Sunday, May 27, 2018

Being a Nighthawk

Philosophically speaking, I'm not big on the concept of free will right now. It's a long story and quite frankly my knowledge on the philosophical aspects of free will pretty much hinges on an educational series of You Tube videos and discussions with my twenty-two year old son who digs the subject like I do Star Trek. Seriously, my son has read all the big names in philosophy and can have a coherent conversation on the subject while I sound like poor white trash talking about the UFO that flew over the trailer park the night before.

On the other hand, the concepts of destiny or fate seem like superstitious nonsense to me. If anything, I tend to liken human existence to water molecules vibrating in a glass. There is some movement but our choices are limited to the circumstances we're born. I realized that's just the half-assed opinion of a middle-aged guy marooned in a pleasantly hellish suburban landscape filled with proto-facist drones, but everyone has to have a hobby.

My doubts about destiny or fate notwithstanding, somehow over the course of my entire work history I have found a way to end up on third-shift. Yes, a couple of times the choice was intentional, since the alternative was worse, but more often than not situations have arisen that seem to seek out my sorry ass and stick me with a vampire-like existence.

For those who aren't acquainted, third-shift hours usually run from eleven o'clock at night to seven o'clock in the morning. Variations abound, including a twelve hour version that starts at seven o'clock in the evening and runs to the next morning. What also can vary is the start of the work week, but over the years mine have always began on Sunday night. The one consistency though is how badly working nights can screw with your physical and mental health.

These dangers start with an increased likelihood of cancer and heart disease when the natural metabolic cycles of the human body get screwed six ways to Sunday because third-shift workers are going against millions of years of evolution by not sleeping at night. Scientists recently found another monkey wrench banging around in the delicate human mechanisms that's even more fun. Researchers have discovered that during normal night time sleep cycles, the brain flushes out harmful wastes that if left in place can cause all sorts of nifty illnesses like Alzheimer's disease and several others. So those of us working night are not only wrecking our physical bodies but the brain as well. This new information does seem to confirm my wife's assumptions that I have a loose, inert jello swishing around between my ears and not active brain cells.

What I've found fascinating though is the number of people who can't fathom the concept of working third-shift, nor the hassles involved. This includes numerous coworkers of mine who can't understand why I don't want to hang out with them until their nine o'clock morning meetings. Well, to be honest not staying for the morning meeting goes beyond just wanting to go home at the end of my shift to sleep. Despite the fact that my daytime coworkers all think highly of themselves, I'll be kind and say they aren't the most enlightened or cosmopolitan people. So I don't enjoy hearing about their views on the “proper” treatment of illegal aliens nor how every school in America needs to a heavily armed encampment. You can call me a snob if you want or a snowflake elitist, I'm just not keen on turning the country into a continent-wide weapons free zone dotted with fortress-like concentration camps.

Sleeping through the day, while most other humans are living normal lives is a whole other order of magnitude of difficulty. That is unless you develop certain strategies and methods. The first item is installing shades and blackout curtains to limit sunlight into the bedroom. These methods do not block all light but it reduces it down to the point to a dark twilight. That your bedroom takes on the atmosphere and mood of a tomb is something you learn to ignore.

Sounds from the outside world is the biggest obstacle to sleeping during the day. So much that I have developed an intense hate for the person who invented the motorized leaf blower. The sound of the average lawn mower has a white noise quality and in my experience, the noise of a motorized weed whackers quickly fades into the background. But leaf blowers, those insidious creations makes a persistent nightmarish noise at just the right frequency to make sleep impossible. The smaller leaf blowers used by home owners are bad enough sounding like a swarm of mutant bees. But the big commercial version used by lawn care services remind me of a shrieking demon set loose on earth and wanting to party.

Then of course, you have the usual disturbances which includes phone calls, trucks and cars driving through the neighborhood sharing their music, and people who knock on your door for some reason. Phone calls can be ignored, except when two or three hit close together. That's when the little voice whispers in my head as I try to sleep it might have been something important like my wife with a flat tire or one of the kids getting sick. So I jump up, fumble for the phone, only to discover it's some fool offering a great deal on life insurance.

Trucks and cars are a unique obstacle to sleeping during the day in that civility and human decency has decayed to the point that far too many people do not realize no one really wants to hear their musical playlist. That goes for every genre including heavy metal, country music, electronic dance, experimental jazz, besides the usual rap and hip hop. Now I wouldn't mind someone playing a selection of soft classical music as they drove by, but if that every happened my new concern would be that I suddenly died.

The absolute worst hurdle to sleeping during the day is the knock at the door. Most of my neighbors don't think much of me, or I them, but I do have good relations with a meager few with strict instructions from my wife to do nothing that might alienate them. So when there is someone knocking at the door who will not go away, I've got to answer it. Luckily this situation is rare but there was an occasion when one of the good neighbors was irate over the fact that she was convinced one of my two dogs was loose and had taken a shit in her yard. It took me gathering up my two fur balls and showing them to her to defuse the situation. Even then, I could tell from the tone in her voice that she didn't totally believe me. The other occasion involved the old lady living next door who desperately wanted me to know one of my lawn sprinkler heads was stuck. The issue for her was that the stuck sprinkler head was watering a portion of her yard and driveway. Self righteous justification is a dangerous thing, but I honestly feel at times my hate for suburbia and the people who inhabit is based in fact.

The question you might be wondering about is if third-shift is such a pain why don't I find another job? A good damn question and my best answer revolves around the fact that despite it all I actually like where I work. Most of previous work experience was doing maintenance in the manufacturing industries where it's always obvious you're just helping the rich elites and that they will massively screw the workers the minute the economic winds change direction for the worse. As a mechanical specialist in a hospital, I feel like that I am helping people, however indirectly.

At times third-shift sucks beyond human comprehension, its strains on the human body and social inconveniences causes me to buy a lotto ticket every once and a while so I can daydream about winning and then telling the world to kiss my ass. On the other hand, given that I'm such an antisocial curmudgeon whose disdain for the locals is so extreme, I have to admit working third-shift is sort of a sanctuary for me. To me that is a totally messed up and maybe an ironic state of affairs.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Twenty-Second Amendment - A Public Service Reminder

Way back in 1946 when Republicans in congress weren't insane sycophants they actually proposed a sensible and common sense amendment to the Constitution. That anyone running for president be limited to two elected term in office. See on April 12, 1945 only eight-two days after Franklin Roosevelt's fourth inauguration as president of the United States he passed away making Harry Truman the new commander-in-chief. For the first time since since March 4, 1933 somebody other than Franklin Roosevelt was president of the United States. After the midterm elections of 1946, Republicans took control of both houses of Congress and rightly felt anyone having that much power for so long was a really bad idea.

To say FDR's leadership through both the Great Depression and then most of the Second World War was key to the survival of the country cannot be overstated. But looking at the situation strictly through the fact that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, FDR's four terms was putting the nation into extremely dangerous territory. For that reason, the Twenty-Second Amendment was quickly added to the United States Constitution limiting future presidents to two elected terms.

While the Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison supported the idea of a lifetime term for anyone being elected president, thankfully that issue was sidestepped with George Washington leaving office at the end of his second administration. Despite his numerous personal faults, Thomas Jefferson went farther by writing half-way through his own second term:

If some termination to the services of the chief magistrate be not fixed by the Constitution, or supplied by practice, his office, nominally for years, will in fact, become for life; and history shows how easily that degenerates into an inheritance.

Curiously enough, back in 1872 Republicans did discuss the idea of running Ulysses Grant for a third term but negative public opinion and opposition from members of congress killed that idea. And Teddy Roosevelt did run for a third term as president, but in the “Bull Moose Party” but his efforts only helped Woodrow Wilson win the office.

More recently, I remember Bubba Clinton waxing philosophically at the end of his second term about how it might be okay if a former president came back to the office after something of a break. At the time my politics was considerably different and I remember how my skin crawled listening to him justify such a position. Being completely honest here, my skin still crawls at the idea of anyone being president past the mandatory limit of two terms, it doesn't matter whether they be Republican or Democrat. And yes, I'm open to the idea of extending term limits to those serving in Congress. Adding further fuel to my anti-establishment fire, I have strong concerns for political family dynasties, whether their last names be Kennedy, Clinton, Bush, or anyone else.

This brings me to Trump, no I still refuse to put the term “president” in front of his name. What more can I write about the amoral individual currently living in the White House I haven't already posted. As you might be able to guess, it's about how he likes to “joke” about staying in office past the 2024 Constitutional limit.

Trump admires authoritarian leaders whether they be his BFF, Vlad Putin, Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte . Then there was Trump's truly scary words of praise for China's new president-for-life, Xi Jinping.

He’s now president for life. President for life,” Trump told GOP donors in the Grand Ballroom. “No, he’s great. And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.”

You'd have to be blind not to see how Trump wants to dominate everything within his grasp. For proof of this matter just lookup his positively gushing words of praise for any of the authoritarian dictators I listed above. Yes, previous American presidents have cozied up to dictators, many with considerable blood on their hands, but none have ever spoken openly about copying their unlimited time in office. Trump's words towards the free press and the independent judiciary also speak volumes about his true nature. That anyone who opposes him is a danger.

See the problem with Trump joking that the United States might copy China's move toward a president-for-life is that history has shown such inspiring dictators like gauge how the public might react if such a move was put forth seriously. In the past such as President Grant and FDR, public opinion short-circuited the idea for the former and any future reoccurrence like the latter is now formally prohibited by the Twenty-Second Amendment.

We live in different times now, more to the point Trump supporters now act like members of a deranged cult than a populist political movement. Yes, if there are any conservatives reading this essay I can already see the sneer on your faces along with feeling the rage bubbling through your minds. But see President Obama hadn't taken office yet back in the first couple of weeks of January 2009 and yet the TEA party movement magically appeared complaining about the deficit the federal government was running and that it was his fault. The entire time Obama was in office Republicans blamed him for over spending even though George W. Bush inherited a budget surplus from Clinton but had a tax cut passed that lead to the federal deficit doubling under his two terms. Yes, Obama had huge budget deficits during his time in office, but they were greatly reduced under his watch.

What makes the situation funny though is that now since Trump has his own tax cut passed the federal deficit will again be running over a trillion a year. Surprisingly though Republicans are no long gnashing their teeth over Trump reigniting the budgetary nightmare of overspending.

While seeing Trump impeached and then convicted by congress before 2020 would be personally awesome, the actual chances of that happening are quite slim. Sorry my fellow Democrats, even with the indictments, guilty pleas, and convictions achieved by the Mueller investigation I firmly believe Trump has committed crimes worthy of being removed from the White House, but it is unlikely to happen. Even if a “Blue Tsunami” of Democrats are elected in the 2018 midterms, getting the 67 votes in the United States Senate to convict Trump is damn near impossible. It would mean Republicans joining Democrats to convict Trump and they are not going to defy their base.

The Trump Cult is firmly established and will be with him no matter how many American jobs he promised to protect go overseas or destroys because of his desire to wreck accepted trading agreements. He is the epitome of the rage semi-literate white folks are now expressing. So unless there is a huge change in the mood of the unwashed, rage-filled masses, Trump will remain in office until 2020.

But what happens if Trump is reelected in 2020, something that is quite possible if the economy stays within acceptable parameters? Then there is also the real and depressing chance that Democrats will again decided to engage in an ideological civil war in 2020 sending the disaffected to third parties or just staying home on election day.

To say Trump having a second term in office is a nightmare akin to nuclear war or global pandemic is an understatement. His Supreme Court picks would all be loyalists to him personally along with any lower court judges. His undermining of environmental regulations and treatment of immigrants already borders on the fascistic, I can't imagine what his actions would be during a second term.

His comments about “fake news” and jailing reporters who write things he doesn't like is another level of horrific. I have personally felt uncomfortable overhearing the casual conversations of Trump supporters and what they would like to do to those who oppose their savior. A second term would only embolden such individuals, to the point political violence would become a certainty in my opinion.

Okay, you might have already guessed my final point. If the worst case scenario happens and Trump gets a second term, I have a strong suspicion that his casual disregard for political norms and American law itself will extend to running for a third term. You might think I'm overstating his remarks or his open admiration for dictators but can you honestly see the majority of Republicans standing up to him and saying no? The current Speaker of the House, the most powerful man in congress, Paul Ryan is retiring from politics but he has never shown an iota of courage towards Trump, I simply cannot see any Republican who might replace him being any better.

Normally I'd say we have a better chance of one of his kids running to replace him in 2024. They have clearly inherited his same narcissistic personality traits and Ivanka has already mentioned she has political ambitions. But I do not for a minute believe Trump's “jokes” about staying in power for life are attempts at humor. He's clearly attracted to the idea because it appeals to his ego. Given how our politics have eroded and that most of us refuse to do the work required to keep a democracy healthy I believe Trump just might try it. You do not want to know whether or not I believe he could succeed.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Rearranging the Deck Chairs

Last year the television version of Margaret Atwood's novel, The Handmaid's Tale premiered on Hulu showing us a world in which the United States had been replaced by a totalitarian state controlled by religious fanatics. Without giving away any spoilers, the first season was a straight-forward adaptation of the book, which was centered around a character known as “Offred.” A woman who was being kept as a breeding slave for an infertile couple who were one of the elites of the new regime.

Understand Offred was not alone in her suffering, due to pollution and new diseases, infertility had skyrocketed and any fertile woman who ran afoul of that government would be forced into that bondage. Cloaked in a religious ceremony, Offred and these other women known as “Handmaids” suffered through state sanctioned rape once a month by the couples holding them captive in the hope that they would become pregnant and provide them a child. For the rest of the former American population things weren't much better in this new fictional nation called the Republic of Gilead. Just saying the Gilead Elites went full totalitarian is an understatement, so much that after watching the entire first season you wouldn't be faulted for thinking that being granted refugee status in North Korea would be an improvement.

Without spoiling the first season for anyone who hasn't watched it already, it ends exactly as the original novel with Offred being taking away by Gilead's secret police, her future very much uncertain.

Hulu premiered the second season of The Handmaid's Tale about a month ago and if the first four episodes are any indication it's even more of a physiological mind bender of horrific proportions than the first one. Don't get me wrong, the show is brilliant in its writing, acting, and sheer world building, so much that I have actually entertained thoughts of no longer watching it. The Handmaid's Tale is the epitome of the car/train wreck you simply cannot turn away from no matter how much blood, gore, and dead mangled bodies might be on display.

The first season The Handmaid's Tale used flashbacks to explain how the main characters became caught up in a country descending into religious madness. The first couple of episodes of the second season we get a glimpse at the mechanics of how the relatively enlightened United States fell and became the repressive Gilead. Funny thing, the producers and writers didn't to have search far for material to explain the change.

No, they didn't go the “ripped from the headlines” approach as other television dramas regularly do to write their stories. The second season flashbacks do capture the current mood of societal intolerance here in America and only extrapolate it a little to reach totalitarian Gilead. If you doubt me think back to the 2016 campaign when Trump stood on a stage in front an adoring crowd and mocked a disabled reporter. Just a few years before such behavior would have ended any possibility of being elected to the position of dog catcher in a white trash county much less to national office.

Of course I have to bring up the march of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia back in Augusr of 2017. That mass of disgruntled thugs walked through the town screaming slogans from the early days of Nazi Germany and Trump blithely later said their were good people in that crowd after one of them ran over and killed a counter protester. Get pissed off if you want, but Trump isn't that tone deaf or simply ignorant. He's a barely closeted racist who plays his base like the fictional Pied Piper did the rats in the town of Hamelin.

The trouble is that Trump is just a symptom of a larger problem. White folks were all cool and super patriotic about the ideas of America and democracy when they were solely in charge. Then the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's hits and they are forced to actually let African-Americans vote and have a say in the government. Remember the old saying about the government “being of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Well, when you can't vote but are forced into the armed forces in time of war but get lynched when you come back if you dare to buck the good old boy, whites only system there's a huge problem with the basic principles of the country. So white folks grudgingly allowed some reforms that sets the stage for women, other minorities, and eventually the LGBT community to exercise the same human rights guaranteed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

But wait a minute, there is a certain segment of white folks who decades later are still seething over the fact they don't totally get their way anymore. For a while they are pushed into the societal background because things are going enough for everyone. But things don't stay that way, the easy economic times here in America fade away and are replaced with a global uncertainty.

This combination of cultural and economic fears feed on each other and became a cancer eating away at the foundations of the country and the very principles we are supposed to cherish. When you have an untapped and growing mass of fear, ignorance, and hate basic human nature literally guarantees there will be those who seek to harness such energy to gain power for themselves.

The basic point I'm trying to make is that a good chunk of the Republican party has abandoned rational civic discourse for a strain of moralistic/religious authoritarianism that can be called Gilead-light. You can trace this descent all the way back to Reagan who said if fascism came to America it would come in the name of liberalism. George H.W. Bush helped things along with his Willie Horton political advertisement, something clearly engineered to stroke the race fears of white Americans. His son, George W. introduced formalized torture into the American mindset with many in power calling it “useful” to national security. A form of reasoning regularly used by the Soviet Union/Russia and Nazi Germany and something America was supposed to be immune. Things move right along to until you have the accusations made against Barrack Obama that he was both a secret Muslim and not born in the United States.

The sad thing is that the insane conspiracies didn't stop with President Obama. There are stupid and gullible people who actually think Democratic Party members were part of a sex/human trafficking ring being ran out of restaurants.

The basic premise of this authoritarian mass being the idea that any differentiation from what they consider accepted norms is unamerican at best and more than likely inherently evil. This extends to those of black and brown skin who don't totally wrap themselves in the flag, to those who suggest other religions have just as much right to practice in this country as Christians, or that making a buck at the expense of health and the environment is wrong. The only thing that scares me more than the current situation surrounding this descent into political madness is that I do not see it getting any better.

Now if someone on the conservative side of American politics has made it this far in my rant/essay, an unlikely event I admit, here's where I go after the Democrats to a certain extent.

Nothing says societal decay more to me that when you have the only true adults in government fighting over ideological purity. While there are many examples of this clusterfrak I could pull from the one that stands out was when you had every Republican presidential candidate of 2016 supporting the idea that every illegal immigrant in this country could be forcibly removed. Instead of Democrats uniting to defeat that barbaric and fascistic idea they instead decided it was time for a civil war over minor differences in party positions.

Quite frankly, the Republican turn toward religious authoritarianism and Democrats seeming ineptitude and self-destructive tendencies has brought me to a conclusion I have been trying to fight. Maybe the era of democratic enlightenment here in America might be over. The broad point being that it seems both sides have abandoned consensus building and compromise. Rational discourse was never a hallmark of American politics but things have become so partisan the radical base of each party constantly threatens to bolt if any compromise on issues is suggested. Every election cycle is now a battle to sweep away the current majority and replace it with their polar opposites. Of course the energy that voted in a new majority can't be sustained while those outside of true power are energized to seek something akin to revenge. The other side is viewed as evil and out to oppress and destroy their enemies.

I'll give backhanded kudos to the Republicans and their Machiavellian handlers, they are masters at stirring up their base and keeping them united. Whereas the Democrats love short-term and unfulfilled crusades and other shiny objects that makes voting something of an option for them. To many Democrats, Hillary wasn't shiny enough so they stayed home or voted third-party figuring there was no way Trump could be as bad as he seemed on the 2016 campaign trail. That Trump now regularly “jokes” about staying in office past the two term limit should be enough for every goddamn Democrat to wake the Hell up is an understatement. But there are clear signs the moderate Democrat/extreme progressive war is heating up again before the 2018 midterms.

What's worse than the political extremes of both parties alternately controlling the national agenda is the segment of Americans who simply never vote. Some of the reasons are easy to explain, we do not make it simple to exercise that right. And honestly, Republicans are constantly engineering ways to make it harder with reduced polling places, shorter hours, and allowing workplace policies that make it easy for bosses to prevent their workers from exercising their voting rights.

That still leaves a huge segment of Americans who are happy with their situation and can't be bothered to vote. They are the ones who could one day wake up and find their country changed beyond all recognition. No, I'm not saying a Republic of Gilead is likely or even possible to a great extent. I will admit though I see the elements of one all around me. Our principles on freedom and good government are regularly betrayed at the expense of convenience and a casual intolerance for those outside our immediate group.

America does have enemies, some real bastards that if given the chance would destroy us as casually as some order a pizza over the phone. But we're already well on our way to destroying the Republic, yes as trite as it may sound we are our own worst enemies. My biggest fear above all else is that we may have already passed the point of no return. That any effort of reform and reconciliation would be as futile as Titanic passengers rearranging the deck chairs after hitting the iceberg.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Nomad Feet - A Slightly Messed Up Trip to the Coast

Yesterday I did my routine trip down to Charleston to relax and try to shed some of the stink associated with living in a small suburban town outside of Columbia. Actually, my short escape had more to do with blowing off steam from having to pull the Mr. Mom load while my wife was in Switzerland on business, but it's probably not important to quibble over relatively minor details. So the night before I loaded up my MP3 player with interesting podcasts for the drive down and charged up the battery on my camera since I had a serious urge to play amateur photographer. One problem though, like a dumbass I never put the battery back into the camera so my picture taking was limited to what I could do with my lower end smart phone. While my smart phone camera is fine for some things, it's not good enough for detailed shots so my enthusiasm for picture taking was hugely diminished. This particular picture was taken at the Shem Creek Park in Mount Pleasant.             

One of my objectives on the trip was hitting the USS Yorktown again, something I hadn't done in years. Long story short for those who may not know, way back in the late 1970's the recently decommissioned Yorktown was brought to Charleston to be part of a naval museum called "Patriots Point." Which, if I remember correctly would in turn would be part of a greater development including a golf course, condos, and hotels, all done through private investors. To the best of my knowledge and memory, lets just say the success of this project has fluctuated over the years. Ships have been added and taken away from the naval museum with the cost of their upkeep being the deciding factor. In fact, on one visit to Patriots Point years ago, the gift shop had a newspaper clipping about how the Navy was upset that the Yorktown was falling into disrepair. Back then the possibility was real that the aircraft carrier would be taken away and scrapped if the situation didn't improve. So I was quite happy yesterday to discover that it looks like most of the old girl has received a recent paint job. In this picture, only the superstructure has a faded, bleached look while the lower hull is a dark grey. Due to not having a battery in my real camera, I scrapped the visit to the Yorktown. Tickets to the Yorktown and other ships is rather expensive costing $24.00 for adults and unless it has changed, they even charge a fee to get into their parking lot.                  

Yes, my first visit was to the Waterfront Park and Pier where I got my usual coffee and strolled around taking in the sea breeze and enjoying the water. Totally mundane and unexciting, but call me a grouchy old Lowcountry curmudgeon, but Columbia has absolutely nothing that can compare. Yes, this picture sucks but it's mainly meant to show off the pier.

Despite the issue with the camera throwing me for a loop, what saved the trip for me was stopping at Red's Ice House for lunch. Sitting on Shem Creek in the middle of Mount Pleasant the only problem I had with the place was the fact that I couldn't stay the entire day there drinking beers and listening to the music. Remember, I had to drive back home and the last thing I wanted to do was crash my car on Interstate-26 in the middle of nowhere.

I ordered the Fried Grouper sandwich and chips. All I can say is that was the best sandwich I can ever remember. During these all too brief escapes, I usually just hit some fast food place but someone at work suggested I might like Red's Ice House. If in the area I highly recommend it both for its easy, laid back atmosphere and the great food.