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Backsliding

Last week, a prestigious think tank in Sweden issued its annual list of “democracies in decline.” For the first time, the United States is on the list.

Let that sink in.

The think tank, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), said the U.S. is backsliding as a democracy because it is yielding to “authoritarian tendencies.”

Specifically, the Institute cited the issue of Trump’s lie that the 2020 presidential election was rigged and stolen. That fabrication has been accepted, naturally, by the Republicans — in fact, by an overwhelming majority of them.

IDEA also cited the shocking wave of restrictive state voting laws passed by the same nefarious Republicans.

The Institute did applaud the U.S. for passing a new monthly child tax credit. It said the credit likely will cut the U.S. poverty rate in half and in 2021 will lift four million children out of poverty.

The child tax credit, mind you, was 100 percent courtesy of Biden and the Democrats. As for the Republicans — who voted against the tax credit, and who are the direct cause of our backsliding — I offer this photo in lieu of words.

For this photo, words fail me.

Pix o’ the Day

More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

Quotes o’ the Day

Being open to data, facts, and science doesn’t make you liberal, it makes you literate. It means you favor data, facts, and evidence over conspiracy theories, manufactured misinformation, and cherry-picked industry spins.

Former Senator Paul H. Douglas (D-IL)

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Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience; this is the ideal life.

Mark Twain

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Few men think, yet all will have opinions.

George Berkeley

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Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn’t mean you are wiser then when it reached only to the end of the bar.

Edward R. Murrow

Douglas

Murrow

Thoughts du Jour

Memorial

Part of my daily routine is a morning walk with my dog Jake. I need the exercise, and I know Jake approves because he dances in circles when I take his harness off the hook.

On weekends, our habit is to walk at one of the local schools; the campuses are spacious and well-maintained, no one is there, and Jake can go off-leash. Perfect.

When we walk at Jefferson Middle School, I like to visit a memorial to a former teacher that is tucked away in a grassy area behind the school.

This bench is the memorial:

And this is the plaque next to the bench:

Candace Simmons had a master’s degree in Education and spent 15 years teaching at Jefferson Middle School. She received numerous awards for being a crackerjack teacher.

Candace died of a brain aneurysm at age 40. She left behind a husband, a son, lots of relatives around North Georgia, and this memorial that I visit regularly because I find it quite moving.

Deploying the Pinky

In some circles, holding one’s little finger aloft while drinking from a glass or cup is looked upon as a polite gesture. In other circles, it’s considered snooty. Putting on airs.

Nobody knows when, where, or why the practice originated. Miss Manners said it might go back to people reacting to holding a hot tea cup.

Personally, I use my little finger in an entirely different way when holding a glass: I curve my pinky under the bottom of the glass to provide extra support. It’s a habit I acquired quickly and dramatically in college.

At lunch in the dining hall one day, I picked up a glass of iced tea and turned to place it on my tray. The glass was large, heavy, and wet, and it slipped from my grasp. It hit the tile floor and exploded in a spectacular fashion, for which the other diners gave me a hearty round of applause.

Since that day, I’ve been in the habit of placing my pinky underneath every smooth-sided, handle-less drink container I pick up. Not water bottles. Not soft drink bottles. Not beer cans. Just containers that I suspect might, just might, slip and fall.

A traumatic experience will do that to you.

Master Mule Skinner

I’ve gone on five mule trips at Grand Canyon — ridden the famous “long-eared taxis” five times. My first ride was in 1996. It was just a half-day trip to Plateau Point, not an overnighter. My mule’s name that day was Arluff.

My next four mule rides were down to Phantom Ranch, on the floor of the Canyon, where I stayed for a couple of nights. Specifically, my second ride (1997) was aboard Wags; the third (1999), Blackjack; the fourth (2005), Larry; and the fifth (2016), Twinky.

Those last four trips all took place in November and December, because in the winter months, you’re allowed to book more than one night at Phantom. In the busier months, the mule riders arrive at Phantom in the afternoon and depart at dawn the next morning. Booking in winter gives you an extra day for hiking and exploring.

FYI, being in the saddle for four or five hours is taxing. Not as strenuous as being on foot, but still not easy.

That’s because, on the downhill ride into the Canyon, you’re trying not to tumble forward over the mule’s handlebars, as it were. On the trip back uphill to the rim, you’re trying to remain in the saddle and not slide off the back of the mule. In both cases, your leg muscles get a good workout.

When a mule ride at Grand Canyon ends, the riders are presented with a certificate to mark the occasion. This certificate is from my second mule ride in 1997:

Arluff, Wags, Blackjack, Larry, and Twinky were all calm, good-tempered animals. They also were obedient, except for stopping to munch on trail-side vegetation now and then.

I’m sure the mules are not allowed to carry tourists until they can be trusted. The mules, not the tourists.

Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The highest cliff on earth is the west face of Mount Thor on Baffin Island, Canada. The face measures 4,101 feet, which is .78 miles.

● The amount of copper on the roof of the Arizona Capitol Building in Phoenix is equivalent to 4,800,000 pennies.

● A person who practices karate is known as a karateka.

● Mexican painter Frida Kahlo was born in Mexico City in 1907 in the family home, which was known as La Casa Azul (the Blue House). She lived in the house on and off for the rest of her life and died there in 1954. Per her wishes, the house was made into a museum.

● The saxophone was patented in 1846 by Antione-Joseph “Adolphe” Sax, a Belgian instrument maker. In all, Sax created 14 variations of the saxophone covering a range of sounds.

● Until the 1700s, adult rabbits were called coneys — from conil, the French word for rabbits (and also the origin of the name Coney Island).

● The only metal that is liquid at room temperature is mercury.

● The world’s smallest known snake is the Barbados thread snake, which was discovered in 2008 on its namesake island in the Caribbean. Adults are about four inches long and the thickness of a spaghetti noodle.

This Just In

ANKARA, TURKEY — A Turkish man joined a party looking for a missing person, not realizing he was the subject of the search.

Beyhan Mutlu, 51, went drinking with a friend in a forest in northwest Turkey. When he did not return home, and his wife learned he had wandered drunk into the forest, she reported him missing.

The next morning, Mutlu came across the search party and volunteered to help. When the searchers began calling his name, he realized he was the missing person.

Mutlu identified himself, but the others didn’t believe him and continued the search. Half an hour later, the party encountered Mutlu’s drinking buddy, and the search was ended.

UNIDENTIFIED CITY, GERMANY — Since June, two men have been trading cryptocurrencies based on choices made by a hamster.

The hamster, Mr. Goxx, has a specially constructed enclosure adjacent to his living quarters. When he runs on a hamster wheel, his paws highlight certain cryptocurrencies.

Also inside the “Goxx Box” are two tunnels, one marked buy and one marked sell. After Mr. Goxx makes his selections and runs through one of the tunnels, his owners send his decisions over a real trading platform.

In its first month, Goxx Capital was down 7.3 percent. But by September, the hamster’s career performance was up 19.4 percent — which is better than the NASDAQ 100, the S&P 500, Bitcoin, and Berkshire Hathaway.

TORRANCE, CALIFORNIA — A lost pet parrot was reunited briefly with his British owner, but ultimately was returned to the family the bird lived with for the four years he was missing.

Nigel, an African gray parrot with a British accent, disappeared from the home of Darren Chick and at some point was purchased by a Torrance family at a yard sale for $400. Nigel, who was called Morgan by the family, learned to speak Spanish from the Guatemalan grandparents.

Morgan flew away again and showed up at the home of a woman in a nearby town, who traced Nigel’s microchip and found the original owner.

The Torrance family saw a newspaper story about Nigel’s return and contacted Mr. Chick. When Chick saw how attached the parrot was to the family, he decided to let Nigel return to being Morgan.

Morgan can whistle the first bars of the theme from the movie The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, and he likes to imitate the beeping sounds made by the garbage truck. He also knows the names of the family’s three dogs and barks like them.

Incident on Highway 11

Not long ago, the Georgia DOT rebuilt a bridge across a creek on Georgia Highway 11 south of Jefferson, my fair city. Traffic was rerouted onto side roads for a few months, which was a pain, but the project finally was completed.

Soon after, a story appeared in the local newspaper about some unpleasantness between the DOT and a man who raises cattle on property near the bridge. The incident, I’m pleased to say, concluded in a most satisfying manner.

This is what went down…

To wrap up the project, DOT graded both banks of the creek, seeded the area, and planted several rows of saplings. The owner of the cattle immediately informed DOT that the trees they planted are poisonous to livestock, and his cattle had to be blocked from grazing — on his own property. He demanded that the trees be removed immediately.

DOT officials at the county level ignored the man, probably on grounds that no stupid farmer could tell them what to do. Whereupon, the man dug up the saplings himself and hired a lawyer.

The lawyer got an injunction that prevented DOT from replanting any trees known to be poisonous to animals, and he took DOT to court.

The court ruled that the man was lawfully protecting his animals, and DOT was blocked from filing any retaliatory charges. The court further ordered DOT to allow certified experts to choose the replacement trees to be planted in the area.

By then, state-level DOT officials had stepped in, and they complied fully. Life along Georgia Highway 11 has returned to normal.

Thought Patterns

Some of the short stories I post on this blog are well-known, some are not. Some are written by famous authors, some are not.

Online information about obscure authors is, of course, skimpy. I may uncover a few brief facts, but only a few.

For the author below, however, I struck out completely; all I found online about Wilson Parks Griffith is that this story was published in the January 1955 issue of Worlds of IF. I even found a PDF of the IF issue in question. Not a word about Griffith.

The author remains a mystery, but I like his story.

———

Double Take

By Wilson Parks Griffith
Published in Worlds of IF Science Fiction, January 1955

When the Travelers from Outer Space dug into the pile of moldering rock, they found the metal capsule their senses had told them was there. Battered and corroded though it was, the shadow vibrations showed that it had once been smooth and shiny. As smooth, shiny and impervious to wear as Twentieth Century Earth technology could make it.

At the time the Mayor of Chicago had ceremoniously tossed a handful of lake sand into the hole, had his picture taken smiling against the skyline, and had moved away to let the workmen fill the hole with cement and place the marker, the Time Capsule had been bright with the hopes of civilization sending its proud present into the uncertain future.

Time passed…

The tiny radio transmitter in the capsule began throwing out its wide signal at the exact instant planned for it many centuries before. No one heard. Eventually, the tiny powerful batteries gave out. The signal died.

Time passed…

When the Travelers from Outer Space took the capsule back to their ship and opened it, they found the contents in perfect order. Even the reel of magnetic tape had not succumbed to the centuries.

In due course, the Travelers examined the tape, divined its purpose, and constructed a machine that would play back the recording.

Out of a million evolutionary possibilities in a Universe of planets, the chances of two intelligent races being even roughly similar are astronomically remote.

A being develops sense organs for no other reason than to make it aware of its environment. The simplest primitive being’s awareness of its environment centers around food, its means of survival. It develops organs and appendages that will enable it to ferret out, obtain and ingest its food. As the food differs, so, then, does the eater.

The Travelers had no ears or eyes, as such. They had other organs for other purposes, but the net result was that they “saw” and “heard” quite as well — even better — than Earthmen.

Perhaps that explains why the Travelers gleaned so much more from the tape recording in the Twentieth Century capsule than its originators had planned or intended.

Not just any radio show could be placed in the Time Capsule. What picture of contemporary 1960 mankind would the men of the future derive from a soap opera? A news analysis? Or top comedy show? Certainly not a flattering one, and so, reasoned the brass in charge of the project, not a true one.

No, the only answer was to produce a special documentary program, painting on a broad canvas the glories that were the common man’s birthright in an enlightened democracy. As July 4th was only a month away, the idea was a natural. The program would be carried simultaneously on four networks, then placed in the Time Capsule so that historians of the future would have something solid on which to base their conclusions.

A famous poet-radio writer was hired to write the script. Hollywood’s greatest young male star donated his services (with much attendant publicity) as narrator. A self-acknowledged genius who directed radio shows for a living condescended to lend his talents to the production. Numerous other actors, musicians, technicians and assistants were hired… none well-known, but all quite competent.

July 4th, the big day, arrived. The cast went into rehearsal early in the morning. By the second complete run-through, just before the break for lunch, the show was hanging together nicely. After four hours of polishing in the afternoon, it was ready to go on the air. Everyone’s nerves were raw, but the show sounded great.

Naturally, when a room full of creative people have been rubbing against one another for a full day, a lot of emotions are generated. The listening audience never knew about it, but it took the actors, directors, musicians and technicians several days to get the session out of their systems.

During rehearsals, the young Hollywood star developed a consuming lust for one of the minor actresses. One of the minor actors developed a consuming lust for the young Hollywood star.

Everyone immediately hated the director, and he, lofty and all-wise, contemptuously hated them in return. By eight o’clock that night, show time, the splendid documentary on the splendid American people was not the only thing that was at peak pitch.

It was the only thing, however, that the radio audience heard. It was magnificent. Future students hearing the tape could not but conclude that here was the Golden Age. Man, at least American man, circa 1960, noble, humble and sincere, was carrying in his bosom the seeds of greatness.

Difficulties still existed, of course, but they were not insurmountable. A few deluded people seemed to be working against the common good, but the program left no doubt that this would be cleaned up in short order. The millennium was at hand!

When the Travelers from Outer Space, who were a team of historians doing research on the history of life throughout the Universe, listened to the tape recording, their “ears” heard none of the program as it had been originally broadcast.

They were no less fascinated, however, for what they heard was the thought patterns of the people who had been connected with the program. These thoughts, in the form of electrical impulses, were also recorded on the magnetic surface of the tape, and were the only sounds audible to the Travelers.

What a pity these future historians didn’t get mankind’s version of the life of mankind in 1960, after the producers had gone to so much trouble to tie it up in a package for them. Their conception of Earth culture was based on the thought impulses they “heard” and their History of Earth was written accordingly. The ending is worth noting:

“In the main, it is quite fortunate for life in the Universe that these primitive people destroyed themselves before they learned how to leave their planet. Lustful, murderous and guilt-ridden, they are perhaps the worst examples of intelligent life that we have ever discovered.

And yet, paradox supreme, they had one quality that we ourselves would do well to emulate. That quality we can only surmise, for nothing on the recording spoke of it, yet it is obvious, for if they hadn’t had this quality, there would have been no recording left for us at all.

“How strange that these tortured people should practise an unparalleled example of Life’s highest achievement… complete honesty with themselves and others.”

Coming Attractions

It’s truly fascinating how, in just a few decades, the political center has evaporated, and the country has divided itself into two polar opposite camps.

The left and the right. Liberals and conservatives. Or, to be more specific, those who possess a sense of empathy and compassion, and those who don’t. Those who want to use our resources for the common good, and those who don’t. Those who believe we’re all created equal, and those who don’t.

It’s as if we entered some magic portal and were examined, categorized, and separated. In one corner, the Democrats, who in large part are normal and rational. In the other corner, the Republicans, who are mean, selfish, and wrong-headed.

Although I do consider virtually all Republicans to be deplorable, I don’t see all Democrats as admirable. Democratic politicians tend to be weenies — weak, cautious, and hesitant. But, my God, compared to the conservatives of today, the lefties are angels.

The conservatives have abandoned integrity, honesty, and American democracy. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be claiming that Trump won the 2020 election, or trying to rig elections.

On every issue, conservatives invariably come down on the wrong side.

Hold that thought about villainous Republicans while I turn to another subject.

One popular category of Hollywood movies is historical films — stories based on real people and actual events. Some such films portray events accurately, while others apply a Hollywood flourish. It depends on the filmmakers, the event in question, and the available historical record.

Think of movies such as Gandhi, All the President’s Men, Schindler’s List, Apollo 13, Patton, Glory, and The Alamo.

(Re The Alamo: I’m referring to the version from 2004, not the one with John Wayne. One historian commented that Wayne’s movie didn’t have “a single scene which corresponds to a historically verifiable incident.”)

I bring up this subject to note that, sooner or later, Hollywood will begin to make movies about our time.

Films will be made depicting Donald Trump and the MAGA crowd. The Republican voter suppression tactics. The stacking of the federal courts by the GOP. The politicization of the Supreme Court by the right wing.

These movies are inevitable, people.

It’s true that a few documentaries already have been made. In 2020, Frontline took a look at the records of Biden and Trump for a PBS special. But those aren’t full-blown Hollywood historical movies.

Someday, films will document and dramatize Trump’s life as a rich, insufferable New York brat. They will follow him through his nightmare of a presidency, the 700,000+ COVID deaths, and the storming of the Capitol by white supremacist goons. The films will end with however the sorry saga of Donald Trump ultimately ends.

Some movies, I expect, will focus on Trump’s presidency, his collusion with the Russians, and his criminal mishandling of the COVID pandemic. Featured will be the MAGA morons, the anti-mask morons, the anti-vax morons, and nutjob groups such as QAnon, the Proud Boys, etc.

Plenty of screen time will go to Republican politicians who either stood with Trump or said nothing. Nor will Hollywood be able to resist bringing up Trump’s icy relationship with Melania.

A movie of two will reenact the assault of the Capitol in great detail. (Doing so won’t be difficult. Most of what happened is thoroughly documented.) The story will depict the role of Trump and many Republican politicians in planning the attack, and it will follow the actions of rioters, the police, and members of Congress.

Obligatory scenes: surging crowds of insurrectionists screaming and fighting police; members of Congress cowering inside the building; the demise of domestic terrorist Ashli Babbitt.

Trump will be presented, accurately, as an Adolph Hitler type demagogue. His followers and enablers will be likened to the Nazis of Germany in the 1930s and 40s.

One interesting feature will be the casting of actors to portray Trump, Pence, McConnell, Cruz, Bannon, etc.

How long before Hollywood starts making these movies is hard to predict. But you can be sure that not a single film will portray any conservative in a positive light.

That would be fiction.