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.

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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?)

 

Should I hope for calm or cheer on the storm?

djiThe words “The Dow hit 20,000” may not mean much to you, but if you are lucky enough to have some savings invested somewhere, you probably do know that it is worth more on paper today than it was last October. And you are probably happy about that.

But does this high-rising Dow really mean that our country is on the right track? That could be a possible explanation, if it weren’t for the fact that the stock market is far too moody to behave so simply.

In my opinion, the health of stocks as a whole is a sort of aggregate thermometer of how calm the wealthiest parts of America feel. Money, big money and big institutions, appear to care little about politics and a lot about predictability. The stock market fumbled and finally did it’s housing-bubble fizzle on George Bush’s invasion-laden watch. Then it rose steadily in the midst of Obama’s alleged socialism. I think that those with a lot of money understood that life was stable then, and that there was no real socialism to be found.  Stocks floundered in the late stages of the election, hating the whole mess right along with the rest of us. They likely would have risen in relief at the election of either candidate.

moneyI don’t think Mr. Dow (actually short for an index of large companies known as the Dow Jones Industrial Average) got overly excited until Mr. Trump began to put forth his cabinet nominees. As their wealth and ties to institutionalized money became apparent, major investors began to consider that the next four years could be exceptionally good for big business.

But will they be?

I wrote a book about prescience, the ability to see into the future and understand the true likelihood that an event will or won’t occur. Constructing the plot of d4 forced me to spend quite a bit of time considering how such an ability could work.  What’s more, several of my characters were attempting to use their prescient skills to make money in the stock market, so I ended up learning quite a bit more about Mr. Dow Jones and all his friends, too.

crystal-ballI think the market will get very nervous if our new president’s ill-considered interactions with foreign governments raise the possibility of an international crisis of some sort. I think the market will become unhappy if the 2016 election results are tied more firmly to Russian influence, and a rocky period will follow until the matter is resolved, possibly with the president’s removal.  I think the market will level out and become bumpy if internal protests and unrest continue to grow, or if the 2018 election proves that the majority of the American people truly do want a regime change.

How likely are these events? Well, my talented and courageous character Ariel could answer that question if she were real, but alas, she is not. As her creator, I have no ability to foresee the future. My confidence that the 2016 election could not possibly turn out the way it did certifies that I should not be trusted to make predictions.

But I do have investments. Thanks to a 401K and several years with one company, I have a little account, some financial security and a personal interest in seeing the stock market happy.

And, I have a passion for social justice. I want to see my nation at peace, behaving with compassion and inclusion within our borders and outside of them. I want to see the current administration hamstrung as much as possible regarding its horrible agenda and I want to see it exit as quickly as it can.

cropped-lightening-2These two aren’t compatible interests. I could hang on to my little investments for four more years, hoping that politics goes smoothly and that I will make more money. Or I could sell everything now while the Dow is happy and then hope for the worst for our current regime. Or hedge my bets and do some of both. Oh, if I only knew how this all was going to go.

That’s why the stock market is a gamble. I don’t know what the next four years will bring and neither does anyone else. But I do know that I have to go with my principles instead of my pocketbook. I’m going sell investments and move funds to safety, and then sit back and cheer on any storm that returns America to the compassionate values that I hold dear.

The Magic of the Solstice

It’s after 9 AM and I can still see the pinks and corals of sunrise outside the window of my North Carolina home. I’m not much of a morning person, so if I see the colors of the dawn it is not by choice, except maybe in late December. That is when the physics of living on a tilted planet combines with the sheer wonder of the heavens to create the mid-morning magic of the winter solstice.

sunsetI’m told by friends who are morning people that sunrises have been happening a little later each day for awhile now, pretty much since last June in fact, and they’ve been movingly steadily southward as well. Sunsets, which I love to observe with a glass of wine in hand, have been happening earlier and moving southward too. Best of all, they both occur more slowly as the sun appears to glide to the earth at ever more of an angle, giving us dusks and dawns that go on and on.

The noon sun sits lower in the southern sky this time of year too. Shorter days combine with the increased atmosphere that the sun’s rays have to travel through to get to us to yield the cold temperatures and snow we call winter.

You already know that the further north you are the more extreme this is. In Reykjavik the winter solstice sun will rise about 11:30 in the morning and set about 3:30 in the afternoon, giving those in Iceland a four hour day. Paris will have over eight hours of solstice daylight, while the day in Mexico City will last eleven hours.

Of course, the southern hemisphere is enjoying the long days of summer right now. Morning people in Cape Town will get to watch a 5:30 AM sunrise on our winter solstice, and South Africans who like to watch the sunset with a glass of wine, like I do, will be doing so at 8 PM.

What about folks who live above the arctic circle? The sun set on the ten thousand or so residents of Hammerfest Norway at about noon on November 21, and it will rise again on January 21, creeping barely above the horizon for about an hour of noontime sunrise that will turn into straight into a sunset, with the light of the dusk lingering long after the sun is gone. Needless to say, the event will be greeted with celebrations.

greenlandQaanaaq Greenland has one of the longest polar nights of any town, with sunset occurring in late October and the sun first breaking back above the horizon in mid- February. The seven hundred or so residents of Qaanaaq use dogsleds to get around during the long winter night, and celebrate the return of the sun with family gatherings, songs, coffee and cakes.

What about folks who live almost on the equator? Their days do vary slightly, but no one there probably notices. The day in Quito is pretty much twelve hours long all year, give or take a few minutes, and because of the relatively high angle of the sun, the city has some of the fastest sunrises and sunsets on the planet.

You probably can tell that I’m fascinated by the seasons, just as I’m fascinated by pretty much everything else about our amazing planet. If you find such things interesting, check out a wonderful site called Time and Date where you can get a wide variety of information about observing the heavens from various places here on earth. I used the website as I wrote d4, researching the movement of the sun in both Greenland and Iceland as it affected my characters and my story.

Those of you who are sticklers for details might have noticed that the earliest sunset and latest sunrises don’t happen exactly on the solstices. The best explanation I’ve seen for this (and for much else involving the sun’s behavior) can be found in an article in The Telegraph from the UK entitled Winter solstice 2015: Everything you need to know about the shortest day of the year.

solsticeAlthough the winter and summer solstices are physical events dictated by the fact that our planet is tilted about twenty-three degrees off of the plane in which it rotates around the sun, I find both a mathematical beauty and a sense of wonder in the day. It is a point of pause, a time when motion in one direction halts, we breath, and then motion in another direction begins. It is the time when darkness has its longest reach, only to begin its retreat in a dance step that will be echoed by the light six months later.

Many religions celebrate the winter solstice outright; most others have placed a holiday involving lights somewhere around the darkest day of the year. I believe that we humans feel the significance of the day somewhere deep within, and we yearn to acknowledge it.

Finally, one might easily consider the first day the sunlight grows to be the true start of a new year. For even though the coldest temperatures and worst winter storms are yet to come, the cause for the coming spring and summer has begun.

That’s Why You Make the Trip

img_3402Cinnamon on oranges and cumin on boiled eggs. The inside of a walled city so confusing that it has spawned an entire cottage industry devoted to directing lost tourists. Surfer towns painted in hippie colors and seaside resorts caught in a 50’s time warp as they offer hospitality to a smattering of elderly Europeans.

None of this is what I expected when I came to Morocco.

This is a blog about predicting the future, and over the past few days I’ve been thinking a lot about the unexpected. Three of us have just spent some time in Marrakech, and now as we leisurely make our way to Casablanca we have three nights to spend on the road. One of us wants to simply drive and stop when we feel like it, with no research ahead of time and no plans. Us other two have agreed. For me, planner that I am, this will be a true exercise in embracing the unexpected.

img_3345The first night we land in Agadir, the vacation spot for aging Anglos. Our adventurous non-planner has become ill, so he rests while two of us walk along a boardwalk under the watchful eye of an old but festively lit Ferris Wheel. We order pizza from a Lebanese restaurant on the beach. My vegetarian version is covered in eggplant and is some of the best pizza I have ever had.  Okay, I didn’t see that coming from Morocco. Back at the hotel, I go searching for something to calm the stomach of my sick friend. The kitchen staff barely understands me, but they insist I take plain rice and “water with gas” for him at no charge. They also insist that it will help, and it does.

The next day we move north along the coast, sticking to the small roads that keep us in view of the sea. The surfer town where we stop for lunch has people wearing clothes that fully expose their limbs. Something deep within me wants to stay longer in this part of Morocco, and live on the beach in a tent while I write deep brooding novels that I’m already sure will far exceed anything I’ve written yet. Okay, maybe someday I’ll come back and do that.

img_3371We’ve been advised to be off of the roads by nightfall, but as sunset approaches we are nowhere near a sizable enough town to have obvious lodging for strangers. Luckily one of us speaks some French, the second language of Morocco, and he is able to talk to a young man in the street who sends us to the town’s only open restaurant which also serves as an auberge. I didn’t know what an auberge was, but it turns out that this fairly common form of lodging is somewhere between a B&B and a hostel.

The young Moroccan working at the auberge is quick to offer us local beers. Fresh fish is a possibility for dinner, but when he has trouble communicating the kinds of fish that are available he simply brings me a bucket of everything that has been caught that day and asks me to pick one. Turns out I don’t know a sea bass from a grouper, so I point and hope for the best. We dine gazing at miles of desolate beautiful coastline with a sunset behind the mixture of cliffs and beaches that could fill dozens of different postcards and no two would look alike. My travel companions are generous and let me end up with the room that literally hangs out over the ocean, and I have one of my most memorable nights ever as I sleep to the sound of the sea.

img_3453Our last day takes us north into the greener, more populated and more industrial part of the coast. This time we turn to Lonely Planet for lodging ideas, and at sunset we find ourselves in a traditional Riad inside the town’s walled city but overlooking the lovely Oum Er-Rbia river (which translates as‎ “the mother of springtime”). I get the small bedroom with my own flower-covered terrace and consider what this sort of privacy and beauty would cost me for one night in the United States. I don’t think I could afford it.

I don’t often eat meat, especially when traveling, but for my last night in Morocco I opt for the adventure of a beef tagine, where the meat is steamed in a special clay pot to make it particularly tender. I’m hoping for couscous and vegetables with it and my French speaking fellow traveler tries to find out what else my tagine includes. He finally gives up. “I don’t know what they’re saying. It keeps sounding like prunes and that can’t be right.”

But it is.  I get the most tender beef brisket imaginable served with a mess of very tender stewed prunes on top. It’s delicious. Who would have guessed?

img_3431The next morning I get a final surprise as we try to do a little last minute shopping. We didn’t consider that the market in this town would not be like the markets of Marrakech but rather be a place where men and women buy small treats and cheap plastic items much like they would on a Saturday morning back home at Wal-Mart. Yes, there are more motor bikes than cars, more women wearing scarves loosely over their heads than not, and there is more fresh-picked produce and whole carcasses of animals than I am used to seeing ay my local supersaver, but otherwise this could be the small city I live near now or the Kansas town where I grew up.

Why in the world would you want to go to Morocco? I did get asked that question, and I understood it because I had heard about the pushy sales techniques in the markets and the difficulties for a female traveler in a Muslim country.

img_3363But I went to taste the fig jam and the mint tea. I went to discover the things I didn’t know, like how you can see a dozen or more goats in a tree, chomping on the argan fruits.  I went to see the amazing graffiti painted on the crumbling ruins along the coast, even if I didn’t know that was why I was going.

I went because I didn’t know what I would find.

(For more about my trip to Morocco see  Happy International Day of Peace Lahcen and NajetI see ghosts, It’s an angry world in some places and My Way on my other blogs.)

Is it over yet?

I admit it. At least once a day now I type “election news” into my search engine and hold my breath. I can’t help myself; it’s a little like not averting my eyes from a traffic accident as I pass by. Now what, I mutter as I clench my muscles while the headlines roll in.

stressedImagine my stressed-out surprise today when the second news item was about how much stress this election is causing us all. Yes, according to ABC News nearly half ( 46 percent) of likely voters “describe the election as a source of stress in their lives, including roughly equal numbers of Clinton and Trump supporters. Nearly a quarter, again among both candidates’ camps, say the stress is serious.”

Well, it looks like we finally all have one thing in common and you’ve got to love what it is. We all can’t wait for this thing to end.

Because I can’t do anything to make November 8 come any faster, I’m thinking about what I can do to try to make November 9 better. The best thing I can think of is to can say this.

Please vote.

Whatever you believe or don’t believe, no matter how much you do or don’t like the choices in front of you, we are all going to feel better on November 9 if this election has the greatest percentage of registered voter turn-out ever. We’ve all heard all sides, more times than we wish, but if many of us hide under the couch that day then we will all have to wonder if the outcome reflects the difficult choice that the majority of our people would have made if forced to choose.

Yes, many of us aren’t going to be completely happy about everything. That doesn’t mean we should not weigh in on the real choices before us. And yes, roughly half of us are going to have to work hard to understand what in the world the other half was thinking. I remain hopeful that everyone, myself included, is capable of making that important effort and moving forward.

Florence and the MachineWhile dealing with my own stress, I’m also in the process of looking at the last song referred to in each of my books. This sort of thing keeps me entertained. Because d4 is in part a book about working for the greater good, and finding the balance between that and ones own desires, my hero Ariel goes through much as she struggles to do what is right. As it all comes together in the end, I have her listening to one of my favorite songs, Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days are Over”.

But because everything takes me back to politics these days, playing the video that I link to in the electronic version of the book makes me think hard about this particular election. If you haven’t heard the song in awhile, check out this from the 2009 British musical event called “T4 on the Beach. ” It does a wonderful job of showcasing lead singer Florence Welch, a nice job of capturing the crowd and even a decent job a making you feel like you are on the beach outside of Somerset, England. And in spite of all of its Brexit issues, right now England seems like a relatively peaceful place to be.

Because “Dog Days are Over” makes my personal list of top ten favorite songs ever, I smiled the entire time I wrote the scene of Ariel’s rescue and the comfort provided to her by this music. Enjoy a short except below, and then, don’t forget to vote. The dog days will be over soon.

(From Chapter 28) Ariel thought that the beautiful small Icelandic town of Seyðisfjörður would now always be one of her favorite places on Earth. As Toby’s rented speedboat made its way to the barren, snow covered docks in the deepening afternoon twilight, the many wooden buildings stood out in the remaining light, beaconing with the offer of comfort.

It had been difficult to hear each other as Toby used the expertise he had gained from years at sea to speed them safely back to Iceland, so talk on the trip back to shore had been minimal. Rather, Mikkel had gently placed earbuds in her cold ears, and then put his own dry, warm hat over her head while he played a song for her. It was Florence and the Machine singing their anthem of happiness “Dog Days are Over.” The message that her ordeal had finally ended sunk in as she enjoyed the music. Fatigue and emotion took over, and she let herself cry in relief.

Rooms were available at the small hotel in town. Better yet, there was a liquor store, and—bless these fine people—it was open too. The thoroughly chilled, damp foursome received food and care, and warm, dry clothes all around. Thankfully, they were asked remarkably few questions about why they had needed to rent a boat this time of year in the first place, or why two people had left the harbor in the morning and four people had returned before nightfall.

 (For other oblique election commentary see my posts Everything is Going to Be Alright,  Our brand is crisis?, and We need to talk about this, just maybe not so much)

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,)