When in doubt ….

Today is September 26 and, let me tell you, it is one hell of day.

On various September 26’s, the world almost ended, and I changed the course my life. Probably a lot more has happened on this date, but those two are enough for me.

On Sept. 26, 1983, Soviet computers reported the launch of five Minuteman missiles, according to the New York Times. There were only minutes to counterattack before they would strike Soviet cities. The man who was in charge that day was skeptical, partly because the attack seemed too small. So he alerted his superiors to a false alarm. He later recalled it as a 50-50 decision.

He had made the right choice.  It would be discovered that a Soviet satellite had misinterpreted the sun’s reflection off clouds.

Thirty-six years ago today I agreed to be the life partner of the man I loved. I did know that I loved him, however I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to be anybody’s partner for life.

We’re about to go celebrate thirty-six years together with an evening of exploring Asheville.

I also just sent my latest book off to editor Joel. This scene of Ariel playing solitaire is stuck in my mind today.

She started the game, doing the obvious things first then moving on. Okay, now put the red five on the black six. Wait, which red five? They were identical choices. She went down one path. Not so good. Try the other five. Much better. She’d win going that way.

Geez, this game is like my life with premories, she thought. One choice is insignificant and another makes all the difference and you can’t tell the two kinds apart. And, you can’t tell which choice will yield a good outcome for you because it’s not always about good decision making. Sometimes it really is random.

Yup, sometimes there is no choice that is clearly right, at least at that moment in time..

September 26 makes me think that when all else is equal, choose the long term. Choose the truth.  Choose mercy. Choose the greater good. And choose love.

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Replacing me with …

One of the problems with travel is that you get your world news in incomplete flashes, and what you hear isn’t always entirely accurate. The nonsense with white supremacists protesting the removal of confederate statues started a day or two before I left on a trip to the other side of the world. I remember thinking “what are those people thinking?”

Then I caught a news blurb in an airport waiting area, and something made sense. They were carrying Nazi banners and KKK flags and chanting “You will not replace me.”  Replace them? That’s what they care about? For the first time, I got what they were afraid of.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no sympathy at all for any of these groups or their causes. But, it is a fact of life that we all will die and get replaced, sooner or later. So, these people want only those who look like them, talk like them, and act like them to be their replacements? How odd. This concept had never occurred to me.

It might have to do with my life long addiction to science fiction. I’m scared of nuclear annihilation and being replaced by cockroaches. Or by human-eating alien plants. Have you ever seen “Little Shop of Horrors?” If you’re prone to paranoia about what is going to replace you, I do not recommend it.

Me, I’m afraid of having the human race replaced by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And have you seen the latest “Planet of the Apes” movie? No matter how bad the script is, you can still worry about being replaced by sentient animals. Then of course, there are always zombies and vampires, and don’t even get me started on artificial intelligence. Am I only one in the world who took the Terminator movies seriously? Or Ex Machina?

I listened to these chanters and had to laugh at myself and at them. It’s true; deep down we are all afraid of being replaced by something else. I guess I have my biases, too. But I’ll be happy to leave this world to any size, shape and color of being, genetically engineered or not, who basically has human DNA. That’s a win for me.

Then I got on an airplane and spent the next nine days in Africa.

Now Africa is full of people, many of them wonderful, beautiful and friendly, and none of them, apparently, acceptable replacements as far as the Nazi and KKK chanters back in my homeland are concerned. It made me wonder why I travel and see more people like me and they travel and see nothing but others. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe they don’t travel.

I was reminded of a famous quote by Charles Darwin which, apparently, Charles Darwin never said. In 1963, a professor paraphrased Darwin’s thoughts, and his words morphed into the following famous statement: Evolution is won not by the strongest or the smartest but by the most adaptable. 

Yes, it is important to be adaptable. I was traveling without my laptop, so I grabbed my phone and typed all these great ideas into Notes so I could easily email it to myself after I got out of the Uber and back to wifi. Then I though about how even ten years ago I would not have been doing that. But, as individuals and as a species, we must adapt. And those chanting “I will not be replaced by you” are refusing to do that.

I got back home a few days ago and had a chance to see the same footage of the angry chanters, only this time it had subtitles. Guess what? I’d misunderstood those Nazis. They were actually chanting “I will not be replaced by Jews.”

I shuddered. Somehow the specificity of the chant made it even more creepy. It also made the chanters seem even more like the dinosaurs they are. Humans stuck in old ways, fighting for their tiny ethnic clan at the expense of all others and on a sure road to their own destruction.

We live a frightening universe, folks. Don’t believe me? Go the movies. I have, and I’m really routing for the human race to make it to the year 3017. In my humble opinion it’s not looking so good. We up our chances if we allow ourselves to evolve, pulling together and fighting for our mutual human survival.

So, I want to see some marches that matter. Signs with pictures of climate change devastation and nuclear war and diseases we cannot cure. I want to hear some chanting that makes sense. All together now. “We will not be wiped out by you. We will not be wiped out by you.”

Come on humans. We can do this.

(Read more about my trip to Kenya at Smiling my way across Kenya, Still a Sunrise?Like Eating Crab and  Happy Peace Day, Chinese Person in Tent Number 59)

 

 

 

 

Believe in Tomorrow

Wonder Woman has got me walking around with my head held high, looking for things in which I believe. Meanwhile, news commentators are on a roll, complaining that I, and those who share my politics, are not “for” anything. We, the resistance, are merely opposed to the current administration, they claim. They seem to love to say it, as though it makes them sound wise.

But I find this to be an odd and inaccurate criticism. My resistance, if you will, is based on my core values. (Well, okay, there probably is a little bit of personal dislike involved, but I swear that’s not what’s driving it.)

I’ve already done posts on my other blogs about how my beliefs in the importance of tolerance and kindness determine who I vote for and how I behave. Today, I’m thinking about the G19 and the sad embarrassment of the U.S. being the only major country to bow out of the Paris agreement. (It was supposed to be the G20, but we were the odd man out.) Where does this fit into my beliefs?

I once taught a class in ethics, and the textbook we used has shaped my outlook. It’s called “How Good People make Tough Choices” and it postulates four types of dilemmas in which reasonable, moral people might make different choices. It tries to pull out universal principals that we can all agree on and to remove discussion on matters of taste or preference. It is a wise book.

Most people have a tendency to go one direction or the other when they are confronted with ethical quandaries that fall under the same umbrella. For example, some people consider justice to be, on the whole, more important than mercy. When all else is equal, I come down firmly on the side of mercy. It is one of my core beliefs. However, all reasonable people will switch away from their default choice when the situation is clearly lopsided.

The “umbrella” that matters when it comes to climate change is called short term versus long term thinking. If you are trapped in a small space and cannot breathe, caring about the short term becomes extremely important, for everyone. When discussion planning for retirement, however, we all switch into long term mode.

Politically, it is my observation that the GOP tends more towards short term thinking, and the current administration takes this even further. Jobs today. Money today. Battles won today. And these are not bad things.

I, and those with whom I share my politics, tend to look more towards tomorrow. Funding quality education for all yields a happy and capable workforce. Universal health care yields a healthier one. Peace negotiations and developing understanding yield a region that stays at peace, ideally at least. I’m more willing to sacrifice now for a better tomorrow, in my own life and in the choices I would make for society. It is one of my core values.

We need both sorts of thinking to survive and thrive.

It seems to me that my nation’s policies have become skewed too far towards providing short term rewards, at the expense of long term gains. So, I’m fighting for more of a long term vision for everyone’s sake. It’s not about what anybody deserves. It’s all about what I believe.

(For more Wonder Woman inspired thoughts, see Top Requirement for a Superhero, Believe, It’s About What You Believe, and I believe in appreciating those who protect us. All of them.)

And that’s the way it was, June 18, 1972

I spent the summer of 1972 checking groceries, making out with my high school boyfriend, and trying my first marijuana. At the time, I needed both the money and the worldly experience because come September, I was off to study journalism in the big city of Chicago.

Image result for 1972Even though I was going to be too young to vote, I also spent that summer following politics. I’d met Nixon the previous year and felt a visceral dislike for him. I’d become increasingly opposed to the Vietnam war. I was a geeky high school debater with a lot of opinions, and less of them favored the GOP each day. Oh, and I loved spy novels.

So on June 18, when I heard about a break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters, of course I was intrigued. Over the next two years I would become enthralled by the enfolding story.

The “Cuban Freedom Fighters” responsible for the break-in would turn out to be in the employ of the Committee to Re-elect the President, as revealed by a complicated money trail. The plot would eventually involve wiretapped phones, destroyed evidence, and chap stick tubes outfitted with microphones. There would be hero reporters and secret meetings in parking garages. What was not to love about this tale?

But here’s an odd thing. While the man may have been hard for me to like, I accept the common wisdom that Richard Nixon didn’t know what his zealous campaign workers were doing. Tapes later revealed him asking his Chief of Staff “who was the asshole” who ordered the break-in. On the morning of June 18, as I was listening to the news, he wasn’t guilty of anything. Nixon became involved in the cover up as early as five days after the burglary, choosing to become a criminal as the story unfolded.

Ultimately 69 people would be indited and 48 found guilty, many of them top administration officials. And, of course, two years after the break-in, a president would resign.

Two things have stuck with me through the tumultuous forty-five years that followed.

  1.  This was the second break-in. They got away with the first one months earlier; it went fine. This second one wasn’t even all that necessary, they were trying to improve the microphones on the wiretapped phones.
  2. The one vote I would have cast for George McGovern in 1972 wouldn’t have made a bit of difference. Peacenik McGovern lost by a landslide. Incumbent Nixon barely needed a re-election committee, much less one willing to go to such lengths.

In other words, the entire piece of dramatic intrigue was unnecessary and pointless.

And the future of the United States was substantially altered by the investigation, the subsequent transfer of power and all of the repercussions that followed.

As they say, you can’t make this shit up.

And, I still wonder what the world would be like today if someone had said “Nah, let’s not risk another break-in.”

(For more segments about June days from long ago, see That’s the Way It Was June 10, 1947, June 15, 1984, June 28, 1888, and June 30, 1940.)

 

Did we just witness the dawn of America’s four party system?

One the most fascinating parts of being clairvoyant, I think, would be having a sense of when times are changing. Of course, they are always changing, but I mean the really significant stuff. You might not know it, but World War II doesn’t happen, at least not like it did, if the heir to the Austrian throne doesn’t get assassinated twenty-five years earlier in 1914. You probably don’t have your cell phone, at least not as good a one, if Russia fails to shock us with their successful launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957. And so on.

I suspect that you and I have have lived through times that changed the world in large ways, but it takes years to see the effects, especially in an age with cable news shouting about the significance of everything every minute of every day. But someone like my character Ariel would know right away, finding herself overcome with dizziness as the probabilities shifted heavily one way or another.

I don’t have any of my characters superpowers, but today, I’m going to pretend I do. I’ve got a feeling that at the end of last week we witnessed the birth of the U.S. having in essence a four party- system.

How do we get four parties? Well, the Tea Party, embodied in the Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives, has been around since 2009 and has a clearly articulated platform that is often but not always at odds with mainstream Republicans. It’s connected loosely to the already-established Libertarian party, but differs with many Libertarians on social issues. At it’s worst, this group wants almost no government, except for that needed to enforce it’s socially conservative legislation. The group is not known for it’s tolerance or its compassion. At it’s best, the tea party calls for fiscal responsibility and fights for everyone’s right to privacy and self-reliance. The Tea Party has shown that is can work with moderate Republicans when it has to, and with Populists when it must. In truth, though, this group would rather not work with anybody, and it truly dislikes the progressive agenda.

Moderates used to come in two flavors, Republican and Democrat. Today both are feeling endangered, and I’m going predict that they eventually join forces. This group best represents the establishment, as they are not in favor of anybody’s extremes. As such, at their worst they support adding more wealth to the wealthy, and keeping power right where it is. At their best, they support stability, cooperation and a stable economy, at least for many, and they do have a core belief in tolerance of others. This group can find common ground with the Tea Party, and with Progressives, but is just put off by the populist movement.

Progressives have long been around as the left wing of the Democrats; they became more visible with the growth Green Party in 2000 and gained a strong voice with Bernie Sanders in 2016. At their worst they are painted as radicals and socialists, representing too much government spending and control. At their best, they are the party most willing to help the average person, which gives them overlap with the populist movement. They are the most tolerant of all the groups, giving them common ground with moderates, and they are the most anxious for positive change, making them the most popular with our youngest voters. They hold a deep dislike of the Tea Party.

Finally,  there are the Populists. This group was largely disregarded until Donald Trump gave them a voice in 2016, but I do not think they are force that will go away anytime soon. They tend towards being socially conservative, and are not known for their tolerance of anyone outside of their own group, giving them some common ground with the Tea Party on social issues. However, many of them favor a strong social safety net and policies that will benefit the working class over the rich, giving them some room to work with progressives on financial policies. The group they really dislike is the moderates of the status quo.

What do you think? How am doing at predicting the near future of politics?  It’s been a fun exercise, and I’m already speculating about what sort of legislation might get passed by different coalitions. Time will tell if I’m anywhere near correct.

Solitaire and Nuclear War

10371641_sMy new goal is to be a butterfly. Not in the I’ve just metamorphosed from a caterpillar sense, although I think that’s a nice idea, too, but more in the a-butterfly-flaps-its-wings-in-North-Carolina-and-then-the-world-changes for the better kind of way.

Yes, one reason is that I do feel small and powerless these days, like I’m no match for the storms around me. And part of it is that I am more concerned about man-made catastrophes than I’ve ever been in my adult life. But much of it, really, is that I’ve been playing a lot of solitaire lately.

3I had no idea that is was such a fascinating game. My favorite part of it is how one little decision, like whether to put this king at the top of the stack instead of that one, can make all the difference as to whether you win or lose even though both moves were equally logical based on what you knew at the time. But, thanks to the fact that I play on a computer with an unlimited “Undo Move” feature, I’ve played many of my games two, four, or even eight different ways. I’m fascinated by how one series of more or less reasonable decisions yields a totally different outcome than another. And the problem is that while you are making the choices, you have no idea that you are locking in victory or disaster.

And  then there’s what happens if you make a couple of stupid decisions, or outright mistakes, mixed in with a fair number of those okay choices.

I’m thinking about how wars start and how peace is made, how markets crash or don’t, how criminal activity succeeds or is uncovered, and how alliances are forged or broken. How many if-that-little-thing-hadn’t-happened components are there to any major world event? I’m thinking there are a lot of them, most of which we never know.

5We are all basically playing solitaire, aren’t we? We get up every day and do the best we can trying not to make a mistake while hoping that our random choices don’t paint us into some corner where we find ourselves saying if only …..

Because we all know that life doesn’t have an “Undo Move” button, and it probably should.

(For more thoughts on Solitaire and life, see Mindless entertainment?)

 

And That’s Why They Play the Game

red-soxWe are traveling during the final games of the regular baseball season, and it’s causing my husband a great deal of hardship. His beloved Red Sox have been on fire, winning eleven games in a row, and he has had to content himself with replays seen on my computer and games viewed on a small screen in the middle of the night. Worse yet, no one here in Europe cares.

So it has fallen to me, as a good travel companion, to listen each morning to the endless remaining permutations of possibilities for Red Sox success. Over one breakfast, Boston had at least secured a wildcard slot. By another, they had to lose every single remaining game to not win their division. Various future scenarios offer home field advantages, and each loss by other successful teams in the division changes the formula. The configuration even left him temporarily rooting for the hated Yankees this weekend as they played a team close on Boston’s heels.

I don’t really care about baseball, but I do care about him, so I try to pay attention while he speaks. Still, my mind wanders.

riverWe’ve been on the road nearly two weeks now and in a macro sense the vacation has gone as planned.  You know, we’ve shown up where we were supposed to be, when we were supposed to be there. No glitches. But that’s sort of like the Red Sox showing up to play their games, isn’t it? Yes, being there is essential, but it is the other stuff that makes it interesting.

Who could have predicted that the Douro Valley would be such a frustrating place to drive that we would be content to make several dinners out of our breakfast leftovers rather than brave the roads? Who could have guessed that a full moon rising over the Portuguese countryside would inspire us so much with its beauty?

One might have guessed that the GPS would get us into trouble, but who would have thought we’d manage to high center our rental car so thoroughly on a tiny mountain road that it would have to picked up by hand and moved? I certainly didn’t see that one coming.

p-seaNor did I imagine the twenty or so whales we got to watch playing in the late afternoon sunlight of a boat tour, or the wonderful custard-filled tarts that are everywhere. I didn’t know that hot coffee in a big cup would be quite that impossible to find or that a single difficult-to-use espresso machine could frustrate so many half-awake people at once. Why is the air circulation here so bad? Why is the bread here so good?

The original idea for my novel d4, outlined many years ago, was that everyone at some point in the future develops prescience, and they all know what tomorrow will bring, as well as the next year and the next decade. Every human understands how they will die, and when. My overall thesis was that this society would be sad and bored.

My feelings about predestination and freewill have changed a lot in the decades since I thought this one up, and I like to think that my story telling abilities have improved also. I recognize now that such a tale would be hard to tell well and I like the array of my partially prescient characters in d4 much better. But the original story idea has me thinking.

roadIn an hour or so, Boston is going to play New York, and they might clinch the title in their division. Computer models have them likely to win by three points, and odds makers are favoring Boston heavily. You don’t have to be a sports fan to recognize that in spite of this, the Red Sox might well lose tonight. Because of that, my husband can’t wait to watch the game.

And a year from now, the things I will remember most about this trip will be all the wonderful and the difficult things that surprised me. They will be what made the trip interesting. Tonight, I’m thinking about how we don’t show up just to be somewhere. We show up to find out what happens once we arrive.

(For more vacation-inspired epiphanies see Our Brand is Crisis on my z2 blog, Happy International Day of Peace, Alberto and Maria on my x0 blog, and The Moon Rises on my c3 blog,)