Eclipse Over Trumpistan

Eclipse Over Trumpistan

    Astronomy has always been another passion of mine. All those heavenly bodies moving around, and of course we inhabit one of them (for now). It’s like a cosmic dance, the music of the spheres. Of all the phenomena of the sky, the most dramatic is a total eclipse of the sun, which happens today. The disk of the moon will exactly cover that of the sun for about two minutes. Sometimes it doesn’t quite cover the sun, and that’s an annular eclipse. The reason for the discrepancy is that the moon’s orbit is slightly elliptical (there will be an annular eclipse in 2019). The moon’s shadow slowly covers the sun until there’s just a tiny sliver left, then darkness. It’s spooky and mystical, those two minutes or so of totality. When the sun begins to emerge from the other side, there’s a bright flash called the diamond ring effect, then the sun continues to climb out of the dragon’s mouth.
    I wouldn’t trust those special glasses on sale everywhere. Even Amazon had to recall some of them. Solar filters sold for telescopes or binoculars are fine. You can also view the sun through a welders filter, #12 or higher. Best though, and easiest too, is a simple pin-hole projector. With a thumb tack or push pin, poke a hole in thick paper. Then use it to project the sun’s image onto another piece of white paper. There’s another really cool way to get the same effect, and fortunately you don’t need to be in the path of totality. All you need is the crescent sun, as projected with your pin hole. Look at the shadow of a tree, preferably on a flat surface like a sidewalk. There will be tiny spaces between leaves, which will project dozens of little crescents on the ground. It’s magical, and kids will love it.
    If you’re in the path of totality, there are delights aplenty. Something to look for, just in the final 30-30 seconds before totality, when the sun is only a sliver of a disk, are shadowy parallel bands of light and dark that seem to dance and ripple. You may also see them just after totality, following the diamond ring effect. They’re caused by tiny little eddies of air currents that are normally invisible. It’s the same phenomenon that causes stars to twinkle.
    It’s such a coincidence that the two bodies are so close to the same size in the sky; it’s tempting to attribute a religious context to it. Science tells us otherwise. When the moon was first formed it was much closer to us, and has been moving away at the rate of several inches a year. Right now it’s gravitationally locked to the Earth, so that it always shows the same face.
    I was in the path of totality in March of 1979, but it was clouded out. Still, at the moment of totality a shadow moved across the sky from horizon to horizon in a matter of seconds, it got dark, and the birds stopped singing. A couple minutes later the effect was reversed. Even that was pretty fascinating, so it’s easy to understand people who follow eclipses across the globe from year to year, much like Grateful Dead fans who followed the band from concert to concert. In both cases, it’s about the live performance.
    Something struck me as I looked at the path across the U.S. It begins on the coast of Oregon, and the 70 mile width of totality goes through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and finally South Carolina. It passes right through the heart of the Bible Belt. With the exception of western Oregon, it’s all red state territory — Trump country — where people tend to be somewhat science challenged. Trump won 92% of the counties in the path of totality. He won 80% of the evangelical vote nationwide. It’s astonishing that tens of millions of God fearing folks, who attend church regularly, could abandon every single precept of their faith to vote for a psychotic who displays no virtues of any kind. I mean, this guy has no respect for anything. He drives his golf cart right up onto the green, for God’s sake, the sports equivalent of heresy. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that these people wouldn’t be into a homeless, unemployed, dark-skinned Palestinian Jew who wasn’t overly fond of the rich.
    A great majority of them believe the Earth is only 6000 years old, and that the sun and all the planets revolve around the Earth. What will they make of this perfectly natural occurrence? Imagine what ancient people, with no knowledge of science, must have thought of this celestial spectacle. It would have seemed the world was ending. They pictured a dragon, or wolf, devouring the sun, then barfing it up later, I suppose. Perhaps among them was an elder of about thirty years of age, who had seen this happen before. What power he could wield with the knowledge he had. He could have demanded all sorts of goodies in order for him to make the sun come back. If he could predict the event beforehand, he could gain even more respect and power. Stonehenge has been found to predict lunar and solar eclipses, which is pretty sophisticated technology for 5000 years ago. Heck, the Earth would have still been in its swaddling clothes.
    In Joshua 10:12-13, Joshua said, “Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon,; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed . . . in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.” That’s a pretty impressive feat, and many people  who are literalists believe every word as it is written. If such a thing actually were to happen, it would mean that Earth suddenly stopped rotating. And if that were the case, whole mountain ranges and continents would fly off into space, and tsunamis thousands of feet deep moving at thousands of miles per hour, would obliterate everything in their path. There would have been no one left to write the next verse.
    Millions of tourists are going to be heading for the path, and causing unimaginable traffic problems. On the other hand, local economies will receive a huge boost, and all in states that are suffering economically. Hotels, restaurants, snack wagons and baristas, people renting out their yards as parking lots, others renting out spare rooms, they’ll all reap benefits. Gift shops will sell eclipse paraphernalia of all various degrees of crapitude.
    Cheap special eclipse-viewing glasses will be everywhere, and many were made with profit in mind, not safety. In the couple minutes of totality, many people will unknowingly be frying their retinas, leading to serious vision problems later, or even blindness. The irony is that many of them were already blind well before the eclipse, but either don’t know it or don’t care. They should save their receipts for the inevitable lawsuits that are sure to follow.
    I’m more concerned about the evangelicals, though. They’ll know it isn’t a world or dragon that ate the sun, but that ol’ Devil himself. They will likely think the end of the world is at hand. I know — it’s God’s punishment for their sin of voting for Trump. But if they pray real hard, like they’ve never prayed before, maybe the Lord will make the sun shine again. It’s also my hope that some will be moved by the spiritual and emotional intensity of this event, so that they’ll see things from perhaps a more open perspective. Well, I can always hope.

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More “Free” Stuff, Please

More “Free” Stuff, Please

    I am so sick of Republicans constantly bitching about “government handouts,” and people getting free stuff. During the 2008 campaign, GOP nominee Mitt Romney said “If you want more free stuff, then you should vote for the other guy.” It’s part of their core ideology. The mere idea that somewhere, someone is getting something free makes them positively apoplectic. I remember a quote from Newt Gingrich about unemployment insurance: “I don’t believe in giving people money for doing nothing.” If we went by that logic, we’d have to fire nearly every Republican in the House and Senate, as well as the President and his entire staff. We, the American people, have become host to a colony of parasites.
    In true Orwellian perversion of the language, they’ve demonized the word ‘entitlement,’ which to them means Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. But if someone has paid for these programs all their working lives through mandatory tax deductions, I’d say they’re damned well entitled to them. They’re not entitlements, they’re earned benefits. They’re always going on about entitlement reform. Let me offer some advice; whenever you hear a Republican use the word reform, run! Reform to them means deform, destroy, or much more likely, privatize.
    Here’s some more “free” stuff. If your house catches on fire and you call the fire department, do they charge you? (well, they do if it’s privatized, which it is in some places). If you call the police when a burglar is trying to break into your house, do you have to pay them? No, because you already have paid them; we all have, with our taxes. But Republicans will tell us how 40% of Americans don’t even pay taxes, so why should they get handouts? They neglect to say it’s because those people aren’t even earning enough to have to pay taxes. And even the poorest of us do pay sales and excise taxes on items we buy. Wages have been stagnating since the Reagan years, but that’s another topic. Other “free” stuff includes public education (for now), public libraries, roads, highways, bridges, and parks.
    Now the whiny, commie pinko liberals want free college. Why would we want to do that? Well, nearly all the other developed nations do, because they consider educating tomorrow’s leaders an investment in the intellectual infrastructure. After WWII the G.I. Bill sent millions of veterans to school. The economic multiplier effect was that for every dollar spent on that program, it returned $7 into the economy in terms of higher wages for more highly educated workers. But try to get a conservative to differentiate between spending and investment. Okay, then, let’s just start with free tuition.
    To the hardcore Right, working people are the “moocher class.” They have this narrative of makers and takers, where workers are taking from the rich (the makers), in the form of wages and hopefully, benefits. Why, the very idea. Let’s look at some real “free stuff.” For 200 years the oligarchs have resisted paying their share of taxes, framing it as the tyranny of the majority. All this time the real moochers have been the industrialists and the wealthy, which FDR called “economic royalists.” Some 40 years ago Ralph Nader coined the term “corporate welfare,” referring to the tax breaks and government subsidies. Every year, for example, the fossil fool industry receives over $500 billion in government subsidies of one kind or another. That’s almost the same as the defense budget, another program for the welfare queens in the defense contracting industry. A vast majority of farm subsidies go to the industrial food giants, like Cargill, Con-Agra, and Archer Daniels Midland. Big Pharma, Monsanto, Dow, Dupont and other giants get their share, too.
    Do you know what capital gains taxes are? That’s the tax that people pay not by labor or creating something, but making money with money. The top marginal rate right now for people who actually DO something is 39.4%. But people who sit on their fat asses by the pool waiting for their dividend check, those people only pay 20%. At present that rate is 23.8%, the increase being as a result of Obamacare, and those funds go to pay for the Medicaid expansion. What a bunch of moochers. And right now they’re lobbying Republicans to remove that extra tax “burden.”
    How do all these tax breaks and subsidies come to pass, literally? Today there are something like 36,000 registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C. who represent political positions from left to right. But the latter has by far the advantage, because many of the most powerful people in the country send their lobbyists to garner things like tax breaks and subsidies. Add to that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that spending money in politics is a form of free speech, and you can begin to smell the stink of filthy corruption.
    All of this was already present before the Trumpino crime family moved in and began dismantling what consumer protections we have. There’s some other free stuff I would like; being free to breathe clean air, to drink clean water without lead in it, and to eat food free from contamination by E-coli, lysteria, and salmonella.
    Right now, many cities and states have budgets in the red, especially the red states. They can’t afford to fix potholes in the roads, repair the crumbling bridges, or fund public education. And that’s because they lack the city or state revenues, and that’s because the real moocher class — the wealthy elite and multi-national corporations — aren’t paying their fair share of taxes. These are the people getting all the free stuff. Imagine a business that builds itself into multi million dollar enterprise. Think of all the roads, bridges, rail, phone and internet communications they must have used. To not want to pay for that much usage of our infrastructure is just plain un-American.
    The 1950s through the 1970s were probably the most prosperous in our history. The top marginal tax rate was 91%, then LBJ lowered it to 74%, nearly double today’s 39.6%. The rich were doing just fine, thank you, but nearly everyone was. We built an interstate highway system, and thousands of schools and hospitals. That infrastructure isn’t going to get repaired under the current administration, which is more concerned with taking more from the needy to give to the wealthy. So enjoy your “free” stuff while you can, because pretty soon the only people getting (even more( “free stuff” will be the elites.
    We have no choice but to resist this monstrosity. I’m not talking about 50,000,000 people in the streets. Lots of people may not be able to take a day off from work, if they can get it, to go protest somewhere. And if they’re arrested they can’t afford a lawyer. There are many ways to resist. Choosing where to spend your money is a political, as is what you eat. If you only resist in your mind, that’s a start. Resistance always works, because it creates friction  in the systems that try to oppress. Look at all the public outpouring at members of Congress offices, over a disastrous health care bill. A few more Republicans got worried about losing their seats, and that was enough to sink the bill. So we must resist. As Commander Taggart said in “Galaxy Quest,” “Never give up. Never surrender.” And I might add, try not to lose heart.

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No Boy Scout

No Boy Scout

by Professor Earnest Prankheimer

    You know the old expression about a shady guy: “He’s no boy scout.” So the Pestilence of the United States, who’s no boy scout, spoke July 24th at the National Boy Scout Jamboree. This year’s event was held at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve at Hope, WV. I assume it’s similar to the nation’s oil and gas reserves, where we store Boy Scouts in reserve in case we need them later. Surely at such an occasion, for once he would show some modicum of dignity and respect, if not for his office, then at least for the impressionable young minds in his audience. Of course not! I was just messin’ with ya.
    He opened his remarks by saying, “Who the hell [please watch your language, sir] wants to speak about politics in front of the Boy Scouts? Right?” He then proceeded to go on a political rant trashing the Democrats and fake news, and of course reminding everyone of his election win: “But do you remember that incredible night with the maps, and the Republicans are red and the Democrats are blue, and that map was so red, it was unbelievable, and they don’t know what to say.” Since the scouts are teenagers and ineligible to vote, they probably don’t remember that night like he does.
    “Boy, you have a lot of people here. The press will say it’s about 200. It looks like about 45,000 people. You set a record today,” he said inaccurately, though he was close to the number of 40,000. I myself was at the National Boy Scout Jamboree at Colorado Springs in 1960, and we had 50,000 scouts there, which at the time, was a record. He went on about the Scout Law: “A scout is trustworthy, loyal — we could use some more loyalty, I will tell you that.” It wasn’t clear whether he was referring to Senate Republicans holding out on the health care vote, his staff leaking to the press, or his attacks on Attorney General Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Since he brought up the Scout Law, let me go over it for you. “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. I want to examine each of these qualities, and see if this orange clown comes within light years of any of them.
    Trustworthy — You can ask the LGBTQ community. During the campaign he said he would fight for them. On Thursday, July 27th, he tweeted that transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve in the military. He did this without consulting anyone in the Defense Dept. Trustworthy? Would you buy a used car from this man?
    Loyal — No one is more loyal to Trump than Jeff Sessions, who was the first Republican Senator to endorse him. And even as Trump has called him weak and beleaguered, Sessions has remained loyal. You have no idea how much it hurts me to admit anything good about him.
    Helpful — Who has he ever helped, besides himself? Who? Name one person.
    Friendly, courteous, and kind — Alright, he has been all these things whenever he’s met with autocrat rulers like Saudi King Salman, Putin, and Turkey’s Erdogan. I can’t think of anyone else, though.
    Obedient — You mean, like, to the Constitution, on which he took an oath to preserve and protect? This double ass hat has never had to obey anyone in his life. And he doesn’t seem eager to obey nearly any of the 63 million who voted for him. He couldn’t give a shit less.
    Cheerful — See above under friendly, courteous, and kind.
    Thrifty — Yeah, right. He burned through $50 million his father gave (or lent) him, by the time he was 35. He’s so thrifty no U.S. bank will have anything to do with him.
    Brave — During the Vietnam war, when he was eligible for the draft, he got five deferments for bone spurs in his heel, which don’t seem to bother him now. I’d say ‘heel’ is the operative word here.
    Clean — I don’t know about his personal hygiene, but financially, legally, and morally, he appears to be pretty filthy.
    Reverent — Finally, a hit. He reveres power, and using it to bend others to his will.

    To further buttress my argument that the Pestilence is anything but a boy scout, here’s the Scout Oath: “On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty to God and my country, to obey the Scout Law, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” Physically strong? Have you looked at this fat ass? He looks like Jabba the Hutt. Mentally awake? I don’t think the pilot light is even on. He can’t even form a coherent sentence. And as for morally straight, I’ve never in my life seen a more immoral excuse for a human being.
    Let’s not forget the Scout Motto: Be prepared. No one has ever been less prepared to lead a nation, except perhaps the aptly named Anglo-Saxon king, Ethelred the Unready. Since he took office, he’s shown no leadership qualities whatsoever, because he has no idea what the hell he’s doing. He never wanted to be President; now he and we are stuck with it.
    Unfortunately, he went on: “And by the way, under the Trump Administration, you’ll be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again when you go shopping, believe me. ‘Merry Christmas.’ They’ve been downplaying that little beautiful phrase.” That’s highly likely, since it was late July.
    He described the scene in Washington D.C.: “Today, I said, we ought to change it from the word ‘swamp’ to the word ‘cesspool’ or, perhaps, to the word ‘sewer.’ Well, those last two words are better, but I think he’s forgetting that he’s the head alligator in that sewer.
    “By the way, just a question, did President Obama ever come to a jamboree?” he asked. No, but he did send a video message, so I guess you win that one, Mr. Pestilence.
    Then he launched into a long, rambling story of a guy who got rich, sold his company and bought a yacht and partied, and lost his momentum. “You have to know whether or not you continue to have the momentum  . . . and if you don’t have it, that’s okay.” Oh, good, then. So momentum isn’t that important, after all. I’m sure all the teenage boys in the crowd loved to hear a post-WWII yarn about yachts and riches. Better they should read The Great Gatsby. And I wouldn’t be talking about momentum at all, if I were him. He is and always will be the little engine that couldn’t.

    The speech drew criticism from far and wide. It put the President of the Boy Scouts of America, Randall L. Stephenson, in a tight spot. He is also Chairman, CEO, and President of AT&T, which is government approval for its $84 billion merger with Time/Warner (parent company of the “fake news” CNN). So the official apology was posted on the BSA website by the Chief Executive, Michael Surbaugh: “I want to extend my sincerest apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree.” It’s the first time in American history that the Boy Scouts of America has had to apologize for a speech by a President. While the organization is fairly socially conservative, it has always tried to avoid partisan politics.
    I spent four years in the Boy Scouts, and as a former Scout I was offended by the speech. But then, this raving jackass has offended me every time he’s opened his mouth. The Scout experience was a great one for me. I earned merit badges in Electricity, Cooking, Astronomy, and I can’t recall the other one. I don’t how much the Scouts have changed over the years; maybe they have merit badges for fracking now. Don’t kid yourself, though. All that knot tying and woodcraft is fine, but basically, this is a top-down, religious paramilitary organization. They wear uniforms, salute, play “Revelle” at oh-dark-thirty a.m., and include God in their Oath. It’s like the American version of the Hitler Youth Corps. Its purpose is to instill in its young men proper respect for authority and military thinking.
    The Boy Scouts of America has been chilly towards acceptance of gay and transgendered people, but at least they’re not as tone deaf as they used to be. When I was at scout camp in the late 1950s, we sang songs like “Darkie Sunday School,” and thought nothing of it. We also had another campfire favorite, not exactly PC either, that went like this: “Heap big smoke but no fire, heap big smoke but no fire, him talk lot but him not so hot, him heap big smoke but no fire.” Say, that does sound like a certain blow-dried blowhard, doesn’t it?

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R Amerikuns Getin Dummer?

R Amerikuns Getin Dummer?

    You tell me — I was a spelling champion in junior high. Sometimes it feels as if being educated and smart is a curse, when everywhere I look there’s so much ignorance and downright stupidity. I begin to wonder if U.S.A. stands for Unbelievably Stupid Americans. One third of us believe the sun revolves around the Earth. Half cannot name the three branches of government (corporate, banking, and war).
    It can be difficult sometimes to tell ignorance from stupidity, but they are two distinct conditions. Ignorance is merely a lack of education, and can be cured by it. Stupidity is terminal, though, and terminal. I can illustrate the point with a 2014 Gallup poll, which showed 42% of Americans believing the creationist view that the world is 6000 years old, and that man was created fully formed by God. When you check the numbers against education, though, you find that of those who went only through high school, 69% held that view. Among college graduates the number was 23%.
    This past July 4th, NPR tweeted the entire Declaration of Independence, in 140 character segments. Many people were outraged. There’s a passage that says when a government has become abusive, “it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.” One man tweeted that NPR was trying to foment a revolution. There are many accusations against King George that sound eerily familiar: “He has refused his Assent to Laws,” or “He has obstructed the Administration of Justice.” And how about this one: “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the Ruler of a free People.” I mean, Zap! It’s easy to understand the reactions of a certain orangutan’s supporters, none of whom have ever bothered to read the document itself. That’s ignorance, and it’s curable. The problem has always been that the patient must want to be cured.
    A PPP poll (Public Policy Polling) in August of 2016 found that 31% of Trump supporters were in favor of building a wall along the Atlantic Ocean to keep Muslims from entering the U.S. from the Middle East, as if they were coming by boat. That’s stupidity, plain and simple.
    With all the Republican hysteria about voter fraud (it’s their go-to excuse for voter suppression laws), there was only one person who was caught double voting in the 2016 election. She was a Trump supporter from Kansas, I think, and said she did it because she believed Trump’s constant rhetoric about the election being rigged. Stupid with a capital S.
    If I had a farm, I’d be willing to bet it, that people who text while driving are totally confident that they are smart enough to be able to manage it. It’s the same with those who eat, shave, apply makeup, or even read while driving. For longer drives, there are plenty of movie channels. These people are stupid, and by our continuing to allow them to endanger the lives of everyone else, shows what a stupid country we are.
    Last year Hollywood released a whopping 63 movies based on comic book characters. Why? Because they make lots of money. That to me is an obvious sign that Hollywood doesn’t think we can process anything more demanding. How many films came out based on Shakespeare characters? None come to mind. What’s the most popular TV fare? “Reality” shows, sports, and guys beating the crap out of each other. It’s like living in that movie “Idiocracy.” A guy is transported 500 years into the future, where everybody is stupid. The President of the United States is a former World Wrestling star. Then I see the 2007 video of Trump fake body slamming WWE President Vince McMahon, then fake punching him again and again.
    If you don’t think Americans are getting dumber by the minute, consider who they elected last November. This is a man who has never shown a bit of compassion or empathy for anyone in his life. Anyone who believes he gives a rat’s ass about any of them is just stupid.
    Okay, I didn’t tell you before, but that’s why they call it a pop quiz.

  1. What day do we celebrate the 4th of July?
  2. What color is the White House?
  3. Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?
  4. If humans didn’t evolve from apes, then how do you explain Louie Gohmert?

    For those who got any of these questions wrong, I offer these easy directions for boiling water: 1. Put water in pan. 2. Put pan on heat. 3. Turn heat on high. 4. Do not watch. The 4th direction is crucial to the operation.
    Have you heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? These researchers found that the more incompetent one is, the more their confidence in their competence. That’s because they lack the competence to evaluate their incompetence. In other words, they’re too stupid to be able to figure out how stupid they are. It’s an epidemic worse than typhoid. Even our own President is afflicted by the virus. He is incurious, doesn’t read, doesn’t appear to be interested in learning anything new, and cannot form a complete sentence. But maybe that’s it. I love H.L. Mencken’s quote: “People deserve the government they get, and they deserve to get it good and hard.” Donald Trump is the embodiment of American stupidity and ignorance. He perfectly illustrates the Dunning-Kruger effect; he actually believes he’s the smartest one in the room, any room, despite what is painfully obvious to anyone with a functioning cerebral cortex.
    Speaking of the brain, another new study was just published on the effects of poverty, in Scientific American, Jul. 12, 2017, by Carina Storrs: “How Poverty Affects the Brain.” She talks primarily about the importance of adequate nutrition during a child’s first few years. Those who were trapped in poverty not only had stunted growth, but scored lower in cognitive functions. With Republicans’ hatred of the poor driving cuts to social safety net programs, as well as deregulating environmental protections, they’re unwittingly (or is it wittingly?) creating more and more Fox News viewers.
    Then there’s an article I stumbled on while doing research on something else. Good ol’ serendipity. It was titled “Low-Effort Thought Promotes Political Conservatism” (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2012). Their data suggested that “when effortful deliberate thought is disengaged, endorsement of conservative ideology increases,” and that Right-wing political beliefs arise from a need to manage uncertainty and perceived threat. I remembered a conversation I had with my brother exactly 50 years ago, in 1967. We were talking about “Star Trek,” the new science fiction series on TV. While it had some good ideas, we both agreed it was pretty clunky. I asked him why there isn’t good science fiction on TV and he said, “Because it makes people think, and people don’t like to think.”
    On top of that we have the Republicans’ antipathy to education, as evidenced by Betsy De Vos — who has never set foot in a public school — to head the Department of Education. They want a dumbed-down electorate, stupid or ignorant enough to keep buying their bullshit, even though it has never, ever helped them a bit. Just as I was writing this, a new Pew poll came out on the subject. 58% of Republicans believed college had a negative effect, and 36% said it was positive. For Democrats the number was 72% favorable and 19%

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More Hidden Film Treasures

More Hidden Film Treasures

by Phil Noir

(dedicated to Martin Landau for his great work)

    So many films, so little time. These are some of my very favorite films. They’re all funny but dark — l loves me some darkness in my comedy. There are no car chases, gun battles, or stuff blowing up. These are films that weren’t box office smashes, and so may have escaped attention by many people. Because I write for bright, educated people (They’re my base) I want to share these beauties with you. So grab yourself some popcorn and the beverage of your choice, and please think responsibly.
    “Barcelona” (1994, 1hr 40min) — This little gem snuck up on me while I wasn’t looking. Ted (Taylor Nichols) is the sales rep in Spain for a Chicago electronics firm. He’s shy, bookish, and speaks like he’s reciting from a term paper. Small wonder that he has trouble getting laid, but that isn’t what he wants. He’s after a long-term relationship, but the “trade show girls” he’s exposed to offer little but superficiality. Enter his cousin Fred (Chris Eigeman), a U.S. Navy junior grade officer, who’s an advance man for the upcoming 8th Fleet shore leave. His arrogance plus the uniform aren’t always received well. The best parts of the film are with the wonderful Mira Sorvino. She wasn’t well known when the film came out, but the following year would win an Oscar for “Mighty Aphrodite.” The film explores European attitudes towards American exceptionalism slyly but caustically, as in the hilarious scene on an outing when ants are used as a metaphor of imperialism. Sorvino herself has the best line: “You seem very intelligent for an American.” It’s a quiet film, mostly, with great dialogue and wit.
    “Shadow of the Vampire” (2001, 1hr 33min) — The 1922 silent film classic “Nosferatu” is still one of the best and creepiest vampire films. It was made by German director F.W. Murnau and featured Max Schreck as the creature. “Shadow of the Vampire” is about the making of that film, with Murnau brilliantly played by John Malkovich. But the guy who really chews up the scenery is Willem Dafoe, unrecognizable as Max. He never appears out of character, which merely appears odd, until members of the cast and crew begin to disappear. When Max dines on the cinematographer, Murnau loses it. He’s not as concerned about the loss of life as he is in achieving his vision. He begs Max to lighten up a bit, and Max muses, “I do not think we need . . . the writer . . .” This is both a delightful comedy and a pretty good vampire film in its own right. Malcovich has never let me down; somehow he always delivers the goods. But Dafoe’s Max Schreck steals the show.
    “Mad Dog and Glory” (1993, 1hr 40min) — This film seems like a drama, but with every viewing it gets funnier. Robert De Niro plays a cop (when doesn’t he?) but this time it’s different. Wayne Dobie is a shy, withdrawn, police photographer who accidentally saves the life of a crime boss named Frank Milo (Bill Murray). In return, Franks gives him one of his girls (Uma Thurman as Glory) for a week. Naturally, complications arise. David Caruso plays Wayne’s partner Mike, and is dead solid perfect. He’s basically the same character he was in “NYPD Blue,” a show he left to pursue an unsuccessful film career playing the same guy. Here, he’s just right. The best part for me is Bill Murray taking on a dramatic role. I respect and admire artists who take risks, even if they don’t always work out. It’s the artist’s job to take risks. Murray is a sympathetic character as a mob boss who really wants to be a stand up comedian. So he buys his own club and his minions have no choice but to laugh at his less than perfect comedy stylings.
    There are several things to watch for in this film. Note De Niro’s body language; he looks shy and withdrawn, which has earned him the mocking nickname “Mad Dog” among his fellow police. Uma Thurman is sweet and vulnerable as Glory. Then there’s Harold, Frank Milo’s big gorilla enforcer. A giant in a cheap suit, strong but not so bright, Mike Starr plays him wonderfully. I’ve seen this film about a dozen times now, and the last few viewings I’ve enjoyed the Harold character more and more. My favorite scene, though, is when Caruso dresses down a fellow cop who’s also a woman abuser. It’s also the first time we encounter Harold. For some reason, though, what struck me about this film is the tragedy of Frank Milo, a man trapped in a life he doesn’t want and can’t escape from.
    “The Ruling Class” is a strange film, made in 1972. Peter O’Toole is at his best, I think, in this caustic satire on the British eccentricity, anal retention, and the class system. After the 13th Earl of Gurney accidentally dies in an auto-erotic asphyxiation mishap, while wearing a tutu, Jack, the rightful 14the Earl is found (O’Toole). He’s been confined to a mental institution for the last eight years, because he thinks he’s Jesus Christ. This isn’t an off the wall film; it’s very much an on the wall film, as I hope you’ll see. One line I love is when he’s asked how he knows he’s Jesus, and he says he realized that every time he prayed, he was talking to himself. People can talk all they want about his comedic prowess in films like “My Favorite Year” or “How to Steal a Million,” but this is definitely his finest comedy, in my view. This was one of O’Toole’s eight Oscar nominations for Best Actor.
    The family begins trying to figure out how to get rid of him. They try marrying him off so he’ll produce an heir, then they can throw him back into the madhouse. I must caution you, the film gets pretty dark later on, but gives you some things to think about. There are other terrific performances too, namely Alastair Sim as a Bishop, and the wonderful Arthur Lowe as Tucker, the butler. A restored version of this film was released in 1983, with over an hour of footage cut from the original. Don’t bother.
    “Ed Wood” — Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton have made a lot of films together, and they run the gamut in quality. But from “Edward Scissorhands” to their latest interpretations of Alice in Wonderland, these films are all great to look at. “Ed Wood” tells the story of Edward Wood, Jr., widely recognized as the worst filmmaker of all time. Wood just loved making films, and Depp beautifully brings that enthusiasm to the character. He also liked to dress in women’s clothing, especially angora sweaters. The film shows Wood making his first film, “Glen or Glenda,’ while playing the title role, but primarily concentrates on the making of “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” thought to be the worst film ever. Burton shot the scenes nearly identically to both original films; you could place them side by side and compare them (which has been done).
    The rest of the cast shines, too; Jeffrey Jones as Criswell and Bill Murray as Bunny Breckinridge, flamboyantly gay and yet not out of place in Wood’s circle of friends. Best of all, though, is Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi (who died before the picture was finished, and a double held his cloak over his face in Lugosi’s remaining scenes). Landau deservedly won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Sadly, just as I was writing this piece, he passed away at the age of 89. This film is mostly about a man following his passion, for “following his bliss,” as the late mythologist Joseph Campbell put it.
    It is my hope that you will enjoy these films as much as Ed Wood, Jr. did making movies.

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User Error: Replace User

User Error: Replace User

    Today marks the 6th Anniversary of Wryly Coyote, the very first post of which I dedicated to my brother Jerry. July 19th is his birthday. I’d also like to thank all seven of my readers, as well as my long-suffering webmaster, John, my nonsensei.

    “Homosexual eases into 100m final at Olympic Trials,” read the headline on the site of the American Family Association, a heavily conservative Christian cult. “Tyson Homosexual easily won his semifinal for the 100 meter at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials . . .” The site downloaded an AP story, but they had used the search and replace algorithm to replace all instances of the word ‘gay’ with the word ‘homosexual.’ Tyson Gay is an American sprinter.
    Ben Zimmer is an editor at Oxford University Press. He has a regular column on the University of Pennsylvania’s website, “Language Log,” and I owe him tribute for many of these examples of the law of unintended consequences in using search and replace (find and replace in some systems).
    In July 2009, in The Chicago Tribune online obituary for Walter Cronkite, they’d replaced all instances of ‘Cronkite’ with ‘Mr. Cronkite,’ out of respect, you know. So the title is “Walter Leland Mr. Cronkite,” and there’s a statement by his daughter Kathy: “ ‘At home, he was gregarious, relishing spinning a one-line joke into an elaborate shaggy dog story,’ daughter Kathy Mr. Cronkite recalled.”
    The UK’s Guardian ran an article in 2012 about a new ebook translation of War and Peace. It was by Barnes and Noble, for their Nook e-reader. They had replaced any mention of ‘kindle’ with ‘nook,’ as Kindle is their competitor Amazon’s e-reader. So there’s a line that reads, “It was as if a light had been nookd in a carved and painted lantern.”
    Commonweal magazine found an old English version of a Pope Pius XII encyclical, in which all mentions of the word ‘times’ had been changed to ‘Times New Roman.’ A 2012 UK version of Trivial Pursuit had replaced all instances of ‘km’ with ‘kilometres,’ so a question on one of the cards read, “The film ‘Australia’ starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackilometresan is set during which war?” And a 1990 article on finance and economics in The Fresno Bee meant to use the expression ‘back in the black,’ but instead it came out ‘back in the African-American.’
    The Boston Metro is a free daily paper. They must have a search and replace algorithm so that if the day of the week mentioned was the day before, it’s replaced with ‘yesterday.’ That can be the only explanation for this item that had to be in the Tuesday edition after the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday: “King’s birthday is January 15th, but the federal holiday bearing his name is observed on the third yesterday of January.” For the record, the third yesterday of January would be the 3rd, I believe. Wait, what if on the 1st you refer to the day before, would that make the 2nd the 3rd yesterday? Why don’t we just move on.
    There are results of religious organizations’ sites where the word ‘ass’ had been replaced by the word ‘butt,’ with hilarious consequences: Ambbuttador to the UN, the buttailant, when John Hinkley tried to buttbuttinate President Reagan, the bbutt guitar, and the famous artist Pablo Picbutto. You can imagine what happened to names like Cassandra, Cassie, or Cassiopeia. And don’t even think of replacing ‘tit’ with ‘breast.’ What happens then when you have to mention the U.S. Consbreastution?
    My favorite though, comes from Reuters article in 2006. It had been quickly corrected, but not before someone saved a screen shot. They had replaced any mention of ‘the queen’ with ‘Queen Elizabeth,’ which sounds innocent enough, until they ran an article about the genetics of bees. “Queen Elizabeth has 10 times the lifespan of workers and lays up to 2000 eggs a day.”
    In most cases, trouble can be avoided by stipulating that the change only applies to particular words. That would avoid all instances of the same letter combination occurring within another word.

    There are other traps for the unwary, one being autocorrect. I have the 2003 version of Word, and it’s grammar is horrendous. It consistently gets ‘its’ and ‘it’s’ wrong, and seems confused by the apostrophe. One time I had written “. . . the idea being to lower costs for the rest of us . . .” and it suggested “we.” Another time it suggested “they” in the sentence, “People can make themselves believe anything.” It’s just awful. I call it my special needs Word. It’s still handy for showing me when I run two words together or hit a wrong key.
    We should keep in mind that a spell checker is only as good as its word list. Have you ever heard of the Cupertino effect? Early word lists had the word ‘co-operation,’ but for some reason not ‘cooperation,’ so often it would suggest ‘Cupertino,’ which is a city in California. How and why would Cupertino be in a word list? That’s where the headquarters of Apple is located. There are still old UN, NATO, or EU documents floating around with wording like “The Southern Asian Association for Regional Cupertino.” There’s an even better one, though, from a South African Development Community communiqué: “The Heads of State and Government congratulates SATCC for the crucial role it plays in strengthening copulation and accelerating the implementation of regional programs in this strategic sector.” I would submit that copulation does require some degree of, uh, Cupertino.
    You have to pay attention to what the autocorrect is suggesting, that’s all. In one case ‘highfalutin’ had been replaced with ‘high flatulent,’ so that a Wall Street blog ran the following from an old debate with John Kerry and John Edwards, which had Edwards supposedly saying “Rhetoric is not enough. High flatulent language is not enough.” I actually like this one, especially for the present day, when we have a flatulent President with diarrhea of the mouth, constipation of the brain, and hair the color of warm piss.
    There was an Italian food blog in 2000 whose recipe included prosciutto, provolone, and pine nuts, among other ingredients. At one point it advised readers to “Stir in the prostitute” (I’m sorry, that was supposed to be prosbreastute). Its word list didn’t include ‘prosciutto.’ In another case, the word ‘socialist’ was recommended for ‘socialite.’
    All this makes me wonder; don’t any of these blogs and news agencies have proofreaders? Maybe it’s because of budget cuts. They can’t afford both a proofreader and a fact checker. These kinds of things aren’t anything new, though, only the technology has changed. A 1631 edition of the King James Bible printed 1000 copies. In the Ten Commandments section, the wording was “Thou shalt commit adultery . . .” It became known as the Wicked Bible or the Adulterer’s Bible, and of course it’s a collector’s item. One copy is currently available on an antique Bible site for $89,500.
    I guess the moral of our story is to always check your work. I’m reminded of the line by Morpheus in “The Matrix,” when he said “You have to focus, Trinity.” Wise words. You can always ignore the suggestions. Remember, when writing, you should feel enbreastled to the very best you can offer. You don’t want to embarrbutt yourself, do you?

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Go to Health!

Go to Health!

    The Republicans hate us, and want us all to die! That may sound like hyperbole, if you haven’t been keeping up with their plan to repeal and — kind of — replace Obamacare. As bad as the failed House attempt was, the bill in the Senate is even worse. It should have been called wealth care, because it’s really a big fat tax cut for the rich, paid for by gutting vital programs the low-income, elderly, disabled, and women — you know, the enemy. Here’s how the Senate bill breaks down, and keep in mind these projections are for ten years:
    — It guts the ACA protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
    — 22 million people will lose their health insurance.
    — Some $800 million will be cut from Medicaid. The program would be administered by the states, and matching government funding will be in the form of block grants, adjusted for inflation. Medical costs are skyrocketing compared to inflation. Medicaid serves about 74 million Americans annually, including about half of all births, almost 2/3 in nursing homes, and nearly 40% of children. As funding dries up over the years, states will either have to cut more people off or pay each less. The CBO score showed that by 2026 Medicaid spending will have been cut by 35%.
    — Nearly a $trillion in tax cuts, nearly all for the upper crust. People making less than $200,000 get no tax cut. $200,000 – $500,000 will get an average of $510. If you make over $500,000 your tax cut is $4740. Those making over $1 million will get $54,000. These numbers are from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The 400 richest households will get a total of $33 billion in tax cuts over those ten years. Here’s where the biggest tax cut applies — capital gains taxes, also know by the telling phrase, “unearned income. While working people pay a progressive tax rate with the top margin about 39.6%, capital gains are for those who produce nothing, do no labor, contribute nothing to society, but simply make money with money. That tax is 20% (it used to be 15%). In order to fund the Medicaid expansion of the ACA, another 3.8% was added to that tax, and the billionaire class has been upset about it every since.
    — It eliminates funding to Planned Parenthood for a year. That’s about $500 million, or 30% of PP’s budget. They treat between 3-5 million women a year.
    — The elderly may be charged up to 5 times the premium of a younger adult. Under the ACA 3X was the limit.
    — There will be a waiting period of six months, if you have no insurance and are trying to enroll. If you’ve been without insurance for 63 days or more, there will be a 30% additional charge on your premiums for one year.
    — $3-4 billion less in Social Security spending is a savings, alright. But it’s because in ten years, 209,000 more people will have died from lack of health care.

    Sen. Bernie Sanders has called the bill “not only incomprehensible, but unconscionable,” and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) tweeted: “CBO confirms this thing is a %#$@ sandwich.” Protesters have staged “die-ins” at GOP Senate offices in LA, IN, CO, WV, FL, TX, SC, MO, and CA. The bill has been opposed by the AMA, AARP, hospitals, doctors, nurses, and everyone else possessing a heart. One reason so many people will lose their insurance is because the bill drops the mandate for employers of 50 or more workers to provide coverage. The title of the bill says it all. The Better Care Reconciliation Act sounds benign enough, doesn’t it? I tracked down the bill and downloaded it as a PDF. That’s the short title. The full title is: Elimination of Limitation on Recapture of Excess Advance Payments of Premium Tax Credits. Do you see anything in there about health care? Me neither. Let’s just call it the Republican death care bill.
    At the same time, America is currently facing two public health emergencies — opioid addiction and diabetes. Last year, some 60,000 people died of drug overdoses, primarily on opioids and/or heroin. Have you heard anything from the lying orange asshole in the White House or the Republican controlled Congress? Ironically, the ten states with both the highest drug prescriptions and opioids addiction all voted for Trump. A study by two researchers at NYU and Harvard said this bill will leave an additional 3 million people with opioid addiction to lose some or all their coverage.
    There are 29 million Americans with diabetes, and another 86 million are pre-diabetic (CDC). Would you like to know what these scum-sucking pigs feel about that? Here’s Trump Budget Director Mick Mulvaney (who was one of the co-founders of the Tea Party), speaking at Stanford University recently, who classifies diabetes as a lifestyle choice: “That doesn’t mean we should take care of the person who sits at home, eats poorly and gets diabetes.” It’s their own damn fault! The industrial food industry has nothing to do with it.
    Some states are actually trying to pass work requirements and/or drug tests in order to receive Medicaid. This is called poor-shaming. So someone who wants to get help for drug addiction has to pee in a bottle, then be told because he’s on drugs, he can’t get help for his drug problem. Brain dead former brain surgeon Ben Carson expresses the hard Right view: “I think poverty, to a large extent, is also a state of mind.” And if diabetes is a lifestyle decision, I would think opioid addiction certainly is. It’s their own fault! Big Pharma had nothing to do with it. I’ve said before how conservatives detest the poor. Let’s hear from Mulvaney again, as he details his idea of compassion: “We are no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs. We are going to measure compassion by the number of people we help get off those programs.” And House Speaker Ryan said it’s not a matter of losing coverage, but of choice. No, he really said that. You know Republicans are really big on choice (schools, health care) until it comes to women’s bodies. I guess people are choosing to not be covered (they’re choosing instead to buy food and keep the lights on). It’s getting harder to tell Republican talking points from headlines in The Onion.
    The profound ignorance of Americans never fails to amaze me. I keep hearing people say, “Why should I have to pay for maternity coverage when I’m never going to get pregnant?” Why should a woman pay for prostate cancer coverage? Because the more people in the pool the cheaper it is for everyone. People don’t even have the concept of “society” anymore. They can’t understand why they should pay property taxes for schools when they have no children. They really don’t get the concept. It’s that libertarian thinking, everyone is an island.   One of the problems the Senate had in getting enough votes is the same one the House had. Too many hard Righties thought the bill wasn’t “sufficiently conservative enough.” In other words, not mean enough. It’s ironic that nearly all evangelicals are conservatives. These are people who wear religion all over their sleeves, and yet turn their hearts away from pain and suffering in their brethren. They should go back and read Matthew 25  again (if not for the first time). Jesus is gently rebuking his disciples for not feeding him when he was hungry, not giving him drink when he was thirsty, or not clothing him when he was naked. When they ask him when did they not feed him, give him drink, or cloth him, he answers: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it to me.” If Jesus came back now, he would pinch these people’s heads off and spit into the neck hole.
    While all this is going on, over in the House the Republicans are deciding not if to cut food stamps (SNAP), but by how much, showing there’s really no end to their moral depravity. These people should feel shame for their actions, but they are shameless. At least I am comforted by the idea that if there really is a God, then this hypocritical nest of vipers will be on the Devil’s rotisserie for all eternity. That isn’t nearly long enough for my liking, but I’m a reasonable man; I’ll settle for all eternity.
    There is only one answer, and that is single-payer insurance. No, the government wouldn’t be in charge of health care, they would just be paying for it. Expand Medicare eligibility to all. The system is already set up. Or at least make Medicare for all a public option. That’s the way it is in the civilized countries. Of the 36 “developed” nations, the U.S. is the only one that doesn’t consider health care to be a right, and the only one to use a for-profit system as its main source of healthcare. Correction: Switzerland has a for-profit system for primary healthcare, but it’s heavily regulated and affordable to all. Remember the “death panels” the Right said there would be as a result of Obamacare? Here are the real death panels; the Republican House and Senate, and the for-profit insurance companies. Anyone who says this is the greatest country in the world is blowing smoke up their own ass.,

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The Bitter Battle of Buttercup Ridge

The Bitter Battle of Buttercup Ridge

Vreeping Buter Cup
    About ten years ago, when I began taking care of a large yard, my landlady Lois warned me “Don’t let those buttercups get into the lawn.” I didn’t pay attention; after all, there were only a few of them. That I did nothing about them can perhaps be forgiven. That I did nothing about them for seven or eight years cannot. The lawn in question is about 30 feet on a side. The buttercups were coming in from a shady area under some rhododendrons. What I should have done right away is examine the structure of the plant. If I had, I’d have learned why they’re called creeping buttercups. Like vines, they put out horizontal stems or runners, called stolons. Trace it to its source and you’ll see it comes out of a root nodule with several other stolons. All you have to do is stick a large screwdriver about an inch underneath it and with a cross bar, pry it up a little. Then carefully pull the root structure free of the soil. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? And I have the advantage of a target-rich environment.
    Last year, I decided seven or eight years too late to try and dig them all out. But they’ve colonized a large portion of the lawn. Every couple feet there’s a bright yellow smiley face, and if you look closer, several other buds forming. Digging the roots out only takes a few seconds. It’s tracing it along the ground level, while it’s intertwined in grass and other stolons from other root nodules. It looks impossible, and that may be because it is. Sometimes stolons are crossing over and under each other like the L.A. freeway. I am totally opposed to using poisons, so I fed a question into Google: “how to get rid of creeping buttercups organically” and the very first response — I kid you not — was by the county website, talking about Glyphosate. Glyphosate! It’s one of the most toxic substances on Earth (after testosterone). It’s the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup (see Archives, April 2015: “Glyphosate — the Chemical from Hell). Vinegar is supposed to work, too, but the stuff you find at the store is a 5% solution, and it doesn’t work that well. You need about 10-15%. I don’t have a car, so can’t just run out somewhere and find that.
    Other ideas I considered were flame thrower and rototiller, but the idea of putting in the whole lawn again didn’t appeal to me.  Then my Virgo meticulosis gene kicked in and I made a plan. First, stop them from spreading. Well, that’s not a problem, because they’ve already spread. So, keep them from spreading more. That’s how I’d start. Every day I picked all the blossoms so they wouldn’t seed, and worked on de-rooting and area of say, four feet square, or 16 sq. ft. It takes half an hour to an hour, depending on the extent of the infestation. So if the lawn is 30’ x 30’, that’s 900 sq. ft. And I’m doing 16 sq. ft. each application. How long will it take the idiot to rid the lawn of creeping buttercups? Keep in mind that he’s 72 and a smoker. 56 Applications? I’m not great at math but that seems right, and it seems doable.  And it also seems senseless. There’s too many. And now they’re coming in from both sides of the lawn. There are already hundreds, maybe thousands, of seeds that haven’t even sprouted yet. There’s too many.
    “There’s too many, Shane,” said little Joey in the classic Western. Shane was about to get his ass kicked by several bad guys in a saloon, but he wasn’t gonna back down. “You run along home now, Joey,” said Shane. Then they started pounding on him. I won’t give away the ending, but it has to do with Joey’s father and an axe handle. If Shane didn’t give up, I’m not going to either. To pump myself up, I composed a haiku:

            Creeping buttercups;
            The more of them one digs up,
            The more that remain.

    It was getting harder to ignore the fact that the battle was already lost. Still, it seemed possible. When a knight undertakes a quest, he usually does so after deciding that he stands a chance of victory. Well, unless he’s Don Quixote. Were these buttercups my windmills? Was I losing my sanity?
    My friends are becoming concerned about my mental condition.
    I began to ask myself, what was this really about? Maybe it was an attempt to assuage my guilt at having let the situation deteriorate to such an extent. Did you know the myth of Sisyphus? He had ratted out Zeus’ on one of his rape schemes. His punishment was to roll a giant boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back on him — forever. I’m not him, though. I can stop right now, and still say I gave it a go. I’m just not ready to stop yet. Then I thought of Captain Ahab and his obsession with Moby Dick, and how it led to the destruction of not only him, but his ship and crew as well (save one). Is there a difference between total commitment and obsession?
    My friends are concerned about my mental condition.
    It’s too late, I know that. The zombie buttercup apocalypse is upon me, only these zombies don’t lurch, they creepeth upon the Earth. It suggested another haiku:

            Creeping buttercups
            Send out runners called stolons;
            They’ve stolon the lawn.

    It’s too early to look for a light at the end of the tunnel. It could be an approaching freight train. I will go out again tomorrow, and do battle. To bastardize Sir Winston Churchill (sorry, Sir Winston), I shall fight them in the lawn. I shall fight them beneath the rhododendrons. I shall fight them among the bluebells. I shall fight them beneath the trumpet vine (which sends out its own runners to cut back). I shall fight them in the crepe myrtle and the Rose of Sharon hibiscus. I shall fight them beneath the magnolia and the plum tree. I shall fight them in the sidewalk cracks and the vegetable garden. I shall fight them among the bleeding heart and the corydalis. I shall fight them among the irises and daylilies. I shall fight them among the Herb Robert (Germanium robertianum, another creeping pestilence). Next winter I shall fight them beneath the camellias and among the sweet alyssum. I will never surrender. Isn’t that what Tim Allen said in “Galaxy Quest?” Never give up, never surrender.
    Last night I awoke in the middle of the night, to the feeling of something tugging at my skin. I turned on the night light to see creeping buttercups crawling up the bed, stolons already wrapped around my neck, my arms, and more private parts. Their bright yellow little faces smiled at me maniacally. No time to panic. I carefully pulled them off me and began tracing the stolons, looking for root nodules.
    My friends are getting very concerned about my mental condition.

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Fake!

Fake!

    From the time Donald Trump descended that fake gold staircase at Trump Tower to announce his run for President — Jeez, has it been two years already? — everything he’s done has been pure fakery. That was the speech about building the wall to keep out Mexican rapists and murderers, you’ll recall; “. . . and a few, I assume, are good people.” Not only would he build that wall, he’d bring back our lost jobs, and end all drugs and crime. And that was just the first day! His entire campaign was fake, full of fake promises. After a fake election marred by fake news, Russian interference, and unprecedented voter suppression, the nation had its first orangutan president.
    During the campaign he held an event to raise money for veterans charities, and bragged that he’d raised $6 million. Later, the charities said they still hadn’t seen any of the money. We also found out during the campaign that Trump had posed as his own publicist, calling the media and using either the name John Miller or John Barron. In a court testimony he admitted he might have used the name Barron on occasion.
    At his first post-election press conference Jan. 11th, he talked about all the great things he was going to do to make America great again, whatever that means. He pointed to a table on the stage piled up with folders and folders and folders. These were the policies and goals he would be undertaking, and for once he wasn’t lying through his teeth. Camera close-ups revealed that the folders were empty, the papers inside brand new and unruffled. The cheering, applauding people in back of the room turned out to be paid staffers (He’s paying the help now? That’s a new one). It was all a fake, a show. Whatever you can say against him, and I could go on for volumes, you must admit he’s a master showman. But then, he’s a star of “reality” TV.
    We heard him go on and on about the size of his inauguration crowd, despite photographic evidence to the contrary. He tweeted a backshot of him standing in front of that crowd, but it was a shot of Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Fake.
    As he entered office, he was in the middle of 75 ongoing lawsuits, including the now infamous fake Trump University scam, odd goings on at the Trump Foundation, and of course the numerous women accusing him of piggery.
    The next day, Jan. 21st, he visited CIA Headquarters, and in front of the wall commemorating the 117 agents that have died in service, he bragged again about the size of his inauguration crowd. I think he can’t stand it that Obama’s was bigger than his. You know what I mean. Again, the standing and cheering people in the back were White House staffers he’d brought along. The CIA employees weren’t quite so impressed.
    Remember when he was in Saudi Arabia recently, and there was this big signing ceremony over a $110 billion arms deal? That was fake, too, as we later learned there was no deal; no contracts were signed at all. Those papers were all “decision memos,” letters of intent. Later on the same trip, after scolding NATO members for not ponying up enough cash for defense, there was a dinner with Trump and NATO officials. One of them described the dinner as “a total shitshow.” You may also remember him shoving the PM of Montenegro out of his way, so he could get to the front for a photo-op. He stepped out, his gorgeous tail feathers fanned out in full male display. He adjusted his suit and puffed out his chest like a big rooster, and looked around, all leaderly. For the first time, I was no longer embarrassed by my country; I was ashamed.
    This guy is nothing but a bullshit artist, a con man, a shyster, a swindler, a flim-flam man. The only things genuine about him are his belly and his ass. Have you seen him since the election? He looks like he’s gained fifty or sixty pounds. That’s all bullshit, building up, swelling and bloating, and when he pops, there’s gonna be bullshit all over the place. We should all be wearing those plastic tarps like people in the front rows of a Gallagher show. Big successful business man. The truth is, he’s a terrible business man, and has been all his life. He blew through $50 million of his father’s money by the time he was 35. He’s made bad deal after bad deal, and used the bankruptcy system to bail himself out. There isn’t a single American bank that will have anything to do with him. This guy is a Loser with a capital L. I’m becoming more and more convinced that the reason he won’t release his tax returns is because they would show that he’s broke. Ivanka tells a story about years ago, during one of his multiple bankruptcies. They were walking down a New York street when they saw a homeless man. “See that guy?” he said. “He’s worth $8 billion more than I am.” Back when I was growing up in Wyoming, we had an expression for people like him: big hat,   big horse, no cattle. And yet he seems to have pulled off one of the greatest cons in history. How does he do it? How does he get people to believe all that rubbish?
    The term ‘con man’ is short for confidence man. That’s how the huckster does it; he gains people’s confidence. He may not be very bright, but he’s got that knack for persuasion, for telling people what they want to hear. That’s how he sold his ideas to all those banks and people who lent him money. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Maria Konnikova is a writer with a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University. Her latest book, out last year, is The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for it . . . Every Time. She talks about the dark triad of traits the con man possesses: psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism. He has no remorse or conscience, he’s skilled in the arts of persuasion and manipulation, and it’s all about him — always. The only goal of the con artist is personal profit. She writes that if Trump were a con artist, he would have no interest in politics or policies except as a means to some other end. In Trump’s case, that means enriching himself. I don’t think he ever intended to become the party’s nominee, let alone win the election. He was simply trying to build up his brand. Talk about confidence. I don’t think there’s ever been a man more confident in himself, maybe in all our history. He actually thinks he’s always the smartest guy in the room. So you can’t tell him anything, because his mind is already made up. Maybe that’s what makes him such a great salesman. Art of the Deal? It should have been called Art of the Steal.
    As for his marks, I mean supporters, they are true believers. Their minds are made up, too, so you will not be able to confuse them with the facts. They don’t dare not believe, because they’ve invested too much in the illusion that Trump really will bring back the jobs and all that other stuff. It’s called magical thinking; believing something one wishes, or needs, to be true. It’s also wading hip-deep in that famous Egyptian river, denial. I’m tempted to call that fake belief.
    So when you boil it all down, you’ve got a fake candidate who, after a fake campaign, won a fake election. Now we have a fake president with a fake cabinet, fake hair, fake tan, fake wife, fake university, fake foundation, and excoriates the “fake” media by having fake beliefs of his own. He’s just the thing for a fake democracy.

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Being on Time

Being on Time

    Yogi Berra wasn’t just a great baseball player; but also a master of unconscious tautology (“It ain’t over till it’s over”). The story goes that a player once asked him what time it was, and Yogi answered, “What, you mean now?” Now is always the correct answer. The science of time begins, I suppose, with Sir Isaac Newton, who said that time was immutable throughout the universe, and the same for everyone. Enter clock time, about which I have more to say later. Towns all measured noon by when the sun was highest, which meant when trains came along, there a lot of wrecks due to time differentials.
    In the early 1900s there were a slew of patent applications for accurate time keeping devices so everyone could be synchronized. One of the Swiss patent clerks who had to pour through all these applications was Albert Einstein, who began asking himself questions about time. He would go on to show that time and space are inextricably entwined, and that motion through space affects the passage of time. We call it spacetime now. Basically, if you’re moving, time passes more slowly, not for you, but for someone observing at rest. The difference is barely measurable, though, till you approach the speed of light. One thing would seem certain; the “arrow of time” is a one-way street, from past to present to future. On the other hand, many a physicist can tell us there’s nothing in the laws of physics that would prevent time from going backward. After all, we can move backward or forward in space. The late great George Carlin had a bit where he thought it would be better if time did run backwards. You’d begin elderly and infirm, and get younger all the time, and end in the best possible way, with a big orgasm. Or take this little snippet from Lewis Carroll:
    Alice: I can’t remember things before they happen.
    The Queen: It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.
    Well, as they say, it’s all relative. I’m much more interested in how we perceive time, which differs from person to person and depending on the circumstance. If you’re listening to a boring lecture, time seems to crawl along, but if you’re with a hot date at a concert, “time flies.” Speaking for myself, four months of Donald Trump feels like four years of Nixon, maybe because things are happening so much faster. Some great minds have spoken on the issue. Hannah Arendt is known chiefly by her seminal book, The Origins of Totalitarianism. But in another book, The Life of the Mind, she says that it is our “limited life span that transforms the continuously flowing stream of sheer change . . . into time as we know it.” Jacques Luis Borges thought time was the foundation of our experience of personal identity, and that it is inseparable from matter, spirit, and space. I especially liked what C.S. Lewis wrote: “Humans are amphibians — half spirit and half animal. As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time.” And singer/songwriter/author Patti Smith asks an intriguing question: “If I write about the past as I simultaneously dwell in the present, am I still in real time?
    In a show devoted to the subject, NPR’s “Radio Lab” interviewed athletes about their perception of time. A sprinter said once the gun goes off, running seemed like slow motion. I can add my own experience as a distance runner. It’s almost as if time didn’t exist (even though every runner is timed to the hundredth of a second). A high jumper said when she’s clearing the bar, time seems to stand still. Baseball players at the plate have claimed to be able to see the ball in slow motion. The famed slugger Ted Williams said he could see the stitches on the ball as it came near. Again, from personal experience, marijuana slows down the sense of time passing. When I was in my hippie days, many years ago, I did a lot of finger-picking on guitar. I liked doing speed, or amphetamines, because speeding gave me so much time to get to each string I needed to pluck. I had to give up on speed though; the crash just wasn’t worth it. It does appear that the perception of the passage of time varies according to our experience. What about other animals? Does a turtle perceive time passing in the same way as a hummingbird? Some butterflies are born without digestive systems. They live only a few days, just long enough to mate. Do they experience a whole lifetime in so short (to us) a period? What about our plant friends? They keep track of time, too, by noting the changes in light and temperature, and the change of seasons.
    Hopefully you’ve seen the 1990 film “Awakenings,” about a doctor working with catatonic patients (Robert DeNiro was one). The doctor, so ably played by Robin Williams, was Oliver Sacks, a neurologist fascinated by patients who seemed “frozen.” In his book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” he tells of a patient named Myron. Over a couple hours, he would move one hand up, touch his nose, and return the hand to its original position. Twenty photos were made of it, and assembled into a flip book. When they showed it to Myron, he was “thunderstuck.” In his perception of time, he had merely reached up to scratch his nose, an action that only took a couple seconds. I’m somewhat skeptical of this account, however. If Myron perceived time at such a slow rate, wouldn’t normal speech sound speeded up, and wouldn’t people coming and going seem to flit around like our hummingbird?  Sadly, Dr. Sacks left us last year.
    However intriguing all these speculations may be, the fact appears to be that all we really have is now. That brings me to clock time, which always measures now. It’s a convenient way of measuring time that we all agreed to — or were coerced into accepting — so that we can get where we’re going “on time.” Greenwich Mean Time became UTC — Universal Time Coordinated. Today the ultimate is the atomic clock in Colorado, which measures in microseconds, using decaying Cesium atoms. The system seems a little regimented and militaristic, if you ask me; like a tyranny.  Alan Watts warns: “If you are bewitched by the clock you will therefore have no present. ‘Now’ will be no more than the geometrical point at which the future becomes the past.” That’s a good warning against being a slave to clock time. He goes on to say that biological time is more rhythmic, swinging process. It’s antithetical to clack time, because it has its own flow.
    It’s odd, the many expressions having to do with time. We speak of passing or filling time, there being no time to lose, killing time, losing time, wasting time, all the time, time after time, biding one’s time, as time goes by, and let’s not leave out the capitalist motto: time is money. We may speak of someone living in the past, but physics doesn’t seem to allow it. I could go on and on, but time doesn’t permit.
    Anyway, the jury seems to be in, and it’s comforting to see Western science merging with thousands of years of Eastern philosophy: now is all we’ve got. Again, I refer to Alan Watts: “Actually, time is an illusion, because the only real time, if I may so call it, is the present. The past does not exist except as a memory, the future isn’t here at all. And all our knowledge of the future consists of guesses based on the past.”
    Mel Brooks has a brilliant scene in his less than brilliant film, “Spaceballs.” The Empire ship is chasing the rebels, watching through a monitor, when suddenly the screen shows that strange trick when you’re between mirrors, and reflections of you recede into infinity:
    “Dark Helmet: What the hell am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie?
    Colonel Sandurz: Now. You’re looking at now, sir. Everything that happens now, is happening now.
    Dark. Helmet: What happened to then?
    Colonel Sandurz: We passed then.
    Dark Helmet: When?
    Colonel Sandurz: Just now. We’re at now now.”
    Precisely. Forty years ago the beat poets and philosophers were talking about living in the now, something the Buddhists strive for. I read the excellent Be Here Now, by Ram Dass, in the 1970s. Today we call it mindfulness, but it’s still the same. The present is all we’ve really got, and yet it slips through our fingers like sand.

    I wasted time, and now doth time waste me. — William Shakespeare, Richard II

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