seeing if he could manipulate people’s minds into voting for him, so that he could rule the world.

I didn’t know about the “news” pages of Facebook, but I learned about them in the 2016 campaign, when I found that they were running (allowing to run? Is there a tangible difference?) thousands of made up, virulently propagandistic news stories which attacked, lied about, and denigrated Hillary Clinton. And I learned that these ceaseless stories were influencing people’s attitudes toward her, while Trump, was getting the favorable lies written about him. And I read various comments from people who said that someone in their family was turned against Hillary, and they had told them that it was because of things they had read about her on Facebook.

They thought they were reading real news. They were reading propaganda, usually complete lies, written by Russians who were trying to get Trump elected, and by Far Right agitators who also were working for Trump. They pounded away, every hour, with new lies and disinformation; and naive and susceptible people imbibed it.

There is no doubt that Facebook had some kind of relationship with members of the Trump campaign, and with Cambridge Analytica. Data about users was mined, sent to Cambridge Analytica; and algorithms were developed which targeted users in key battleground states. Ads and stories were then concocted,to be shown specifically to different users, based on what was known about them. Brad Parscale was intimately involved in this. Paul Manafort fed data to his Russian colleague Konstantin Kilimnik,who used it to target the specific towns to focus on, and what ads Russia would write and put on Facebook.

Surely Zuckeberg knew about all of this. It would be impossible not to think that he and his company played a major role in Trump’s otherwise unfathomable win. Hillary was up 10-15 points in many post-convention polls, even after Comey reluctantly cleared her in June, 2016; and somehow that lead dissipated, even though every post-debate survey had her winning all three of the debates. So how could this lead fade? It seemed inconceivable, but not if one realized, and so very few of us did, that people were being propagandized by thousands of fake stories put on Facebook, which of course had tens of millions of subscribers.

The 2016 election was the triumph of evil over good. It was also the triumph of modern computer algorithmic technology to control the minds and then the actions of people. The sad truth is that every new invention, every technology, is open to being used and perverted by people with malignant ends. And there is no countervailing force to combat it.

So after 2016, Facebook suffered nothing. They went on doing the same thing. There are stories that Trump and Zuckerberg made a deal where if they would treat Trump favorably, he would make sure that they were not regulated or bothered by his administration. That is a typical deal between sociopathic, megalomaniac officials, and money- and power-obsessed businesspeople. It went on in earlier eras, but the power and influence they both have are far greater and more dangerous now.

So now we see, from Haugen’s interview, and from other sources, that Facebook deliberately wants to have the most anger-producing, and fear-enhancing stories and topics on their pages. Why? Because it gives them more viewers who spend more time there. That means more advertising revenue for Facebook, they can sell more ads that way. Bottom line, baby. If it bleeds, it leads. If it gets readers upset, they will want to stay on Facebook, to share their anger and fright with others.

Haugen believes that Facebook was significantly responsible for the January 6 violent insurrection at the Capitol. She says that Facebook was once again allowing blatant lies about the election; people alleging fraud, and how Trump was cheated; and that this led to increasing anger and thirst for violence, which took place on that never-to-be-forgotten day in America. And I am sure that she is right; and that means that Facebook is worse than irresponsible or greedy, it is evil. Nicolle Wallace today on her show said that outside of violent gangs of criminals, she believes that Facebook is the most malignant force in America today, which is quite a statement; and of course she was once Communications Director for President George W. Bush.

Now, I will slightly change the perspective, to try to give it fuller scope. I have an MBA, just one of the areas I studied. I had no business background prior to that, and did not even know what “CEO” stood for. I, along with several of my entering classmates, needed to take a Calculus class in summer school to be admitted to UCLA GSM. So I took it, and I looked for another class to possibly take while I was on campus there.

I tried out a class in Strategic Management, but after sitting in for one session, I decided to take it later in regular term. On the day I sat in, the professor passed out a mimeographed “case study,” about a company, its balance sheet and history. It was accompanied by a framing story, which I assume was invented, along with the balance sheet, to provoke class discussion. Company case studies, real and invented, are a staple of Management schools.

This one told of a company which was having some problems. It mentioned a manager who had suffered a heart attack, had to slow down; had returned, but the financial numbers were not as good. So the class was invited to comment, and make suggestions as to what should be done, as if they were analysts asked by the company to provide solutions.

Immediately, students said that this manager should be fired. Another said, like an incipient predatory capitalist, “Clean out the deadwood.” My background was in literature and history, and then law school, not the business world. I asked, a bit tentatively, as I had no knowledge of the parameters of organizational analysis, was it not important to realize that this manager had a long and honorable record in this firm, and couldn’t they perhaps give him a valued position in another area there?

The professor threw it open to the class, “Do you think that this is a valid aspect to discuss in this analysis?” Of about 80 people in the class, just three or four, including me, raised their hands to say that it should be. That gave me an immediate insight as to what Graduate School of Management was about. Actually, I later found an area of study there which was unusual, in that it was taught by leaders in the “Human Potential movement” of the 1960’s and ’70’s, and was about the human side of the workplace. That was very rare, and I am glad that I had the opportunity to study this field in depth.

But we know about the “Harvard MBAs” of the ’80’s, those who came out of those programs, and became venture capitalists, selling off assets, and costing careers, so that they could profit from it. The human equation never mattered to such people.

And that is what we primarily have now in the business world: brainy but soulless people who are only concerned about how much money they can make for the company and themselves. And if their surveys and algorithms show that frightening and angering people gets them more profits, they will do it without a thought. They hide behind a vision of business which says that the only thing you are supposed to do is to try to make the most profits, and the rest of it will fall into place.

“Let the market decide,” they love to say; that is the watchword of Friedman Economics. If this sells ,then do more of it. It is economic darwinism. Its dictates are scrubbed of all moral considerations. You are free to be as singlemindedly avaricious or financially predatory as you want, because the market is the moral arbiter, the only one which matters, and you bear no responsibility for any of the rest of it. “Clear out the deadwood.”

Unless we stop reifying simplistic charts of supply and demand; and stop worshipping unfettered laissez-faire; and stop adulating people just because they are immensely rich and powerful, and they use their influence only to gain more wealth and power, without any interest in values like honesty and honor and the psychological welfare of others, we will never move toward breaking this cycle.

Maybe Ms. Haucken’s testimony before Congress this week will help; but Republicans there are loving what Facebook does for their party, and they have shown that they have no interest in the other things. The public at large should realize what a pernicious place and entity Facebook is, but can they be weaned of the dependence, and the cheap pleasures of being manipulated by lies, that it has created?


The Oil Spill Off the California Coast

It was inevitable, of course. Drill for oil offshore, and there are going to be oil spills, sometimes massive ones which kill marine life, pollute miles of ocean, and threaten to cause major long-term effects to the ecological environment.

We just had another one. What the oil companies would just call the cost of doing business. This was caused by a company named Amplify Energy Corporation, operating out of Houston Texas, doing their oil drilling here in the ocean off the coast of Southern California. No one knows for sure what caused this, but it is assumed it was due to a leak in the pipeline.

126,000 gallons of oil is the current estimate of the leak. Most affected is Huntington Beach, but it is expected to pollute Newport Beach, and possibly other seaside communities in Southern California.

I could read more about the details, but it is so depressing and inevitable. If you drill for oil, you are going to have leaks and explosions and various disasters. Drill in the ocean, and you will inevitably pollute it, and kill the ocean life.

In 1969, there was a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara. I remember it, and I also well remember the novel “Sleeping Beauty,” by the brilliant writer Ross Macdonald,, which is centered around that event. Macdonald was a very concerned environmentalist; and the opening descriptions, of a young woman desperately trying to save birds which had been covered in oil, is wrenchingly unforgettable. The novel also deals with a very rich family which is trying to mute their responsibility for the disaster. Macdonald wrote highly literate and complex mystery novels, and there always was a Southern California social subtext, perhaps never so powerfully explored by him as in this book, though I would highly recommend all of them.

I was thinking of titling this essay, “Spill, Baby, Spill,” but it might have sounded flippant, which is far from my intention. There are people, always the same people, who are so infatuated with money, that they will sacrifice anything, including our natural environment, for it. The thought of running out of oil is their worst nightmare. If it destroys the oceans, and the creatures living there, that is no big deal to them. Get the oil, get all of it, drill everywhere; off the coastline of California and Alaska. Drill for it in the oceans, the wetlands, anywhere that you can orgasm about the black gold spouting into the air, making millionaires out of wildcatters,and billionaires out of the longtime oil families.

If I ran the country, and had the power to effect my wishes, I would ban all offshore oil drilling. Would we run out of oil, would prices shoot up? I don’t care. I am no expert in industrial production, or utilities. I don’t know which of them would be shut down as a result of no oil, but I am willing to risk it.

Or drill in Houston, where these misbegotten oil barons live, not here. They hate California there, and it is of no moment to them what they do to our coastline. Their only concern is the lawsuits, but they always seem to survive them, as the dreadful British Petroleum did. I remember watching some show on CNBC when I followed the stock market, and somebody was recommending to buy that stock “as a a bargain, because it is at its lows after the oil spill, and will bounce back.” Of course, the human and animal and bird and fish life destroyed will not bounce back, but fortunately for the Wall Streeters, there is no stock or proxy for those.

Some residents of Huntington Beach, along with environmentalists, are questioning the time it took for a response. They point to potential lack of coordination between the Coast Guard and local officials. That could well be true, and it would add to the effect of the tragedy. Didn’t I read something a year or two ago, about how the Coast Guard was being degraded in the Trump Administration? Maybe that was about something else, but they degraded every federal and public agency, undoubtedly to be able to skim off some additional millions for themselves.

So we have horrific fires, and hurricanes, and rainstorms out of mythology, and now another oil spill. We have been gifted with this incredible planet, maybe, as far as we know, the most beautiful one in the entire universe; it is not impossible, despite the billions and billions of stars which Carl Sagan proudly described each week. And we humans are in the process of destroying it. Because of obscene greed, ignorance, arrogance, stupidity, and some insane need to destroy things, as if it gives these perverted people a sense of having power over them.

How many people died or suffered in the winter freeze in Texas, because the people who own that state insisted on privatizing and monetizing their power grid? How many people died or “just” lost their home during Hurricane Katrina, because the Bush Administration, run by oil barons, had substantially cut funds to FEMA?

I try not to drive very much, trying to at least cut a tiny bit out of oil company profits. What if millions of people did that? Maybe it would make no difference, but it would be worth a try. How about a series of “fireside chat” type presentations by this Administration, presenting suggestions as to how to cut down on fossil fuel usage?

Democrats in Congress must stop posturing, and pass every possible environmental regulation, to move the country away from coal and oil, in the dual bills stalled at this juncture. Do not apologize for it. I would not mind if all the oil companies went out of business. Yes, there would be some inconveniences, and of course it could not be done all at once, anyway. But let’s pass sweeping environmental legislation, and blow up the filibuster to get it done. Or do we just want to sit here and watch the planet burn, and have the oceans suffocated with oil? And Gavin Newsom has a chance to do something wonderful by banning all offshore drilling in California. It is far from impossible to do that.

What we have the actual power to do, is not certain. But we can sure try to find out. We really have nothing to lose by trying, as against what we lose by not doing much of anything besides watching massive oil spills be just another part of the depressing headlines we are confronted with. And of course I know that there are many people who do care, and who want to do something; and often give money or time to environmental causes. We need a full-fledged government effort to help coordinate and give impetus to it, without a the delay of even one more day.