Tu-Swift busied himself for days walking to the river for water in order to help She Who Saves Many Lives with her ministrations to the many Veritas who had fallen ill. The most recent victim was Sooz. Tu-Swift helped her imbibe some of the special healing tea that the elder Shaman prepared. But no matter what, he couldn’t seem to bring the fever down. At one point, as he sat on the ground beside her, holding her hand, and resting, he noticed that his knee was not bothering him. Tu-Swift found this a little surprising because he had been walking so much to help assuage the sick. He wondered whether the walking could actually somehow help mend his knee. He looked over at Sooz. He thought about the first time he had ever noticed her. One of the things he found attractive about her, aside from her wonderful scent, was her beautiful smooth skin. Now she smelled of stale sweat and her skin had erupted into a mountain range of red dots. He found it odd that her current state did nothing to diminish her love for her. In fact, he felt closer to her than ever.
Tu-Swift paid no conscious attention to anything beyond Sooz. Yet, his experiences kept a part of his mind ever attuned to the outside world. He felt, more than heard, the growing buzz of excitement outside. He pulled open the flap of Sooz’s cabin door and saw many of the Veritas pointing and talking excitedly. His eyes followed he pointing and there seemed to be some commotion on the hillside on the border of the Center Place. It was hard to make out faces, but he immediately recognized the garb of Lion Slayer and Hudah Salah. Tu-Swift swallowed hard and his heart began to beat hard. He loved Suze, but he missed Cat Eyes so much! He hadn’t realized till this moment how much he missed her. He forgot about his hurt knee entirely and loped toward the commotion. He spotted Trunk of Tree next — hard to miss his big frame — and he smiled to recognize Fleet of Foot. And, he nodded as he saw Jaccim. What was going on? Why were they shouting at each other? Where was Cat Eyes?
That must be her, he thought, but even as he thought it, he realized, no, she could have changed that much. Now, he began to fear something horrible had happened. He drew even closer. There were guards shouting at Trunk of Tree and he was shouting back.
Tu-Swift stopped and got no closer. Even at his age, he recognized that when there is a shouting match, adding more people, generally doesn’t improve the situation. At last, he began to “get” what was happening. This was indeed the party returning from the attempt to visit the Veritas beyond the Twin Peaks, but the Veritas guards here had been told to keep the party away from the central village. Tu-Swift wondered whether his sister, Many Paths had given that order or if it had been She Who Saves Many Lives. Many Paths was fairly well recovered but not quite. Just then, he notice She Who Saves Many Lives stride past him and walk toward the shouting match.
Tu-Swift wondered how such an ancient lady had caught up with him so quickly. He smiled as he recalled his sister remarking on several occasions that it seemed as though She Who Sees Many Lives had an almost magical intuition to know where she was most needed and appear there. So, thought Tu-Swift, this is what she was talking about. He smiled.
As She Who Saves Many Lives approached she shot her right hand out holding her staff and said, “SILENCE!”
And silence ensued. And then, her voice rang out loud and true.
“Now, listen to me. It is I who ordered the guards to stop you here. We welcome you back and we are all eager to learn of your travels. But you must listen! We have a plague here. Many of us are sick! Some have died. Many Paths herself is just now recovering. This sickness covers you with ugly red dots and gives you a high fever. It is just like mold on fruit or the white powder flies on leaves. It goes from one person to another. We don’t know yet whether all of us will get sick or just some of us. It’s possible — not likely but possible — that everyone here will die. In that case, for the people not to die, you must stay away from us for a time. I know you are all eager to see us and as I said, we are just as eager to see you! But you cannot come any closer right now.”
The returning Veritas murmured but they all nodded their heads to signal their understanding — all save Trunk of Tree who bellowed, “I live here! This is my village. It is not up to you, I say with great respect — it is not up to you.”
The strong voice of She Who Saves Many Lives sung out, “You may well wonder where and how this plague came upon us. I will tell you. We had visitors from the Z-Lotz and we believe we got it from them. In fact, we think they did it on purpose. They also gave us a gift of something they call “glass” which has caused grievous wounds and sickness in Stone Chipper and his son, Sees Horses. Now, for the sake of the Great Bear in the Sky, tell us whether there really are Veritas beyond the Twin Peaks. And, now, I see that you have brought the answer with you, if I am not mistaken.”
She Who Saves Many Lives nodded and put her hand out toward Flowing Waters and said in a softer, but still carrying tone, “Welcome sister. I am called She Who Saves Many Lives though I am afraid it is a bit of a misnomer. It is the people themselves who save lives because they learn much, and they help each other out, and when they disagree they talk things out until they agree or make arrangements not to interfere with each other. I can see by your face that you understand me, so you must be from our cousins over the Twin Peaks. I’m sorry we have to keep you away until we stop getting sick over here. Are you kin to Cat Eyes?”
“I understand, She Who Saves Many Lives. I am called by the name “Flowing Waters” because somehow, what I see flows like water out of my fingers and into paintings. I am indeed from the Veritas beyond the Twin Peaks as you say. Though we had a legend that you were the Veritas beyond the Twin Peaks.” She smiled and paused.
She Who Saves Many Lives laughed aloud and most of the Veritas joined in. Lion Slayer and Hudah Salah joined in. Jaccim looked from one face to another and clearly could not understand why everyone else was laughing.
She Who Saves Many Lives continued, “Trunk of Tree. You were in charge of this expedition and I see that you were successful! Congratulations! Believe me, we want you to come and celebrate as is our way as soon as we possibly can. It would be a fine way to repay your wisdom and courage to give some dread disease that might kill you, right? What would Eagle Eyes think of us all when she returns here. Can you imagine that conversation? She would say, ‘Look, we brought back a killing stick. What of Trunk of Tree? Was he also successful? I want to see him!’ And, then I would say, ‘Oh, yes he was successful. I can show you where his body is buried.’ And then she would say, ‘How did he die?’ And, then, I would say, ‘Oh, yes, well, everyone in the village was deathly ill so we had him come in and catch the disease and die rather than having him keep a safe distance for a time. I hope we did the right thing. He very much wanted to get in the village.’
“And, though no-one can predict the future with certainty, I imagine that she would say something like, ‘How stupid!’ and I think she would be correct. And she would be very sad to know you were dead and that rather than dying as a hero in battle fighting to protect your village, instead you died of red pimple disease because you couldn’t be bothered camping at a safe distance. I cannot have that on my head. And, by he way, she wouldn’t just blame me; she would blame the whole of the Veritas. How could a village be so stupid as to let one of her mightiest and bravest warriors needlessly die? And she would be right to blame the whole village. Including you.
“Enough of this though, tell us your exciting news. Are all the Veritas on the other side of the Twin Mountains as charming and comely as Flowing Waters and Cat Eyes? And where is Cat Eyes, though I suspect I know. And, how did you get there? We want to hear the whole story, but for now, the essence will do.”
Trunk of Tree tried to organize things in his head. What to say first? Most important, the Veritas. “Yes, there are Veritas — many of them — on the other side of the Twin Peaks. They have no interaction with other tribes except for the predations of the ROI and the Z-Lotz. Cat Eyes — she had hoped to see her parents, but they had left to try to find her and were never heard from again. And… and … oh, yes so she is staying there with her people. I think she really likes the mint tea they serve there. And, we went through a tunnel but not a dirt tunnel. It was more like a … well, I guess what Cat Eyes called a ‘City.’ Smooth. Dark. But lights. Then, we came back.”
She Who Saves Many Lives blinked a few times. “Thank you, Trunk of Tree. This is exciting news you bring, indeed. Again, Congratulations. Anyone else have any observations?”
Fleet of Foot glanced at Trunk of Tree, then added, “The Veritas have a leader named ‘Gentle Talons.’ They had a prophesy for someone such as Cat Eyes to return and bring a great truth. And, as it turns out, she did — exactly that! You see, our cousins over the Mountains had excavated a huge underground pantry. But instead of food for the body in the pantry, this giant pantry — which, it turns out, is called a ‘library’, contains thousands of what they call ‘books.’ They had no idea what those things were! They knew they were filled with marks. But no-one knew what those marks meant. Then, Cat Eyes appeared, and — because of what she and Tu-Swift had discovered, they could begin to decode every one of these books! The books are filled with important knowledge! It was so lucky that Cat Eyes came here — and that she and Tu-Swift were friends! Now, we can all find out so much more about the world. She needs to stay there for now because she is by far the fastest and best decoder they have. And, oh, by the way, Tu-Swift, I have two books for you on training birds. She also wrote a small book just for you personally, but — but — well, I eventually need to see you about it in person.”
Tu-Swift brightened at that. He was glad that Sooz was back in the cabin. Then, he realized he would have turned even brighter still and she would have seen it. I need to see her! he thought. I miss Cat Eyes! I could take Sooz. I have to wait though till no-one is sick. We don’t want to take our disease to the Veritas on the other side of the Twin Peaks. Imagine! I go see Cat Eyes and get her entire tribe of cousins sick. What a great friend I would be!
It proved frustrating, not only for Trunk of Tree, but for everyone not to be able to clasp hands, hug, and have these information exchanges and congratulations be much more intimate and extended. Yet, it is the sweetest nuts that have the hardest shells. All of the Veritas knew that. It there were not a hard shell, that might seem more convenient for the moment you are trying to open it. But, of course, a moment more of thought would reveal that the nuts would likely never survive to reach a human hand or a human mouth. Nuts without any such shell would be eaten by the small beasts that were out all the time looking for food. In fact, all knew that being able to put off pleasure for future gain was what enabled humans to survive as humans. For this reason, Veritas children, including Trunk of Tree had been trained from an early age to wait. For now, they would settle for telling tales at a distanced.
The exchanges lasted until sundown whereupon the returning exploration party made camp on the outskirts. After much dialogue, they decided that the “gift books” would be put some ways from their campsite and left there overnight. Tu-Swift and others would only collect their books tomorrow evening.
Tu-Swift, despite having talked himself hoarse, found his head still swirling with so many additional questions. He went in to check on Sooz. He had already decided that he would wait until she was fully recovered before broaching the subject of visiting the … visiting the library. That was the way to put it so that she would want to go. Sooz was as exciting as anyone about this writing and reading. Although she needed her rest, he could not keep from her the news about the library! “Sooz! Sooz! Wake up! I’ve got something amazing to tell you. Sooz!”
His voice dropped to a plea. “Sooz?”
Author page on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/author/truthtable
You do not actually have a generic right to impinge on the rights of others.
If someone is trying to convince you that you do — they are peddling you Happy Talk Lies and trying either:
- to make a buck or gain power by playing to your “angels” — and not the better ones — or,
- trying to destroy our civil society.
Let’s consider just a few common examples. You can go into your house and play music. And you can play music not at all, or you can play it 24 x 7. You can listen only to Mozart or only to Philip Glass or leave the radio on all day or play CD’s. You have a huge range of freedoms. This huge range of freedoms that you enjoy, by the way, depends partly on government; it also depends on science. Without science, you would, as a practical matter be far more limited in your freedom.
What you cannot do is play your music so loud that it disturbs others. How loud is too loud? It depends on context. If you are living in a thin-walled apartment complex, you might start to disturb others even when the music is played softly. On the other hand, if you live in the middle of nowhere, you can crank your amps up so far you’ll destroy your own hearing. In some cases, there may be some objective standard about noise levels, but generally it’s a question of having people complain. If one person complains about the noise, the police generally don’t do anything. But if several people complain, they will come and tell people to stop partying so loud. This isn’t “communism” or “socialism” or “Big Bad Government” — this is just people getting along with each other. You don’t have the freedom to impinge on others just because you feel like it.
That may seem like a pain in the neck. But you have to realize that other people don’t have the right to impinge on your rights either. And, that is much more valuable to you than whatever inconvenience you have from not being able to impinge on the rights of others. Why? Because there are many more others than there are of you. And, regardless of laws, regulations, customs, power, eventually, if you try to impinge on the rights of others, they will eventually get together and impinge on yours — big time. Guillotine sized big time.
The area of what you can do without infringing on the rights of others typically gets smaller as population becomes more dense. I suspect this may be one reason why people from the wide open spaces feel more as though wearing a mask is an unnecessary inconvenience as compared to city dwellers. City dwellers are much more used to curtailing their rights so as not to infringe on the rights of others than are people in the rural areas. You literally cannot even walk down the sidewalk in a busy city without “negotiating space” with all those around you.
I believe there is also a difference in the quality of how people in rural and urban areas see rights interacting and potentially infringing. To city folks, it makes a lot of sense to enforce speed limits, noise ordinances and mandatory mask wearing. On the other hand, it generally makes no sense to urbanites to try to enforce restrictions on other people’s sexual preferences. Why would you want to massively restrict the freedom of others to avoid a temporary feeling of discomfort in yourself? Who cares whether Bob Jones in Des Moines marries Maria Santos or Mario Santos? That’s the sentiment I agree with. I think people from small towns view it much more personally.
Let’s posit that any hint of homosexuality in certain communities has always been viewed with shame and suspicion. Of course, a large part of this probably stems from people repressing the complexity of their own feelings. They feel safe when homosexuality is criminalized because that way they know they themselves won’t be tempted (or at least, as tempted). Now, if the Federal Government mandates that you cannot any longer be wantonly cruel to people or fire them because they’re gay, what do such people think?
Some of them are in a real panic. Felix thinks, maybe my male friend Oscar, whom I dearly love, secretly has a crush on me and wants to have sex? Worse, what if I … the government shouldn’t be forcing us to adopt this gay lifestyle! That’s what I think! Have them mind their own business and if they want to fill up New York and San Francisco and DC with gays, let them have at it. But not out here in our town. Since gays have always been ostracized here, they believe, in a strange way, that it doesn’t exist because they don’t see it! The government, is in effect, forcing them to face the fact that homosexuality actually does exist.
Looked at from this perspective, there’s a commonality with the dangerous idea that testing causes COVID19 rather than reveals it. Not testing is a close cousin to the Happy Talk Lies that Trump has peddled since day one of the pandemic. He doesn’t care whether he actually kills Americans. What he wants is for his base to feel better because he talks to them and gives a lame excuse for his actions which are actually killing them. They don’t want to think about the economic devastation or the likelihood that they or someone they love is going to die. Trump acts, for them, as a kind of “anti-therapist.” Instead of attempting to show someone the benefits of taking a more honest look at life, the Anti-Therapist colludes in the fantasies of the Id. Since he talks to the infant in the base, it isn’t necessary to provide an adult rationale. In fact, doing so would be counter-productive. Such a move would “wake up” the adult in the heads of his audience and they might start asking themselves questions such as —
Is this guy telling the truth? Is there any evidence for that? Does that really correspond with what I already know about the world? Doesn’t this directly contradict what he just said ten minutes ago? Is this making any sense at all?
Why would Trump want his audience to ask any of those questions? He wouldn’t. Instead, he wants to keep their inner infant enthralled. He will play “Patty-Cake” with his audience. (Trump is not the first politician to do this). Leading them in hate chants is essentially playing Patty-Cake. The words can’t be complex. And they don’t have to relate to reality. When he says, “Who’s going to pay for the wall?” and the audience all chants, “Mexico!” it doesn’t mean that they are going to keep tabs on whether that turns out to be true. But the infant does want reassurance. So, Trump will give some idiotic lie or excuse that no rational person would buy. But he’s not talking to the adult in these people. He’s talking to the infant. And the infant (or Id, or inner child) in all of us is superficial and hungry for something right now!
Similarly, when Trump tells his base that COVID19 is a liberal hoax or that it’s all going away in the warm weather, it makes the base feel good for a moment. But, there’s a catch. They can only feel better if they believe his lies. If they hear his pronouncement that the virus is going away in the warm weather and think:
“Really? That’s weird. Because all the scientists are saying they don’t know. And some places where it is already warm weather, the pandemic is growing uncontrollably.”
No. That’s no good. That doesn’t make the person feel better at that moment. Indeed, it makes them feel worse. Not only is COVID19 possibly going to kill them, the President of the United States is lying! So, we must understand, it’s much more comfortable to believe everything he says. His lies are always designed to make his audience feel better at that moment if and only if they believe his lies. Like many other drugs — heroine, cocaine, alcohol — it will take more and more over time to get the same high.
Believing the Happy Talk Lies is addictive. And, from Trump’s point of view, it’s much better than telling the truth. Telling the truth would take work and he feels work is beneath him. So, there’s that. In addition, he can always say something that will make the base feel better — not just when there actually is good news. And — understand — when the actual news is bad news — a pandemic that’s killed 125,000 Americans, most of them needlessly; or the worst economic downturn in history; or Trump’s own evident treason — guess what? When the actual news is bad news, his lies are even more effective as an addictive drug.
Imagine for a moment that you are a Trump fan. You have believed almost everything he’s said up to this point. Robert Mueller comes out with a report that shows how the Russians interfered with our election to help Donald Trump. How does it make you feel to think that Donald Trump is a traitor and that our country is now beholden to Putin!? Good? I think not! You will feel terrible! You voted for the man, for God’s sake! Now it turns out he’s a traitor! That’s a horrible thing to bear. But wait — Trump himself — or Bilious Barr can provide a Happy Talk Lie instead. “The report shows there was no collusion. It’s no big deal.” Whew! Thank you! That was close! For a moment there, it looked as though I was going to be extremely uncomfortable. Thank goodness Trump and his spokes-liars gave an alternative view. Now I feel better again.
The reason for Trump’s tweeting is not so much the chance to spew forth fear and hate and best of all — redemption for the believers in the lies — though, that is useful and fun. More importantly, it seeds a community of like-minded believers. Heroine alleys, opium dens, local bars where the cheap drinks are plentiful share the same purpose as on-line groups based on reinforcing each other for addictive behavior. If you’re high all the time, “ordinary people” begin to give you grief. “Have you thought about what this is doing to your life and the lives of those around you?” If everyone in your life said that, you might well have to confront the fact that the addiction was not good for you. Instead, it’s so much nicer to have a group who understands; that is to say, they’ve made the same decision to forgo their life and responsibilities in order to satisfy their momentary pleasures that you have. So, you agree not to challenge them. And, they agree not to challenge you. Instead, you will work together to repeat and spread the lies of the addicted. In the case of support groups for Trump, people repeat and spread the lies of “Der Fooler” and doing so gives another nice little hit of endorphins.
Now, in June of 2020, these little hits of endorphins are not just coming from hearing “Happy Talk” lies, or repeating them. Now, the base are all being encouraged to go out and spread the coronavirus. And they are. And, I have to guess that they feel good doing it even though they themselves could sicken and die; even though they could be the cause of their best friend dying, or their child, or their parent. Because they feel as though they are part of a “feel good” movement and everyone else is just a party pooper. Everyone who thinks 125,000 dead Americans is a horrible tragedy is just trying to rain on the parade, a real Debbie Downer, Eeyore, Sad Sack, a wallflower.
What do you do in a society when perhaps one third of the voting age population is addicted to Happy Talk Lies? Maybe a few of them will spontaneously quit. Perhaps some will take up tennis and become addicted to that instead. What else? An addiction is always hard to break — and that’s even if the person wants to.
It may seem hopeless, but I don’t think it is. As a society, we used to have many more people addicted to nicotine than we do today. And the tobacco companies fought like a wounded warthog to keep enough people addicted to keep the tobacco barons rolling in dough. So, I”m still hopeful that we can evolve beyond Happy Talk Addiction. If we do, then, we have a real shot at keeping the American death total below a million, not to mention keeping us away from the abyss of Nazism. People will be willing to not only look at the truth but take actions that are consistent with the truth such as only going out when necessary and using a mask. People will reject the notion that they have and should exercise unlimited license to do what they feel like regardless of the impact on others. In other words, people will grow up and fulfill their responsibility to vote as an adult, not as a small child might.
But it won’t be easy. Because it means giving up the addiction to Happy Talk Lies.
Wednesday (Cognitive Dissonance discussion)
(I first published an earlier draft of Ah Wilderness in Peng Poets e-zine, summer 1997. I’m nearly finished with the highly recommended book, The Overstory, and so I decided to take another look at the poem and then extended it with the dissolution of form of the poem meant to mirror the dissolution of our society moving at last into prose but then, hopeful with the seed of form returning. I realize poetry is not everyone’s cup of tea. One reason I like it is that its dancing always on that same razor edge where life itself does its dance: chaos and regularity; change and stability).
The words may well connote a false un-blurring
A fear, a chill — not from frozen stone alone
Or lake wind’s sweep; but from the urgent stirring
Of some soul still hiding restless in our bone.
Curse not the thorns of tasty blackish berry;
They keep fruit safe from claws less clever.
Curse not how swift the prey, how very wary;
They shaped our brain; & helped us know forever.
Curse not the winter’s churlish wind unkind
Or burning hot dry summer’s cinnamon sun.
They invented beautiful raiment through our mind
And taught us numbers soaring far beyond one.
Curse not the change of season; or the suddenly sliding slope –
Unpredictable now and in the future as ever always
They make us search for patterns far beyond our scope of grope.
You are me as seen in Darwin’s mirror of minutes and hours,
And days of ways taken and untaken & lead us here at last.
We strive to take it all and make it all, all ours, all ours!
Churning every fragrant flower and pine to dust,
We must! We lust! We must! We lust!
We don’t have time for this and that.
We want everything now and that’s that!
And if in time all wilderness is bleak and dead,
Our bodies too shall wither and die and by and by
Our souls shall be but number: grey, unloved, unfed.
Asphalt, plastic, concrete & glass. None will die
Because in our endless war on nature, we are all “Undead.”
The Zombieland: machines gone mad; machines gone bad.
Swaths of humanity wishing to meld to macabre, merciless machinery!
Life is what works! Life is constant change and innovation. But it’s been working for over four billion years! Look around you! It not only works! It’s marvelous! Machines don’t smell like that. Machines don’t look so beautiful as that. Machines don’t sound as melodious. Machines may be used to magnify malicious malignities if we let them.
Life is cooperative and interconnected and everywhere at once dancing on a razor’s edge between chaos and regularity. Machines are built to be efficient and effective and just tolerably presentable enough to be purchased — purchased by people who typically do not have to deal with the machine day in and day out. What do they care whether the machine is loud or smells bad or ruins your hands or explodes every so often or pollutes whole towns or scares away all the birds or kills every fish in the stream and every frog and that more trees will have to be cut down to feed it and more land raped to oil it?
Life is the invention of Love yet Love requires Life. (Maybe that’s why Love created Life; so it would have a way to express itself). Machines can be built to help save lives. Other machines are designed to kill lives. A machine that’s designed to kill lives never decides, “You know what? I never signed up to shoot peaceful protestors. That sucks and it’s anti-American. I quit.” At best, machines are amoral.
What to think of people who want to destroy life and replace it with a strict unmoving hierarchy with a life-hating king at the top? Don’t they see that they would not truly be alive in such an arrangement? They would not “decide” or “dream” or “change” or “love” or anything else without the permission of someone or some rule who knows nothing about how they really feel. And doesn’t care. Do you?
To destroy all wilderness means humanity would be signing its own death warrant.
The attempt to replace life, which we know works, with machine will eventually fail and fall and take damn near all of humanity with it over that cliff of ever-lasting greed.
“…totally under control…
“It’s going to be just fine…”
Like dynamite lit
But under a bowl
You don’t see much
If you are such
That has no spine.
Nor half a wit.
Death tastes like candy!
“…we pretty much shut it down…”
No need to frown!
We’re the best game in town!
“…so we’re in very good shape…”
I like to rape,
The younger the better!
Epstein, my buddy: quite the jet-setter!
Him I barely knew!
He mysteriously died
Before he could squeal
‘Cause we had a deal.
Billy Barr is the best!
He’s on my side!
Kills on request.
“…stock market looking
Very good to me…!”
And books, I’ve been cooking
Ever since I was wee!
Which reminds me of pee!
Which starts with a ’T’
Which stands for Trump
And kissing my rump.
“The risk is low!”
And I oughta know!
I’m a genius who’s stable!
(I watch Fox on cable).
I go with my gut!
(Nearly as big as my butt!)
If they die in far places
Why should I care?
Not even white races
Just people to spare.
Here in ‘Merica, we’re still sitting pretty.
Only 22 deaths, it’s a drop in the bucket!
The snowflakes are getting amazingly petty!
But I don’t care and just say “#### it!”
Thank goodness for ME!
My ratings are high!
Among my slaves it’s 509
Do not whine!
Do not cry!
Plagues enrich the Crime Family!
There’s plenty of testing as you can see!
For everyone willing to bow to ME!
American deaths are sitting quite pretty!
Though some will call for tears and pity.
It’s just a ten K.
Let’s open up and re-elect!
We can’t have a down-ish DOW!
I’m the ONE the Russians select!
Letting everyone vote is a sacred cow.
Arm yourselves and demand to be free!
To do what I tell you fanatically!
Americans dead? Only 41 thou!
I grade myself: with every A!
And who knows better than brilliant ME!
I dotted each ‘i’ and crossed every ’T’
And jumped at each opportunity
To watch Fox News on my TV
And Marrow-Lago’s? Golf’s place to play!
Go drink some bleach!
And crowd on the beach!
We’re falling behind in the USA.
We’re only just now at 68K!
Come on people! Show your master!
I need an even million dead — and so much faster!
Putin’s telling us all to hurry
Don’t stay home with your chin all furry.
Get those tattoos, massages, and cuts!
If you die it just shows that you had the guts!
To follow “Der Fooler” right over that cliff!
If you don’t like death’s smell,
Then don’t take a whiff.
Stay under my spell
And before this year’s end,
I’ll have met Putin’s quota!
You shouldn’t care even one iota
How many fell or now live in hell.
Family dead or perhaps a dear friend?
Who gives a damn when I’m having such fun!?
My race to dictatorship nearly won!
And when at last all power is mine,
I’ll rewrite history so you will learn,
That it’s fine to torture and great to burn!
I can treat everyone just like swine!
My ego will swell! So all will be well!
Hitler’s reign: a mere thousand years!
More important: his tally of ten million dead!
Vlad and I have work to do,
But our being happy depends on you!
We’ll only be happy when few are fed
And we can feast on trillions of tears!
Shut away your childish fears!
Believe our lies, however absurd.
I’ll abandon you as quick as a Kurd!
But you’re not allowed to see what’s true!
Or look beyond my invisible hue!
Watch my glitter as you fall down and die
Give “Der Fooler” one last sigh
Love me tender and call me ‘great.’
As you fall and die — but don’t be late!
It’s all a hoax that’s been brought by the left
Who’d open the borders and make you all gay.
Just believe in me and you don’t have to think!
I’ll take your cash and leave you bereft.
I’ll make you work for a dollar a day
While you wallow in filth and smell the sick stink.
But that’s just Donald: me being me!
So know your role; increase that toll!
Help me reach that golden goal!
Let’s destroy democracy!
Let’s fashion a world where I am supreme!
And everyone knows their proper place.
I’ll drink the milk and all of the cream.
But you can be happy that I’ve lived my dream:
When I die — take the whole human race.
Once you’ve given your all and all you have to give
When *I* die — why should anyone live?
Let’s go lackeys and strive for the best!
Make America Great and lead all the rest!
Make America end with a big loud BANG!
Help me sharpen COVID’s brutal FANG!
A million dead at the end of the year!
Me on my throne without shedding a tear!
12/31/2020 (world): <2,000,000
12/31/2020 (USA): >1,000,000
The basement in the rented Woburn house was not particularly pleasant. Cold, damp, and dark, there were only four small basement windows and even these were cluttered with spider webs. One day, in order to try to make the place marginally more usable for my three small kids, I removed all the spider webs. The next day, the basement was swarming with hornets!
We had an oil burning furnace in that basement. The landlord cautioned me before we even rented it, that a pair of knobs should be used to make sure that the water level in glass vial be kept between two marks. This gauge looked like the gauge in a level.
I glanced at the gauge every so often. Initially, I checked it every day or so. But the level never moved. So, I began checking it every week. But it still never moved. It never seemed to move for two years. One day, I glanced at it, and to my horror, the gauge was almost completely empty.
Now, I was faced with a dilemma. Which of these two knobs was I supposed to turn? There were no labels. There hadn’t been any when I rented the property. Of course, I should have asked the owner more questions during the walk-through. And, then I should have immediately made my own labels. But I hadn’t.
I could not recall which knob would cause the fluid level to rise. I decided to try it. I just opened it a little bit. Nothing. I watched closely. I waited. Nothing. As in the illustration above, there were no marks either on the knobs or on metal behind them. So, I wanted to return the first knob to its initial position. But in my hurry to “fix” the problem, it hadn’t occurred to me to put a little mark on the knob and the background so that I would at least be able to return it to the original position.
Well, okay but it was too late for that now. I waited. Nothing. I turned the first knob back to where I thought it was. The glass was still nearly empty. Was it slightly less empty than it had been? Or was it slightly more empty? I wasn’t really sure. I should have also marked the level very carefully. I didn’t.
So, the glass tube was nearly empty. I did definitely remember that I had been told this was a very dangerous situation! I had tried one knob and it hadn’t seem to do anything. I decided to try the other knob. I turned it a little. Nothing. I waited. Nothing. At this point, the sweat was pouring down the inside of my undershirt. I wasn’t really clear what might happen if I failed. Could the boiler actually blow up? Could it cause a fire? Or would I be lucky and it would just ruin the furnace?
I opened the second knob a bit farther. Nothing. I waited. I opened it a bit farther. Nothing. I opened it a bit farther. Nothing.
Then, suddenly, the vial began to fill. Rapidly! Too rapidly! I quickly turned the second knob back to what I hoped had been its original position. The vial was still filling. Try as I might, I could not get the vial to stop filling!
The glass vial had broken. Luckily I had not been hit by the flying glass. I turned off the furnace and called the owner. Eventually, it was fixed. In a few months, we moved to Westchester, New York.
Perhaps few people have had the exact experience I had with an oil burner, but I suspect almost everyone has travelled to a new place on vacation or a business trip or visiting a friend and decided to take a shower at some point. (Think back to the pre-pandemic days).
If you are in most bathrooms for the first time, you really have no idea how to arrange the knobs for a reasonable shower temperature. If you move the knob(s) and feel the change almost immediately, you can quickly arrange things so that you have a comfortable shower. In some houses or hotels, however, if you move the knob, there is a significant delay before you feel any change in the water temperature. You might arrange it so the water is perfect. You get in the shower, and you get your self soapy and …
You are suddenly being boiled alive! So, you step out of the scalding water, and drip water all over the floor and go back round to the controls and turn the knobs until it feels comfortable again. You’ve learned your lesson. So you wait. Still comfy. Good. In you go. Ah, feels nice…
Suddenly you are being sprayed with ice water!
Think back and you’ve quite likely experienced something like this. If the feedback is delayed a bit, it makes it harder to adjust things. And, if the feedback for your actions is delayed a lot, it makes the adjustment very difficult indeed. Of course, if you have experience with that particular system or you have a decent model of how the system works, then, you can do a much more reasonable job of adjustment.
Guess what? This is one of the factors that makes “opening the economy back up” extremely hard to do safely. I didn’t say “impossible” but very difficult. If you decrease social distancing regulations and people respond to those regulations by doing precisely as you’ve directed, it will be at least a week before you have reliable feedback about whether your actions have been too little lifting of restrictions, just right, too much or way too much. (It’s quite possible the “Goldilocks Zone” between surging cases way beyond hospital capacity and destroying the economy is very narrow).
And, now let’s imagine that you are one of those politicians who looks at the data and immediately realizes and admits that you opened things up way too much. You retrench. You close things down. Once again, there will be a delay before the rate of new infections, new hospitalizations, and deaths starts to decline again. Meanwhile, even if you, the mayor or governor is wise enough to savvy to the delayed feedback, many of your constituents will not be.
“What do you mean, you’re closing back down!!? You just opened up two weeks ago! I brought everybody back, assured my customers it was fine, bought all this inventory — and you shut me down!? Now, I’ve been shut down a week and so what? The cases keep going up anyway. Your order is bullshit and has no impact!”
If you bow to that pressure, it will be a disaster.
If you are a mayor governor, you also need to realize that your orders themselves have zero impact on the pandemic. What does matter, but which is influenced by your orders, is actual behavior. It may seem an obvious point, but it seems to be overlooked. If for example, you have been honest and open with the public, other things being equal, you will get greater compliance and faster compliance. If you have not been honest, on the other hand, you will get (other things being equal) less complete compliance and slower compliance. As leader, the feedback between what you do and what you see in terms of cases will take a least a week just based on the nature of the disease. But there may also be additional time lag because of the fact that people will not all comply. It would be really good to have measures in place of aggregate compliance in order to understand what is really happening.
Sadly, COVID19 is worse — much worse — in this regard than the shower example. I don’t just mean that the outcome is potentially worse than an uncomfortable shower. It is, obviously. What I mean is that the other examples, though they had delay, were (at least till I got in the loop) basically linear systems.
Spread of contagious diseases is nothing like that!
It is exponential growth. Exponential growth can be explosive growth.
You may recall from your high school days, that rabbits were introduced to Australia and for a time bred for food. At some point, they began to undergo a population explosion and became serious pests for Australia.
You might find this paragraph of particular interest:
“The population explosion was ascribed to the disappearance of native predators, but the emergence of a hardier breed by natural selection has subsequently been attributed to their spread.” — op. cit. (4/28/2020)
Awkwardly worded, but I take it to mean that one of the effects of exponential growth is that it can result in hardier breeds. I suppose that the hardier breeds also help foster that exponential growth. A resurgent pandemic also means an explosion — not just in the number of humans who are affected — it also means an explosion in the number of COVID19 viruses on the planet. Therefore, there is a much greater population from which adaptive mutations of various kinds can arise.
There is already evidence that COVID19 has evolved and now exists in different strains. Some strains may be more virulent than others. The degree of cross-strain immunity is as yet unknown. (Update?)
Imagine you live in a straw house. It’s actually pretty comfortable most of the time. But one night it gets really cold, so you decide to start a fire for warmth. Of course, you realize that your house is straw so you aim to be very very careful. And you are. And, then two sparks from your fire spew out in two different directions and set your entire house on fire. Of course, you do your best to put it out. But you don’t. It got away from you.
Cat Eyes looked back at the entrance in time to see the door close out the last sliver of distant yellow daylight. She turned back toward the group, now bathed in dim silver-blue light. She cautiously approached one of the artificial “moons” (as she thought of them) that continued to light their path. She put her hand up toward the light but felt no heat whatsoever coming from the strange circular disk. She turned back toward the others. As she turned her head, she noticed that the light flickered slightly.
Cat Eyes tried to speak. Only a short deep-throated cry emerged.
Easy Tears asked her, “Are you all right, Cat Eyes?”
Cat Eyes swallowed hard. She took a long slow breath to calm herself and found her voice again. “Yes. It’s nothing. Just — a memory. I’ll put it aside to explore later.” Indeed, she pushed away the memory, the terror she had felt. She had seen these odd lights before and she felt a bruising in her ribs as she had felt so many years ago when she was strapped on the back of a horse and stolen from her family. It took a hard push to submerge her memory, but it worked.
“These lights have no heat. What … have you seen anything like this before?”
Lion Slayer said, “They are like moonlight. Dim light but no heat.”
Easy Tears added, “I’ve never seen anything like this entire … thing. It’s much like the tunnels of ants or moles. But I have never seen such a huge tunnel. As though the giant sloths made a tunnel like that of moles. But the lights? How can this be?”
Trunk of Tree spoke. “We must go back at once and try to open the door before it’s too late!”
Cat Eyes shook her head. “I think we should keep going. Jaccim said this tunnel leads to the Veritas. Leads to my original home. Let me confirm.”
She spoke to Jaccim, who led the horses on leads, in ROI, “Are you sure there is another way out?”
“Oh, yes. Quite sure. It’s been many years. I suppose it could be broken. But there is another exit. There should be, at least.”
She nodded and spoke to the rest in Veritas. “He says there is another exit up ahead. We should be able to open it when we get there.”
Trunk of Tree glanced ahead and saw a seemingly endless stream of dim blue lights disappearing around a gentle curve. He could see the strange smooth floor. He glanced back the way they had come. More dim blue lights, but they ended in darkness at their entry door.
“I think we should go back. I am the leader. I say we should go back.”
Salah Hudah glanced at Cat Eyes and the others. She walked over to her husband and took his arm in her hands. She looked up into his strong, handsome face. She spoke quietly, still with an accent, though her command of Veritas still grew daily.
“Trunk of Tree, you are our leader, right? Many Paths appointed you? Is that right?”
Trunk of Tree seemed to grow an inch or two. He held his chin high and said, “That’s right! She did!.”
“To do what?” asked Salah.
“What? What do you mean?” asked Trunk of Tree.
Easy Tears said, “She means what were you asked to lead us to do?”
“I am to … I am to lead us … to the Veritas beyond the Twin Peaks.“ Trunk of Tree’s voice trailed off. He ground his teeth. He looked at the group. He hoped that they would not see his cheeks redden in the dim blue light. They were all staring at him. He felt as trapped in the logic as he was in this tunnel. The truth was that he was terrified to be trapped like this under the ground. It felt very wrong to him. But he could barely admit that to himself, let alone to the others.
Cat Eyes swallowed hard. She didn’t want to speak of it or think of it, but she plunged ahead. “I have been through this tunnel myself. There are two ends. Of that I am certain. I came through here as a small child. I survived as a small child. We are all adults now. Surely, we are brave enough to stay a bit longer. We have provisions. If we get to the end, and we cannot open that door, we may have to retrace our steps and try the door we came through. We won’t starve so long as we can eventually get at least one door open.”
Lion Slayer smiled at Trunk of Tree and pounded him on the shoulder. “Let’s go! We’re not going to be less brave than a small child, are we? How about you, Fleet of Foot?”
Fleet of Foot answered eagerly. “I’m for it. But if you are too tired to go on, Trunk of Tree, I could run ahead and run back. I could just leave my pack here. I could report back on how it looks at the other end. This path is so smooth. Now that my eyes are adjusted, I can see enough to run up and back if that is the wish of the group.”
Trunk of Tree sighed. In some way he couldn’t quite put his finger on, control of the group was slipping away from him, but he couldn’t see how to stop it. Then, he had an inspiration and spoke. “Listen, we came her to find the Veritas beyond the Twin Peaks. That’s what we’re going to do. Let’s all go to the end. We are plenty strong enough to walk back if need be. We have provisions. None of us in injured. Let’s explore and continue. No need to send Fleet of Foot on ahead. Let’s go together. Also, this could still be a trap. So we should stick together. Let’s go.”
Easy Tears stifled a smile and said in a serious tone, “Good idea, Trunk of Tree. Let’s stick together. I am actually pretty eager to see what’s at the other end.” Easy Tears thought back to the time Many Paths had offered up the Seven Rings of Empathy for Trunk of Tree to borrow. They had saved his pride then too. What goes on inside Trunk of Tree, she wondered, that makes him so … unable to learn? He seems to think that being big and being able to bellow loudly means he should be a leader. She Who Saves Many Lives must have seen through to his underlying character.
Trunk of Tree took the lead on their march since there was no need for Jaccim to “choose” the right path. Cat Eyes hung back in order to speak with Jaccim. First, she had to bring herself under control. She had put aside the fact that he was a stealer of children. But now, somehow the flashing moon-lights and the smell of horses had triggered a rage in her. She saw herself strangling him from behind. Such rage was not good. She might not ever be able to forgive and forget, but she wanted some answers.
The group walked at a steady pace, marveling at the continuous stream of images and markings on the sides of the tunnel. She pushed her mind back to her village as she had often tried to do before, but this time, when her mind got to the white clouds that kept her from seeing more, she walked through. In her imagination or memory — she wasn’t sure which — she looked up at the giant warm and smiling face of her mother singing to her. It was only a single flash of memory, but it was more than she had ever been able to achieve before. It made her happy. It made her cry. She did it silently.
Even in the dim blue light, Jaccim could see that something was wrong. He spoke softly in ROI, at least, to the extent that it was possible to speak softly in ROI. He asked her what was wrong.
She stopped in her tracks and whirled about staring at him and pursing her lips tight together, not trusting herself to speak.
Jaccim also stopped, staring at her. He frowned. He looked at the others who marched steadily onward. He began to speak in ROI. “I did steal children. You don’t like me. I did it. I was told to do it and I did it and ….” He balled up his fist and struck the side of his temple with the side of his fist. Then, he pointed to the steal-healing scabs on his face where he had been dragged. “It all hurts.”
He hung his head and shook it. Then he said in a soft voice, using his broken Veritas, “Stealing is bad. Stealing you hurt here.” He thumped his chest. “Sorry me. So sorry me. Now you go home. I help.”
Cat Eyes looked at him. Her fierce gaze began to soften. She turned and began to walk quickly to catch up with the others and to hide her face. After she had walked for a few minutes, it occurred to Cat Eyes that in all the time she had lived with the Z-Lotz and the ROI, she had never heard anyone say that they were sorry for something they did. The closest expression she recalled were someone saying, “Bad luck!” People sometimes would say that when someone they knew got hurt or failed at a task. But taking blame upon themselves? She couldn’t think of a single instance. How odd, she thought.
After some minutes, she thought she had relinquished her anger enough to pose a question to Jaccim. “Do you recognize these moon colored lights?”
“Oh, yes,” said Jaccim, in ROI, “they are here in the tunnel, but as you know, they used to be everywhere.”
“What? What are you talking about? Everywhere? I have never seen lights like this anywhere else.”
“Nor I, Cat Eyes. I am not that old! But in the stories you read about the olden times, there were many descriptions of such lights. You remember?” Jaccim glanced at her quizzically.
Just then, she heard the deep voice of Trunk of Tree proudly bellow out, “I found the other door!”
Cat Eyes left her conversation with Jaccim and began to run to get to the door. Even as she ran, she smiled. Just like Trunk of Tree! After being the only one in their tiny group who wanted to go back, he had been manipulated into going forward. He followed the only path to the end, and now claimed he had “found” the door. Oh, well, at least he brightened my mood. She glanced sidelong back at Jaccim, still a few paces behind. His grim look had been replaced with a smile. Perhaps, she thought, he is a good-hearted person who never learned to look beyond his “orders.” That is more or less what Tu-Swift had told her.
This door looked very similar to the first one, but they saw no groove. Fleet of Foot and Trunk of Tree began running their hands over the surface, while the rest began searching the nearby walls and floor for more of those bright jewels.
Jaccim said to Cat Eyes, “What is everyone doing? Don’t you want to go out the door?”
“Yes, of course! They’re looking for a handle or … something to make the door open. The light is so dim, they can’t find the handle. Do you remember where it is, Jaccim?”
Jaccim frowned and tilted his head. “Handle? There is no handle on the inside of these doors. Why?”
Now the entire group was looking at Jaccim. Even though they couldn’t follow the ROI conversation, they knew something was wrong. They all realized, he was the one who should have known where the handle was.
Trunk of Tree spun around, “You led us in here and there’s no door handle of any kind!? It is a trap! I knew it!”
Jaccim knew something was amiss, but he didn’t know what. He looked at Cat Eyes and asked in ROI, “What is wrong?”
Cat Eyes rolled her eyes and said in ROI, “What is wrong!? Jaccim, you led us in here with no way out!”
Jaccim stared at her for a moment. “There is a way out. Of course there is. This tunnel works like all those of the ancients.” Jaccim looked at her but she looked at him blankly. Then, he added, “Oh, but say it in ROI of course.”
Cat Eyes stared at Jaccim as though he had gone completely mad. He shrugged his shoulders. He stepped forward a few steps and, in ROI, said, “Open the Door.”
He had mastered juggling four sacks, or four rocks and had been working all morning on five, but with little success. Sooz shook her head and chuckled good-naturedly. “Don’t give up, Tu-Swift. You’ll get there.” Then, after a pause, she added, “Though you may be an old man with a long white beard.”
“What? You’ll pay for that!” He began to chase her around the training space. Being lighter, Sooz could turn more quickly. After a few moments, Cat Eyes appeared. Tu-Swift called out, “Help me catch this fox! I can’t turn fast enough!”
Cat Eyes laughed as well. With a serious note in her voice, she added, “You shouldn’t be trying to turn fast. Let your knee heal, would you?”
Tu-Swift’s face darkened for a moment. The ground around them also grew dark as a passing cloud momentarily blocked the sun. He wondered briefly whether he would ever really regain his speed and mobility. Then, just as the ground grew sunny again, so did his face. Time would tell. Meantime…
Just then, he heard the deep voice of Jaccim. He was trying, but largely failing, to speak Veritas. With the help of Cat Eyes, he eventually made himself clear. He had asked why they were playing when there was likely to be a war which they should all be preparing for. They had been “marked” for war. This was no time for juggling nonsense or for laughing.
Tu-Swift replied, “Hello, Jaccim. I see you brought your own clouds with you.”
Sooz and Cat Eyes both laughed, though in a friendly way. Tu-Swift continued, “Jaccim, this is the way of the Veritas. Don’t you ever play?”
Jaccim’s head snapped back and he frowned. He spoke and Cat Eyes translated. “Me? Certainly not! Play is for small children. Not someone your age. All of you should be preparing for war. It is serious.”
Many Paths who strode into the training area overheard the last part of the translated conversation. She smiled at all of them and supplemented her Veritas with sign language so that Jaccim would directly understand as much as possible. “You are right. It is serious. This is why we play. We need weapons. New weapons. Weapons that no-one will suspect. That is why we watch and listen to those whose minds are like water flooding over new plains. They will go ways that we cannot foresee. Nor can others. What shall we care who wins a war if life holds no joy? Every moment now is precious. This is what the Veritas always teach. But now that we may be on the brink of destruction, joy is more important than ever.”
Jaccim frowned and answered with a mixture of sign language and broken Veritas. “What may be gained by juggling bags or rocks? It is foolish.”
Many Paths smiled at Tu-Swift. She put her hand into a fold of her tunic and brought out a knife and casually tossed it to Tu-Swift. She quickly threw him two more. He easily caught all three and began juggling the three knives.
Jaccim opened his mouth to speak, but before he could formulate his answer in the tongue of the Veritas, he heard three odd sounds a little like a horse’s whinny and a little like a large rock hitting a tree trunk. He frowned and then his mouth dropped open farther as he saw all three knives sticking out of three nearby tree trunks. Tu-Swift had thrown all three underhand and hard into three targets. Jaccim tried to speak but nothing came out. It wasn’t that he did not know the Veritas words for what he wanted to say. There were no words. Even a sensible language like ROI could not help him. Tu-Swift, meanwhile, calmly walked over and wiggled each of the knives out and handed them back to Many Paths.
She smiled at Tu-Swift and continued out of the clearing. As she reached the edge she looked back over her shoulder and said, “Keep up the good work.”
Jaccim understood her words but not her thinking. She was supposed to be the leader. Yet she spoke of joy and play even though they would likely soon be at war. It made no sense, thought Jaccim. It’s what comes, he thought, of having a woman as leader. We would not have a woman as leader. Not the ROI. Nor would the Z-Lotz. It’s all foolishness. As the Veritas will soon discover for themselves. How had these people defeated the ROI and destroyed his village?
Tu-Swift called out, “Many Paths! Have you a moment? I wish to show you something else!”
Many Paths turned back, “I am on my way to meet up with Shadow Walker but I can see what else you have first.”
Tu-Swift glanced at Sooz and once he had caught her eye, gestured over toward a contraption they had constructed at the end of the training compound. Two vines were suspended from a strong overhanging branch. The vines looped through a thick wooden plank which lay parallel to the ground. Sooz lifted a leg over the plank coquettishly as she smiled at Tu-Swift. He walked around behind her and pushed. He found pushing her surprisingly pleasurable and his cheeks flushed.
Sooz swung forward and then arced back toward Tu-Swift. Just as she stopped, he pushed her again. Each time, he pushed at just the right time and she swung higher and higher. After a score of pushes, he changed the timing so that he pushed against her momentum and gradually slowed her to a stop.
Jaccim shook his head. He could see no reason for such frivolity.
Tu-Swift walked over to Many Paths. “We had been swinging on a single vine and Sooz thought this would work — and it did. But the thing we really wanted to show you is this. He walked over to a small pile of straps made of softened hide. He put a stone in a small, broad but shallow pit in the strap. He motioned for the others to stand behind a nearby tree and peek out. He put both ends of the strap in his hand and began whirling it around his head. He suddenly let go of one end and the stone went flying. It thunked loudly into one of the small, dead pine trunks that had been partly buried in the ground. Many Paths led the others over to see the result. The stone lay buried in the trunk. She nodded. “Nice,” she said.
Many Paths nodded again. “Yes. This is good. You have an almost endless supply of stones. Imagine these flying into an army from many directions at once. It will be hard to defend against.” Many Paths smiled again at Tu-Swift and set off to meet up with Shadow Walker.
As Many Paths left the clearing, she ducked under an overhanging branch of Witch Hazel and spoke aloud, “Thank you for your medicine.” She walked down a sweetly curving path toward a small spring. Three pink flowers, Lady Slippers, poked their heads through the dark greenery. She began thinking about the sedation caused by Lady Slippers and recalled what She Who Saves Many Lives had said. “After the sedation wears off, one may be nervous and high strung for a time.” Many Paths had only tried it twice and she experienced exactly what the elder had described both times. It had felt a lot like the way that the roots of Sweet Flag made her feel. But after the effects of Sweet Flag wore off, it made her feel tired and groggy. Odd, she thought.
She chuckled at the swinging seat that Tu-Swift and Sooz had created though she couldn’t see how that led to the sling weapon he had shown her. It all had to do with the timings of the pushes, she reminded herself. Suddenly, many paths stopped.
She thought of the swing, the pushes, the Lady Slippers, and the Sweet Flag. What if… what if I pushed with a little Lady Slipper and then… just when it began to wear off, I pulled with some Sweet Flag…a person might become very nervous and want more Lady Slipper… what would happen if they were pushed and pulled higher and higher? I wouldn’t poison the person exactly. Would it tear the body apart? Tearing the people apart with such pushes seemed to be what was indicated in the strange tales scribed into the sheaf of leaves that had been discovered by Lion Slayer and Eagle Eyes. Could that really happen? Was there a way to tear apart the Z-Lotz? Was there a way to tear apart the Veritas? And, if so, how could it be prevented?
Checks and Balances.
Yes, yes, we’ve all heard the term. And, many of us even know that “Checks and Balances” are in the American Constitution and in the foundational documents of other nations as well. But why? Are they really necessary? Aren’t “checks and balances” simply something that “gets in the way” and “slows things down”?
Let’s see whether “Checks and Balances” are found in other types of systems. Consider a physical system. For instance, in your home, you likely have some source of electricity. Electricity is very useful. It can run refrigerators, TV’s, computers, water pumps, and toasters. If your home is to be safe, its electrical system includes fuses or circuit breakers. Why?
Basically, a fuse or circuit breaker is there to prevent damage. If you are running an electric motor; e.g., like a drill or a garbage disposal, the motor might get “stuck.” Without a fuse or circuit breaker, the motor will draw more and more current and burn out the motor. Wires can also become frayed, commonly due to rodents eating the insulation, which for some reason, they love. If wire insulation is too frayed, the two ends of a circuit can become directly connected (a “short circuit”) and since the resistance becomes nearly zero, the amperage rises tremendously causing more and more heat which can easily cause a fire.
Home electrical fires in America account for an estimated 51,000 fires each year, nearly 500 deaths, more than 1,400 injuries, and $1.3 billion in property damage.
(See https://www.esfi.org/resource/home-electrical-fires-184 for more details).
Yes, electricity is a useful tool! But where there is power and energy, there is also danger. Power and energy must be limited. That’s why your home has fuses or circuit breakers. The idea is that the current must pass through the fuse or circuit breaker and if too much current starts to flow it burns out the fuse (typically a small piece of copper) or “trips” the circuit breaker causing it to shut off current. Your car also has fuses and for much the same reason.
Your automobile has many “checks and balances.” There is not only an accelerator; it also possesses brakes! Imagine a car that had an accelerator but no brakes. One of the scariest things that can happen when you’re driving is to have the accelerator get “stuck” in the accelerating position. It happened to me once. Even pressing on the brakes hard isn’t enough to slow the car. Or, at least it didn’t seem to do much for me. I was driving an automatic and needed to put the car in neutral. The engine still raced but at least the car slowed down. I kept tapping the accelerator with my foot and eventually it became “unstuck.”
Nuclear power plants, elevators, cranes, and so on all have “Checks and Balances” built into them to minimize the chances of a catastrophe when something goes wrong.
Biological systems, however, sweep the Academy Awards in the category “Checks and Balances.” In fact, life itself can be thought of as energy systems with highly evolved “Checks and Balances.” These “Checks and Balances” happen at the chemical level, at the level of tiny organelles inside a cell, at the level of cells, and at the level of individual bodies such as you and I have. If we get too cold, our hair stands on end and we shiver. Those things warm us up. If we get too hot, we sweat and our skin gets flushed. These two things cool us down.
If our blood sugar level falls too far, we get hungry. We feel like eating. We eat. We digest food and our blood sugar level goes up. If it does up too fast, our body releases insulin which tends to bring it back down.
By and large, these “Checks and Balances” work remarkably well. In some special circumstances, they fail for one reason or another. For instance, if we get addicted to opioids of any kind, we feel “better” after we take the opioids. We also become more “tolerant” of the drug. To feel “better” will require ever higher doses. When you quit, you feel worse and taking more of the drug makes you feel better.
For some, gambling, sex, alcohol, and crime itself can function the same way. Many who rob a liquor store are doing it to get the money. But some of the people who rob a liquor store are partly doing it for the thrill. They enjoy doing something criminal in and of itself. Similarly, greediness can serve as an addictive drug. Being unfair and cruel, for such people, is not just the means to an end (e.g., becoming richer). It is the end itself.
For such a person, taking more than their share of donuts isn’t just about having more donuts. The addictive joy is also in seeing others angry or miserable or hungry. The “Checks and Balances” in such a person are not working well at all. They need to wreak more and more cruelty on others in order to feel “okay” again.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, cancer is essentially greed at the cellular level. A cell somewhere in the body is no longer satisfied with its “normal” nutritional allocation. It is no longer content to perform its function as a muscle cell, brain cell, liver cell or skin cell. Instead, it “decides” that it will no longer perform its actual function. Rather, it is now “demanding” more and more resources from the rest of the body and its only function becomes increasing its own power and control over the rest of the body. Normally, cell growth and reproduction are also controlled by “Checks and Balances.” In fact, when cells become damaged and can no longer function, the body’s immune system normally recognizes that and destroys them. In cancer, however, the sick and greedy cell manages to “convince” the other cells that “everything’s normal” and those cancer cells grow without bound. As the tumor grows, it sucks up more and more of the body’s resources until the whole body dies — including, guess who? The ugly tumorous cancer cells grow without bound because “Checks and Balances” no longer work on them. Cancer cells cannot do anything “useful” for themselves. They are only able to suck value from the host body. So once they kill the host, cancer dies too.
“Checks and Balances” are also meant to work in complex social and political systems. For instance, in a democracy, if people are elected and they provide no value to the political body they represent, they will be voted out, in principle. But what if instead of providing value to the body as a whole, they provide value to a very few, very rich people? What if, in return for funneling the resources to those very rich donors, the rich donors help make sure that the candidate gets re-elected — again, and again, and again — even though those politicians only benefit a few. “Checks and Balances” have now failed.
One important society system of “Checks and Balances” is the legal system. Imagine that there were no legal system — no police, no judges, no prosecutors, no juries, no laws. Now, imagine that someone robbed you or harmed your children. What would you do? You wouldn’t go to the police because they wouldn’t exist in such a system. Or, worse, they would be utterly corrupt. Some people would “turn the other cheek” but most people would set out to seek their own justice. They’d steal something of equal or greater value. They would harm the law-breaker’s children. And, it would often happen that they would not only get “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” but they would try to get “two eyes for an eye” and “two teeth for a tooth.” And, without “Checks and Balances”, who would stop them? The kin of the first criminal would try to stop them and sometimes succeed and sometimes fail. Without agreed upon “Checks and Balances,” crime, violence, rape, theft, would continue to escalate.
Eventually, like cancer, the violence would die. There would be nothing left worth stealing; no-one left living to rape or kill. So, like cancer, the violence would destroy everything of value and then would fizzle out because there would be nothing left to “feed on.”
A functioning system of “Checks and Balances” results in houses that don’t burn down, bodies that grow strong and reproduce, and societies that prosper. What happens when we destroy the “Checks and Balances”? In the case of a house, in the old days, we could replace your fuses with a copper penny. A copper penny is much thicker than the thin wire in a fuse. It’s very likely we would end up burning your house down. Cells without “Checks and Balances” form cancer. People whose behavior lacks “Checks and Balances” become addicted, often to self-defeating behavior. Societies without “Checks and Balances” become, quite naturally, more and more unbalanced. This, in turn, leads to violent revolution (as happened in the American, French, and Russian revolution) or being overrun by other countries (as happened in ancient Rome).
There are several main types of action that we can take to try to prevent the destruction of our own society. To the extent that any official “Checks and Balances” still exist, we can throw our own energy into slamming on the emergency brake. We can vote. We can encourage others to do the same.
We can try to “disconnect” the source of power from the “car.” We can push for impeachments, indictments, recusals, article 25 invocations. We can encourage others to do the same.
We can also try to perform actions that “should be” part of the normal “Checks and Balances” by ourself. If some group of people are being unfairly targeted for instance, we can go out of our way to make that unfairness less unfair. We can encourage others to do the same.
If one group of people is amassing power and wealth in an uncontrolled fashion, we can individually resist letting more of our own power and wealth get into their hands. We can encourage others to do the same.
We can voice our opposition to a cancerous and corrupt system that has destroyed “Checks and Balances.” We can encourage others to do the same.
It’s Your Call
Tennis is played on a so-called court. As a matter of fact, when tennis began, it was literally played in a courtyard and people could hit the ball off roofs, etc. But, now the game has become much more regular. Historians believe tennis began in the 12th century. At that point, the ball was hit with the hand. At what point does it become close enough to modern tennis to deserve the name? I don’t know. My cats have been known to play a kind of primitive tennis with me and, more rarely, with each other.
The most elaborate example of the latter was something I walked in on. Under the kitchen table were three of our cats batting back and forth the lifeless body of a small lizard who had unfortunately managed to sneak into our house. The cats are well-fed so there was no rushing or fighting over the meat. No, they were batting it back and forth. I don’t know how long they had been playing this little game, but at the point I observed them, they seemed rather bored. I can tell you that when I play tennis, almost all the time, almost all the players exhibit enthusiasm for the game.
Tennis, it turns out, is much like the game my cats played. Just as the cats did, there is a defined space within which a small object (lizard, tennis ball, etc.) gets batted back and forth. Sides (one or two people to a side) take turns batting the ball over to the other side. This back and forth continues until one side is unable to return the ball into their opponents side of the court. The ball must pass over the net before bouncing and it must land in the opponent’s side of the court. In tennis, as in baseball, if a ball hits the line (even a little) it is “in.” So, knowing when the ball is “in” or “out” is quite critical for scorekeeping purposes, just as it is in nearly every game or sport. “Baseball,” they say, “is a game of inches.” And so is tennis. And football, and hockey, and gymnastics, and basketball, and golf! There are boundaries — and often it is both critical and hard to determine where something falls with respect to those boundaries.
For that reason, professional tennis tournaments have not just one, but several people whose sole responsibility is to determine whether balls are “in” or “out.” There is also a “chair umpire” who has several roles but one of which is to serve as a kind of “over-judge.” He can “overrule” one of the linesman as to whether a ball was in or out. More recently, technology has added yet another layer of “presumed certainty” about whether a ball was in or out. Everyone assumes — or has agreed to act as though they assume — that the technology is perfect. As someone who spent many years working with technology, I think it is perfectly safe to assume that the technology is not perfect. But it is, in pro tennis, the final arbiter.
The kind of tennis I play, “Club Tennis” or “Friendly Tennis” is quite another matter! Our prize money is nil. Our trophies are nil. That doesn’t mean people don’t play their hearts out! But who gets to say whether a ball is in our out? We don’t have technology or line judges; we make our own calls. Here is the over-riding rule of “Friendly tennis”: people call the ball “in” or “out” on their own side of the court. There are three major reasons for this. First, when you hit a ball, you intend for it to be “in.” Second, if the ball is “in” that is to your advantage in winning the game. Both of these are “psychological” effects that impact everyone to a greater or lesser degree and will tend to make them “see” their close shots as in that are really out. The third reason, however, is much more important and it is purely physical. In nearly every case, the person who is attempting to hit the ball is way way closer to the ball (and the line) than anyone else.
Sometimes, however, there are mitigating circumstances. The person hitting the ball may be running hard and tracking the ball in order to hit it. It sometimes happens that they will admit to having no idea whether the ball was in or out. The first recourse is to ask their partner whether they saw the ball clearly. They might also ask their opponents. Remember: it’s a friendly game. But that does not mean it always stays free from controversy.
You are supposed to call a ball “out” only if you are sure it was out. What “sure” means though can vary quite a bit from person to person. There are also physical reasons why some people’s line calling is better than others. Many players in our games wear glasses. I won’t go into all the various issues with glasses. If you wear glasses you already know and if you don’t, you couldn’t care less. (Unless you’re extremely empathic and then, you might want to read “The Myths of the Veritas” which delve heavily into empathy; go ahead; give it a try; it’s free with no ads). People also differ in how much they compensate for the effect of parallax. If I am receiving a serve, for instance, I am likely to see a ball that’s slightly long as “in” while the server will tend to see it as “out” even if it is barely in. If a serve comes to my side and lands near the line, the effect of parallax is to make them look “out” even when they are slightly in. Some people are aware of these effects and some aren’t. To make a long story short, people don’t always make the best call.
We have the exact same issues that we had when we played baseball, football, in grade school. The only difference is that now that we are in our 70’s we don’t spoil our day and tell Johnny we’re not going to play with him any more. Instead, we revert to “It’s your call” even when we “know” that our opponents have just called one of our hits that was really in, out.
In the same way, in life outside the tennis realm, we can sometimes see problems that the person nearest to their problem cannot see. We may know that you are eating too much for your own good, or drinking too much, or would be happier in the long run if you studied harder. We might say that, under the right circumstances, to a good friend. But — at the end of the day, it is “their call.”
As I’ve argued elsewhere, there seems to be an urban/rural difference in how hard one pushes to let people know they are screwing up. It isn’t only an urban rural split. It seems to me, that many conservatives are afraid that liberals want to make them do and be and like all the things they do! But liberals, you see, by the very nature of the word “liberal,” don’t want to have everyone the same. It’s okay with almost all liberals if you go bowling, or play tennis, or watch NASCAR. We’re not going to force everyone to eat quiche or adopt a “gay lifestyle.” I have to admit, I do think there are some liberals who would be happy to write you an extremely detailed “prescription” for your life. But they are really rare exceptions, in my experience. Liberals, just like conservatives, do want to have laws that prevent people from hurting others for no reason.
There are interesting edge cases that people may differ on. Is this “your call” or “our call”? That has changed over time as people have multiplied across the earth and as science has understood more and more of our interactions. In the middle ages, when people began congregating in large cities, they lived in (what we would now call) disastrously unsanitary conditions that were ideal for plagues. Dump your sewage into a place that flows into the water supply? Sure. It’s your sewage after all. But now we know that is not a good idea.
When I was a kid, my dad and my grandpa would “rake the leaves” in the fall; rake the leaves into a big pile; and then burn them. And, everyone was doing that. Now, I would guess that such is illegal in most places in the US. We realize that the smoke doesn’t simply “disappear” but is, in fact, bad for other people. You are burning the leaves on your land, but the smoke doesn’t stay there. Now, we’re more savvy than when I was a kid. But it’s much more than that. There are also a lot more of us! When I born, there were about 2.4 billion people on earth; now there are more than 7 billion. But it isn’t only the number. Many of us around the earth, including me, are using up a lot more resources than we did back then. We are using materials like plastics and sending more and worse chemicals out into the environment we all share. I still believe in the general principle that it’s your call, in terms of how much pollution you are willing to live with.
As I’ve mentioned before, Air Fresheners are a good example of a bad example. So-called “Air Fresheners” do nothing of the kind. They make you think the air is fresher because they have perfume in them. Not only that; they typically include carcinogens, a chemical to mess with your hormones and another chemical that deadens your sense of smell! You see? Air Fresheners, some people might call the “Bill Barr” of household products. They label themselves as “Air Freshener” but they are really noxious stuff that only makes the whole situation worse.
I’m afraid that what is “your call” will continue to shrink in some ways if humanity keeps expanding the population and using up more and more resources. On the other hand, the space of what is your call is also expanding. Whether it is sports, clothing, food, games, movies, TV, books, experiences — even with the choice of burning autumn leaves in your backyard gone, you have way more choices available to you than your parents or grandparents had.
If there is one person in a car driving alone, they can pick the music they want and play it loud. They can change stations every two seconds. Or not. But if there are six people in the car, it’s going to be more complicated. That’s not because people hate your music or hate you. Now, you could take the attitude: “It’s my car, so I’ll pick whatever music I please!” And then, you might choose to play disco music at full blast. You could. But if you do that, then as soon as possible, people will choose note to ride with you. That’s okay. But don’t complain that you’re ever more isolated. It’s not your choice of music that isolates you. It’s your insistence that everyone is subjected only to what appeals to you.
And, then we come, at last, as we seem to inevitably do, to the crisis at hand.
It’s our collective “call” to determine who our leaders are. Some prefer someone who is stately, intelligent, and diplomatic. And, some prefer Donald Trump: bombastic, often inarticulate, and crude. Styles and tastes differ. It’s your call. Personally, I don’t think style is irrelevant, but I don’t think it’s vital either.
But being an agent, witting or unwitting, of Vladimir Putin, rather than of America, is not a question of style. Doing what is in Russian interests and against the interest of America over and over is not a matter of style. Nor is dividing the country against itself. Nor isolating us from our allies. Nor destroying the morale of our intelligence agencies, our military command, our State Department, and the Justice Department.
If it were possible for you to have a dictatorship and for me to stay in a democracy, that might be fine. I would caution you that you wouldn’t really be the least bit happy about living in a dictatorship, but in the end, that’s your call. Also problematic is the fact that dictators are almost never satisfied with the absolute power they have and want to keep extending it to other areas.
Donald Trump doesn’t want to just be dictator of the Republican Party (which he pretty much already is). He wants to be dictator of the entire country. That is destroying and will continue to destroy everything good about America. It’s the whole country. It’s not just your car. Before finding out just how horrendous it is for everyone to live in a dictatorship, go live for a few months at least, in a cult that has a dictator and see how you like it. You might like it. You might not. It’s your call.
But America is not going to let our entire country go to ruin. No-one has the right to make that call.
That would be like one of my tennis opponents saying, “The ball was “out” and furthermore, from now on, everyone’s tennis rackets are mine and you can only play when I say so and I win every game no matter what happens!
You know. It’s possible it could happen one day. We’re old. People have strokes. People get dementia. I hope none of my regular tennis players go insane like that, and if they do, I hope they get appropriate care.
We’re not crazy enough to “give in” to such absurd demands! Not even if he yells and screams and says, “It’s my call!”
Because it isn’t.
It’s our call.