The simple truths found in fiction

I’m currently reading, Have Space Suit-Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein for the first time.

So far, it’s very entertaining and it makes me wonder why I haven’t read more Heinlein since I enjoyed Stranger in a Strange Land some decades ago.

The protagonist is a young man, Clifford “Kip” Russell, fresh out of high school, who wants to go to the moon. He works for the moment as a soda jerk in a pharmacy (the story was published in 1958 when pharmacies still had counters where customers could order fountain drinks and sometimes burgers and hot dogs, like a tiny diner).

He has a run-in with the town bully, Ace Quiggle, who verbally abuses Kip. Kip’s boss comes over and Ace leaves.

Heinlein writes:

The boss and I were alone shortly after. He said quietly, “Kip, a reverence for life does not require a man to respect Nature’s obvious mistakes.”

“Sir?”

“You need not serve Quiggle again. I don’t want his trade.”

“Oh, I don’t mind. He’s harmless.”

“I wonder how harmless such people are? To what extent civilization is retarded by the laughing jackasses, the empty-minded belittlers? [Emphasis mine.] Go home, you’ll want to make an early start tomorrow.”

As I read that, I was struck by how relevant that thought is today, some 60 years after it was first written.

I believe today we are seeing to what extent civilization has been retarded by those laughing jackasses and the empty-minded belittlers.

Those laughing jackasses and empty-minded belittlers have managed to elect one of their own, the biggest laughing jackass, the most empty-minded of all belittlers: trump.

Heinlein predicted the rise of the deplorables!

This is why I love fiction. Hidden within the action, the adventure, the exotic situations, while the characters are weaving their way seductively through the plot, the author sometimes inserts some very provocative philosophical points of view.

Ofttimes the message is covert and you need to do some analysis to find it, but sometimes it is overt and waves it’s little hand at you saying, “Here I am. Underline me and spend a little time thinking about what I have to say.”

Or am I the only one who reads with a pencil at hand, ready to underline any line that strikes my fancy?

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Is it a new year?

One of the things I’ve never truly understood is the whole new year thing. It’s just so arbitrary and random and yet everyone seems to treat it as an absolute truth.

Nothing ever changes. We don’t pass through some cosmic doorway that signifies the passing of another year. There is no intergalactic speed bump in space the Earth has to rumble over to get from one year to the next.

We don’t pass go and we don’t collect $200.

Yet every December 31st at midnight everyone acts like there is a change and they look forward to good things happening in the new year.

Yet nothing is different.

Yes, we may have completed one orbit around Sol, our sun, according to our manmade calendars, but is December 31st to January 1st the factual date when that happens? When the Earth actually completes it’s full circuit?

I mean, the Earth has been circled the sun approximately 4.54 billion times. But we don’t know on what date that very first first orbit began, do we?

No, we aren’t even sure of the Earth’s exact age. Earth lost it’s birth certificate a long time ago.

Maybe it was born in May, or July. If do, then it completed it’s very furst orbit around the son a year later. All this time we’ve been erroneously singing Happy Birthday to the Earth (which is, after all, what New Year’s is all about right?) on the wrong date, which probably makes the Earth very sad.

It’s bad enough we pollute it’s air and water, shit on it, strip mine it by leveling entire mountains, destroy the environment, spew toxic carbon emissions into the atmosphere causing catastrophic climate change, but then to forget it’s actual birthday?

How would you feel if everyone arbitrarily celebrated your birthday whenever they felt like it?

Unappreciated, I’d think.

But that’s how Man is. Always thinking about himself and nothing else.

But besides all that, why did we pick this time of year to start the new year? Why didn’t we pick a significant event, like the Spring Solstice, for example.

That would make more sense. The Spring Solstice ushers in the beginning of life. The Earth is warming, plants are sprouting (well, in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway).

Or how about the Winter Solstice because it it the shortest day and well, again, that’s just the Northern Hemisphere.

I don’t want to appear hemispheric-centric.

How about Earth Day? That way no one hemisphere will feel left out. But then Earth Day woukd be just as arbitrary as New Year’s.

I guess, until we can positively identify the exact day the Earth was born (or if we find it’s birth certificate), we can just keep our current arbitrary date.

In the meantime, could we at least treat the Earth with a little more kindness, love, and understanding?

Happy birthday, Earth.

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Zen and the art of driving stick

It was 1940 and Oldsmobile introduced the “Hydra-Matic,” the first automatic transmission. They sold something like 200,000 units and it was that same year the very first case of road rage was documented.

Driving automatic

Drivers of these new-fangled automatics began to suffer a disconnect between themselves and their vehicle because they found they had too much time to seethe over every single road incident and perceived wrong.

Drivers of stick, of course, were more zen-like, tranquil in their oneness with their automobile. They were absorbed in the moment, hands, feet, and mind all focused on the very act of driving, and didn’t have time to waste on frivolous external stressors.

That first incident of road rage occurred on Route 66 somewhere between Holbrook, Arizona and Williams, Arizona. 

Pepper McHilheney,  a spitball pitcher returning from a loss that had raised his ERA to an astronomical 37.3, was driving in his brand new black Olds Hydra-Matic, fuming about being tossed out of the game because he beaned the ump with a fastball after said ump had called the 90th ball that inning, when along came Biff Melonmeister, a traveling anvil salesman out of Davenport, Iowa, driving a similarly equipped Olds, but in cream, who was worrying that if he didn’t find a blacksmith soon who needed a new anvil how was he going to make his next car payment, when he inattentively cut off Pepper.

Pepper, of course, beeped and shouted, “Get your head out of you ass!” while making obscene gestures with his free right hand that, had he been driving stick, would have been otherwise occupied.

Biff, seeing the gestures, returned several of his own, because he too had a free right hand.

Soon the two were racing side-by-side down Route 66 cursing and throwing hand gestures at each other until tragically for both Olds involved, they went off the road and crashed into some shrubbery.

The two drivers extricated themselves from the bushes, gave each other the finger again, and fisticuffs ensued.

Meanwhile, Irving Potash, driving his trusty old 3-speed stick on the column two-tone Nash, went by and said, “Dudes, chill.” He then responsibly returned all his attention to driving and made it to his destination safely, on time, and with a smile on his face, proving the adage: a stick in hand is worth two birds in the bush.

There are many more anecdotes about the superiority of stick drivers to automatic, but a recent survey by the prestigious Institutus Ferretatus proves it best.

According to their study, drivers of automatics have a higher incidence of heart disease, hypertension, headaches, and are more likely to die of a heart attack, stroke, or road rage incident. Additionally, they are more hostile and impulsive compared to their stick driving counterparts.

Stick drivers on the other hand, live longer, have significantly lower stress levels, are much happier, and of course, are much more fun to be around.

Stick drivers today are known as “the seven percenters” because only about 7% of Americans drive stick. These seven percenters generally lead healthier and happier lives than the other 93% of drivers.

So next time you’re in the market for a car, consider the stick. Your heart will thank you.
#savethestick

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The Compromise Gap

Tuesday’s elections swung the power in Congress into the hands of the Republicans. Many Democrats, myself included, couldn’t understand why anyone paying attention to what was going on would vote for a Republican.

Many others seem to believe both parties are at fault. There might be some truth in that. One of the biggest complaints is neither party is willing to negotiate. Nobody on the right or left is willing to compromise. But the actual fact of the matter is, both parties have tried to negotiate, but the problem is something called the Compromise Gap.

What is the compromise gap? I’m glad you asked and what better way to illustrate it than with a graphic? Why, with two graphics, of course.

compromise gap

Graphic 1 illustrates how things used to be. The line represents the entire political spectrum; the farther right you go, the more conservative you become and the farther left you go the more liberal you become. In the center lie the America people, mostly moderate, not too liberal, not too conservative, just right.

The GOP and the Democrats traditionally occupied the circled areas, fluctuating along the line from more so to less so year to year, but never really deviating all that much between 4 and 5 for the GOP and 6 and 7 for the Dems.

The fringe groups occupy the farthest extremes on the scale. Representing the right wing extremists are the Christian Right, now joined more recently by the Tea Party. I didn’t bother to make a circle for the radical left, because as I’ll explain, they don’t have much of an affect upon the movement of the Democratic Party as a whole.

For years, the GOP and the Dems haven’t had very far to go to reach the center, where the majority of Americans await. It was easy to compromise on many issues. The two parties negotiated readily and those involved were often viewed as statesmen.

But then, the Tea Party and the Christian Right began to gain political clout, winning elections on their extremist platforms. With each new success, their political reach grew and the GOP was sucked across the political spectrum by their strengthening gravitation field, pulling the traditional Republicans farther and farther to the right.

Graphic 2 shows how things are today. The Tea Party and Christian Right still occupy the extreme right position, but now the traditional Republicans have been dragged over and occupy positions 2 and 3 on the scale compared to their previous position of 4 and 5, whereas the Democrats haven’t moved at all.

So there are several things at play here. First, many conservatives think the liberals have moved farther left, not realizing it is they, and they alone, who have moved.

Second, the Compromise Gap, once easily bridged has now grown into a political Ginnungagap, a vast, insurmountable frozen void that neither party is willing to cross for fear they’ll fall in and be destroyed.

Sure, both parties are still willing to negotiate the same 1 or 2 points left or right on the scale that they always have. And the Dems when negotiating are still crossing to the center where the rest of America as a whole still resides. And the GOP, likewise, is still willing to negotiate the same distance they did before, except for them, they now reside so far right that their attempts to compromise only land them solidly within the conservative spectrum, still many points away from center.

And it is the Republicans who decry the Dems for not being willing to cross the great divide while completely ignorant of the fact that they’ve moved so far right that even centrists seem like extreme liberals to them now.

It is not the Democrats’ fault at all that negotiations have often failed miserably, nor should anyone really expect them to move farther right than they already are.

The best the nation can hope for is a return to sanity on the side of the Republicans. Only by rejecting the fringe fanatical right wing and moving closer to center can we ever hope for the good old days of compromise and negotiation.

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Who really is the worst president evah?

“Obama is the worst president since WWII!” That’s the takeaway from a recently released poll, which, I’m sure, Fox News has been covering gleefully non-stop.

But lets think about that. Earlier today I showed you why you should dismiss this particular poll. Now, let’s consider each president and judge them on their merits, shall we?

Harry S Truman. Here was a man who not only couldn’t afford a middle name, for most of his life he couldn’t even afford a period after the S! That’s right. He had to borrow one from the editors of the Chicago Style Manual. And just try to forget that he dropped not just one, but two atomic bombs upon fellow human beings as the only solution to ending the war. Years later, he was overheard saying, “It never occurred to me to just say, ‘Please.'”

Dwight D. Eisenhower. Great general, bland president. I mean, does anyone have any impression of him beyond the slogan, “I like Ike”? I’m stiflingly yawns just thinking about him. Seriously though, he created the Interstate Highway System, NASA, and despite Al Gore’s claims otherwise, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which led to the Internet. And even though he created the communist domino theory that was used as justification for entering Viet Nam, he redeemed himself by being opposed to Joseph McCarthy and his communist witch hunts.

John F. Kennedy. A war hero (who hasn’t seen the movie “PT109” starring Cliff Roberton). He had a gorgeous wife and still got to sleep with Marilyn Monroe. He was the only President to win a Pulitzer, until President Obama. He created the Peace Corps. He challenged America to put a man on the moon and we did it. He brought a youthful style and vigor to the Presidency that was definately missing from the Eisenhower years. We call his presidency Camelot, for God’s sake. JFK was everything except bulletproof. He was so charismatic the nation still mourns him a half century later.

Lyndon Johnson. The only reason JFK picked him as a running mate was to win Texas. Had he given serious consideration to “a heartbeat away” JFK would have picked someone intelligent. Only two things come to mind when people think about Johnson, if they bother to think about him at all, and that’s how he would lift his basset hounds up by their ears and how he constantly showed his appendectomy scar while saying, “Not as cool as a bullet in the head, but its all I got.”

Richard M. Nixon. The “I am not a crook” crook. Highlights of his presidency include opening communications to China and saying, “Sock it to me?” on “Rowen and Martin’s Laugh-In.” The lowlights include Watergate, 18 missing minutes of tape, and having a running mate in Spiro T. Agnew who was an even bigger crook than he was. Nixon single-handedly destroyed the nation’s faith and trust in it’s government in general and.the office of the President in particular.

Gerald R. Ford. If not for Chevy Chase falling down all the time, we never would have even noticed someone had replaced Nixon. People would say, “Who is Chevy Chase imitating?” “The President.” “No. That’s nothing like Nixon.” “Nixon resigned. He’s no longer President.” “Dude! That’s far out.” Ford’s legacy is his “WIN!” program, which stood for “Whip Inflation Now!” It was a program designed on the wish theory, that if we all wished hard enough, the economy would improve. America did wish hard enough and Ford failed to win reelection.

Jimmy Carter. Carter was a surprise victor in the 1976 election. America wanted a Washington outsider, so they elected an unknown peanut farmer. What they got was a rerun of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” featuring the zany antics of Carter’s drunk brother, which included marketing “Billy Beer,” while the President himself fended off attacks from a killer rabbit while lusting in his heart. And on a serious note, lets not forget the Iran Hostage Crisis and the rescue attempt that went horribly wrong with helicopters crashing and burning in the desert, which was no surprise since Carter had slashed the military budget and everything was held together with bubblegum and bailing wire.

Ronald Reagan. The Great Communicator to some, the Teflon President to everyone else because it seemed no matter what stupid shit spewed out of his mouth, none of it stuck to him. Here is a brief list of the bullshit that happened on his watch: Iran/Contra. Catsup named a vegetable. Nancy running things via astrology. Referring to the Soviet Union as the evil empire and the infamous announcement, “We begin bombing in 5 minutes.” The Invasion of Granada, so strategically important to America. Trying to outspend the USSR in defense, including billions wasted on a pipe dream known as Star Wars. Tripling the Federal Deficit in the process. Nearly 11% unemployment. Giving amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants (you decide if that’s a plus or minus). Funding Islamist mujahidin fighters in Afghanistan in a shadow war against the Soviet Union, and in the process creating the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden. Cutting the taxes on the rich from 70% to 28%, which forced him to raise taxes on the Middle Class 11 times to make up for it. Raiding the Social Security Trust Fund and leaving a note that said, “IOU $2.7 trillion, Love Ronnie.”

George Herbert Walker Bush. He was President? Seriously, who remembers this? He got us into the first Gulf War to save our free access to Kuwaiti oil, but it was measured in days, not months or years. If one thing can be said, Bush knew when to pull out (just not always soon enough as we’ll see when we get to the 43rd President.) What defined his presidency was the promise “Read my lips, no new taxes” which became a joke when he broke it.

William Jefferson Clinton. He tried his best to be like JFK, but Hillary was no Jackie-O and Monica Lewinski was no Monroe. He did outdo JFK’s sexual conquests in one regard: Clinton was the only president to ever raise taxes retroactively, thereby screwing the entire nation. Crime decreased every year of his Presidency, while the number of federal prisoners doubled. He inherited the largest budget deficit in American history and turned it around leaving a $127 billion surplus. Came up with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” And redefined the definition for sexual relations.

Richard “I’m a Dick” Cheney. Um. Oh. Sorry. I guess he never officially held the office of president, did he? Nevermind.

George W. Bush. C’mon! Obama came in worst ever when this man-child was in the running? Bush II was an international embarrassment. He was a drunken frat boy who couldn’t even swallow a pretzel without choking. He even barfed on the Prime Minister of Japan. There were no WMDs. He bankrupted us fighting two wars we had no business in, one simply begun to finish what his Daddy couldn’t. If someone went to Hollywood and proposed a movie about an utter buffoon rising to hold the most powerful office in America, no one would have taken a chance on it because it was so unbelievable. But we all lived through it! Dozens of comedians became famous doing Bush II and not one of them had to write any skits, they just had to be him; they’d laugh like him, act like him, talk like him, and quote him, and audiences laughed hysterically. They had to, laughing kept everyone from crying at the realization that the joke was really on America because our leader was one big international punch-line. OK, emotions aside, the Bush II legacy is: He took more vacations than any other president in history. Used torture to interrogate prisoners. Wiretapped millions of Americans without warrants. Outsourced the war to contractors who weren’t bound to follow Iraqi or American military laws. Failed to act on an Aug. 6, 2001 White House intelligence briefing called, “Bin Laden determined to strike in the U.S.” The price of oil quadrupled under his watch. He was a Draft dodger. He took Clinton’s budget surplus and spent it like a drunken sailor, leaving Obama a $1.2 trillion hole. Poverty increased by 26.1%.

Barack H. Obama. A President whose entire presidency, even his life’s history, is nothing but lies and fabrications promulgated by right wing spin doctors, bigots, and conspiracy nuts. The opposition blames him for everything that goes wrong anywhere in the world and discredits him for anything that goes right. An obstructionist House blocked any and all legislation, including jobs bills that would actually help Americans get back to work, in a deliberate attempt to make President Obama look bad. He gets blamed for an economic collapse that was caused by his predecessor’s idiotic policies and he gets blamed because the recovery isn’t happening fast enough (again getting blamed by the Republicans as they cause obstruction to anything that might fuel the recovery). So honestly, how can the man even be judged when he hasn’t been given a fair shake? When he’s had these kinds of odds against him? When an entire political party fully admits their sole goal is to ensure Obama fails?

So now that we know their track records, which president should actually be considered the worst, or best, in the last 69 years? If you were honest in keeping score, the ones at the very top would be Eisenhower and Kennedy. The ones at the very bottom would be Nixon, Reagan, and George Dubya Bush. Obama, at this point, should come out in the middle somewhere. Probably closer to the top than the bottom, but seriously, it is far too early to be making judgments upon his legacy. History will remember him for the Affordable Care Act, eliminating Osama Bin Laden, repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” creating new fuel economy standards, and investing more than any other administration in renewable technologies, while battling against unprecedented personal attacks fueled by ignorance, racism, and bigotry.

And there you have it, a brief history of American Presidents since World War II.

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Worst President Evah?

A recent poll put out by Quinippiac University questioned 1,446 registered voters, 73% of whom were white, over the phone.

The consensus of this poll? That President Barrack Obama is the worst president since World War II. At least that’s the buzz from all the news outlets.

But the news doesn’t analyze these things. They just take the AP feed and or the university’s PR release and run it as is.

In other words, they give you the results while running attention-getting (and website click-through attracting) headlines, like “Obama’s the worst!” “GW Bush better than Obama!” and nonsense like that.

Did any bother to mention that the poll queried only 13% of black voters? Probably not.

Now some news outlets might, in an effort to show fairness in the makeup of the respondents that a 73% white majority lacks, provide the claimed political demographics of Republican 26%, Democrat 31%, and Independent 35% and say, “See? That’s a fair and equitable distribution.”

And at first blush, we might agree, until we read that 45% believe Mitt Romney would be doing a better job as President.

Sorry. I should have warned you. I’ll wait while you wipe off your monitor and keyboard, but c’mon! You should know better than to read this while drinking tea.

Back? Good. Now, seriously? Romney? You have to ask yourself, “How the Hell did Romney get 19 more percentage points than the 26% of those who claimed to be Republican?” Because in all honesty, who but hard-core conservatives would admit Romney was good at anything?

The answer is people don’t align themselves with political parties like they used to. So the pollsters asked the wrong question. They instead should have asked if the respondents were Conservative, Liberal/Progressive, or Moderate.

The results would have been more informative of the philosophical breakdown. For one thing, nobody would answer “Moderate” because no one wants to be thought of as wishy-washy, which is what all Americans think of when they think of Moderate. In fact, a picture of Michael Dukakis in a tank wearing an army helmet comes to mind when we think of a Moderate. Laughable.

For another, many people who claim to be Independent really aren’t. Not in the least. Every Independent, when you listen to them or watch what they post on social media, either skews to the right or to the left, but never ever in the middle. Most Tea Party members consider themselves Independent, not Republican, as do many Libertarians, but both share many conservative beliefs with Republicans.

So combine the 73% white with the fact that 45% actually think Romney wasn’t a complete asshole, and you end up with a poll that has as much credibility as a poll asserting most Americans want genetically-altered food without any GMO labeling only to discover the majority of respondents were actually employees of Monsanto.

Remember also, polls are just a snapshot in time, so you have to ask yourself, “What was happening from June 24 to June 27, 2014?” The answer is: Obama gave a talk on working families and said women of newborns should get paid leave (Gasp! That’s socialism!) there was escalating violence in Iraq which led to discussions of sending more troops (OMG! Bush had that won, now look!) the IRS commissioner was being grilled on the Hill (Obama is giving them marching orders to investigate everyone in the Tea Party!); to name just a few news items that would skew opinion against any standing President.

Given the apparent bias in the sampling, this poll needs to be taken with a large helping of salt. If nothing else, this poll and the furor surrounding it, is worth a good laugh.

Don’t take it seriously. But how could you when it came to the conclusion that Ronald Reagan was the greatest president since 1945?

Am I right?

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