Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sufficiently Advanced


Art by Rene Aigner, Click picture to enlarge.

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
Arthur C. Clarke


 Albert was the one who brought up the idea of making a side trip to Yeager Air Force Base. About five members of our group were outside the darken motel we had taken refuge, sitting around a campfire built in the middle of the parking lot. We didn't need a fire, it was still warm enough to sit outside without building one. In fact some in our group relished the ability to see the stars without dealing with the now gone light pollution from countless buildings and cars. But the fire served a more primal purpose, it called to the human need for safety and togetherness that stretched back to the beginning of our species.

A little over a year had passed since the event our small group of twenty-nine people collectively called the Disappearance had occurred. As a rule we rarely talked about the event or what our lives were like before it. I truly don't think the couples that naturally formed as we came together talk about it amongst themselves in private. The event so violated our concept of reality that to acknowledge it would be like surrendering our sanity.

“I served at Yeager for over five years.” Albert said while staring at the fire revealing more about himself with that statement than in the five months since I linked up with them. “I was a satellite photo-reconnaissance specialist, my group could redirect any of the assets we had in orbit and take clear, detailed pictures of everything from the license plates of Russian military vehicles to women sunbathing naked on the beach.”

Albert an African-American male in his late twenties who, like everyone else, joined the group seeking the reassurance and companionship everyone else desperately needed in the wake of what had happened. To me, he seemed a little nerdy, especially since I noticed he was constantly taking measurements of the weather conditions and keeping it logged in a journal.

“Why are you telling us this, Albert?” Cynthia asked in her normal irritating manner. I really didn't care much for her, Cynthia was in her late fifties and one of those upper middle class hippy types who threw hissy fits about gluten and GMO veggies in the grocery store. Now, she complained about not having the benefits of civilization like electricity, running water, taking a relaxing crap inside a warm house, and instant access to her psychiatrist.

Albert took a deep breath and used a stick to poke the fire before saying anything. “There's a chance I can get the emergency generators working and with power I can download the stored data in the satellites. That way we could see what happened on that day.”

I didn't say anything at first. Our group was camped for the night at one of those motel/restaurant/gas stations conglomerations just off Interstate 40 outside Oklahoma City. Our destination was Willow Creek, California where a group of about 600 west coast survivors had begun to assemble. If the short wave broadcasts we had with them were true, the small town had access to electricity supplied by a combination of windmills and hydroelectric power.

Albert's idea was intriguing and if our group didn't consist of nine kids from the ages of three years-old running up to a pregnant girl of fifteen, he and I would definitely go check it out. But Agatha Higgins, more or less our leader, would not be keen on the side trip. Being a pediatric nurse before the Disappearance, right now her life was dedicated to getting the kids to Willow Creek before winter hit. The price the rest of us adults paid for riding along was unqualified support of Agatha's efforts.

“Gregg is the person I'd talk to about that idea, Albert.” Wilson Banner said while sitting next his partner. “Agatha is in Jean's room watching over her, so there's little chance she would pay you any attention.” Jean was the fifteen year-old pregnant girl who Agatha was watching like a hawk given her age and condition. With Agatha preoccupied, that would allow Albert and myself a straight shot at Gregg.

If Agatha was the leader of our group, Gregg Mason was the second in command. He also held the position as Agatha's love interest. Given the nature of the Disappearance, it goes without saying that their relationship didn't start until after the event. They were a curious couple, Agatha was a statuesque black woman in her forties almost supernaturally dedicated to the welfare of children. Whereas Gregg was a short, truly ugly white guy of about the same age possessing the talent of coaxing in all things mechanical back to life. Like I said, we really didn't talk about our lives before everyone disappeared so no one really knew how they came together in the aftermath.

While still not saying anything directly to Albert that I had a growing desire for this trip to happen, I follow him up the outside stairs to the second level of motel rooms we had taken. It wasn't late but as Albert and I passed the open rooms occupied by the kids, we could tell they were asleep. Something that came naturally to us all really with electricity now gone.

We found Gregg wide awake in he and Agatha's room sitting at the desk next a battery-powered lamp going over a ledger, probably a list of our supplies and what we should look for along our travels. Albert quickly spelled out his idea and how he could possibly bring the satellite control center back to life.

“So you want to do this as well, Rick?” Gregg asked me as he reached for a bottle of Gatorade on his desk.

“Yeah, I'd like to know just what in the hell happened that day.” I replied. “Albert can't do this by himself and then there's the question of security.”

That question went both ways, the one element of my life that everyone knew about was that when the Disappearance happened I was a staff sergeant in the United States Army stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. After linking up with Agatha, Gregg, and the others I essentially became the chief of security.

Along the way after that I had played a big role protecting the kids, mainly from dogs that had gone wild and from a small group of lions someone had obviously let loose from a zoo. Luckily, a few rounds fired in their general direction from the .50 caliber machine gun mounted on the roof of the Humvee I drove sent them running. The world was clearly up for grabs with humans now an endangered species, but I didn't want to kill those beautiful animals.

“Do you think Ralph and Laura can fill your shoes?” Gregg asked about the two people who more or less worked under my command.

Both had served in the military and I found that I could honestly answer yes to Gregg's question. As long as they could tear themselves away from each other. The two screwed like sex starved rabbits when not on duty.

“Then take one of the SUV's and go,” Gregg said instantly. “We all hope Willow Creek is the promised land but if you get those satellites up I want you two to look the place over.”

***

The trip to Yeager Air Force Base sucked about as much a journey can without someone getting killed. Before the Disappearance it should have taken two days at best to cover the distance from Okie City to the outskirts of Colorado Springs. Instead it took six with Albert and myself stupidly deciding to cut across old U.S. Highway 87 which ran between I-40 and I-25, which then took us into Colorado Springs. Turned out US 87 had been washed out in numerous spots since the Disappearance and then there was the problems with finding supplies.

For those of us remaining on Earth after the Disappearance, life revolved around foraging the leftovers of civilization. As we passed through the dozen or so small towns on our route, we found nearly all the gas left in the underground storage tanks contaminated. That required us to use the technique Gregg developed to filter out the water, which took hours. The grocery stores, reeking of decaying meat in the dead refrigerators, still held plenty of canned and packaged goods but it was clear another bunch of survivors had already passed through going God knows where.

We finally arrived on the outskirts of Yeager on our sixth day and quickly found the building that housed the satellite control facilities. Given my army background, I somehow expected Cold War era/Terminator movie-style harden bunkers with twenty-ton steel blast doors. While the actual control facilities were in an obviously well guarded subbasement of the building, the place reminded me more of a commercial call center than military redoubt.

The real fun began as Albert lead me through a long series of pitch black access tunnels to what he called “one of the emergency generator rooms.” We both carried several spare flashlights, but the entire time we were down there I realized that if they all somehow died getting back out would be a near impossible task.

Luckily, Albert easily found the door to the generator room and just when I was about to ask him how we would get inside he began typing something on the recessed keypad next it. The sound of a loud click followed by the door opening slightly and lights coming on inside the room itself was deeply reassuring.

“Albert,” I begin whispering for no reason I could think of, “just what in the hell were you in the Air Force?”

“Honestly,” he replied while walking over to a control panel that looked like a piece of the bridge of the starship Enterprise, “satellite reconnaissance specialist like I said. But after leaving the Air Force with the rank of captain, I worked at the NSA.” He finished obviously happy with the stunned look I had on my face.

“Jesus dude, you could have told me you were an officer.” I say upset since his quiet demeanor with the group and on our way to Yeager suggested he was at best a NCO like myself while in the Air Force.

“No worries,” he tells me while working through a complex array of commands on two different computer screens. “You're an experienced infantry soldier while I never even slept outside more that two nights in the service. One of my worst struggles during those years was being deployed to Afghanistan for six months and having to eat at an army mess hall.”

Whether Albert was telling the simple truth or attempting humor I had no idea. Although, I could understand, army mess halls were crap when compared to Air Force cafeterias.

About an hour later we walk into the now fully functional satellite control room. Now it was everything I imagine with giant video screens showing maps of different sections of the planet in front of several long rows of computer terminals sitting side by side.

“So it's this easy to gain access to a highly classified government facility?” I ask Albert as he takes a seat at a supervisory terminal.

“Not for anyone who shouldn't be here in normal times. The system was designed with multiple redundancies in the event of national emergencies so proper personnel could bring it back up. But I admit, having the vast majority of the global population simply disappear was not one of the scenarios they envisaged.” Accessing the satellites and downloading the stored data took longer than Albert expected. He blamed it on an operating system upgrade but eventually he was able to show the end of the world.

The data was completely anticlimactic compared to what those of us who lived through it on the ground. From the perspective of the satellites, planes fell from the sky and all telecommunications stopped at the same moment. Of course the electric lights of cities seen from the night side of the planet stayed on anywhere from several hours to a couple of days but even they died. We found absolutely no reason for the Disappearance, no orbiting alien space ships harvesting unsuspecting humans nor an army of winged angels whisking worthy souls up to heaven.

Silently Albert continued to scan the downloaded data and even redirect satellites in an effort to get an idea on what the rest of the world was like before the power died. He even got several high resolution scans of Willow Creek and intercepted a couple of radio broadcasts local to the area. At least it was turning out to be the sanctuary Agatha, Gregg, and everyone else hoped.

As the hours passed, I had long since wandered off searching for what passed a the break room when the building intercom screeches to life. “Rick,” Albert's voice yells through the speakers, “get back in here I found something.”

***

We were three weeks into Mexico driving to a totally middle-of-nowhere spot in the state of Durango when I begin to doubt the sanity of both Albert and myself. While the post-Disappearance weather and years of neglect before that had taken their toll on American roads, those in Mexico were even worse. Backtracking became a hellish daily activity, along with foraging fuel and food from locations we were simply not familiar. But somehow we made progress with an Air Force GPS device we stole from the base slowly ticking closer to our destination.

We first saw it at a village we camped at several miles away. It was just an unimpressive bump on the horizon but given that we were a good distance from the nearest thing that could be called a city, it was a large structure that had no business existing. It wasn't the only one on the planet, Albert had fished around with the satellite surveillance data and discovered bizarre large structures appearing on every continent the same time most of humanity vanished. What gave them away were the satellites recording extremely high electromagnetic radiation emissions when they popped into existence, then nothing.

The structure we were about to visit was North America's. The one for South America was almost dead center in the Amazon rain forest, while Europe's was in Hungary. Asia got two, one in eastern Siberia and the other in northern India. Africa had two as well, with the northern one just a few dozen miles from the Giza pyramids and the other in the jungle of southern Congo. For a reason I couldn't describe that seemed almost funny, Australia's missed the entire continent and was located on the island of Tasmania. Even Antarctica had one near the South Pole, its function more of a mystery than the rest since there were so few people on the continent.

Neither of us said anything the next morning as we started the final leg of our long journey. The structure slowly grew higher and larger as we traveled across the desert plain. I'm not sure about Albert, but I expected some sort of activity as we approached. I believe the lack of any response filled me with a dread far worse than if the structure had been guarded by murderous aliens or rage-filled demons.

I stopped the vehicle just a few dozen feet away from the structure. It was rectangular in shape standing over thirty-stories tall with the four sides about forty-five to fifty feet wide at the base. Looking at it just a few feet away, it appeared to be a crudely cut block of stone. Pictures of ancient Stonehenge came to mind, except that this was far more massive. Then there were the vane-like filaments running up and down its length that coursed with a pale blue light. The structure was so alien, so utterly unearthly the reptile part of my brain wanted to drop everything and runaway. It took a conscious effort to walk towards it for a closer examination.

Albert on the other hand was enthralled, obviously the structure appealed to his highly analytical mind. He was already touching it while I was still deciding whether or not to flee.

“The Sentinel,” Albert said touching the structure.

“What are you talking about?” I ask edging closer.

“Remember the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, the monolith that appeared to the hominid creatures and the one on the moon and later in orbit around Jupiter.”

Albert was right, while the structure wasn't a dead ringer for Arthur C. Clarke's fictional monolith, the one in front of me sure as hell was even more enigmatic.

“A shape for something that had no shape,” I said repeating the lines from one of the characters in the sequel made a decade or two later. That's when I snapped, my mind was flooded with memories of a wife I lost to pursue my military career and my seven year-old son I probably held less than ten times when he was a baby. With no apparent culprit to hold accountable for their disappearance, I had put all the emotions and guilt I felt towards them in a box and pushed it away. Seeing the monolith in front of me caused that box I wanted to ignore and forget about to explode.

“Rick, what the hell are you doing?” I vaguely heard Albert say before I grabbed the pickaxe from inside our vehicle and started taking swings at the monolith. Albert tried to stop me after the first swing but I pushed him away.

While my first swing glanced off the side of the monolith, on the second the pick dug deep into stony material of the monolith. In fact, a rather large chunk broke off and fell to the ground. That's when everything really went to shit.

***

I'm not sure what happened all I know is that everything went both totally dark and utterly silent. Hell, during that period I don't even know if I had a body. What I do know was that I could sense the presence of numerous powerful minds or just one massive entity. Truthfully they seemed to merge, split apart, and then repeat the process. Attaching human equivalencies would be ridiculous but I would guess that is how they communicated with each other. They didn't try to communicate with me, if one thing is certain I was less to them than bacteria are to us. But somehow my fear and anger affected them much in the same way bacteria can make us sick. They had to neutralized me to prevent their monolith from being damaged further.

What these entities did though was allowed me to sense some minuscule portion of their existence. The first thing I could discern was that the monoliths weren't things that allowed shapeless beings to have a form. No, the best human term for the structures would be that they are test leads or probes used to measure not just physical conditions like heat and humidity, but all life and how it interacted.

Earth was an experiment to them, whether their endeavor was planned out from the birth of the solar system or that they noticed the conditions of the young planet met their needs and decided to make use of it, I have no idea.


What I could tell was that our concepts of good and evil held no meaning to them. They aren't heavenly beings but neither are they purposely cruel, it gets back to the same way we humans look at bacteria. Yes, they are responsible for the Disappearance, and I don't know if everyone they took was erased, stored away like music on a CD, or now safely living in some paradise-like realm. I did learn that it was pure accident that some of us were left behind, their abilities and technology, hell their very reality are all way beyond our comprehension but they're not gods.

At some point those beings released me, because just as suddenly as everything went dark I found myself leaning on the monolith with Albert asleep inside our SUV.

***

“You were gone for over five hours,” Albert tells me after I crawled over to the SUV and woke him up.
Now that I was back in the world, my body screamed my time away was much longer. I felt like I haven't eaten in days which is only surpassed by my thirst.

“Where did you go, Rick? Did you meet the beings that made the monolith?” Albert asks me as I finish off a second liter bottle of water.

We camp next the monolith for the night and I tell Albert everything I learned. He in turn just listens saying nothing but somehow I could tell my experiences were concepts he already grasped. I finish by telling Albert there was nothing we as a species could do to change the way the monolith entities view humans. They could easily wipe the remaining humans and the planet itself away. 

“I don't know about that,” Albert says looking towards the monolith. “The second you disappeared the blue light running through the vanes stopped. I'd bet money you did that and the entities have disengaged from our planet.”

Just to be sure, the next morning I used the pickaxe to break off several more pieces of the monolith. Nothing happened, as far as this monolith was concerned, and I somehow knew all the others were just as dead.

With nothing left to prove or discover I just stood in front of the monolith staring at it. It was Albert who pulled me back to the world of the living.

“We're done here, Rick. Lets start heading back home to Willow Creek.”

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Idle Thoughts

Given the current dangerous circumstances, I'm all for joining forces with less crazy Republicans to oppose Trump. The one thing that bothers me though is that while Romney is relatively sane, I clearly remember how old Mitt heavily courted Trump for his support back during the 2012 presidential run. During that time while Trump was spewing his birtherism crap about President Obama, I don't remember a single occasion where Romney took the high road and tried to stop him from spreading those lies. For that reason anyone who thinks Romney would be a voice of reason in the United States Senate does not remember how many times he easily bent with the changing political winds. 

It goes without saying the country is sliding down the slippery political slope of intolerance and people being close-minded. Yes, I am not leaving my fellow liberals/progressives out of that statement. Years ago I once said something relatively kind about former Utah governor Jon Huntsman jr. -a conservative Republican- on a left leaning website and the backlash was quite surprising. I'll go as far and say it rivaled some of the most stunted and repressive statements from conservatives. But if Trump has one true talent, he has taken American politics to a new and dangerous low. His childishness and lies on Twitter are only matched by his chilling authoritarian suggestions that everything said against him is fake news propaganda.      
One of the most surreal conversations I ever had was with an acquaintance who thought a sign of American power was the number of billionaires we had as citizens. According to Wikilpedia there are 536 American billionaires, yes we have the most with China possessing 213, India has 90, and Russia has 88 who are usually close, personal friends of Vlad Putin. I tried to explain to that idiot acquaintance having the most billionaires doesn't help the country at all. Their piles of cash are usually stowed away in banks or buying back stocks from shareholders, not rotating through the overall economy allowing Joe Blow to buy a car which in turn keeps the assembly lines fully staffed. With the automobile factories running those guys and gals get paychecks which allows them to buy all sorts of neat things like clothes, food, and other items. I tried to explain to the idiot what would really help the country is if they raised the minimum wage to a livable level, those bigger paychecks would go back into the economy creating more business. Everyone has heard the phrase, "in one ear and out the other", well I saw that literally happened after explaining my point. He was still stuck on the idea that the number of billionaires made some difference. His general idea, I guess, being that their wealth would eventually trickle down to his semi-literate level.            
Back during the 2016 presidential race I remember of good number of stoners saying there would be no difference between Trump and Hillary. Now that this fossil has rescinded the Obama-era regulations that ignored federal laws on marijuana, I can't wait to hear the screams of indignation from them. I understand Hillary was distasteful to some liberal/progressive voters back in 2016. My suggestion for 2018 and 2020, lets all just choke down our righteous indignation and desires for ideological purity and just vote for whatever Democrat happens to be running at the local, state, and national levels. After that we can whine and fight over the direction we need to take the country to recover from this disaster. 


Finally, coral reefs all over the world are in danger from increasing global temperatures and ocean acidification. Given that millions of oceanic species depend on corals for shelter and food if they are unhealthy the entire food chain is in danger. Yes, that means humans as well. Let the coral reefs die and the food chain collapse and you anti-environment morons will finally get the chance to die while clutching your precious assault rifles and money. The only question is whether it will be from lack of available oxygen or starvation.    

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Sum Total of My 2018 Fears



Let me go ahead and put this out there by saying the years 2016 and 2017 were both shitstorms when it comes to American life in general and the status of politics in the United States specifically. The presidential campaign of 2016 was damn close to a suicide attempt by both major parties, with the Republican efforts taking on truly nightmarish qualities with the candidates they offered. Not far behind were the Democrats who decided that election cycle was a great time to have a philosophical civil war over just who was pure enough to lead the oppressed masses. The end result being unresolved bitterness combined with a self destructive petulance that, along with a large amount of criminal Russian meddling, resulted in the worst possible outcome.

2017 didn't offer any reprieve from the ongoing slow motion national self-flagellation. Now there was some dark comedy aspects of the total incompetence shown by the Republicans as they attempted to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act. Those stalwarts of supposed American values in Congress and their conservative intellectual think tanks had at least seven full years to develop a workable alternative of “Obamacare.”  What they ended up proposing were bills so badly designed and, honestly, reprehensible that they couldn't get numerous conservative members of their own party to support them. The only conclusions that you can draw from how badly they fell on their faces is that the entire Republican leadership is either overwhelmingly stupid or that they just don't give a damn about seeing a workable program being established that offers affordable health care. Several years back a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives once asked what was the Republican answer to affordable health care. The question was purely rhetorical but the answer was that people should just “die quickly.”

Making matters worse, during his first year in office Trump showed a steely determination to insult and undermine our allies. Then attempted to start wars with both Iran and North Korea, and even China on his really bad days. At home his attacks on the free press and anyone that dares not worship him had all the hallmarks of petty, murderous dictators all through history. The icing on the bizarre cake though has to be Trump's love affair of Vlad Putin. It's impossible for any reasonable person not to think that relationship has long since moved into the realm of an over-the-top spy novel. The idea that an actual president of the United States might have been compromised by an enemy nation is now a strong possibility.

As the end of 2017 thankfully draws near there is an instinctive tendency to believe 2018 has to be better. Democrats are especially giddy over 2018 since the Trump's poll numbers are lowest ever for a president during the first year of a term and recent off-year election victories, mainly in Virginia and New Jersey. I would love 2018 to usher in brighter days, but as of right now my best advice would be to expect a continued rain of shit and maybe something worse.

The first item that could derail any Democratic Renaissance is the economy. Now understand, Trump deserves no credit for the the growing economy. While weak, the economic rebound clearly started under President Obama and despite Trump's delusional claims, he has done nothing to really effect the hard numbers. Trump might be able to claim a positive secondary effect with business picking up because his administration isn't enforcing regulations. Something that will more than likely help corporate profit margins until we start hearing news stories of people being hurt or killed by unsafe products. My personal favorite in that category is where a Texas fertilizer plant exploded killing a good number of people because the management wasn't going to let the tyrannical federal government force them to do all those socialistic safety measures.

There is one obvious economic landmine that could blow up in Trump's face in 2018, it's the stock market. Its rapid growth rate is starting to worry some that it is taking on the resemblance of an overfilled balloon. Trump likes to point to the stock market as a gauge of the overall economy. Generally a mistake since it doesn't really reflect the well being of the average American. In other words, if the daily ups and downs of the stock market does effect a person, they are playing in a much bigger league than Joe Sixpack. If the stock market tanks because of over speculation, it will be interesting to see how Trump and his talking heads try to explain it away.

The biggest concern that actually causes me to lose sleep is North Korea. Trump has a proverbial hard on for the little twit running that country. I'd personally call it a form of penis envy since Kim Jong-un can easily have people murdered if they do not worship him with enough enthusiasm. Adding to my unease is the scuttlebutt that I've heard suggesting National Guard troops will soon be sent for year long deployments to South Korea. While I retired from the National Guard back in 2005, and a lot can change in far less time, but such deployments don't seem normal to me.

I've got to clearly admit, “scuttlebutt” is a hazy concept that can be either totally true or completely false. What worried me though is that a Gulf of Tonkin incident might be in the works. Trump isn't a total idiot, I'd bet money I don't have he understands the Russia Investigation is slowly zeroing in on him and a war would be a great way to postpone or completely blunt Mueller's endgame.

Yes, I'm saying Trump would launch a war that would certainly kill thousands, if not millions to save his fat ass and that of his family. If you really want to pick apart my darkest, hopefully purely irrational fears I wouldn't put it past Trump to try and postpone the 2018 midterms. I'm basing that on his delusional insistence that he lost the 2016 popular vote because of illegal aliens being allowed to vote. Adding to that idea, some bozo even commissioned a poll last year asking Republicans if they would go along with postponing the 2020 election until the government could make sure no illegal residents voted. Yeah, the overwhelming majority of the respondents thought delaying the election would be fine. Now throw in a national emergency in 2018 with the North Korean toad trying to nuke Honolulu, Seattle, or Los Angeles and delaying the midterms is something Trump would love to try.

Long story short, while getting stupid drunk this Sunday night sounds like a great idea just as a form of recovery from 2017, there is no guarantee 2018 will be any better. Whatever the case, whether it is by impeachment or losing the 2020 presidential election, Trump will never leave the national spotlight quietly. Every outrageous, nonsensical, or downright scary statement he makes tells me he would rather burn down the country than let go of power. My best advice is that while hoping Trump is lead out of the White House in handcuffs is okay, be prepared for the absolute worst to happen.    

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Illusion of Control



The urge to interrupt him was overwhelming. Helen looked down the long dinner table at her husband and silently screamed for him to shut the hell up. Only a sheer fool would miss the looks of annoyance and outright disgust everyone was displaying as Bill Harden continued on with his story about building yet another subdivision of new homes.

Making matter worse, Bill had even begun backslapping the guy sitting next him in a good old boy manner as he explained the process of minor bribery to get county officials to look the other way at zoning violations. Despite this being the fifth day of a two-week Mediterranean cruise with everyone assigned to this particular table for dinner each night, Helen couldn't remember the tormented man's name.

“Honey,” Helen said through clenched teeth, “I'm suddenly not feeling well. Can we return to the cabin, like right now.” She knew their exit would be almost as awkward as staying but the sound of Bill's droning voice was well on its way to making her nauseous.

Bill at least had the dignity to stop talking and look at his wife. “Did you say something, Sweetie?” He responded with the mindless puzzled look he got when someone dared invade the comfy little world he existed.

“Yes, I'm not feeling well and believe it would be best if we both went back to the cabin.” Helen said tempering her tone in hopes that it might disguise her anger.

“But dinner isn't where near over and everyone should hear how I secretly bought all the land the Parson family owned for cents on the dollar. Can't you just go back alone, I'm having the time of my life.” Bill almost whined back, so much that a few people at the table couldn't hide their shock.

It was then that Helen was overwhelmed with the regret of ever giving Bill the time of day, much less dating then marrying the buffoon. A small part of Helen's consciousness sniped back that she knew full well what she doing back then. Well on his way to a sizable fortune from taking over his father's business when the first meet, the young Bill Harden didn't look bad and was half decent in bed.

Middle-age hadn't been kind to her husband, his weight had drifted above what was normal and despite thousands of dollars spent to replace his thinning hair, the results looked so unnatural that Helen had often remarked he should just go bald. What almost made things unbearable, while Bill still had all his mental abilities he somehow believed everyone would be totally enthralled with the smallest details of how he made his fortune.

“Bill, we need to leave now.” Helen said sternly staring at her husband. He in turn still looked back oblivious to everything but the story in his mind.

“Helen,” he said, “you are more than free to go and do what you want. I'm staying here with my friends and finishing my dinner.” He then immediately went back to telling his story as if he had never been interrupted, ignoring Helen completely.

Finally understanding Bill had essentially dismissed her, Helen became enraged to the point she would had shot her husband where he sat if her gun was had been available. Even through her anger, Helen realized she was the now the one making a fool of herself, so she got up from her seat and stormed out of the restaurant.

Helen aimlessly roamed the passageways of the ship utterly enraged that Bill would dare to treat her that way. The utter bastard, she thought to herself ignoring the looks of the other passengers as she walked by, how dare Bill treat me like the housemaids he so casually screwed then discarded back home. Contrary to what Bill might like to think, Helen knew full well that for the better part of six years he had seduced each of the maids they had hired to clean the house and manage the mundane affairs like buying food and scheduling exterminators and such.

Helen knew something was amiss when Bill insisted on being the one who interviewed each of the young women the employment agency sent. The commonality linking all the young women that ended up being hired was that they were at least slightly attractive, have no real family, and be absolutely broke. Bill would then slowly befriend and then lavish them with money and perks. The only thing more monstrous than Bill's manipulation of the young women with money and fatherly attention was how often it succeeded in getting them naked.

After six or seven months, Bill would grow tired of his plaything and eventually buy her silence with money from an account he thought Helen didn't know about. With the old maid now gone, he would begin the hiring process again figuring Helen wouldn't really notice the change in staff.

Helen didn't begrudge her husband his little affairs, over the years she been involved with numerous personal trainers from the gym, their veterinarian, and even once the ubiquitous pool maintenance technician. Their marriage had long since evolved into a true business arrangement, he purchased the land and supervised the construction of the new subdivisions. While she used her interpersonal talents to network and meet new people that would further grow the overall business. Helen believed that she was a true master at managing people and events to her advantage. Above it all, Helen wanted to be in control of her own life and anyone else she had dealings with.

The proof of this being the times Helen secretly cleaned up Bill's occasional accidents with the women he was screwing. On two separate occasions Bill had gotten his household mistresses pregnant forcing Helen into action. The first time all it took was a little more money, a trip to an out of state abortion clinic, and a warning never to set foot in Sunnyville, Georgia again. The second time, when the girl suddenly appeared at the front door in tears over how Bill was the love of her life, more persuasive means had to be employed. Helen thoroughly enjoyed the idea that they were considered moral pillars of the Sunnyville community, any accusations of impropriety would threaten their livelihood, which was something she couldn't allow.

Helen had no idea how long she walked the corridors while being wrapped up in her anger and thoughts. At some point though, it had sunk down to her consciousness just how lost she had become. The ship they were traveling on, named Ocean Master, was one of the biggest in the world. The cruise line made a particular point in boasting that nothing bigger would be built until people started traveling between the planets and stars.

Obvious hyperbole, but as Helen looked for a map along the corridor, a momentary sense of animal panic took hold of her mind. The section of the ship she found herself seemed an endless line of identical doors. It was only after descending a flight of stairs that she finally found a “You are here” diagram of the ship mounted on a wall next the entrance to a small piano bar.

While the lights of the passageways had been dimmed to give the impression of the nighttime hours on the outside of the ship, the bar itself was positively dark. The only real illumination coming from lights mounted on the ceiling which were aimed down at the piano sitting on a small, raised stage. Helen noticed the highly polished wood of the piano, almost seemed to glow from the meager light.

Figuring she wasn't ready to face Bill nor her table mates again, a couple of drinks in a quiet place would do her good. Taking advantage of a nearby large mirror, she made sure her appearance was acceptable before walking inside. The gown she wore should have made her the center of attention at the dinner table. Made of gold and red silk the price tag was so large it had made Bill choke when they bought it in Barcelona before boarding the ship. For a women entering her fifties Helen took great comfort in knowing some people thought she wasn't much over forty.

Stepping through the entrance, it took a moment for her eyes to adjust, but she could immediately tell the place seemed empty. Scattered around the piano were several tables with chairs and along three of the walls were booths she knew were designed to offer almost total privacy. To the right of the piano stage was the actual bar, complete with an attendant doing his best to seem busy. After taking a seat on one of the bar stools, she acknowledged the presence of the bartender just long enough to order a double martini. The bartender, attuned to the needs of his customers, or just to the fact that a queen bitch was near disappeared into a nearby storage room.

“Finally some company,” Helen heard a deep male voice say behind her. Figuring she was about to be accosted by a man probably more obnoxious than her husband, Helen made ready with the proper verbal barbs to send him somewhere else. It was only when Helen turn to her left to see the guy taking a seat next her did she abruptly change her mind.

The man was about her age, wearing a nicely tailored black sports coat over an expensive dress shirt that was probably the same brand her husband wore. A nicely toned body, chiseled good looks combined with a head full of natural black hair lightly dusted with gray made him look dignified. But it was his ice blue eyes that made Helen feel like a giggly teenager.

“Hello,” he said offering his right hand, “name's Steven Calhoun. Excuse the ridiculous question but what is a beautiful woman like you doing in this empty bar?”

Helen tried to control her emotions and hide the fact that she was instantly attracted to the man. “Hello yourself, my name is Helen Harden. The reason I'm here is to get away from my irritating husband.” She said while shaking his hand and putting on her best smile.

“Husband?” Steven said thoughtfully. “I guess I should leave then. I sure as hell don't want any issues with your spouse.” He said starting to turn and leave.

“No Steven, you stay right where you are,” Helen said placing her hand on his forearm. “Bill Harden would be the least of your concerns. And yes, I could use some decent company right now myself.”

Steven smiled and settled back on his stool. “Anything you want to talk about?” He asked with what seemed genuine sincerity.

“Oh it's the usual, he's an insensitive pig that doesn't appreciate my efforts and how I keep him from walking out of the house without his pants.” Helen said not quite yet ready to explain how badly she would like to see her husband dead. “How about you tell me why such a handsome man is alone on a huge cruise ship filled with horny women?” She said redirecting the growing conversation.

“In short, I'm divorced,” Steven said in a casual manner with only a hint of emotional hurt. “We grew apart wanting different things. As far as the cruise is concerned, I don't know, I wanted to do something different, break out from what my ex-wife would expect. Truth be told, I'm finding all the people on the ship sort of intimidating. That's why I'm just hanging out here, waiting for the piano player to show up. ”

Helen was in heaven, to her Steven seemed like an innocent lamb. She soon learned he was moderately successful small town lawyer from Oregon, with two grown kids and no current personal attachments. It wasn't long before Helen found herself wondering just what mental illness his ex-wife suffered from to let such a decent guy escape. While Helen had promised herself to play the attentive and faithful wife while confined on a ship with Bill, circumstances were rapidly changing to the point she might freely break that vow.

“You know Steven,” Helen said coyly, “this bar stools hurt my butt, how about we order some more drinks and move over to one of those comfortable booths.”

If Helen believed in such trite myths as fate or love, finding Steven would have fit in those categories. He listened intently as the drinks and his easy company caused her to open up about the uglier aspects of her life with Bill. There finally came a point when Helen told him her most secret desire.

“I can't tell you how many times I wanted Bill dead,” she said to Steven. “Oh God, there were so many days where my fantasies consisted of the police coming to the house and somberly telling me Bill had died in a horrible car accident. Does that make me a terrible person Steven, answer that honestly.”

“It's a natural feeling when you're so unhappy,” he answered. “Now, you answer a question honestly, would you truly like to see your husband dead?” Steven asked back, his eyes boring down deep into Helen's soul.

“Yes,” Helen whispered back for some unknown reason.

“I wasn't always a lawyer,” Steven said with a gravity that spoke volumes. “Years ago I was in another line of work and if you promise to do me a favor, I'll see what I can do.”

Helen believing she could read the true intentions of everyone she met said nothing but stepped out of the booth while grabbing Steven's hand. “Take me to your cabin, now.”

It was a short walk down the corridor. While the cabin was relatively small, the bed was king-sized and her expensive gown made a colorful puddle on the floor next it. Helen didn't really believe Steven would kill her husband, it was just talk to get her in bed. More to the point, she was still quite angry with how Bill treated her, it would be nice to make him worry about where she went for several hours. Spending it with such a man as Steven was just icing on the cake.

***

Helen woke up to total darkness, at first she groggily thought she was in the cabin she shared with Bill. But their cabin had windows and a small patio opening out to the side of the ship. Some light had always bled through around the edges of the curtains making total darkness impossible. Then there was the fact that Bill always left the bathroom light on so he wouldn't stumble and fall on the way to the toilet.

That's when the alcohol induced fog cleared and she remember Steven and their hours together. “Steven, she said while reaching out across the bed. It was immediately apparent he wasn't in the bed and Helen highly doubted the cabin as well since it was deathly silent.

It took several minutes to work her way to the bathroom to find a light switch. Once that was accomplished she collected her dress and opened up her purse to find her cell phone and discover the time.

“Oh my God,” she said to herself upon seeing it was already fifteen minutes before noon. The damn ship would already be docked at Piraeus, a little ways outside Athens. What she thought would be a few hours of irritation for Bill had turned into far more than she planned. Helen thought about leaving Steven a note, but on second thought decided that she would try and contact him later.

She tried not to think about how her appearance while on the way back to her cabin. Helen realized with hair a mess and the expensive gown heavily wrinkled, she was an walking advertisement for the fact that she had spent the night someplace else. All things considered, it really didn't matter since she didn't know any of the other passengers and would never see them again once the cruise was over.

Her relief was short lived, after opening the cabin door. Every bit of her and Bill's possessions they left in the cabin were gone as well as the luggage they used. Their steward, an older man from Turkey walked in and gave her an uncertain look.

“Madam, I thought you and your husband had decided to disembark early.” He said confused and worried that he had made a mistake. Both Helen and Bill had treated the gentleman badly, something she suddenly felt guilty about.

“You saw Mr. Harden this morning?” Helen asked somehow worried that the mysterious Steven Calhoun had killed her husband.

“No Mrs. Harden,” he said nervously, “the purser's office told me to pack everything up and have it outside the cabin door to be picked up. If there is an issue they're the people to talk with.”

Helen left the cabin and raced to the purser's office hoping Bill hadn't decided to leave her high and dry. Right when she was about to get there the cell phone in her purse chimed with a text message.

Saying only: Missed you last night, decided we should stay in Greece and see the sights. Meet me at the Hotel Europa in Athens. Love Bill. Helen knew something was very wrong, Bill was never this spontaneous, this creative. But she had no other choice but to make her way to the hotel. After purchasing a new set of clothes at the ship's store, Helen left the Ocean Master and hired a taxi to take her from Piraeus to Athens.

The Hotel Europa was the type of place people described as having “Old World Charm.” Which generally meant to Helen crappy room service and bed sheets that would better serve as sandpaper. Still though, the spacious lobby was so beautifully decorated that the only thing proving she had not been transported to the early twentieth century were the modern clothes everyone was wearing.

No further instructions had come from Bill while traveling in the taxi so Helen went to the front desk to check for messages. The desk clerk quickly handed her a note saying he was up in room 227 and that she needed to join him. Still feeling like her world had been turned upside down, Helen didn't know what to expect when she stepped in the room. To her relief, the room was empty but all their luggage was neatly placed on the beds and the dressers. Feeling an overwhelming urge to sleep, Helen curled up on one of the beds and quickly faded into oblivion. When she awoke all her worst fears had come to pass.

“Hello Helen,” Steven Calhoun said sitting in a chair that faced her direction. “We need to have a serious conversation...”

“What did you do to my husband?” She interrupted surprised at her level of concern for Bill.

“Let's just say the old Mr. Harden is now indisposed. That's what you wanted, right?” Steven asked calmly.

“What do you mean 'old Mr. Harden?'" Helen asked knowing the answer might push her over the edge.

Surprisingly, Steven produced an United States passport and a State of Georgia driver's license with Bill Harden's name but bearing his picture. “I said I would remove your husband from the picture for a favor. I'm calling in that favor right now by becoming Bill Harden. To any and all we meet from now on we are man and wife, wild world travelers without a true home port.”

“Why are you doing this to us?” Helen asked wanting to run out of the room.

“That's information you will get when I can trust you. Let's just say taking over your husband's identity is the perfect cover.”He's the definition of the Ugly American, someone people around the world quickly forget about and want to avoid in general.”

“What about people back home, we have obligations and responsibilities, neither of us can just not return home. There are people who will miss us.” Helen said feeling trapped like an animal. More importantly, the illusion of being in control of her life was destroyed. That scared her more than anything.

“Think about it my wife,” Old Steven/New Bill said. “I have produced genuine identification saying I'm Bill Harden. Clever lawyers back in the States are even now slicing your business into shreds. The parts will be sold off and you and the man you started the cruise with will be people only vaguely remembers in a few months. I'm in control of things from now on, I'd suggest you regain your composure and begin the adjustment process, because even you can be replaced.”

Old Steven/New Bill moved from the chair to the edge of the bed. “We were perfect together last night, just imagine what a life of adventure and intrigue with me would mean.” He then leaned in and kissed her lightly on the lips. At the same time, Helen felt a sharp sting in her right arm, she looked down in time to see New Bill pull back a fancy hypodermic syringe.

“Sleep on it for now my love, we'll talk again when you wake up.” New Bill said lovingly, after that everything went black.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Oumuamua- The Epic Interstellar Traveller



 Forever on the lookout for science news stories to turn me away from the usual human-created crap, I have been in proverbial and literal heaven for the last several weeks. Back in October of this year, the astronomer Robert Weryk discovered a peculiar object that had passed through our solar system and was already on its way back out into the depths of deep space.

This object, given the name Oumuamua, meaning “scout” in the Hawaiian language is a metal heavy, cigar-shaped asteroid measuring 230 by 35 meters (that's 800ft x 100ft for metric ignorant Americans) that originated from an entirely different solar system. This was determined because of its course which had it entering the inner solar system at six degrees from the solar apex (the direction of the Sun's movement relative to local stars) and that fact that it was traveling like a bat out of hell as far as relative speed to the Sun is concerned. Traveling at 26.3 km/s, or 58,900 mph, Oumuamua is already halfway to the orbit of Jupiter and will eventually catch up and pass NASA's Voyager One space probe, the most distant manned-made object which is traveling about 17 km/s or 38,610 mph.

 Two things are really cool about this chunk of tumbling space metal. The most important, and scientifically real, is that it is the first confirmed object that came from outside our solar system. For those not grasping the concept, Oumuamua has been traveling for at least millions, if not billions of years between the stars. The distances and time involved for this journey are almost impossible for humans to fully understand.

The next reason is that Oumuamua has a really weird, cigar-shape not unlike theoretical models for possible rotating space colonies or even how movies and television often imagine fictional starships. The fact that its tumbling end over end and not cleanly rotating along the length of its axis gives Oumuamua a mysterious air, like it might be a long dead, derelict space ship for those with overactive imaginations like myself. If fact, the great science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke wrote a book entitled Rendezvous with Rama where an object like Oumuamua is detected and does turn out to be a combination rotating space colony/ slower-than-light starship. The book set in the future where a type of solar system wide, semi-military space force exists, a human-crewed space ship is sent to intercept and investigate the alien-constructed craft. Whether of not the fictional Rama had a crew is, to me, a subject of debate since the beings the human explorers encounter are more than likely non-sentient robots programmed to maintain the apparently uninhabited ship.

Oumuamua weirdness has compelled real radio astronomers working for SETI to turn their equipment towards it in hopes of catching some type of artificial radio signals. Scientific American reports that they listened for two hours and came away with 90 terabytes of data. Nothing spectacular about that amount of data since most everything in space has a way to emit natural radio signals. Sorry folks, even with my overactive imagination Oumuamua is certainly nothing but a seriously epic rock on a voyage that will more than likely never end.

Despite the novelty of Oumuamua, astronomers are saying that interstellar objects like it passing through our solar system are a common occurrence. We just happen to be looking in the right place and at the right time to see it zip by. Still though, it is nice to imagine Oumuamua might be a stealth alien probe some mothership still way out in space launched in our direction to get a relatively close scan of Earth and the bizarre, semi-intelligent creatures that live on it.

I now return you to the regular self-destructive and banal crap that dominates our existence on this planet.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A New Threat to Free Speech - SLAPP Lawsuits







Reiterating something I have mentioned uncountable times in the past, my childhood view of the future was guided by the science fiction I read and watched on television and at the movies. The only thing more nerdy about that admission is its overwhelming and sad naivety. My only saving grace was that almost an entire generation of kids from the sixties bought into that delirium far more than a stupid kid from South Carolina. As time progressed though, I eventually started reading science fiction that had a far darker and, sadly, more realistic view of the future.

One of these books, published in the early 1980's, takes place in a future where the United States government had devolved into an authoritarian regime where corporations stifle free speech through libel laws and suing anyone they thought had looked at them sideways. Taking place in the twenty-first century there were other quite disturbing problems besides corporate dictatorship.

For one thing, Charles Manson had become something of a nationwide Jesus Christ figure, worshiped by millions despite his horrific crimes. The Soviet Union, which had never fell, merged with Commie China to create a new empire that stretched from eastern Europe to southeast Asia. And for reasons I don't remember, in this book the South American countries all developed nukes and one day decided to use them on each other. All things considered, it was an extremely unpleasant world whose one saving grace was that a giant space colony had been built in Earth orbit providing a refuge for the relatively sane humans.

All the weird future stuff aside, it was the author's view of the lack of free speech in the United States that made my blood run cold. Simply put, and going by memory, the male protagonist in the book laments that a corporate CEO could have Joe Blow thrown in jail for years by just saying his expensive underwear smelled bad. That all practical opposition to the rich and powerful was now impossible. The situation wasn't exactly Orwellian, but the results were essentially the same. Once I finished the book, I put it away thinking there was a better chance of that space colony being built than having to deal with the end of free speech here in America. Once again I have been taught that the light you see at the end of the tunnel is not bright sunshine, but that of an oncoming train.

This is where SLAPP, (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) makes its dictatorial presence known. Keeping things simple, it is a lawsuit used by corporations to silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they are forced to abandon opposition to their plans. The typical SLAPP plaintiff does not expect to win their lawsuit, they get what they want through intimidation, fear, mounting legal costs, and simple exhaustion. We're not talking about brutal the thought police or newspeak from Orwell's 1984, but SLAPP is a real and direct threat to free speech in the United States.

Let Robert Reich explain the situation: 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

My Autopsy of the 2016 Election


Thirteen nightmarish months have passed since Americans of one form or another decided to screw the electoral pooch and put both the nation and world in jeopardy. Of course the cluster frak I'm writing about is the one where an amoral, narcissistic, racist conman was able to game the Constitution allowing him to occupy the White House. Conservatives do not openly read my admittedly partisan crap but just in case there is one out there lurking I'll explain what I mean.

Despite all the whining and moronic conspiracy theories, Hillary Clinton received well over three million more popular votes than Trump. What did put him in the White House were around seventy-thousand popular votes in several key Midwest states that push him over the required two-hundred seventy electoral votes needed for the Electoral College. Yes, I'm splitting hairs but given his total lack of character, dangerous authoritarian tendencies, and need for total adulation that borders on the sociopathic, I will never call him president. Trump may hate the little doofus ruling North Korea, but they are far more alike than he or his supporters here in the United States can conceive with their little brains.

With that out of the way, I'm not writing this to talk crap about the low-information, semi-suicidal idiots who put that orange bastard in the White House. Quite the contrary, my goal today is to do my own version of an electoral autopsy on the Democrats and how they truly bumbled nearly every aspect of the 2016 presidential campaign. The following are my own views in no particular order and are not meant to offend anyone.

Hillary Clinton: First off let me go ahead and say I believe Secretary Clinton would have made an excellent Chief Executive had she won the election. During her time in the United States Senate she was able to build productive relationships with the political adversaries that worked hard to impeach and then convict her husband while he was president. The problem is that by Mrs. Clinton's own admission she was a terrible campaigner, something highly problematic for people wishing to enter elected office. A large part of this problem came from what I believe was her attitude of inevitability. This was clearly visible during the 2008 presidential campaign, to the point she threw an old fashioned hissy fit as Barrack Obama won the nomination.

Frankly, one of her chief failures was that between the 2008 and 2016 campaigns she did not appear to do anything to change her style or how she approached people. Yes, Secretary Clinton has always had a large number of people who admire her but unfortunately, she has at least had an equal number of individuals who found her to be standoffish, to put it kindly. I will not touch on the allegations of corruption and worse crimes since the waters on those issues have been muddied beyond any reasonable discussion. Also yes, a lot of that was generated by outright political propaganda but Hillary was never able to effectively counter that perception. Because of that I was initially happy when Bernie Sanders entered the 2016 race. I had some hope that Bernie's clear passion might rub off on Secretary Clinton allowing her to overcome those deficiencies.

I wouldn't be offering a honest assessment of the situation if I didn't mention Hillary's infamous and totally false story about landing in Bosnia while under snipe fire. During the 2008 campaign Hillary related a story about how she and her daughter, Chelsea were flying into Bosnia during that country's blood civil war back in the 1990's. Supposedly, snipers were up in the hills firing down at the anyone foolish enough to walk out in the open. According to Hillary, both her and Chelsea had to be rushed off the military plane under heavy protection. Unfortunately, there was video of that arrival, shown on CNN, of her and Chelsea leisurely walking off the ramp of the military plane being greeted with locals wearing colorful costumes and bringing flowers. There was even, if I remember correctly, a brass band present on the tarmac.

Of lesser importance, but something I have to mention anyway, Hillary made a rather big strategic error in picking Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate. In normal times he would have been an excellent choice. Being a moderate Democrat from a key swing state, he would have been seen as balancing the ticket. And to put it bluntly, being male Senator Kaine would have possibly massaged the bruised egos of guys upset that a woman was now running the country. However, with the primary campaign becoming bitterly divisive, I feel she should have picked Bernie Sanders in an attempt to heal those wounds. Given that she lost by seventy-thousand votes in those swing Midwest states Hillary's need to “feel comfortable” with the VP choice was a luxury she couldn't afford.

Bernie Sanders: Initially, I welcomed Bernie entering the race for reasons I have already stated. But his presence sent the campaign off the rails and to an extreme that should have been scary to anyone really watching. For me, the first sign his candidacy would be more trouble than it was worth was displayed with the attitude of his supporters. They viewed Bernie as a savior and anyone disagreeing with them was not only a corrupted Clinton stooge but worse than a Republican. Bernie supporters totally ignored the near unanimity of their senate voting record and the fact that while Sanders is good for dramatic displays his actual accomplishments in congress are wafer thin.

Another problem I have with Bernie is the simple fact he is a radical dinosaur from the 1960's. Understand, I actually agree with many of his ideas about how our country should be reformed. But given his personality, I believe he would have been totally ineffective in getting them through Congress had he somehow won the Democratic nomination then the presidential election. Putting this as simply as I can so there will be no misunderstanding, there is absolutely NO nascent radical progressive movement being quashed by Republicans nor evil corporations nor the overall political establishment. Yes, in some areas of the country such a movement exists, but to believe it is widespread is frankly delusional.

As much as such places like the American South needs a radical progressive movement those groups are incredibly small and isolated. I've meet a few of these individuals and while they whine about being held down by the establishment there is no support for them in Democratic Party nor as viable third-party candidates. Truth be told, here in the South even traditional Democratic strongholds are quite socially and economically conservative. For those progressives reading this getting mad, if you believe I'm wrong move down here and become politically active.

Being honest here but let's face it, Bernie is a petulant hippie suffering from an inability to separate what is fantasy and what is politically possible. Bernie's insistence on the Democrats playing by his rules when the vast majority of the time he is an Independent suggests his personality isn't that far from the way Trump behaves. Bernie is also famous for wanting political purity tests for Democratic candidates wanting them far more progressive than their areas would support.

One of the items Republicans were twitching in their pants to bring up was Sander's past love affair with communist countries. During the 2016 campaign. one of the U.S. Senators from South Carolina, got this gleeful look in his eye whenever he got the chance to bring up the fact that Bernie Sanders and his wife spent their honeymoon in the freaking Soviet Union! How Bernie's past ties with communist countries and Trump's love affair with Putin would have played out in a presidential election would have been interesting. That could also be an explanation why Hillary didn't pick Bernie as a running mate, but that is just wishful thinking on my part.

Democratic Voters: While the Republican Party is made up of quite different factions, they do at least readily coalesce when election time arrives. The comparison to mindless sheep is an accurate assessment. Democratic voters on the other hand are a vicious and near suicidal bunch that will angrily sabotage the overall effort if they feel their particular interest is not receiving proper attention. President Obama wasn't in office six months when Hispanic-American groups began complaining immigration reform wasn't on the agenda. Understand, the United States desperately needs immigration reform but at that time the American economy was teetering on the abyss of another Great Depression.

While relatively speaking, Democrats are the only adults sitting at the table of government, many have a disturbingly short attention span and think all that has to be done to bring about utopia is for a president to wave a magical wand. Democrats are by in large looking for a savior, hence Bernie's attractiveness, but government doesn't work that way so when things get drawn out and ugly with compromise they get mad and wander off looking for a latte or the nearest Apple Store. Childish Democratic attitudes were made worse when hardly any showed up to vote during the 2010 and 2014 midterms. Progressives whined endlessly about Obama's failure of leadership but no one seemed to remember he was dealing with heavy Republican majorities in both houses of Congress.

Yes, I know Democrats had majorities in Congress up until 2010, but most of them came from districts and states that were not Democratic strongholds. If progressives want radical change they will first have to somehow elect a heavy majority of such individuals to Congress then defend such people during the midterms.

Lastly, Democratic voters do have an unsettling need for celebrity in their political candidates. I voted for Barrack Obama twice and to this day feel he was head and shoulders above the Republican candidates he faced. But one factor that helped him in the primaries against Hillary was not only his talents but his skin color. There was a similar but weaker celebrity associated with Hillary in 2016 with her on the verge of being the first female president. Conversely, Hillary's lack of celebrity, given that she was a known factor, easily contributed to the lackluster turnout of some Democratic voters.

In short, while being the only available adults at this moment, Democrats have lacked any honest commitment to their cause for decades. Instead they have played second fiddle to the Republicans as the chasm between rich and poor in this country has grown to dangerous levels.

Third-Party Voters: You cannot have politics in any form without some level of corruption. Idealistic types desiring the perfect over the good might as well try to continue living without breathing. That doesn't make corruption acceptable, but hopelessly idealistic types often fail to make a distinction between actual corruption and political compromise. I'm sorry, democracy is messy and the comparison to making sausage is unbelievably accurate.
That doesn't stop some individuals from getting upset with the current situation and abandoning the established political institutions. Third-parties do have a long history of introducing vital reforms to the national consciousness which are eventually adopted by the two main political parties. The problem with third-parties became dangerously apparent in 2016 with Trump the Republican nominee.

The Green Party, lead by their nominee Jill Stein, attracted a great many progressive Democratic voters who were upset Bernie wasn't proclaimed messiah at the convention. Given the incredibly narrow election results in the critical Midwestern states, I believe people voting for the Green Party instead of Hillary gave Trump the presidency. The shrill refrain from many Green Party voters was that there was no real difference between Hillary and Trump. I would hope such sentiment would be long dead but unfortunately, it's alive and well.

American Voters in general: What can you say about a nation filled to the brim with petty, uncurious, self-indulgent individuals for whom patriotism is a mile wide but only a few inches deep. The United States became the leader of the free world pretty much by accident. Untouched by the Second World War, the men and women of the Greatest Generation then went on to reform the country and push all human limitations. Then came the Baby Boomer generation and we've been mostly coasting since then. Oh there are individual exceptions, but upon reaching the pinnacle of global power each generation after World War Two has become increasingly complacent at doing what is required to keep up with the rest of the world. Far too many of our schools are underfunded, especially in areas of rampant poverty, and literally falling apart. Our infrastructure of roads, electrical grids, water systems, and just about everything else is suffering through decades of neglect. Why? Because Americans get grouchy if they have to pay taxes, and God forbid anyone suggest differently.

Tagging along with crappy schools is a growing ignorance about how technology and the world in general is changing. Emerging nations naturally have cheaper labor allowing more primitive industries to flourish, and naturally American corporations have rushed to them to stay profitable.

Instead of facing these challenges and creating new strategies to adapt, Americans want nothing but to metaphorically stick their heads in the sand and return to their sports and reality television. Americans bitch and moan about our elected leaders failing us but they are just a reflection of the people that continue to send them to Washington. Trump is an abomination to everything this country supposedly believes but he is just a symptom of something far worse.

Americans today have tied themselves in self destructive knots because they do not want to be bothered by government. Things were super duper for their grandparents and Goddammit, they should still be that way for them. These days we as a people lack any imagination and understanding of the workings of both the nation and world. They know things have gone off the rails but lack the basic initiative to figure out how and why. Such a climate of ignorance spawns demagogues who exacerbates fears and plays with prejudices. Contrary to the notions of a former politician that hosts one of the  morning cable news show I once watched, the United States is not guarded by some supernatural being, we are not immune to the same factors that brought down nations and empires all through history.

The only silver lining I can find in this huge mess is that Trump may have awaken enough people to act that something might be saved. No, I not just talking about Democrats. There are inkling that some Republicans understand the dangers we are facing. Will this be enough to turn the tide? I sure as hell hope but we won't even begin to know until the midterms.