Monthly Archives: March 2015

More (Mostly) Republican Imbecility

It’s been obvious now for a number of years that the right wing dominated Republican Party exists through maintenance of a class system. Only by pushing policies that keep the rich rich and the poor poor can they succeed. This is bad. This is very bad. But even worse is the simple fact they have crossed a line and now become willful and unrepentant imbeciles. The result is going to be destruction of the planet. Think I’m overreacting? Read on. Oh, I know this seems extreme, but bear with me for a moment and you may come, if reluctantly, to agree with me.

  • Opposition to nearly all environment legislation: Newest on the Republican hit list is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed setting of new limits on mercury and arsenic contamination by big industry (which also opposes new regulations). Mercury is a known neurotoxin that can delay or damage children’s neurological development and result in disabilities including blindness. It’s not good for adults, either. Both substances are emitted by coal-fired plants, and Republicans, in particular, don’t give a shit that we’re poisoning ourselves with the stuff.
  • Opposition to regulation of other air pollutants: As we all know, Republicans are constitutionally incapable of supporting substantial expenditures for alternative sources of energy. Thus, in addition to what is pouring out of coal-fired plants, we’re also spewing pollutants from our cars’ and trucks’ tailpipes. In the March 26, 2015 issue of the L.A. Times, reporter Geoffrey Moran cites a study in the recent issue of the Journal of the American Association Psychiatry that supports this pollution as a cause of lower cognitive processing and ADHD in children.
  • Opposition to vaccination: The imbecility of this is almost beyond belief. As idiots like Rand Paul say that the choice of vaccination should be left to individuals (and damn the risk to the general public), we now see rising incidences of measles and whooping cough, diseases that can maim or be lethal and that were nearly absent until scientific ignoramuses like Jennie McCarthy came on the scene and Republican politicians decided to take us headlong into the good ol’ days of disability and death.
  • Refusal to believe in the human contribution to climate change: If not the above, then this is what’s going to kill us all. 2014 was the warmest year on record for our planet. The fact that morons like James Inhofe can stand in front of Congress with a snowball and deny climate change is proof that Republicans are going to kill us all. The oceans are rising as polar ice melts. Severe storms are becoming more common and destructive. Whole islands and parts of the U.S. coast are going to be flooded into non-existence. The Western U.S. is struggling with record drought. Climate change is going to lead to mass migrations, and these will lead to conflict and killing.

And why do Republicans behave the way they do? Here are two observations I’ve made:

  • The U.S. has become a corporatized nation. We’re no longer a representative democracy. Corporations own our politicians, and corporations only feel accountable to their shareholders, not to the public – or the world – at large. Big oil rules, and plans to do so until we all die of suffocation. After all, it’s short term gain that interests them. Not the future for the executives’ descendants.
  • The Republican right’s drift into more and more literal, fundamentalist religion with a belief in the “Rapture” means that they can do anything to the planet now because it won’t matter then the Rapture lifts them up to that great paradise in the sky. Yes, these superstitious yahoos actually don’t care about the planet because, to many of them, it’s irrelevant. God will save the deserving while the rest of us go to hell.

C’mon folks. This is 2015. We should have long grown out of primitive superstition. God doesn’t save children from burning buildings. Firemen do. God doesn’t save people with busted guts from dying. Surgeons do. And God isn’t going to save us from the havoc being wrought on the planet through our own environmental disrespect. Only we can do that, and if we don’t wake up and take action, it will soon be too late. Uncontrolled pollution, uncontrolled population growth, lack of potable water, severe weather…Republicans and Democrats, but mostly Republicans (including those dolts on the Supreme Court), better get with it soon, or there’ll be hell to pay for all of us, and not just us infidels.

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On Reading Leading to Writing

When I was a kid growing up in the 1950s, my parents would take my kid brother and me out at least one Saturday evening each month to some local restaurant for dinner: Rothbard’s Delicatessen, Yet-D-Far for Chinese, Bob’s Big Boy for burgers…. It was great, but even greater was what we’d usually do after dinner.

“Can we go to a newsstand?” the kid and I would ask. The answer was almost always yes, and so we’d head off to one of several newsstands in the area that carried a wide variety of magazines, comic books, and paperbacks.

Mom and Dad, Mom especially, were avid readers who didn’t care what the kid and I read as long as we were reading something. (Mom, an artist, had many art books on the shelves at home, and I’d often sit and study the nudes when no one else was around.) So, I’d go browsing for my favorites: Flying, Mad (both the magazine and the paperback collections like The Mad Reader), Famous Monsters of Filmland, and comic books to add to my substantial trove.

In elementary school, we had a biweekly visit of the L.A. Unified School District’s “Bookmobile”, a mobile library from which we could check out books. And I did. The Freddy the Pig books, Miss Pickerel Goes to Mars and other books in that series, and the Winston Science Fiction series. It was the Bookmobile that offered up my first taste of Robert Heinlein: The Red Planet, a book I read and then re-read many times over.

All of this exposure to books and magazines provided the foundation for me to become a lifelong reader, and an eclectic one at that. And beyond just reading, it fostered imagination and a fantasy life that started to be expressed through writing. I also found that my own particular portal into self-understanding came best through putting words on paper. When I could look at what I was thinking, I could better understand what I was thinking.

Over the years, I’ve written many letters to the editor – some published and some not – a number of published articles and essays, and two books. My first book, Spacebraid and Other Tales of a Dystopian Universe, was a collection of stories written from pure imagination. There is not much of me in those stories except for a few small particulars.

It is a different story with Zendoscopy, as many readers have easily discerned. Where they have gone wrong, however, is in the assumption that all the episodes in the book actually occurred. In fact, most are riffs on a kernel event or are complete fabrications. What is so interesting to me is that so many people have found what they think is truth in the stories and, perhaps displacing their own identification with them upon me, think that Zendoscopy is somewhat of an autobiography. In three words, it’s a mistake. The book is an example of “writing what you know”, and I’m glad that it seems more real than it is. Nevertheless, I frankly admit that there is far more of me in it than in most of my other writing.

I’m currently at work on a not-quite-a-sequel to Zendoscopy. As yet untitled, it does pick up on the lives of several of the characters in Zendoscopy, but it’s a completely different story and it’s much more separated from “me” than is Zendoscopy. I’m about a hundred pages into it as I write this blog entry, and it’s going to be some time before it’s finished. I hope that when it is, it’ll be as well received as has been Zendoscopy, but I write for the love of writing and not for the money (fortunately). So, whatever happens, happens.

I’ve digressed a bit from how I developed my love of reading, but it was that love that also stimulated me to write. My only regret about it all is that I long ago gave away my collection of comic books. If I’d kept it until now, it’d be worth a small fortune.

A Science Lesson

Readers of this blog have often noted my despair over the deficiencies in our educational system and, specifically, the degree of people’s scientific ignorance. Think: James Inhof. In light of this, I offer the following science lesson, which I hope in some small way will help raise the level of scientific literacy in our rapidly sinking nation.

 Electricity Simplified

A Science Lecture by Yerffej N. Flow, Ph.D.

    Our topic is electricity. Electricity makes our modern world run. Everyone should understand it but only few do. When you finish reading this, you will know all there is to know about electricity and will be able to count yourself among a privileged few, the electrically connected cognoscenti.

Prehistoric folks did not have electricity. Well, they did but they didn’t know what to do with it. It is well documented in cave paintings how a caveman of great repute named Hrrrrrmph Toog, upon being struck by lightning, became the world’s first 4 million watt fluorescent lighting fixture. Unfortunately, he was unable to comment upon his distinctive achievement afterward.

There are lots of modern theories about electricity. One says that electricity is 98.7% cream of mushroom soup, but we’ll choose the easiest one because it’s…easy. It says that electricity is made up of something called charge. Charge is carried on little particles called electrons and protons, which are stored in cat fur and received by you from MasterCard in the form of a monthly bill with 18.5% interest. Electrons carry negative charge and protons carry positive charge. It could be the other way around, but I forget.

Quiz Question #1 (multiple choice):

Electrons are:

  1. Oblong
  2. Protons
  3. Really, really tiny

Electric charge doesn’t generally do us much good unless it’s moving. When it isn’t, it’s called static electricity. When it is, it’s called electric current. Current flows through “conductors”. It’s blocked by “insulators”. Wire is a conductor. Wood is an insulator. Rubber is a contraceptive.

Quiz Question #2 (true or false): A large number of electrons flowing through a conductor will electrocute him.

Remember the last time you were at a football game? Remember stuffing your way through some dark, bowelly tunnel to get into the stadium? Remember how you got all sweaty? Aha! You’ve just learned the principle of the toaster oven. Or a light bulb. Those cute, cuddly little electrons (people), all sqwoooshed together in the heating element or lighting filament (bowelly tunnel), create heat that makes the wire glow. Your toaster oven toasts, your light bulb lights, all so you can munch golden brown nuts ‘n berry bread toast and read USA Today bathed in the warm glow of a merry hundred watter instead of eating cold gruel in the dark. The wonders of science, revealed!

As you can see, electricity is actually quite simple. And important. It is a little-known fact that all modern electrical devices, from radios to the space shuttle, are just combinations of toaster ovens and light bulbs. The trick is in knowing the proportions.

Next time, we’ll discuss microwave ovens, fertility and alien abduction. Class dismissed.

Note: Yerffej N. Flow received his Ph.D. with negative honors from the Oxford (shoe) University in 2011. He prefers to be called “Doctor”, but not by sick people.

© J. Allan Wolf, 2015

Another in an Occasional Series of Diatribes

By now, you’ve all gotten used to my periodic diatribes against Republican arrogance, ignorance, and economic elitism, so it won’t surprise you that here’s another one.

One of the most fundamental flaws in our legislative process is the ability to put any sort of rider on a bill, relevance to the primary bill being a non-issue. And so it has been that the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, to which any more moderate leaning Republicans kowtow, has blocked funding for the Department of Homeland Security by insisting on a provision invalidating President Obama’s recent actions on immigration. Never mind that that action was taken because Congress has consistently failed to address immigration. The Republicans have no plan (and even appear overtly hostile toward immigrants), and the Democrats are wimps who seem to stand for nothing and certainly aren’t actively, vocally supporting the President. The Republicans have thus shown themselves to care more about immigration than the overall security of the United States against all forms of threat, including terrorism.

With that position, Republicans are batting a thousand on general irrationality and the willingness to put the nation at risk. Here are some other areas where the Republicans are actively seeking to destroy the country:

  • Health insurance: No plan of their own but hostile to the Affordable Care Act. If they succeed in getting it overturned, millions will end up uninsured again.
  • Minimum wage: They’re opposed, fully invested in keeping the economic underclass down
  • Abortion: Almost universally opposed and would be happy to see women dying in back alley abortions as they strive to legislate against responsible pregnancy termination and choice.
  • Gay marriage: Oh, yeah, they think it’s a religious abomination and want to impose their views on you, too.
  • The environment: Absolute opposition to environmental protection, instead favoring ecologic devastation by big business. Maybe they think the Rapture will save them, and damn everyone else.
  • Hostility toward, and general disbelief in, science: The earth is 6000 years old? Evolution is just a “theory”? The scientifically ignorant don’t understand the actual meaning of the word “theory” as applied to scientific fact. Worse, some of their ignorance seems downright willful.
  • Separation of church and state: Republicans have become an American Taliban, eager to impose their own notion of the U.S. as a Christian nation and ignoring the Founding Fathers’ firm stance against precisely what these historical dopes are promoting.
  • Global climate change: Idiots like Senator James Inhof, totally ignorant of science and the considered opinion of every reputable climate scientist on Earth, fail completely to understand and/or accept the reality that is observable to anyone who isn’t a moron. Overall, the planet is warming, oceans are rising, and disaster is becoming a looming certainty.

I could go on, but the essence of current day Republican philosophy is its absolute reliance upon a stratified class system, with a permanently disadvantaged underclass, a contracted middle class, and a small but dominant upper class that can’t see beyond the end of its own economic nose. The Koch brothers et al. have essentially bought Congress, and we are now living in a corporate nation with rapidly eroding social mobility and freedom. Environmental destruction is already occurring and, under incompetent and self-interested leadership, appears headed for much worse in the relatively near future. Voter suppression, continuation of policies that prevent social advancement, and the use of religion and unbridled chauvinism to justify all manner of bigotry and in-your-bedroom legislation are destroying the ideals we, as a country, have in the past and (at least many of us) continue to espouse.

If we don’t wake up to the reality of the situation soon and militate for change, it’s going to be too late. When totalitarian repression becomes too great, people revolt, and I fear the day this could happen in what is supposed to be the land of the free and home of the brave.

Book Review: Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King

As far back as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed stories of the supernatural. This, in spite of my firmly established identity as a secular humanist/freethinker/atheist – take your choice of terms, although I think one can parse them quite well and all apply to me. But that’s the subject of some other blog entry I’ll do one of these days. The point now is that I love to read stories of the supernatural.

I should digress for a moment and distinguish “supernatural” from “horror”. In my youth, we often saw considerable overlap between the two. These days, “horror” tends to equate with mass murder, gore, and torture. Frankly, current horror fiction of this type interests me not at all. I don’t mind a bit of it creeping into stories of the supernatural, but chainsaw massacres simply don’t interest me very much.

All of this brings me to the sorts of supernatural stories I like. When I was a kid, I loved an anthology called Ghosts, Ghosts, Ghosts, written for a youth audience and chock full of, well, ghosts. When my daughters were young, I made an annual event of reading one of the stories in the book to them every Halloween: “The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall”, by John Kendrick Bangs. The girls loved the story, which of course had a creepy ghost, but no horror in the vein of, say, Nightmare on Elm Street.

My love of supernatural stories has remained ardent over the years, and when Stephen King’s novel, The Shining, appeared, I devoured it. Later, I hated Stanley Kubrick’s movie, with Jack Nicholson’s hammy performance. Somehow, the movie simply couldn’t compare to the mental images conjured in me by the book.

As King, himself has said, it became almost imperative for him to write a sequel to The Shining, one that told the story of Danny Torrance, the son who possessed the powers described as “the shining”. But the need for King to write the sequel arose from far more than just the need to tell Danny’s story.

As those who’ve read (or seen) The Shining know, Danny and his mother survived the explosion and fire that destroyed the Overlook Hotel. Doctor Sleep picks up the story with Danny, now going by Dan, as a grown man, still haunted by the ghosts of the Overlook and deeply alcoholic. As King writes the story, one cannot help but get the impression that Dan is a clear reflection of his own alcoholism, and that writing in extensive detail about it offered him a powerful emotional catharsis. I could be wrong, but I doubt it. As the writer of a fictional work, Zendoscopy, myself, I know that certain aspects of my own character and history (the latter used only as the kernel for some of the tales in the book that take off into large scale fictional riffs) are projected into Sherman, the book’s protagonist. I have every reason to believe that King has done the same with Dan. The descriptions of his alcohol abuse cut simply too close to the bone to be other than based upon actual experience.

The story, itself, concerns not only Dan’s entry into recovery, but his involvement with a young adolescent girl, Abra, also possessing the shining. She reaches out to Dan for help when she becomes aware that a group of vampire-like (but different) monsters calling themselves the “True Knot” have captured and murdered a young boy in order to steal his “steam”, an essence the members of the group require to maintain their immortality. The leader of the True Knot becomes aware of Abra’s existence, and becomes fanatically dedicated to capturing her to harvest her “steam”. There is an additional reason that the True Knot needs Abra, but to reveal this here would be to spoil the reader’s fun, so I’ll refrain. Once the basic setup is created, the remainder of the book is devoted to how Dan and a few allies come to Abra’s aid and face the True Knot.

Is Doctor Sleep as good a story and novel as The Shining. I’d rather suggest that it’s a different animal. In The Shining, Dan’s father goes mad in a haunted hotel where he’s been hired as the winter caretaker. There is no haunting in Dr Sleep, and the evil is material rather than strictly supernatural. Somewhat paradoxically, there is much more reliance upon the shining in Doctor Sleep than in The Shining. The sequel also reveals a significant coincidence with respect to a certain family relationship which initially suggested to me that King had “jumped the shark”. With continued reading, however, the coincidence is somewhat explained in terms that allowed me to accept it, but it still seemed somewhat contrived.

All in all, Doctor Sleep is an enjoyable read. Suspend your disbelief, recognize King’s skillful writing style, and have fun. Doctor Sleep won’t change your life, but will entertain you.

Recommendation: A pretty good read, but it won’t change your life.