TEAOTK*: Visits To A Teensy Planet

* Things Every Adult Ought To Know, No. 1

Welcome to the first of — it is to be hoped — many. This one will provide few answers but many questions. And isn’t that what science is all about?

They’re Here! They’re Here!

Every ten or so years for the past three quarters of a century, Americans go UFO crazy.

Just after the end of World War II, and extending into the early 1950s, people in our Holy Land started seeing UFOs all over the place. Then, in the mid ’60s and on into the ’70s, after a lull in sightings, people became all agog over alien visitations again. UFO mania hit rock bottom in the ’80s and ’90s and then on into the 21st Century when people were too busy playing the stock market or worrying about when the Muslim War on the West * would explode. [ * Speaking of manias. ]

1st Question: Do You Believe In UFOs?

Well, do ya, punk? As for me, the answer is, Yes, of course I believe in UFOs! No one in good conscience and/or operating under the simple rules of grammar and logic can deny the existence of UFOs. They are things some people occasionally see in the sky that they cannot in any way, y’know, identify.

Now, if what you really mean is Do you believe this planet is being visited by intelligent beings from some other planet and they have been flying around for decades, watching us do whatever it is they think we’re doing?, my answer would be somewhat different. Is it possible alien spaceships are careening through our blue skies? Sure. It’s possible. Anything’s possible. But is it probable? Now things get a little sticky.

Perhaps one of the reasons many people are eager to believe UFOs are actually alien spaceships is their knowledge that even we, humans, the otherwise lunkheads who cannot save ourselves from climate change immolation or racial bigotry or jaw-dropping wealth inequalities, have already, in the last 64 years * sent rocket ships and odd-looking machines into orbit around the Earth; to the moon, Mars, and Venus; on a grand tour of the solar system, and even into the fiery Sun.

[ * The USSR launched Sputnik into Earth orbit on October 4, 1957. It was the first human-made gadget ever to partially escape the bonds of this planet’s gravity. Sputnik, nearly two feet in diameter, was a shiny hollow metal ball with four radio antennae attached to it. Frankly, it looked cool as hell but, natch, it scared the bejesus out of America because many of us alive and aware at the time figured the godless commies were fixin’ to either drop hydrogen bombs on us from orbit or at least keep an eye on everything we do down here. Sputnik 1 stayed in orbit for precisely three months; it burned up in the atmosphere on January 4, 1958. The launch of that first Sputnik (Russian for satellite — clearly the Russkies’ guys in charge of naming the thing were not spiritual descendants of Tolstoy or Chekhov) signaled the beginning of the Space Race. ]

The idea being, hell, if we can do it, surely others in this big, wide universe can send contraptions our way, right?

The problem is, our space travels thus far have been embarrassingly modest in scope and distance. We’ve not yet come anywhere near traveling to inhabited cosmic locales. Some researchers suspect Mars or Saturn’s moon Enceladus may now or at some time in the past have harbored primitive, microscopic life, but it’s a good bet those little critters — if they exist — aren’t running around telling each other about visitors from another planet.

The farthest one of our spacecraft has flown is Voyager 1, launched in September, 1977,  to go poking around the outer reaches of the Solar System. As of May 31st this year, it is still flying outward from us and the Sun, still receiving and transmitting messages, and is a little bit more than 14 billion miles away from our star. Now 14 billion miles seems like a fairly ambitious trek but, in the scheme of things, it’s next to nothing.

Distance

It’s taken Voyager 1 some 47 years to get that far out. But, as I say, “that far out” ain’t squat. The space probe still is within the boundaries of the Solar System. Even at 14 B miles out, it’s not but a third of the way to the currently known edge of the Solar System, a boundary known as the Kuiper Cliff. The farthest extent of the Kuiper Belt, the eponymous Cliff is that the place beyond which no objects circling the Sun have yet been identified. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, only that we can’t see them. So the Solar System just might extend out much farther than the 47 billion-mile circumference of the Kuiper Cliff.

That means we haven’t even left home yet, really.

So, assuming no intelligent creatures live in our Solar System (and there’s debate over the question of whether we humans are intelligent creatures, to be honest) we’ll have to look to the stars for civilizations that might be advanced enough to take an extended weekend trip to this tiny rock.

The nearest star to our Solar System is called Proxima Centauri. It is four and a quarter light years away. That’s almost 25 trillion miles. Trillion, babies. Twenty five thousand billion. It’d take Voyager 1, were it so aimed, nearly 84,000 years to get to Proximi Centauri at its current rate of speed. To give you an idea of how long that is, consider that humanity, 84,000 years ago, had not yet achieved its Great Leap Forward, in which it learned to bury its dead, make clothing from animals skins, or even draw those animal figures in the Lascaux caves in southwest France. In other words, humans have evolved to a spectacularly dramatic extent in that time. How might our species evolve over the next 84,000 years. We’d certainly be unrecognizable to our contemporary selves, no?

Anyway, let’s assume that putative intelligent civilization on a planet circling Proxima Centauri has developed a propulsion system allowing its space probes to travel much faster than Voyager 1. There are a couple of problems with getting spaceships up to interstellar speeds. One is fuel. You can’t use coal or gasoline to achieve those speeds, of course, and even our most advanced liquid rocket fuels — subcooled liquid oxygen and kerosene in Space X’s Falcon Heavy — can only produce speeds of 25,000 miles per hour. And the Heavy must carry 430 tons of the stuff to get it into orbit around the Earth. Multiply that on the fingers of both hands plus those of several of your friends to get a rocket free of the Earth’s gravitational bonds. That’s heavy (you’ll pardon the pun) and a problem our Proxima Centauri folks’d have had to overcome so many, may, many, many, many years ago.

Time

Let’s assume the Proxima Centauri-ites have developed the Mother of All Rockets, capable of propelling a probe at speeds far beyond what we, simple humans, have thus far conjured. How fast would it go?

Faster, Faster, Faster!

Well, you’d like it to travel at some significant fraction of the speed of light, right? Oops. There’s another problem. The speed of light is the universe’s…, well, speed limit. No complex piece of material can travel faster than that. In fact any material that even approaches that speed limit soon begins to transform itself into pure energy. Meaning some super-advanced Toyota Prius whose makers might hope for it to go, say, 90 percent the speed of light, would soon become just another part of the electromagnetic spectrum, rather than a readily identifiable coupé. That’d play havoc with the comfort of its occupants.

Not only that, the energy needed to accelerate a nice-sized piece of machinery to any significant fraction of the speed of light approaches infinity the nearer it gets to that speed. It takes scads and gobs of energy simply to get a subatomic particle within a fraction of the speed of light at places like CERN’s Large Hadron Collider or Fermilab’s Tevatron, so much so that when the operators of those devices turn them on, people in surrounding areas see their light dim. Imagine the power needs of our souped-up Prius.

You Need A Machine This Big To Accelerate A Proton.

So, we’ll have to say it’d take those Proxima Centauri explorers at the very least many thousands of years to get to us, during which time, they’ll not only have evolved through countless generations but they’ll have had to eat, defecate, bathe, read, have sex, clean out their rocket’s closets, and all the other things intelligent creatures must do. I’d guess after some tens of thousands of years, interstellar space travelers probably would have forgotten why in the hell they headed this way in the first place.

Then again, they might have sent un-crewed space probes to visit us. That’s a possibility. The problem there is powering the thing. The Proxima Centauri-ites’d have to have come up with a power source to keep the turn signals and navigation system on in the thing, no mean feat. Any civilization that comes up with a battery that lasts tens of thousands of years is advanced indeed.

Say they did send an un-crewed craft to fly around our skies. Fair enough; as I say it could be possible. The thing is, people these days are seeing not one, not a couple, not several, not even ten, but dozens and hundreds of UFOs that, they think, must most assuredly be alien spaceships. All those problems associated with getting one craft here from another star’s planet must be multiplied accordingly to get those hundreds here.

Why?

Guns are displayed at Dragonman’s, an arms seller east of Colorado Springs, Colo.

Come to think of it, why is the Earth so special that another civilization must labor so spectacularly to get here? And why must that civilization’s scientists keep its probes circling the Earth for years and years and years only to learn that we obsessively watch TV, hate each other over our external colors, spend our treasure on devices that kill each other, and amuse ourselves by listening to Kanye West and Harry Styles?

Were I a Proxima Centuari-ite, I’d say Earthlings are a dreadful bore when they’re not downright dangerously weird. Let’s go someplace else.

Conclusion

I’ll say it again, it’s entirely possible some wildly advanced alien civilization has visited the Earth or is in the process of gallivanting around in our atmosphere. I doubt, though, if it’s true, that we’d even be able to recognize their arrival. The difficulties in interstellar travel are so many that we can’t even comprehend what such successful travelers between the stars might look like. They wouldn’t be traveling in souped-up Priuses or even customized Falcon Heavy rockets.

I can’t see the dark blobs on photographs and videotape taken by Air Force pilots being the preferred method of interstellar space exploration for a group of beings that has somehow outpaced human intellectual development by a factor of thousands.

Again, there are UFOs, to be sure. And again, we have no idea what in the holy hell they are.

 

Tagged , , , , ,

Hot Air: What Does a Pencil Look Like?

A Different Direction

Join me in something new here.

For the last year or more, I’ve been averaging only a post a month on this global communications colossus. When I started The Electron Pencil back in 2012 and running through 2019 or so, I was striving — and mostly succeeding — in putting up a post a day herein. For the last couple of years of that run, I wrote about the 45th President of the United States more than any other topic. Much more. The truth is, what in the hell else was there to write about starting in the summer of 2016? What had once been a Simpsons cartoon joke had become — improbably, alarmingly, disturbingly — serious business. The joke was on us.

Funny-Not Funny.

So, as I say, I wrote, angrily for the most part, about President Gag. And, truth be told, it eventually became a millstone. Thinking and writing about Trump, that is. By ’19, I was sick to death of him and the country that had elected him on a technicality. Next thing I knew, i was going weeks at a time without putting up a Pencil post.

Even though this Holy Land has had a new president for some five months now, I’ve not yet got back into the groove of posting regularly, much less daily. And for that period of time I’ve been wondering what to do with this tool I have at my fingertips and that I pay for, I might add. I subscribe to the WordPress Business package, an option that allows me to put up podcasts and get all sorts of analytics and bells and whistles that the WP free basic package lacks. I pondered long and hard about simply going back to basic and saving the yearly premium subscription fee. Hell, I even tossed around the idea of closing down this shop altogether, but I abhor that option most of all.

Back at the beginning (the year 1 AP, or Anno Penicillum * ) I did a lot of local news coverage and opinionating here, another thing I lost pretty much all my ardor for as Bloomington, like the rest of the country, became a soap opera of antagonists snarling at each other, righteous brothers- and sisters-in-arms convinced everyone on the other side of even the most innocuous issue was in league with Satan, or at least an aspiring child pornographer. I eventually lost any desire to continue wading into the cesspool of local news and issues as well.

[ * Some sources have the word penicillum as the Latin translation for the American English pencil. Those sources go on to assert the Latin word actually meant small penis back in the days of Cicero and Augustus Caesar. I suppose I get the connection, pencils and penises sort of resemble each other — emphasis on sort of. Once I learned this, though, I was hooked. Yep, I’m definitely denoting each year of the Pencil era as an Anno Penicillum.]

Bill Bryson

In any case, I’ve considered any number of different ways I could go with this blog and website. The one, though, that keeps popping back into mind has to do with science. Loyal Pencillistas know I’m a voracious reader. I purchase books the way some people buy cars or wine or Hummels. That is, obsessively. At the Book Corner, where I still work a few hours each week, when people ask me what I like to read, I tell them history and science. Hell, my favorite living author is Bill Bryson, who writes about both topics (as well as language and travel).

So, yeah, science. I love science. Or shall I say sciences? Every single one of them. Astronomy, particle physics, engineering, medicine, biology, geology, archeology, anthropology, mathematics. Name a hard science and I’m in on it, as much as an unlettered layperson can be. The soft sciences — psychology, sociology, and political science — you can keep. I mean, I’ll converse with anybody about those topics; for pity’s sake, I’ll converse with anybody about anything. But I’m fairly averse to accumulating books on those subjects and I take the pronouncements emanating from mavens in those soft sciences with a grain of salt. But the sciences that traffic in testable, demonstrable, observable principles? Friends, count me in.

Ergo (don’t you just love Latin?), I want to turn this Pencil thing into a fun science reader. Sure, why not? The idea being in each post I’ll ruminate * on a specific science or topic, illuminating it with a light, hopefully witty, touch. Let’s look at it as a digest of Things Every Adult Ought to Know. Every adult and a goodly number of exceptional kids, too.

[ * Most dictionaries define ruminating as 1) thinking deeply about a subject and 2) chewing cud. Don’t you just love American English?]

What’s She Thinking About?

Don’t you agree there is a floor-level of knowledge the grown-up human beings of the 21st Century ought to possess? We don’t necessarily have to be on intimate terms with quantum electrodynamics (the daddy-o of which, Richard Feynman, once famously said

Richard Feynman

anyone who purports to truly understand that particular science simply doesn’t) but, dang mang, we should by all rights know the difference between tensile, torque, shear, and compressive strength (we’d like to feel safe and secure when driving across big, high bridges) or what the four macronutrients are for human beings (water, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins). We don’t need to be PhD candidates in any of these sciences but, golly, we’d better know a little something about all of them.

For that matter, each and every one of us should know who Rosalind Franklin, Cecilia Payne, and Loney Clinton Gordon were. BTW: I’m not linking to their names here because I want to do future posts on each of them and more.

I’m going to start up this new Pencil push sometime within the next few days. If you dig it, keep coming back. If not, there are plenty of other ways for you to occupy your time in this world. Speaking of the world, did you know a University of Texas researcher determined that if everybody alive on Earth today hoped to enjoy a lifestyle similar to the average American, we’d need the resources of ten planet Earths.

See what I mean? That’s the kind of thing I’ll traffic in when this new Things-Every-Adult-Ought-to-Know phase of the Pencil kicks off.

See you soon.

Does This Look Like a Bunch of Penises to You?

Jim Manion, Raw

A few years ago, perhaps 2018, give a take a year, I was sitting in the reception area at WFHB waiting for my Big Talk guest to show up for recording that day when the station’s music director, Jim Manion, strolled in. He carefully noted that we were alone and proceeded to confide a secret. He was thinking of retiring, he told me. No one was to know.

To that end, Manion added, he wondered if I’d consider interviewing him on Big Talk when the time came and after he’d made his announcement. Well sure, I replied. Heck, Manion’s one of founding members of the WFHB family. He was in at the very beginning, ab ovo as it were, when a crew of young dreamers came up with the bright idea to start a community radio station here in Bloomington, Indiana.

People like Brian Kearney and Jeffrey Morris and others were excited to start an FM station that’d add the the tiny but growing list of other such radio outlets, supported by listeners, without commercials, and playing something more — a whole hell of a lot more — than the two-minute, 30-second bubble gum pop hits the Top 40 stations had been airing throughout the 1950s and ’60s. “There was a real creative renaissance going on at the time,” Manion has been quoted as saying regarding the FM radio revolution of the late 1960s and early ’70s. That crew formed a nonprofit organization in the mid-’70s and started the byzantine application process for an FCC license. It’d take them nearly 20 years to get approved and go on the air.

That’s Manion, 3rd from the right, with (gasp) dark hair, in WFHB’s early days.

When WFHB went on the air in December 1992 for a test run and in January 1993 for real, the station’s headquarters and studio were crammed into a tiny cinderblock shack underneath the WFHB broadcast tower off Rockport Road southwest of the city proper. It’d be another year before the station found a proper home in the city’s old firehouse behind what is now known as the Waldron Center. Ergo our corporate moniker, Firehouse Broadcasting.

I could have rubbed my hands together in greedy glee at the thought of steering Manion through the history of WFHB as well as his own colorful life. Manion reminded me the day was years off before he retreated into his grotto-like office. I never forgot about his proposal but, as the years passed, the idea became more and more just that — an idea, a wisp, a dream. Retirement, for me and my contemporaries, remained a distance prospect, something we knew was to come, but, like kids, we could still pretend it was in the far future.

At our age, Manion’s and mine, the years pass as months or even weeks did when we were in our teens and twenties. Next thing I knew, earlier this spring, an email came from Manion telling me the day was at last approaching. He would retire at the end of May 2021.

It was time to set up that Big Talk he’d suggested, his valedictory.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And so we aired Part 1 of the life and times of Jim Manion and of the radio station, WFHB, a week ago, Thursday, May 20th. Today, we aired Part 2. As with all my recordings, I carefully snipped out all the ums and ahs and ers, all the coughs and belches and lip smackings, all the “Oops, did I say that? I meant to say….” misspeaks and recants. But the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced I ought to put up the raw audio of Jim’s and my conversation. It took place, via Zoom, on Wednesday, May 12th, 2021, starting at 12:30pm. Jim had to squeeze the interview in between a scheduled meeting he’d had with station general manager Jar Turner and a doctor’s appointment. I was afraid we’d be rushed but, no, Jim was voluble and expansive. We went on and on and, of course, I was able to turn the interview into a two-parter.

So, give a listen to the unedited chat. If you love WFHB, if you love Bloomington, if you love Jim Manion, you’ll love it.

Hot Air: Everybody’s Black! Everybody’s Gay!

I’m a couple of days late with this one but that’s no news — I’ve been running slow ever since this pandemic lockdown became the new norm. As, I’d imagine, have you. In any case, here’s a musing on St. Patrick’s Day, a fete about as relevant to its purported national celebrants as Columbus Day is to the Italians. Neither honoree brings untainted esteem to his respective land. Not that anybody on Earth throughout history can claim to be untainted by human foible, weakness, or outright assholiness, but, for pity’s sake, there have to be some standards. I draw the line at genocide and slavery. How about you?

Anyway, here’s Neil Steinberg, from his blog:

My sympathies to the actual Irish. Being Jewish has its downsides, true, but at least we don’t have to put up with a lot of crude expropriation of our religion (by people other than ourselves, I mean). I wouldn’t want to walk to synagogue for Yom Kippur through a crowd of rowdies swilling Manischewitz from blue and white plastic cups, wearing fake beards and rubber noses and big black foam Borsalino hats, chanting, “Re-pent! Re-pent!”

It’s the intro to a reprint of his 2015 Chicago Sun-Times column about that year’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations. I love the image of Jews getting bombed on Manischewitz and marauding down Chicago’s streets. Woody Allen would have had a field day portraying that imaginary event — that is until he self-immolated due to his own human foibles, weaknesses, and outright assholiness, emphasis on assholiness.

Steinberg’s piece brought to mind Mike Royko’s hilarious column, years ago — many, many years ago — about Mayor Richard J. Daley’s annual embrace of his Irish roots on this March slosh-fest.

Daley, the first of the two so-surnamed Windy City pharaohs, every year led Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade down State Street, wearing a green top hat, strutting with a shillelagh, and festooned with an emerald sash proclaiming him the Grand Marshall and implying he was this nation’s King of the Irish. He’d be accompanied by one or more Irish-American celebrities like Pat O’Brien. Daley never grinned more broadly than when he led those parades. It was as though all the cares of running a big city through challenging times had magically dissipated as tens of thousands of already inebriated revelers roared when he and his party passed.

I recall being amazed as a teenager, witnessing so many people half in the bag already at the parade’s 11:00am start time. Within an hour many of the sloppy, polluted, grinning parade-goers would have begun to take offense at some imaginary slight or another and the fights would start to break out. The cops usually waited until the combatants had punched themselves nearly unconscious before wading in to restore the peace at seemingly every downtown corner. Hey, the cops were no dummies; they knew fighting drunks rarely were constrained by the sight of their blue uniforms and likely would take big swings at them. Better to wait till the pugilists were on the verge of mutual kayoes before putting their own noses and chins on the line.

Royko wrote his piece in 1972, a few short years after civil rights leaders and prominent black activists and celebrities began to embrace their own roots. Prior to the late 1960s, the dominant media portrayals of blackness were either cartoonish, wide-eyed, happy-go-lucky buffoons who were likely to break out in song and dance at the drop of a hat or, less so — much less so — pomaded, hair-straightened, exaggeratedly well-behaved Negroes whose speech more resembled that of Oxford dons than actual southern emigres to the northern cities of the Rust Belt. The embrace of Black pride was refreshing to many and alarming to the vast majority of white people who’d been quite happy indeed in the knowledge, fast slipping away, that “those people” knew their place and kept to it.

By ’72, Black power and Black pride were watchwords, causing some people to swell their chests and others to run and hide in the basement. By that year, anybody with a finger in the wind was aware that the United States had become not one nation but two. In the words of of the Kerner Commission Report, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white–separate and unequal.” The report was the result of the establishment of a commission set up by President Lyndon Johnson in response to the countless riots of 1967, the “long, hot summer,” that devastated cities big and small across the country. The commission found that urban blacks had long been denied basic rights and privileges afforded to whites and so, naturally, many of those black people were boiling mad and ready to tear down whatever citadels they could.

Yet, every March 17th, Old Man Daley proclaimed all Chicagoans Irish even as a significant population of the city was hard-pressed to consider itself American. Daley liked to crow that everybody loved the hell out of each other in Chicago and our shared local roots made any divisions between us — skin color, religion, political party affiliations (no, let me amend that: Daley had little tolerance for Republicans, but I digress) — magically disappear. St. Patrick’s Day was the No. 2 holiday on Daley’s yearly calendar, second only to Election Day. Everybody in Chicago, Daley preached, came together on March 17th.

As Royko wrote 49 years ago:

Few days are as festive and joyous for all Chicagoans as St. Patrick’s Day.

Although it is an Irish observance, people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds take part because, as Mayor Daley is fond of saying:

“Everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.”

And to a visitor, that might appear to be true. In City Hall and other government offices, just about everyone wears a touch of green, whether they are Irish or something else.

The Chicago River is dyed green, and green water spurts from the fountain at Civic Center Plaza.

Regardless of what they usually serve, most restaurants add corned beef and cabbage to their menu, and some put green coloring in the beer.

But the true spirit of the day can be seen at the great parade down State St., with a green stripe painted down the center of the road.

Royko went on to write that the Mayor would lead Puerto Ricans down State Street every San Juan Batista Day. He and all his fellow marchers would wear the pava, a Puerto Rican straw hat. Restaurants would serve roast pig and boiled green bananas. Daley’s cronies would crack, “There are only two kinds of people: Puerto Ricans and those who wish they were Puerto Rican.”

Of course, Mayor Daley never led any Puerto Rican Day parades, nor were most restaurateurs even aware of the existence of Puerto Ricans in their city. But Royko, in his fertile imagination, went on. Every January 15th, he wrote, the Mayor led a parade of Black people celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday:

[A]s Mayor Daley is fond of saying:

“Everybody in Chicago is an African on Martin Luther King’d birthday.”

And to a visitor that might appear to be true. In City Hall and other government offices, just about everybody is wearing an African dashiki.

Again, that never happened.

If only.

Royko doesn’t stop. He cites Hanukkah, writing:

Although it is a Jewish observance, just about everybody else joins in, because as Mayor Daley is fond of saying:

“During Hanukkah, everybody in Chicago is a Jew.”

Finally, Royko gets to the kicker. He concludes, “When you think about it, these special days, which every ethnic group has, are one of the reasons the people of Chicago get along so well together.”

See, that’s the punchline. Because in 1972, the people of Chicago didn’t get along so well together.

And the funny/tragic thing is, the divisions between us, not only in Chicago but in the United States and the world for that matter, have only become more stark.

It makes me wonder, what if Mayor Daley I was alive today? Would he lead a parade up Broadway on Chicago’s North Side to mark Gay Pride Month? And would he proclaim, “Everybody in Chicago is gay on this day?”

Chicago’s 48th Annual Gay Pride Parade, 2017.

Even better, would he proclaim, “Everybody’s trans on this day!”

[Image: Jessica Griffin/Richard Louissant/The Philadelphia Inquirer]

Oh, well. Drink up. Let’s not kid each other: that’s the whole idea of St. Patrick’s Day anyway.

Hot Air: Enemies

I want to get this on the record as the United States marks a half million fatalities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

No, let me correct that. I need to get this on the record.

The number of American dead in the last year because of this illness is greater than all the soldiers and civilians killed when we as a nation turned against ourselves in the Civil War. The number of dead by the virus has exceeded that of the combined American fatalities of World War I, World War II, and Vietnam together.

The previous President of the United States of America criminally and morally abdicated his duty as the leader of this nation from the very onset of this health emergency. A true leader, one who thought a bit more about the welfare of his people and his country, would have said something on the order of the following as the novel coronavirus first made inroads on these shores:

We are facing an enemy. One that is as dangerous and fraught with peril as any hostile army we have ever encountered. We must come together now to conquer it.

We are a strong people, a determined people. We have faced crises and terrors time and again throughout our history. We will face this crisis and triumph.

We will sacrifice. We will suffer hardship and grief. But we will emerge united and well for having made the effort, a truly patriotic effort to eradicate the virus that has invaded our nation. We love our nation and that is why we will embark on this fight.

Join with me as I put on my mask. Join with me as I maintain recommended social distancing. Join with me as I stay indoors as much as possible. It won’t be easy. We won’t be terribly comfortable. We’ll feel hemmed in. Businesses will suffer. People will lose income. Our world will be changed.

We’ll do all these things, and we’ll do them now, because that is the best and quickest way for us to return to normal. And we will return to normal because — it bears repeating — we are a strong and determined people.

That’s what the previous President of the United States of American could have said in mid-March 2020, when the real impact of the pandemic was becoming known.

But no. Here’s the message the President of the United States of America imparted to the 335 million citizens of the nation at the time:

This virus is a hoax perpetrated by the Democrats and my other enemies to make me look bad.

That message completely ignored the danger to be faced by 335 million people. The president’s sole concern was himself. As it ever has been.

Two Scourges.

And so, a half million people are dead. The bells of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC today pealed 500 times in succession, one ring for each thousand Americans dead. Many experts say that 500,000 figure is short, that because of misdiagnosis and other factors, the real number may be closer to one million. As far as I’m concerned, half a million is plenty.

And, as far as I’m concerned, when that criminal, that immoral former President of the United States of America dies, this world will be a better place.

Hot Air: Rush to War

Rush Limbaugh is gone and that’s that. He became part of our collective consciousness about 30 years ago and that was far too long for such a verbal vandal to hold sway. And hold sway he did.

I had a friend named Terry for whom I worked back in the early- and mid-’90s. Terry idolized Rush. I spent a lot of time in Terry’s little red pickup truck as he blared WLS in Chicago carrying the man’s program in the afternoon. Every day. Every single goddamned day.

Terry and I argued like cat and dog back then. Seemingly every sentence out of Rush’s gaping face hole drove Terry to exclaim “YEEE-aaaah!” and me to scream, “You’re both fuckin’ deranged.”

Truth is, Terry and I dug the ongoing fight over Rush. Neither of us really saw him as the voice of a huge swath of the American population. To me, he was just an over-the-top, lonely voice broadcasting from some uncivilized backwoods to a few thousand equally lonely borderline sociopaths. To Terry, he was the courageous voice of righteousness whom the vast majority of Americans were ignoring.

We enjoyed our fighting over him because it seemed more a game than a cultural touchstone. Sadly for our country, that’s what Rush became. He was as important to the growth of the Tea Party, Trump, the border wall, climate change denial, misrepresenting Black Lives Matter, hatred of women, obsessive anti-Clintonism, and all the rest of the dog whistles and overt calls to idiocy he spewed for lo these many decades as any other living human being.

It can be argued he was one of the single most important people in the history of the country. As recently as last year, his radio program attracted a daily average audience of 15.5 million, a jaw-dropping number considering how much the overall radio audience has shrunk since the dawn of the internet. One of St. Ronald Reagan’s pet projects, tearing down the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, allowed radio stations all over the country to air Rush’s viewpoints without having to present opposing opinions. It was deregulation run amok and led to a dramatic growth spurt for Right Wing blowhards in all forms of media. Rush was the chief blowhard. He earned, it has been estimated, more than half a billion dollars yelling into his microphone over the years.

Melania Trump Hangs the Medal of Freedom on Rush.

A current friend of mine has said Rush became popular because he raised his middle finger to all those “politically correct” hall monitors who wanted to tell the rest of us what to do. My friend is right. Rush’s listeners detested college eggheads telling them what to think and say — as if some TA at the likes of Oberlin College held any sway over breakfast diner conversations in Topeka, Kansas. But Topekans and millions of others like them felt aggrieved, felt assaulted for chrissakes, that they had to feel guilty for calling Black people colored or woman bitches among their pals. Thanks to Rush, they were granted the imprimatur to substitute instead the N-bomb and the C-bomb.

They felt free at last. Much like a three-year-old pulling out his penis in front of the dinner guests.

More truth: Having lived in this college town, Bloomington, for a touch more than ten years now, I can attest that “political correctness” — or, as I prefer to characterize the phenomenon, orthodoxy v. heresy — is alive and well and, in fact, probably more insidious than ever. That said, Rush’s strategy of fighting it employing racism, nativism, misogyny, male idolatry, anti-intellectualism, and every other evocation of hatred and incuriousness in his sick arsenal is not so much refreshing as flat out evil. What we need is a voice that says “Fuck you, don’t condemn the whole of me because you disagree with a sliver of my perspective. I’m still in the fight with you.” Key words: “with you.”

But that brand of “good behavior” isn’t turning us into wholly self-centered, hateful, incurious, regressives. It’s just annoying and we can handle that. It was the reaction to “political correctness” that’s destroying us.

More than anything else, Rush led the charge to skew, perversely, the very nature of public discourse. Hand in hand with Newt Gingrich, aided by the former Speaker’s infamous Gingrich Memo, people who dissented from their orthodoxy no longer were opponents but satanic child molesters.

No wonder so many Dittoheads and Right Wingers armed themselves to the teeth and are itching for the coming civil war.

Tagged

Hot Air: The Game, Stop

I have a mental block when it comes to understanding much of anything to do with economics, macro-variety. Mostly it’s because I see economics as a contrived, flawed, crooked game. The whole scheme for centuries has been molded and manipulated by the haves in order to keep them that way. The entire foundation of economics is based on the unspoken philosophy that holds, Hey, we’ve got dough so that means we’re smarter people, more hard-working people, better people; if you haven’t got dough, too bad, you deserve your lot in life.

Just this past week some weird Wall Street thing went on that I’ve struggled to grasp. That is this whole GameStop phenomenon. I have long been unable to wrap my modest cerebral cortex around the very idea of short selling. I’ve tried to read explanations of it and within seconds my eyes glaze over and I start wondering if perhaps I should clip my toenails. BTW, toenail clipping is out for me for at least the next couple of months due to restrictions placed on me in the wake of my right hip replacement in late December. I am walking, though, and exercising and, slowly but surely, getting back to some modicum of normality I haven’t felt in nearly a decade. Here’s my new gadget:

I sometimes think about that long screw connecting my new plastic joint cup to my hip bone and start shuddering. The very idea that a piece of hardware store merchandise is inside me — permanently — doesn’t quite sit terribly well with me. Then I shake my head and worry about other things, like trying to persuade The Loved One to clip my toenails. (She does, happily. Bless her.)

Anyway, GameStop and short selling. I was listening to On the Media with Brooke Gladstone today. She covered it all because it is perhaps the definitive third decade of the 21st Century media story, inasmuch as the players involved used what-the-hell-ever social media to upend the market for a few days. She had a guest on, some fellow who writes about the economy, meaning I’ve never heard of him although, acc’d’g to Gladstone, he knows his stuff. She asked him the perfect First Question: What is short selling?

I’m a huge advocate of First Questions, employing them on my Big Talk weekly radio interview program on WFHB, 91.3 FM, Bloomington. First Questions are those queries about concepts and things that we all talk about regularly and confidently that we know what we’re talking about but…, well, maybe we’re not so smart about them as we’d like to fancy ourselves.

This fellow launched into a lengthy explanation of short selling, in keeping with economist-talk. Economists cannot, psychologically or biologically, explain anything in simple understandable terms. Y’know, because then it might dawn on the rest of us that the game is rigged. It’s like priests and ministers talking about god and existence. They go on and on for hours, dancing around the conclusion that, golly, we just don’t know.

Toward the end of the economist’s disquisition he said, and I paraphrase, in short selling, somebody borrows a bunch of stock from somebody else and sells it at, say, twenty bucks a pop. They’re hoping the stock’s value is tumbling so they can then turn around and buy back those shares for a ten-spot each. Then, when they return the stock to its owner, they’ve ended up making ten dollars on each share.

If I were a cartoon character, a lightbulb would have gone on over my head. Aha, I though, now I get it.

The economist continued: short selling is good for the market because it keeps certain stocks from becoming overvalued due to irrational exuberance, although why that’s important remains unclear to me. And, trust me, I wont be delving any deeper into these things because…, economics, right?

But I get it — as much as I care to get it — now. Short selling. Makes sense. And it sucks to high heaven. All I could think of was any system that rewards people for the woes and misfortunes of others is sick, probably fatally so. You, the short seller, are hoping an entire company — investors, managers, laborers, plus their families, their butchers, their mortgage holders, etc. — suffer the collapse of said biz just so you can make a few bucks betting on that failure.

My pal, the Lake County Republican, tells me capitalism ain’t perfect but it’s the best thing we’ve got. For my money, if that’s true we’re in a world of shit. I wouldn’t brag about it.

Hot Air: Homo habilis and Homicide.

The Loved One and I went out to Paynetown tonight, hoping to take advantage of the first good clear sky in a long time. Funny thing is, we’d gone out Saturday night even though it was overcast and it turned out there was an outage in the area so we were in near total darkness. There are overhead lamps here and there and security lights around the camp check-in shacks and the general store. Saturday none of them was lighted so we could have had a great sky to scan but, this being the Midwest, all we had were low stratus clouds reflecting the glows, low in the sky, of Bloomington, Bedford, and Columbus.

We didn’t entertain any hope that there’d still be an outage tonight and there wasn’t, but the sky was awfully clear and it’s dark enough at Paynetown even with the odd light on here and there to allow us to see stars all the way down to the horizon. Which, by the way, is where both Jupiter and Saturn are these days as they race toward their conjunction, the first since the year 1226, the night of December 21st. Of course, I won’t be able to see that phenomenon because I’ll be doped up in Bloomington Hospital after my total hip replacement that AM. That’s okay, seeing as how our Solar System’s two biggest gas giants have entertained me nightly (clear nightly, to be sure) since the spring.

The Andromeda Galaxy.

My goal this evening was to finally catch a glimpse of the Andromeda Galaxy, the farthest object visible to humans in the night sky. The truth is, it’s awfully hard to see the Andromeda even in these semi-rural environs. At best, the galaxy is a faint smudge near the torso of the mythical Greek princess who was chained to a rock at the seashore as punishment for her mother, Cassiopeia, bragging she was more beautiful than the Nereids. Those ancient Greeks sure dug spinning yarns inspired by the twinkling stars.

Homo habilis.

Anyway, my National Geographic Guide to the Night Sky told me Andromeda is near the zenith in December so I had to spread a blanket out and lay flat on my back in order to focus the binocs. It took me about 15 minutes but I finally spotted the galaxy and I let out a whoop that echoed through the trees. It was a discernible spiral, tinged in red.

Hell, I’ve seen a lot of things in my (gulp) nearly 65 years but the very idea that I can see a thing that’s all of 2.5 million light years from…, well, Bloomington strikes me as something akin to a miracle. What I’d spotted was actually an object as it was at the time of the appearance in central Africa of Homo habilis, “handy man,” who were the first hominids to use stone tools, mainly to carve up the critters they’d hunted. H. habilis was not human. It was at least one species removed from ours, by Homo erectus. Oh, and the Ice Ages first began about 2.5 million years ago. So that’s how long light, traveling from the Andromeda Galaxy to my eyes, took to make the trip. Light, for reference, travels at 186,000 miles per second in a vacuum. Suffice it to say it’s a long slog.

On our way back home, we caught an interview with Dolly Parton on American Routes. Man, she’s a pistol. She talked about having a crush on Johnny Cash when she met him as a teenager even though he was, she said, skinny and all drugged up. Then she recalled her first records, mainly bluegrass stuff. The host then talked about a couple of bluegrass legends, the Louvin Brothers. They’d recorded a song called “The Knoxville Girl.” It was sung from the POV of a lovesick guy who fallen for a very young beauty and he just up and killed her. The lyrics describe the killing in lurid detail. To wit:

I met a little girl in Knoxville, a town we all know well
And every Sunday evening, out in her home, I’d dwell
We went to take an evening walk about a mile from town
I picked a stick up off the ground and knocked that fair girl down
She fell down on her bended knees, for mercy she did cry
“Oh Willy dear, don’t kill me here, I’m unprepared to die”
She never spoke another word, I only beat her more
Until the ground around me within her blood did flow
I took her by her golden curls and I drug her round and around
Throwing her into the river that flows through Knoxville town
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl with the dark and rolling eyes
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl, you can never be my bride
I started back to Knoxville, got there about midnight
My mother, she was worried and woke up in a fright
Saying “dear son, what have you done to bloody your clothes so?”
I told my anxious mother I was bleeding at my nose
I called for me a candle to light myself to bed
I called for me a handkerchief to bind my aching head
Rolled and tumbled the whole night through, as troubles was for me
Like flames of hell around my bed and in my eyes could see
They carried me down to Knoxville and put me in a cell
My friends all tried to get me out but none could go my bail
I’m here to waste my life away down in this dirty old jail
Because I murdered that Knoxville girl, the girl I loved so well

The song was released on the Louvin Brothers’ 1956 album Tragic Songs of Life. It’s gloriously haunting. And, as you can see, he murdered his girlfriend for no stated reason! I actually gasped midway through the song. I thought about people who lived miles from nowhere back in the middle of the last century, before TV and the internet tied us all together. I imagined them thinking, Well, he didn’t want anybody else to have her or, Maybe she jilted him and what else could he do? I figured plenty of people would have identified with the guy. Yeesh!

We may be living in bizarre times but I don’t see contemporary songwriters penning pretty ballads about braining their girlfriends.

Altogether, a fascinating night.

Hot Air: Politics & The Quantum Kid

A Couple of Quickies

Hey, kids, you know we’re not at all out of the woods yet. Even if Texas et al‘s frivolous lawsuit before the Supreme Court fails (itself not guaranteed, BTW) the new Congress in January will vote on certification of the Electoral College result. I have a feeling that’s gonna be a hell of an alley fight.

Here’s some free (and unsolicited) advice for Kamala Harris or whomever runs for president under the Democratic Party banner in 2024.

The Loved One and I have taken dozens of Sunday drives throughout southern Indiana since the 2020 presidential campaign began. We’ve both been struck by the overwhelming number of Trump yard signs, banners, flags, and house drapings. Yeah, house drapings — these Trumpists are really into their boy.

Her Face On Every Garage And Barn?

Sometime in the summer I’d read that the Trump campaign was running short of cash, primarily because it had given away all those Trump things for free. Generally, you have to contribute at least the cost of the sign before a campaign gives you one. The idea in the story I’d read was the campaign was wacky for that kind of spending.

I’m here to tell you it was a hell of a smart strategy. Everybody in cow and corn land thought their guy was going to win in a landslide. The proliferation of the signs surely influenced a lot of voters who may have been iffy on four more years. Everybody wants to be on the side of a winner.

That said, I urge the putative Harris campaign to do the same thing. Flood the cities with Harris yard signs. Inundate the countryside with Harris flags. Anybody who wants to emblazon the name Harris anywhere on their property or body can on her dime.

It’ll seem like a grass-roots uprising. And it just might make farm and small town folk feel less sure that they can only be Republican.

Baby Steps

Ready for a healthy helping of optimistic news? Not all young people are stupid, annoying, and/or vapid. To wit: this brilliant human being, Maryam Tsegave, 17, of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, has created this wonderful video explainer about one of the pillars of our physical existence:

This is one of the basic tenets of quantum electrodynamics. Now, the parent of that arcane, inscrutable discipline, Richard Feynman, famously has said anyone who tells you they understand quantum physics doesn’t, period. Maryam, though, has come up with a metaphorical model of how quantum tunneling works. Quantum tunneling is at absolute odds with our everyday understanding of how tangible things work. The idea being on the sub-sub-sub-sub-atomic level particles can go through walls. We’ll never be able to truly understand how and why that is so. But Maryam’s tutorial allows us in a fresh, exciting way to gain a teensy tiny grasp on the phenomenon.

Just watching this thing makes me feel a bit better about humanity this morning. Just look at her eyes, the joy and energy in them, as she talks to us.

Hat tip to Maria Hamilton Abegunde for pointing this out.

Hot Air: They Had A Lot Of Fun

A guy I once knew shared something precious with me one night. He’s dead now. Lived a good long life. Within a year after I met him, his wife up and died. She hadn’t been sick; at least no one knew of any medical problems she might or might not have had. One day living a carefree, retired life; the next, being dressed and coifed at the undertaker’s.

The guy was crushed, naturally. He’d married his wife when he was in the army. A Korea vet. He never looked back. Now, whether or not the wife was altogether thrilled, lo those many years, is an unanswerable question. But she remained wed to him so one might suspect she found the situation at least tolerable.

Anyway, a few weeks after the funeral, the guy came back to the saloon where I met him. Everybody bought him drinks and hugged him or patted him on the back. The night was his. He pulled out a pile of snapshots of his wife and began showing them off to the rest of us, one by one. That is, he’d get each of us alone and share the pix. Finally, it was my turn.

By the time he got to me, he was well fortified. He could hold his liquor quite well and, that night, his capacity to process alcohol was put to the test. Let’s say his pain had been abated for the time being.

As he showed me the photos, he’d linger over this Christmas scene or that birthday or one of the kids’ graduation parties, the kid in cap and gown standing between the guy and his wife, everybody beaming. Once or twice I got the idea he might start crying. Considering we were in a bar in Kentucky where a grown man crying might be grounds for ejection, I wondered how things might play out. But he never did cry, although I’d bet his pillow was soaked later that night.

So, the pictures kept coming. We came to one that, frankly, jarred me. His wife half-sat, half-lay provocatively across their living room sofa, wearing only a negligee. Or maybe it was a teddy or a baby doll. I just tried looking each of the terms up and I still can’t tell one from the other. All I know is what she was wearing was sheer and lacy and it wasn’t some full length thing, if that’ll help you.

I think I may have actually recoiled a bit, not as if I’d seen a poisonous snake but, say, a half dozen one-ounce gold bars in his hand. It wasn’t so much frightening as…, well, odd. He noticed how disconcerted I was. “It’s alright,” he said, as if he figured I needed permission to continue looking at the photo.

What does one say in a situation like that? All I could think of was, “She was beautiful.”

The guy grinned in a way that told me for a brief moment he was happy just to remember how beautiful his wife was and how great it felt to have another guy confirm it. Guys are like that. They need reassurance from each other about such things. Don’t ask me why.

“She sure was,” the guy said. And then he fell into something of a trance, staring at the picture. I understood why, yet it remained an uncomfortable moment for me. Perhaps, I mused silently, he might better indulge in this alone.

Then, he seemed to snap out of it. He grinned again and looked me in the eye. “We had a lot of fun,” he said.

I don’t recall if there were more pictures. I was just touched by that remark. Here was a man mourning his wife. He was pushing 75, relatively vigorous but, nevertheless, a septuagenarian. You wouldn’t have mistaken him for a younger man. She was about the same age when she died. That picture of her in her negligee or nightie or whatever had been taken decades before. I’d bet that little sheer, lacy thing had sat, neatly folded, in her bottom drawer for a long, long time. Or, maybe not. Whatever, had she worn the thing the night before she died, she certainly wouldn’t have resembled the younger version of herself in the picture.

Yet, in that guy’s mind, she’d forever be a young, thirty-something beauty. His eyes were moist. I watched him hold that picture in his big, meaty, weathered hands, carefully, as if it were a fledging bird. He was thinking, remembering. He didn’t have to tell me what was going on in his head. I knew it.

Some other person might have interpreted his remark — We had a lot of fun — differently. That person might have thought it offensive or inappropriate or even an insult to his wife’s memory.

Me? I just saw a man who’d lived a good long time and was lucky enough to have found the love of his life early on, one who still looked ravishing in his eyes even though she was old as the hills. And he wasn’t at all ashamed to say so.

%d bloggers like this: