Out of Time

This year’s Fantasy Fest theme in Key West is “Time Travel Unravels.” The FF website defines the TTU theme as “Past…future…present let your mind wander! This year’s Fantasy Fest them…takes your imagination to anywhere in the space-time continuum (STC)…. You can set your [costume] time machine to go where your whim and imagination takes you.” In other words, do whatever the frack you want. It’s nice to see this all-encompassing sentiment, even if it does come wrapped in a blatantly hyped-up sales pitch to fill our hotels and restaurants and bars and other touriented venues during the festival’s ten days. Pinterest even has a page featuring get-up ideas in the TTU vein (mostly steampunk, it seems, with an occasional Red Riding Hood or Viking tribal warrior princess outfit thrown in for spice).

The phrase “time travel unravels” might also be used to describe a temporal anomaly (TA), better known as a disruption in the STC, which would certainly fit with FF traditions. (Oddly enough, and going tangestray here, TA is also the name of a tall bearded iris, one with butterscotch standards and grape burgundy falls.) Science-fiction stories make use of TAs quite often. Witness the archetypal Ray Bradbury tale “The Sound of Thunder,” where the accidental crushing of a butterfly in the Late Cretaceous period by a chrono-adventurer completely changes the future to which the hunting party returns. (This ignores the multiverse concept, of course.) In Doctor Who, the Bureau of Temporal Anomalies existed to prevent or undo just these kinds of disaster, as did the Star Trek Department of Temporal Investigations.

What sparked this discussion, if you can call it that, was Chapter 8 in James Gleick’s book Time Travel. (Yes, I’m back to that again.) Titled “Eternity,” it begins by asking this question: “What if there were no such thing as time?” Later in the chapter he offers an answer of sorts:

Consciousness requires time, it seems. It requires being in time. When we think, we seem to think consecutively [he’s speaking for himself, obviously—in my case, not!], one thought leading to another, in timely fashion, forming memories all the while.

He then writes of Isaac Asimov’s novel End of Eternity, where technicians living “outside of time”

…try to plot out the infinite possibilities of all the might-have-beens and pick out a might-have-been that is better than what is and decide where in Time we can make a tiny little change to twist the is to the might be and we have a new is and look for a new might-be, forever, and forever.

Nice work if you can get it, I guess, and one of the great temptations that underlies the attraction of time travel. Of course, if one of us could do this, probably many or all of us could do it and then what? You’d get a chrono version of whack-a-mole where people are constantly popping up in the centuries before and after to change the future, preserve the future, or take advantage of knowing what’s going to happen before it does. That means the present would begin to look like getting trapped inside an HGWellian kaleidoscope or time wearing A Scanner Darkly scramble suit, every physical aspect around us changing constantly. It would be maddening, if not fatal. It’s no wonder Asimov’s technicians stay outside of time. They can meddle with and observe, meddle with and observe what amounts to a promethean-sized Skinner Box.

As End of Eternity closes, a visitor from the far-far-far future tells a technician that he and those like him are “a bunch of psychopaths.” Their “incessant petty tinkering” has ruined everything, has robbed humans of marvelous achievements like interstellar space travel. Her mission is a meddle to end all the meddling and thus “the rewriters of history are written out.” She may have a point about the psychopatweaking. Still, looking around at what’s going on in the world today, one can almost wish for someone outside time to lend a helping hand. Having a “new is” and a “new might-be” seems to be just what we need right now.

 

Romanelli_Chronos_and_his_child
If at first you don’t succeed…

 

Image: Chronos and his child by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli, National Museum in Warsaw, is a 17th century depiction of Titan Cronus as “Father Time” wielding the harvesting scythe. Public domain.

Release the Dogmas!

Since November 2016, many Liberals, i.e., persons who believe that government should be active in supporting social and political change and/or, according to one Urban Dictionary definition, “America’s favorite scapegoat,” have likely taken solace in the thought that, while they may be losers, they are not the “mental midgets” (their phrase, not mine) that brought Donald Trump to power. It appears now they will have abandon that assertion and turn, in my worldview anyway, to copious quantities of Double-Stuffed Oreos and whole milk for comfort.

scapegoat

I make this assertion based on “Liberals Are Simple-Minded,” an article by Ronald Bailey that appears on reason.com. Bailey begins this way:

It is almost a truism among psychological researchers that conservatives are simple-minded and dogmatic. Liberals, meanwhile are supposed to be more complex and open-minded thinkers. But a new paper is calling those conclusions into question.

The paper he mentions describes how judgments made based on a 1960s-era “dogmatism scale” were biased by topics that leaned more toward conservative concerns. Researchers modified the scale to remove this bias and found, for example, that “conservatives are indeed more dogmatic on the religious domain, but liberals are more dogmatic on the environmental domain.” Long story short, they concluded that “liberals and conservatives are equally simple-minded when it comes to topics they feel strongly about.” That seems like a Homer Simpson DOH! revelation and proves once again that scientists seem endlessly bent on teaching us things we already know. Unlike me, however, they have an uncanny ability to form coherent thoughts, express them vocabunificently, and provide evidence. We should take a lesson from this, don’t you think?

Dogmatic, if you’re not familiar, comes from the word “dogma,” which is, “something held [or, in this case, clutched in a rigor-mortified death grip] as an established position.” Its roots go back to ancient Greece, when the equivalent word there meant “that which one thinks is true.” It’s also not uncoincidental that attempting to take away such beliefs from those who hold them provokes a reaction very much like trying to a remove a skeletal chew toy from the mouth of a canine. No matter how broken down and desiccated the bone, it, to steal the last line from Equus, “never comes out.” That is, it doesn’t come out unless a bigger, more enticing treat gets offered. You might think something like “peace on earth, goodwill toward humans” (POEGTH, pronounced “poe geth”) would be a sizable enough temptation. So far, not.

All is not lost, however. The GDDB (get-the-dog-to-drop-the bone) solution here in America might be staring us right in the face: add pizza, our favorite food, to POEGTH. Faced with the choice between clenching a dry, tasteless piece of calcium in your jaws and chowing down on a sumptuous cheese-and-whatever-laden slice, it’s easy to see which way this would go. So, I’m recommending now that you email the phone number or website of your favorite pizzeria to your federal, state, and local representatives and tell them to get busy. We could call it the Peaceza Plan. I would do it all myself, but ordering 323.95 million small pies it just a tad beyond my budget. The federal government could handle this easily for just 0.006 percent of our 2016 defense budget. Should the states, counties, cities, and towns chip in, so much the better. And, if this takes off, the country (and perhaps the world) would be less contentious and less hungry. What’s not to like about that?

Image: The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt, 1854. Public domain.

It’s Too Bad We Won’t Live

After seeing Blade Runner 2049, one of the topics that came up for a dinner discussion was what appeals to people about the violence portrayed in films and television, especially the prolonged, perhaps self-indulgent, certainly undramatic-in-Aristotle’s-eyes depiction of it that plagues the beginning, middle, and especially the insanely drawn-out ends of contemporary action movies. Television suffers the same affliction, made more bearable perhaps by the strict showtime constraints. As one detective puts it in the mystery novel Magpie Murders, “I don’t understand it. All these murders on TV – you’d think people would have better things to do with their time. Every night. Every bloody channel. People have some sort of fixation. And what really annoys me is that it’s nothing like the truth.”

The easy answer, even after events like Las Vegas, may be that being gladiatoraphiles is somehow ingrained in our DNA. That’s my guess based on…nothing at all, really. Fortunately, there are people out there who know more about this. Let’s start with Nina Metz’s 2005 Chicago Tribute article “In a brutal world, why do we like violent entertainment?” Nina writes that “for a certain segment of the moviegoing audience there is something intensely and morbidly fascinating about cinematic torture.” Metz focuses on that aspect of violence in films rather than bloody scenes of people being shot, knifed, and otherwise dispatched en masse in efforts to top the current GoB (Guinness Book of Records) body-count high. She interviews various film and psychology experts who basically conclude that, like Chance in Being There, we like to watch and then, unlike Chance, feel guilty about liking to watch.

ScienceDaily takes another tack: “A recent study found that people are more likely to watch movies with gory scenes of violence if they felt there was meaning in confronting violent aspects of life.” The article references earlier studies that found something a little different: people “seem to be drawn to violent content because they anticipate other benefits, such as thrill and suspense.” On the “positive” side, one of the first study’s authors offers this speculation:

Perhaps depictions of violence that are perceived as meaningful, moving and thought-provoking can foster empathy with victims, admiration for acts of courage and moral beauty in the face of violence, or self-reflection with regard to violent impulses.

The Catch-22 of this is that, from my experience anyway, film and television rarely depict violence in “meaningful, moving and thought-provoking ways” that lead to empathy, admiration, or self-reflection. Case in point, the new Blade Runner [spoiler alert!] inevitably comes down to a confrontation between “good guy” Agent K and extreme villainess Luv. In the more-is-better tradition of action-film producers, their face-off goes on for about an hour and a half (so it seems) including 30 seconds or so of a close-up view of Luv’s demise. The only thoughts likely provoked at that moment for most audience members were either “Ding Dong the Bitch is Dead!” or “Can we go home now?”

There may be a bright light, however, shining through the all-encompassing miasma of violence that seemingly permeates our entertainment, much like the fog, dust, rain, and snow that pervade the physical and psychological atmosphere of Blade Runner. In his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Parker asserts that real-world violence has declined in the long and short runs. He attributes this shift to five forces pushing us in a peaceable direction. One of these is the Escalator of Reason, which is “an intensifying application of knowledge and rationality to human affairs.” This, he claims, “can force people to recognize the futility of cycles of violence, to ramp down the privileging of their own interests over others’, and reframe violence as a problem to be solved rather than a contest to be won.”

Sadly, Better Angels came out in 2011. I wonder what Parker would say about the state of violence, real and imagined, today. The only recent image the world has had of an escalator features our president descending, a metaphorical depiction that accumulates, much like Jacob Marley, more “captive, bound and double-ironed” weight every day. One could hope the inverted adage “what comes down must go up” comes true. I’m not holding my breath, though.

All this almost makes me wish for the good old days of the first Blade Runner‘s theatrical release in which Rachel and Deckard drive away together into the unsullied countryside (unused footage from The Shining believe it or not), and we learn that she does not have a built-in lifespan. “It’s too bad she won’t live,” he says, echoing the harsher close of the director’s cut, but then ends with this bit of cheerful, shrug-it-off, carpe-diemistic fatalism: “But then again who does?”

I see two choices here. We can ascribe to a Deckardest statusquolosophy (plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose) or we can pull out the Yellow Pages and look for an Elevator-of-Reason repair person to get that thing turned around. I vote for the latter. Where do you think I should start? Under the Es or under the Rs?

Image: Pollice Verso (“With a Turned Thumb”), an 1872 painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme. Public domain.

Mea Wherewithal

First, the “good news” for women: feeling guilty is not a sign of guilt but a sign of innocence, victimhood even. So says Devorah Baum in her Guardian article “Why do we feel so guilty all the time?” The bad news? Females must figure out how to forgive themselves for wrongs they have not committed to release their “money blocks and live a first-class life.” That last bit is Baum is quoting from Denise Duffield-Thomas’ self-help tome Get Rich, Lucky Bitch! DDT believes guilt is “one of the most common feelings women suffer” and that “guilty women, lured by guilt to obstructing their own paths to increased wealth, power, prestige, and happiness, just can’t seem to take advantage of their advantages.” (Baum’s piece caught my attention because just the other night my wife Kalo was talking about some things she felt bad about.)

 

100917_2024_MeaWherewit1.jpg
Why didn’t I buy that lottery ticket? Why?!

 

Here’s how Baum translates DDT’s assertions:

Imagine that: a first-class life. This sort of advice, which frames guilt as our most fundamentally inhibiting emotion, takes insights from psychoanalytic and feminist thinking and transforms them into the language of business motivation. The promise is that our guilt can be expiated by making money.

Baum then notes that in German guilt and debt are the same word: schuld. She mentions Max Weber’s thesis that “what you earn in this world also serves as a measure of your spiritual virtue, since it depends on your capacity for hard work, discipline and self-denial.” DDT believes that the “salvation anxiety” produced by this perspective increases guilt rather than allaying it.

From there, Baum turns to an interesting discussion of guilt far above my eruditability. She wonders, among other things, whether our guilt comes from our presumption of knowledge, “our desperate need to be sure of ourselves [so that] when we feel guilty we at least have the comfort of being certain about something—of knowing, finally, the right way to feel, which is bad.” Is this why we like crime dramas, she asks, because “they satisfy our wish for certainty?” If you believe the narrator of the novel Magpie Murders, the answer would be yes:

Whodunnits are all about truths: nothing more, nothing less. In a world full of uncertainties, is it not inherently satisfying to come to the last page with every i dotted and t crossed? The stories mimic our experience of the world. We are surrounded by tensions and ambiguities, which we spend half our life trying to resolve, and we’ll probably be on our own deathbed when we reach that moment when everything makes sense. Just about every whodunnit provides that pleasure. It is the reason for their existence.

I’m not convinced that guilt can be erased by earning more, although I would not object if Kalo decided to try out that theory. I’m also not sure that reading or watching crime dramas lowers our GQ (guilt quotient) by assuring us that the world’s moral compass still points in the right direction and that villains, whatever their shape or form or deed, are caught and, if not killed outright, taken off to receive their just dessert. I’m not sure as well that we need this kind of crutch to feel less responsible for things we can and can’t control. If we need a sense of certainty to assuage or at least take our minds of guilt, we have two things we can always rely on. One is taxes. The other…well, you know what it is.

Image: Soul in Bondage by Elihu Vedder, created between 1891 and 1892. Public domain.

Flattening Will Get You Nowhere

In 2005, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman published The World Is Flat. The cover illustration shows two circa-eighteenth century sailing ships, one dropping off the Earth’s sharp edge and one about to do so, sort of like going over the Mother of All Niagara Falls. The depiction was meant to be metaphorical, since Friedman was writing about how globalization has “flattened” the world in terms of commerce, putting all players on a more level field.

There was a time, of course, when we earthlings did think our home was a flat plane or disk. (No word, though, if scientists and philosophers imagined it to be held up by four giant elephants balancing on the back of a gianter space-going turtle, as Terry Pratchett did in his Discworld series.) The flat-tering views of Earth saw our world wafer floating on some unexplained body of water. This thinking prevailed until Pythagoras and Aristotle came along. Part of their spherical-planet realization likely came from noting that a ship reaching the horizon, seen from a distance, didn’t disappear instantly, i.e., fall off the edge. Instead it slowly “sank” out of sight, just as the setting sun does.

So, obviously we’re beyond all that flat-earth nonsense now, right? Wrong. Witness this September 27 Forbes article: “Rapper B.o.B. Just Started a GoFundMe to Prove Earth Is Flat.” “This is not a joke,” writes author Trevor Nace, “at least it doesn’t appear to be one.” Per Nace, the rapper “plans to raise money to launch satellites so he can finally prove the Earth is flat to all of us.” These vehicles must have some special technology to disapprove the planetarspherocity that all the other satellites already up there seem to show us. Nace writes that those ascribing to geographical flatness “believe the Earth is a disk with a sort of dome over it containing our atmosphere.” As “proof” of this, B.o.B. tweeted a picture showing the skylines of two cities on the horizon, saying “the cities in the background are approx. 16 miles apart…where is the curve? please explain this.” Neil deGrasse Tyson promptly did, but I’m guessing B.o.B. is ignoring Neil’s comment.

B.o.B is not out there on this own. Flat-earth believers, indeed societies, are more prevalent than one would ever imagine. Take the not-so-creatively named Flat Earth Society, for example. (I think FES [“fez”] should return to its former and much more mysteriobscure title of the Universal Zetetic Society.) Interestingly, the first question on the FES FAQ page is “Are you serious?” Answer…predictably: Yes. Here’s a summary of the evidence they offer for being anticurvophiles:

There are several readily apparent proofs of the planets flatness. The horizon always rises to meet eye level – which is impossible on a ball earth. The surfaces of bodies of water has been shown to be level. If the Earth was a Globe, this would not be the case. There is no visible curvature to the horizon even from airplanes. We don’t even have a full shot of the Earth rotating from space! One almost has to ask – is there any real evidence the Earth is a Globe?

The FESers go on to state that all astronauts were fooled, misled, bribed, or coerced into misstating the Earth’s shape. The moon landings were fake, naturally. And all this nonsense about Earth as a ball comes from the infamous, insidious Planar Conspiracy, put forth with bad intent and a desire for ill-gotten gains like robbing Antarctica of its natural resources. Topping that, all the satellites orbiting the earth are pseudolites or stratolites (high-altitude aircraft). And finally (I love this one), “Gravity as a theory is false. Objects simply fall.”

I admit here a twinge of envy at the FESers’ ability to concoct and adopt a simple world view. I also admit that this view is easy to scofficize. I should keep an open mind about this. I should learn more about it, as we are or should be taught, to gain an informed perspective. Maybe I will start with Chapter 2 from Sir Patrick Moore’s book Can You Speak Venusian?, titled “Better and Flatter Earths.” Who knows? I might be won over. After all, how you can argue with a line like “those who believe the world to be shaped like a pancake are among the most attractive of the really Independent Thinkers.”

100517_2103_FlatteningW1.jpg

Image: The Flammarion engraving (1888) depicts a traveler who arrives at the edge of a flat Earth and sticks his head through the firmament. Public domain.

Is Black Black?

It seems ages ago already, but it has been just a few short weeks since we time-traveled back to the Dark Ages thanks to Hurricane Irma. By Dark Ages, I mean no electricity, no communications other than talking or shouting, and no running water. We were not, fortunately, forced to resort to dumping chamber pots out the window. Toilets still flushed as long as we hauled buckets from the filling pool (formerly the swimming pool) to replenish their holding tanks. Notably, the “dark” of the Dark Ages was truly stygian. At night after retiring, it was so black (how black was it?) that you could close your eyes and then open them and not see any difference, not see anything period except the random flashes from the electrons bouncing around inside your eyeballs.

Curious word, stygian. The simple definition is “extremely dark, gloomy, or forbidding.” The more intriguing one is “of or relating to the river Styx.” If you’re up on your Greek mythology, you’ll know that the Styx was a deity and a body of water, which must be something like light existing as a wave and a particle, which incidentally, it was neither in the wee hours of Irma. Most will know Styx as the stream no one looked forward to crossing because it cut a path between Earth and the underworld and, once you crossed over, there was no crossing back (with certain notable exceptions). If you, like me, are the sad victim of a woefully deficient classical education, you likely didn’t know Styx was a goddess but, as the saying goes, you learn (and immediately forget in my case) something every day.

 

Okay. Which one of you ordered the large pepperoni with extra cheese?

 

Styx the G has an interesting backstory. Briefly, she was the daughter of Titans but then turned against them to side with Zeus when the gods and Titans got their war bag on. As a reward for her help, Zeus let her stay in his house and “gave her the honor of being the one on whose name solemn oaths were taken.” Thereafter, whenever a god made a promise, he or she had to fetch water from the river Styx and then pour it out slowly while pronouncing the oath, whatever it happened to be. Anyone who broke their pledge after that was slapped into a god-induced coma where he or she was not allowed to breathe or ingest nectar or ambrosia for a year. (This practice, many people tell me, later became popular as the Styx Diet.) After completing the initial year of fasting in place, the now-much-thinner punishees were banned from all god activities for nine years.

There’s not much more on Styx and what her life was like. I wonder if she had to shoulder the burden of all those oaths sworn in her name. Did she have to keep track of them in the days before spreadsheets and data entry? Did she have to mete out the punishment to oath breakers? How did she induce the year-long state of not breathing or eating? A simple touch on the delinquent brow? A whack upside the head? Or, Medusa-like, a stony stare that stopped all movement? Who knows?

In a way, Irma had this kind of Stygian effect on Key West beyond the black nights falling. She put the town into a coma of sorts. For a while, all movement stopped. The town froze in place—the way a rabbit might when it suddenly realizes a fox is eying it with bad intent—just before the storm hit, during the maelstrom, and after the eye passed. It was eerie. It was liberating in some ways. Being thrown off the grid for several days makes you realize how relationships suffer from all the demands and distractions of our electronic world. I can’t remember the last time we sat on a front porch with a group of people, watching the palms across the street whip about in the after-wind, and just enjoyed each other’s company (along with assorted snacks and beverages). In that sense, the hurricane experience was not black at all. Indeed, it was lighter and more enlightening than daily life has been for a long while.

This leads me to surmise a new approach to the endless pursuit of world peace: blackout-induced coma diplomacy. I imagine that people who wake up from states of profound unconsciousness often ask questions like “Who am I?” “Where am I?” “How did I get here?” “What happens now?” Sounds like a good place to start, doesn’t it?

(Image: Etching of River Styx by Gustave Dore. Public Domain.)

Qui a besoin de Français?

Apparently, I can stop losing sleep at night over having still failed to learn French. I took French classes for three years in junior high from Miss Gail van Eyke, if memory serves. From her name, it sounds like we should have been studying Dutch. Maybe it would have gone better. The classroom comprised rows of sound booths with headphones for listening to drills. The back row, where we sat, had small reel-to-reel tape decks for individual study. These were covered with metal boxes when not in use. With the sound booths in the room, Miss van Eyke didn’t have a clear view of what all of her students were up to at any one time. This encouraged diversions such as driving Hot Wheels cars up and over and around the inside of the booth. Whenever MVE got around to asking someone a question like “Quel jour est aujourd’hui ?” the standard responses were a mix of caught-in-the-headlights stares and spasmodic shrugs with an occasional “huh?” thrown in to prove that we had not been struck totally dumb, or as she would query, “Vous êtes totalement stupide?”

I’ve felt the guilt ever since. Everyone else in the world speaks more than one language it seems. Why am I such a slouch? Why are we such slouches? Fortunately, the days of polyglot whine and psychoses are over. I found this out today while reading Joshua Cooper’s The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks. This is what Joshua tells us:

For the first time, as a result of constant connectivity, a once-unimagined possibility exists: real-time machine translation. Fast, ubiquitous networks mean that the central role of English will be boiled away someday not by another language but by an intelligent translation computer, available anytime, anywhere…. Reliable access to a great translation algorithm will one day be more important than the ability to speak English (or Spanish or Chinese). Those American parents now nervously plowing their children into Chinese classes are missing the point. Fluency in any second language in the future will be an arcane specialty. Better to teach the kids how to build an artificial intelligence program, or to debate the moral reasoning of Confucius and Socrates, than how to order dinner in a another language.

Phew! That’s a relief. I no longer have to explain to myself or anyone who’s interest (no one, really) that most humans beyond puberty have a sadly diminished procedural memory ability, that capacity to learn things like riding a bike and language rules unconsciously. According to Time writer Abby Abrams (“Want to Learn a Language? Don’t Try to Hard”),

Adults may over-analyze new language rules or sounds and try to make them fit into some understandable and coherent pattern that makes sense to them. But a new language may involve grammar rules that aren’t so easily explained, and adults have more difficulty overcoming those obstacles than children, who simply absorb the rules or exceptions and learn from them.

I’d like to say that, yeah, that’s it, I’m trying too hard. But the truth is I haven’t tried at all. I think the real reason for my guilt over not learning francais stems from remembering the day the burly guys in white jackets came to third-period French, put a straightjacket on MVE, and took her away, whispering to her soothingly as she gibbered something about bringing back the guillotine to save the world from ninth graders. She had a point. We were definitely more interested in toy cars and spitballs than the patois of Albert Camus, Jules Verne, and Victor Hugo.

MVE: “Apportez-moi la tête de tous les élèves de neuvième année!”*

It occurs to me now, however, that the anxiety over French may be replaced by another insomnia-inducing concern: Why haven’t I ever learned to program an AI? I’m not that worried, though. I once wrote a little computer software routine for the Commodore 64. Things can’t be that much more complicated today, can they?

* Bring me the heads of all ninth graders!

Trumpilton

After watching PBS Great Performances’ “Hamilton’s America,” which is indeed great if you want to get a good feel for the show and its historical background, I started to get ideas. From the bits we saw, Hamilton looks fabulous. But it’s also so, like, yesterday even if the guy, Hamilton that is, pretty much created the country we live in today. Kudos and all that. But we need a modern musical that captures the trials and tribulations, the successes and failures, the flawed and the sterling bits of a current leader of similar stature, say, our president Donald John Trump, or DJT. Getting this show on its feet would be so easy because DJT could write it, produce it, direct it, star in it, and promote it, all the while maintaining his firm grip on the reins of his, er, this nation.

All for naught; I’m so distraught.

No need to hold your breath in anticipation. POTUS in his wisdom and greatitude is already around the bend, sorry, ahead of the curve on this. According to as-reliable-as-you-can-imagine White House sources, DJT has written his own musical story, Trumpilton, modeled after its megahit predecessor. He’s confident that his work will be more huge, of course. Many many people, thousands, millions maybe, have told him this. He is also, sources claim, thinking about announcing (“I’ll let you know…very soon”) that he wrote his musical before Lin-Manuel Miranda and that his top-secret draft got leaked from Trump Tower and Miranda got wind of it and copied from him. Don’t believe Trumpilton exists? Well, here’s proof. Thanks to an incredible progression of stupendously serendipitous events, I’ve managed to get my hands on the opening number. Not surprisingly, it is a rap song (sort of) and, if you’ve seen Hamilton, might sound more than vaguely familiar in places. But, hey, enough from me. With no further ado, I give you Trumpilton‘s opening song, titled, naturally, “Donald J. Trumpilton.” The curtain rises, the lights come up, the characters step forward, and we begin.

[Hilary Clinton]

How does a rich man, a showman, a nannied man
Born in the posh life, raised by the 1%
become White House docent, sorry, US president
leader—I can’t breathe, help me breathe—today
and tomorrow, maybe, of the fricking free world?

[Bernie Sanders]

What’s behind this biz? Let me just say this
I’ll tell you what, he was SMART, that’s what
so he said, ruthlesser, so he said
bigly better, so he said, so he says
and, if you believe that,
you know why we’re at where we’re at
you’re the reason we’re at where we’re at

[Trevor Noah}

Who is this guy? Who is this guy?
What is this guy? Why is this guy? How did he do it?
How did he win?

[Jeb Bush]

I can’t explain it.

[Marco Rubio]

I need a drink of water.

[Rand Paul]

Atlas shrugged, I guess, and left this mess. Poor us.

[Ben Carson]

What was the question?

[Rick Perry]

Give me a moment,
I know I know this,
I’m sure I know this.

[John Kasich]

Beats the heck out of me.

[Mike Huckabee]

I know who knows
he always knows
but I’m afraid to ask

[Chris Christie]

Just leave me alone with him,
Put me in a room with him,
I’ll make him cry, hope to die, maybe have to pants the guy
or throw him off a bridge will I
but I’ll get an answer from him
if you’ll be my friend and call me slim
you’d better effing call me slim
understand?

[Trevor Noah]

Come on, guys! Who is this guy?
What is this guy?
Why is this guy?
How did he do it?
How did he win?

[Hilary Clinton]

I know What Happened
who better than me
to spread such vitupery
read all about it
I write the wrong, I write the wrong
bang the gong
of injustice, all I got, just this
but you can know, too,
just join my village crew
for just a ten and a twenty
free shipping and delivery

[Donald J. Trumpilton]

Don’t listen to them. Listen to me.
After all, I’m the one who’s covfefe!
Who am I, you ask? And why do I bask
now and tomorrow and forever
in the limelight of history
Because I’m the greatest, that’s no mystery
I’m the hugest, I’m the bestest
and that’s not fake news.
They tried to stop me, tried to win
with dead voters and straw boaters
crybabies and liebabies
Russian spies and clamped-down thighs
Let them weep, let them bellow
they’re just losers made of Jell-O.
I won, suck on that, I won, I’m not fat
I won, stop your whining, I won, you won’t be dining
with me ever ’cause you’re not clever, no cake for you, woo hoo!
because I won, I won, Donald J. Trumpilton,
that’s right, you may regret it but don’t forget it
ever…if you know what’s good for you
so, where you from, huh?
got a birth certificate, huh?
I know where you live, duh
and who’s this Hamilton? What’s all the fuss?
Dude got run over by the Aaron Burr bus
I like winners and he’s not one
just some dork who can’t aim a gun
I bombed Iraq, I bombed Yemen
while sipping ice water braced with lemon
Or was it Syria? I’m a little blearia…whatever
I bombed, that’s what matters, put the world in tatters
I bombed, hee hee, and he, Alex you-know, just caught a slug, his mortal blow
LOSER!
Burr’s the winner, don’t you know
He’s the one deserves a show
WRONG!
sing about me, only me
and those who think otherwise
can go piss up a tree
Hee hee hoe, hee hee HEEEEEEEEE!

That’s it. Lights fade to thunderous applause. Curtain falls. “Donald J. Trumpilton” is the opening song and the closing song. On the original cast album, the song just loops and plays over and over again. DJT is not about to forget the secret to his success. DJT intends, according to another White House source, to put the box office receipts from Trumpilton into a foundation that assuages orphans, people living on the street, and rejected refugees with dessert. Not just any dessert, mind you, but “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake you’ve ever seen.” I’m sure it will be much appreciated, if they ever see a crumb, that is.

(First Image: Alexander Hamilton in the Uniform of the New York Artillery by Alonzo Chappel (1828–1887). Public Domain.)

The Tales of Rubberlina™: Episode #3b – Still Earthbound

Okay, I know it’s been a while since I promised to tell you what happened after I teleported myself to the transporter platform, something to do, with Tralfamadorians, whipped cream, and a dog-eared copy of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’ll take the Tralfamies, as I like to call them, first. If you’re a fan of Kurt Vonnegut novels, as I know I would be if I could turn physical pages with my hands (I can’t) or hold a digital device (nope, not that either), you would know that the Tralfamies appear in more than one book, that sometimes they are beings that exist in all times, sometimes they are robots, and sometimes they are multi-dimensional creatures who control all aspects of human life.

When I was first beamed up from Key West, I found myself in what appeared to be an over-decorated club populated by human males dressed garishly as human females who danced while moving their lips in sync to human songs and collecting dollar bills from a human audience. My first thought, naturally, was WTF. My second was jealousy from knowing that I’ll never have, or be able to wear, an aqua-hued, three-foot-tall Dolly Parton wig made of foam rubber. While I was taking this all in, I noticed a robot sitting next to me. He looked very much like Elvis and for a moment I thought, hey, he’s not dead after all. But then I could hear that he sort of “whirred” whenever he moved and saw that his eyes did not blink. In fact, it seemed that his makers had forgotten the palpebral superior and inferior all together. He noticed me staring at him, because that’s all I can do is stare, and turned to stare back at me, because ditto. He introduced himself as Salo, a Tralfamidorian explorer, and we then had this conversation.

Wait. Are you sure this is Earth?

Me:    So, where are we?

Salo:    It’s called Lips.

Me:    What is?

Salo:    This place.

Me:    No, I meant, where are we? What planet? What galaxy? Or is this some trippy holodeck on some wacky alien vessel in outer space?

Salo:    None of the above.

Me:    So, I repeat, where are we?

Salo:    Earth.

Me:    Get out of here!

Salo:    But the show has just started.

Me:    No, stupid. That’s an expression, not a command.

Salo:    I’m not familiar.

Me:    I don’t believe you.

Salo:    You’re calling me a liar?

At this moment, I’m wondering if my rubber head can explode. It feels on the verge.

Me:    Look, you beamed me up, right? So, we can’t be on earth.

Salo:    Well, it’s more like I beamed you over. I’m stuck here on your planet. My spaceship is disabled. I’m waiting for a spare part.

Me:    So, I’m still on earth.

Salo:    I’m afraid so. I heard your beaming request and thought, gee, it be nice to have the company of another alien.

Me:    Wait, what? I’m not an alien.

Salo:    Really? My mistake.

Okay, okay. So, I look like a blue Ping-Pong ball stuck on top of a chartreuse cheese grater. What’s alien about that?

Me:    Fine. We’re on earth. I am SOOOO disappointed. Would it help if I said take me to your leader?

Salo:    No. We can’t go until I have the part I need. My people are working on it.

Me:    What’s the hold up?

Salo:    Um…you are.

Me:    Me?

Salo:    Humans. To get the part made, we Tralfamadorians had to reengineer your planet so that you evolved from that cute single cell amoeba to beings that can make what I need. [Looking around.] You’re, ah, getting there…I think.

If I had a heart, it would be sinking right now.

Me:    Fine. Be brutally honest now. How much longer before we can get off this rock?

Salo:    I hope to hear soon. Any millennium now I’m sure.

I’m speechless—really—and feel a sudden, intense need for alcohol.

Me:    Salo, be a dude and order me a scotch on the rocks, a double, no, a triple, better yet, a pitcher.

Salo:    Of course…wait, can you drink? I mean you don’t have….

Me:    I’m aware. Just stick my head in the glass when it comes. That won’t take a fricking millennium, will it?

Salo:    I should think not.

[To be continued…again]

The Once and Future Svengali

Usually I try to ignore what Rubberlina™ is up to when she usurps this space. In her blog yesterday, though, I couldn’t help but notice her claim to suddenly be able to teleport herself from one place to another instantly, in this case from my desk to a single-cup Keurig machine that she swears is some kind of alien transporter. As “proof” that this is possible, she cites Dr. Bruce Goldberg’s article “What is teleportation?” I just had to check it out. (If you’re not familiar, and why should you be, teleportation is the “theoretical” transfer of matter or energy from one point to another without traversing the physical space in between.)

“Just thought I’d pop in and say hi.”

Our expert on this, Dr. Bruce, has a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry, a DDS, and a master’s degree in counseling psychology. According to his bio, he’s retired from dentistry to devote his time to a “thriving international hypnotherapy practice” in which he developed “progression hypnotherapy” and the “mind-tap” healing process. Using these tools plus the more standard regression therapy, he takes patients on mental trips into their past, present, and future lives. He is also, according to him, “the world’s foremost authority on futuristic time travelers.” He won’t say whether he’s one of these travelers, but if he were, he teases, he would be from the 35th century “where teleportation is developed as a means of time travel” and where “the average age is between 500 and 900 years old due to an energy charging device called the alphasyncolarium.”

Bruce knows teleportation well, apparently.

What we find in a true teleportation is that physical body dematerializes (disappears) from one location and subsequently rematerializes (reappears) in a different spot in an instant often accompanied by a “pop” sound…. If you are observing someone actually being teleported, you would see their body slowly fade away and disappear. Nothing else in the environment would be altered. The person undergoing teleportation would experience an increase in their energy vibrating at high speed, accompanied by a tingling, buzzing sensation and/or feeling of spiraling upward.

Bruce helpfully informs us that there is spontaneous teleportation, dream-state teleportation, and consciously directed teleportation and helpfully shares instructions on how best to “pop” in and out of places.

In the beginning you will find that you wind up in places far from your goal. This low level of accuracy improves dramatically with regular practice. When you return to your place of origin, you will again hear that “pop” sound. Your body travels at the speed of light, so distance is of no significance…. In order to successfully experience teleportation, you need to focus your mind and block out all other distractions. It is only your limiting beliefs that will prevent you from experiencing this unique form of travel.

It’s easy, of course, to poo-poo Dr. Bruce’s claims, but, hey, he’s published 21 “best-selling” books and has that thriving past and future life hypnotherapy practice he mentioned. And he shows some common sense when it comes to teleporting, advising his readers to “teleport to secluded places to avoid shocking other people when you materialize in front of them.”

And, truth be told, I’m a little jealous of Dr. Bruce. Think of the travel expenses he saves as he pops about the world doing his speaking engagements. Think of all the places you could go instantly at no cost. You could knock off your travel bucket list in one day if you so desired. You could also knock off your “visit the fifth dimension” and your “meet time travelers from the future” wishes. I can’t wait to try this out for myself. I’m going to call and order my Time Travelers Training Program CD right this minute.