BATTLEGROUND BY JIM BUTCHER – COMING AT THE END OF SEPTEMBER!

We already know I’m a huge fan of Jim Butcher and while I dread the ending of this series, I’m also pretty much holding my breath for the next book. I have included the trailers for”Peace Talks” and “Battleground.” The latter is due for release on September 29th.

“Peace Talks” was beyond fantastic … and so were the books that came before it. I got into reading backwards through the books down to book 9, after which I decided it was time to start upward again to get myself emotionally in tune with what was coming.

I think the next book (I think — no, I have NOT read it) seems likely to be Jim Butcher’s Ragnorok, minus Loki — though who knows? A few Norse mythological characters might show up. Why not? It’s not like they haven’t been taking shape in the shadows of the previous sixteen books.

Now, here’s the trailer for “Peace Talks.” This was released last month. I bought the hard copy of the book because I was helpless. I had to have it. I have read it only once so far. I will read it again. Soon. I’m waiting. It’s like having a birthday but saving the best gift (you always know what the best gift is, don’t you?) until the end.

Next is the trailer for “Battleground.” It’s due for release September 29, 2020. I’ve pre-ordered the hard copy because, as I said, I can’t help it. The trailer took my breath away and I don’t think it was the heavy layer of pollen in the early autumn air.

You can follow Jim on Twitter at @longshotauthor. If you are as loony as I am about his books, you can also follow Molly Carpenter and more of Jim’s other characters, human, human-like, and bizarrely “other.” He writes (on Twitter) using the personality of various characters. This totally blows my mind since I can barely keep track of me these days, much less a panoply of human, fey, wizards, werewolves and oh so many more. Name the mythology and they are in his books, sometimes as major characters or lurking in the shadows, waiting for a turn in the spotlight.

Call me crazy, but I think this would make a gangbusters mini (or not so mini) series. I’ll even dig up the money to pay for yet one more streaming channel if this ever gets produced. Oh please make it real! I need this. Reality is not working for me.

TRUMP IS AMERICA’S BELLWETHER

BELLWETHER, by CONNIE WILLIS is a book I have read many times. I read it often because it’s funny and finding something to laugh about has become increasingly difficult. Each time I read it, I notice something new that rings true. Too, too true.

Yesterday, someone asked me, “Why do people follow Donald Trump?” He certainly doesn’t do it on his looks or charming personality. He’s not handsome, intelligent, witty, moral, or clever. He’s a criminal, a fraud, a bigot … and he is cruel. So why do people follow him? Not merely follow him, but treat him as if he is the second coming (or first coming, depending on where you are coming from) of the Messiah?

Connie Willis_1996_Bellwether


Trump is America’s bellwether.


What, you ask, is a bellwether? Well, unless you keep sheep, you probably don’t know. A bellwether is the sheep that all the other sheep follow. Why do all the other sheep follow him or her? Because they do. There’s just something about that ewe that makes her their lead sheep. Without a bellwether, you can’t get your flock to do anything. Mind you, a bellwether is not smarter than the other sheep. She or he has just got that special “thing” that other sheep instantly recognize as “leadership quality.”

Like Trump.

Without a bellwether, they will stand in the meadow, mill around, munch, baah, and squeal lamentations. They won’t do anything without a bellwether to lead them. But give them a bellwether and they will follow that ewe into nuclear war, into a fiscal deficit from which we will never recover, even into the jaws of a viral death or the ultimate climactic collapse of their planet. They will applaud his vindictiveness, vicious attacks, and forgive his obvious stupidity, and lack of education. Because he’s got that special something, you know?

Apparently we can’t help ourselves. We are sheep. Without a bellwether, we roam around baahing, blathering, bleating, and bemoaning our hopeless fate. Without our bellwether, we will wail endlessly into an uncaring world. That’s why you can’t talk to “those people.” They are not people. They are SHEEP! Have you ever tried to chat up a sheep? Give it a try. A goat, maybe might be conversational, but a sheep? I rest my case.

So I read Bellwether — again and as usual, it grabbed me. Having read it at least half a dozen times before, I didn’t expect a surprise, but suddenly, I was surprised. Aside from all the humor about chaos theory and fads, it explained the meaning of “bellwether,” a term I’d heard, used, and misused for years, but never understood. This time, I got it. The reason people follow insane, crazy, cruel tyrannical leaders is because they are stupid and just like sheep, they need a sheep with attitude to lead them to hell and back.

There is just something about that ewe!

That’s how a moron like Jim Jones can convince nearly 900 people to commit suicide and inject poison into their children’s mouths … and why these fanatics think Trump is right up there with God and Christ. You — me — us are not those people. We aren’t sheep. Our not being sheep hasn’t been much of a help to us, but i have to believe that somewhere along the line, smarter people will win.

Hillary Clinton got it wrong. She thought they were deplorables embodying evil. They aren’t evil, just incredibly stupid. It’s because, despite their human shape, they are ovine. Woolly-headed people who need a bellwether to tell them what to think, where to go, what to do. We no more recognize our bellwethers than does a flock of sheep. We follow them with the same mindlessness. Is it some atavistic instinct, embedded in our DNA? That some are born to lead and others to follow?

Bellwether suggests answers to previously unanswerable questions. Why do people vote against their own self-interest and do so many stupid things? They’re following bellwethers who are loose amongst us, the invisible shakers and movers. No longer invisible, we have given this particular bellwether a lot of real power … and guess what? He is using every part of his ovine brain to do as much damage as he can. Moral of the story? Never elect a sheep as president. It’s a terrible idea.

You should read this book. Whenever nothing makes sense, I reread it and suddenly, something makes sense that didn’t before. When all other explanations fail, look for the bellwether. He or she is the answer.

TIME TRAVEL AND DECISION MAKING

Fandango’s Provocative Question #85: LIFE DECISIONS & TIME TRAVEL

Time travel is my favorite science fiction subject along with witchery and wizardry. There are rules about time travel and always have been. I actually had to look up the rules, to make sure I remembered them. I found two sets, one from 2009 and another from 2015.

Both of these sets of rules are typically found in tales of time travel. The whole concept of time travel is mentally paradoxical and if you really think about it, it’s quite unhinging. That’s why I like it. I love the wild and crazy way you have to think about traveling in time. It’s impossible, but don’t we wish we could do it anyway? There’s a great series of books by Jodi Taylor called “The Chronicles of St. Mary’s” where nutty historians travel in time to view actual historical events and record them so that people finally get to know what really happened. The books are exciting and frequently hilarious. I think the series is beginning to wind down, but if you’ve never read the books, you have a whole series you can read or listen to on Audiobooks. I listen to them. Actually, I listen to them often. I’ve listened to the entire series several times, and a new book just came out which I have only read once … and I know there’s another one due in December.

So, about Fandango’s question:

The answer is yes, but no. Of course I’ve made bad decisions. Some were really terrible and I will regret them forever. But (there’s always a “but”), for every bad decision, in some way my life was changed, ultimately for the better. Change was not immediate or even quickly. Decisions made as a teenager didn’t come home to roost until I was well into adulthood. Karma doesn’t work fast, but but grinds very fine. Moreover, context matters. It can be decades before you realize that the bad decision you made in 1979 has somehow morphed over the course of decades to a great life.

I know there is no such thing as time travel. Even if there were “real” time travel, it would be dangerous beyond imagining because if you change one thing or one little part of a past event, other things will change. You cannot know what the potential fallout could be. Read Stephen King’s “11/22/63” about time travel and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It’s a brilliant piece of writing and it’s not one of King’s creepy horror stories. It’s genuine science fiction. Beautifully written and sometimes, almost poetry.

I know this sounds more like a book report than an opinion, but I’m seriously into time travel stories. If there’s not time travel, then I’m opting for magic. One of the other, but both would be lovely.

So, speaking of time …

WONDER WOMAN AND THE ORVILLE By ELLIN CURLEY

I’m usually not a big fan of space or superhero shows, but I really like the “Star Trek”-ish television show “The Orville” and the movie “Wonder Woman.” I think the reason I like these two particular representatives of their genres is they focus on the human (or not quite human) relationships. The shows are not primarily about the pyrotechnics, battle scenes, superpowers, or twenty-third-century technology, although those are elements of both shows. In these two stories, the characters and their interactions don’t get lost in — or play second fiddle to — special effects.

In the first part of “Wonder Woman”, I became absorbed in Diana’s early life on a mystical island of Amazon women. Then I enjoyed watching her adjust to life in the early 1900s of WWI. I also loved the way her romance with Steve evolved. The movie is, at heart, a beautiful love story.

I’m a big fan of WWI and WWII movies. The major plotline here revolves around a ratty band of anti-heroes — plus Wonder Woman. They are trying to destroy the Germans’ new, extra lethal nerve gas before it can be used on the Allies. You could also almost call the movie a WWI drama with superheroes.

Talking about “Wonder Woman”, I have to mention the star, Gal Gadot. In addition to being breathtakingly gorgeous, she exudes intelligence, strength and compassion. She embodies the quintessential modern female superhero.

If you have any reservations about watching something like “Wonder Woman”, I recommend it as more than just a typical comic book-based movie. “The Orville” has a “Star Trek” vibe. But again, it is much more than your average space travel adventure. Members of the crew have quirky and interesting personalities and there are many fun and intriguing relationships on the ship. For example, the Captain and the First Mate are ex-spouses who haven’t fully worked through their issues. Seth MacFarlane is the writer, producer and also plays the Captain. He is fantastic, as usual.

There’s lots of humor and lightness in the show as well as charming banter between the exes. In addition, there are serious and topical issues that are brought up and discussed in most episodes. There was one that dealt with the conundrum of whether or not to change the sex of a female baby who would face serious discrimination and banishment on an all-male planet.

The plots are good and I find it an engaging and entertaining hour of television. I have ADD and often can’t sit through a one hour show, so that says a lot for me!

Over the years, I’ve become an expert at glazing over during most of the comic or space ship-based shows I watch with my husband. These are two that actually got my attention and kept me engaged. Kudos to the makers of “Wonder Woman” and “The Orville.” You can watch “The Orville” on Hulu and Wonder Woman is, I think, still available on Netflix. But if not there, it’s surely on one streaming channel or another.

PEACE TALKS – HARRY DRESDEN IS FINALLY BACK! – by JIM BUTCHER

I looked it up. I have waited six years for book sixteen in the Harry Dresden world to be published. I have waited patiently, then less patiently. A few months ago, there was a book by Jim Butcher called (tada!) Spiderman: The Darkest Hours. It wasn’t Harry Dresden, but it was good and it was Jim Butcher. It kept me from madness. This is truly a year in which if books disappeared, my brain would slither out through my ears and I would be officially brainless (as opposed to intermittently brainless).

Peace Talks is as good as I had hoped it would be and it is eerily timely, given COVID-19 and our so-called president sending his own secret service into the streets to beat down protesters. Peace Talks are the least peaceful talks ever attempted. The next book, to be released at the end of September, will really be part two of this duology. I don’t know if it will also be the end of the series. I hope not, but I have a feeling it might be. Because I’m not sure what more Harry Dresden could become beyond what he has already become. He was always powerful, clever, and funny. But now, multiply the earlier Harry by the power of 10 and he’s one seriously magical dude.

I waited for the previous five years for this new episode. This year — year six — I was getting desperate. I couldn’t bear the idea of reading one more political insider story extruded from our dark and creepy White House. I’m pretty sure it has become the opposite of Demonreach — a place where the worst of the worst can safely hide.

I needed magic. I needed Harry. I needed Jim Butcher. Considering you-know-who is threatening Chicago with his secret police, Harry, it’s time to come out of hiding. Chicago won’t survive without your help. Hell, Harry, the WORLD is waiting. In the meantime, I need you.

Peace Talks is satisfying on so many levels. Earlier books ended with more resolution than these past few. Now, each book is an episode in a continuing storyline heading toward a Dresdenesque apocalypse. Jim Butcher extracts Harry from impossible predicaments in which he faces overwhelming odds, then adroitly weaves these events into the storyline, taking Harry and the series into the next book. He wastes nothing. No phenomenon is accidental. Everything is part of a giant jigsaw puzzle, a piece of a picture to be finally revealed.

I love the Dresden universe. My world has more than enough evil to keep an army of wizards busy, but the evil in my reality plane makes fighting them similar to trying to punch a hole in jello. You can’t beat them; they have no substance.

There is one more book to come, though I can’t help hoping for more. Regardless, it is going to be gigantic.


The  Dresden Files


Book 1: Storm Front

Book 2: Fool Moon

Book 3: Grave Peril

Book 4: Summer Knight

Book 5: Death Masks

Book 6: Blood Rites

Book 7: Dead Beat

Book 8: Proven Guilty

Book 9: White Night

Book 10: Small Favor

Book 11: Turn Coat

Book 12: Changes

Book 13: Ghost Story

Book 13.5: Side Jobs: Stories From The Dresden Files

Book 14: Cold Days

Book 15: Skin Game

Book 16: Peace Talks (now available!)

Book 17: Battleground (September 29, 2020)

DOOMSDAY BOOK BY CONNIE WILLIS

I read this for the first time when it was first published in 2008. It wasn’t available as an audible book yet, though it would be soon. So my first reading was words on paper.

It’s the story of the plague, the Bubonic Plague in England. In addition to the many light-hearted stores Ms. Willis has written, she has written a four book series about Time Travel and this was the first of the series. She’s not very technical. Her idea of time travel is to take a modern person and move them in time back to a part of history when something unusual was happening and then watch this “modern” human interact with the real inhabitants of that period.

This is either the best or worst time in history to read about Bubonic Plague. On one level, it makes COVID-19 sound like a walk in the park. Bubonic Plague is a powerful disease, borne of a bacteria rather than a virus. Which means you can’t create a vaccine against it and in all these years while Plague has been coming and going around the world, there is no vaccine. These days, it usually can be beaten back with heavy doses of antibiotics, but not always. It still kills people and it pops up all over the world, including in the United States.

In 1348 when the plague hit England and killed at least half the entire population and in some areas, killed everybody leaving towns deserted, everyone knew what we know:


WEAR A MASK. DON’T GET CLOSE TO OTHER PEOPLE.
AVOID “THE HOT SPOTS.” 


The wealthy who had homes far out in the country went there and locked the gates. Those who had no recourse — peasants and merchants — did the best they could. Everyone wore masks until people started to get crazy and say “I’m going to die anyway, so I might as well have fun in the meantime.”

Just like now.

Basically, the Black Death rampaged through England, Europe, and Asia for a few hundred years The 14th century was the biggest hit, but not the only hit. It lurked, so when a new generation was growing up, it struck again. Which is why you see remnants of the plague hitting in the Gobi Desert in prehistoric times, the Justinian Plague in Roman times, then the big one that came in with infected rats to Italian ports and ultimately, everywhere in Europe and England..

This book deals exclusively with 1348 to 1349, the years that the Plague arrived and did its best to kill everyone. It did a pretty good job. No one really knows what proportion of the human population was killed during the plague years, but it was no less than 50% and might have been as high as 75% — and in some areas, as I said, It involved the complete elimination of the entire human population and entire towns and regions. Areas that are regarded as having not been hit by plague were indeed hit, but they only lost 15 to 20% of the population — not enough deaths to even put them on the map.

Ponder that.

Today, we have a problem with freight and moving goods in the world as the Pandemic wreaks havoc. They didn’t have freight or shipping. They barely had roads. Instead, they lost so many peasants there was no one left to grow crops. So in addition to dying of plague, many died of starvation.

I found it more relaxing to read than watching the numbers of new COVID cases on the news every night. This is history. It happened. It’s over. COVID is right now. We are not free from it and we do not know when or if we will be free of it. Although it isn’t as fast a killer as Bubonic Plague, it’s still killing a lot of people and beginning to take a toll on younger people who were supposedly “immune” to it.

Even though, way back in 1348, everyone knew there was no immunity unless you just got lucky, they were as stupid about caring for themselves and each other as we are today. Supposedly they were so much less knowledgeable … but in the end, the answer was exactly the same then as now.


Social distancing and masks.


People were stupid in 1348. They are equally stupid in 2020. Times change. People don’t.

FROM THE EARTH ABIDES PROJECT: YEAR 71 — BY RANGERDON

The Year 71 – EARTH ABIDES By George R. Stewart

This is certainly the Year of Earth Abides, Year 71 to carve on Indian Rock, and there will a new printing of Earth Abides in October to celebrate.  It will be notable for two reasons:

The new edition of “Earth Abides”

Most of the previous covers for the novel have focused on people or the ruins of a post-pandemic world. The new printing has a distinctive, beautiful cover featuring  Ish’s Hammer.(The Hammer of Ish is one of two major symbols in Stewart’s work.  The Pitcher in Sheep Rock is his female symbol. The Hammer of Ish, his male symbol.)

Its “Introduction” is by distinguished writer Kim Stanley Robinson.  Even if you already have a copy of the novel, buying this edition will bring the Hammer of Ish and Robinson’s excellent survey of the book and Stewart’s life and work to your library.  (You can preorder it from Amazon or your local independent bookseller.)

Ø Ø Ø

Robinson’s  “Introduction” joins two other essays on Earth Abides to make a trilogy of considerations of novel and author.    Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Introduction” is a wonderfully-written, well-researched essay about the book as influenced by Stewart’s life, and in comparison to his other work.  James Sallis’s fine essay is a poetic consideration of the book as great literature.  Pat Joseph’s article for Californiathe University of California  Alumni Magazine, is written with an eye to Berkeley and the University’s role in the novel; and  it examines the parallels with Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague

Source: The Year 71 | the EARTH ABIDES project

WHAT A SHOCK! – Marilyn Armstrong

You think you know someone. You hang out with them, exchange emails, jokes, and anecdotes. Maybe you even work with them. Then, one day, out of the blue, you discover they are fundamentalist Christians who believe you are going to Hell or are a hard-core right-wing Trumpist, conspiracy theorist, or believer in the upcoming zombie apocalypse.

I lived in Jerusalem for almost 9 years. You meet a lot of people who are sure they are Jesus Christ come back to finish his work on Earth. One of them worked at the local pizza joint and seemed perfectly normal, until in the middle of a casual conversation, he would drop a bomb about his mission and there you were, transported to wacko central.

I had a casual friend who was a piano player. He sang and played at fancy hotel lounges, like the Hilton Hotel lounge. He was, like me, an American, so it was inevitable we would meet. We struck up a little chatty relationship. One night, he called and invited me over. He had something important to tell me.

Important? Our relationship consisted of reminiscing about life in the U.S. in the 1960s — and I’d done his horoscope. I was (coincidentally) the astrology columnist and managing editor of a short-lived English-language weekly. Please, let’s not discuss astrology or my psychic abilities (or lack thereof). You don’t want to know and I don’t want to tell you.

Having nothing better to do at the time, I walked over to his house (just around the corner) and we got to talking. Suddenly, I knew. He was going to tell me one of two things: he was an alien and came from on another planet or galaxy … or … he was Jesus Christ.

edward-gorey-donald-imagined-thingsIt was the latter. Another Jesus. He wanted me, because of my brilliant psychic abilities, to be Paul and spread the word. I worked very hard to tell him that his timing was off and I would be sure to advise him when the right moment arrived. Then I fled into the night and home. He was one of several people who convinced me there was no future for me in the psychically predictive arts.

Then there was the guy I worked with at one or another of the many high-tech companies at which I was employed who one day informed me of his intention to quit his job and move to an underground bunker in anticipation of the coming apocalypse. I hadn’t even done his horoscope.

Not surprisingly, a series of these unwelcome surprises has made more than slightly wary of prospective friends. I’m afraid of what will be revealed as we get to know each other better.

The thing about people who believe in cabals, believe they were dropped from an alien spacecraft (or will be leaving on one shortly), are certain that God has assigned them a mission … ? You can’t argue with them.

You can’t point out the incongruities and contradictions of their beliefs. They believe what they believe and that’s that. There’s no point in offering facts. They will ignore all evidence that goes against their world-view.

These folks make me nervous. What happens when they (inevitably) decide I am one of their (many) enemies?

IS CORONAVIRUS THE EARTH ABIDES PLAGUE? from the “Earth Abides” Project

In his amazing predictive authoring, Stewart revived the earth by a plague. Is it here?

The book is available in paperback from Amazon and as an audiobook. I have both versions. I’ve read it (repeatedly) and listened to it (at least another three times, once with Garry, who loved it). I’ve always been surprised it never became a movie, but I can see where it would present some serious cinematic challenges.

Still, it might make an incredible Ken Burns series. If you haven’t read it yet, this is definitely the time to read it. It is NOT depressing because everything works out as it should, though I suppose it helps to be a bit existential about the world, life, and humanity.


IS CORONAVIRUS THE EARTH ABIDES PLAGUE?

Posted on February 11, 2020
George R. Stewart was quite a prophet.

George R. Stewart was quite a prophet.

In his first great work, Ordeal By Hunger, he told the story from an ecological (or Ranger’s) point of view. But he began with the Astronaut’s point of view from Low Earth Orbit. Not bad for a book published in 1936. (It’s still the best book about the Donner Party).

As he prepared for the publication of his ecological novel Fire he sent a letter to a Book-of-the-Month club publicist that prophetically explained:

“I consider the main theme … to be the problem of the relationship of man to his environment. I really think of myself, in most of my books, as what might be called an ecologist. ” (From a letter in the Bancroft Library’s George Rippey Stewart Papers. Published here by permission of the Stewart family.)

In the Third Book of The Years of the City, Stewart pretty well predicted how societies fade away, in a novel that has disturbing parallels for today.

And in his classic work, Earth Abides, he predicted the end of the Anthropocene – the human era – through a disease that spreads rapidly throughout society, decimating most of the human race.

His interest in the idea came from his own experience. After graduation from Princeton University in the Class of 1917 (one of his classmates was F. Scott Fitzgerald), Stewart, like many of his classmates wrapped in patriotic passion by the US’s entry into WW I, enlisted. Like other army soldiers – young healthy men expected to be the most resistant to disease – he contracted the Spanish Flu. It nearly killed him, and it would interfere with his health for decades – eventually leading him to have one lung removed.

The flu infected ONE-THIRD of the human population of the Earth. It may have killed as many as 50,000,000 people. And, like other recent epidemics, it became deadly when some component of a virus jumped from animal populations into a strain of human flu. This is exactly what caused the launch of coronavirus – almost certainly from a live animal market in China. Read about the 1918 epidemic. It killed perhaps 50,000,000.

(An excellent article about the Spanish Flu epidemic, In Flew Enza, focuses on the effects at UC Berkeley — discussing Stewart’s experience, and Earth Abides.)

So far COVID has killed about 6000 and has a 95% cure rate. This is not meant to discourage prudence but to point out that we are far from the 1918 pandemic.

Be prudent. Don’t panic.

If this already frightening disease, coronavirus, should mutate, Stewart’s prophesy could well become (at least partially) true. There are still isolated human populations – as many as 100 tribes, the Sentinelese being the best known – which might avoid the disaster.

Will this be the Earth Abides virus? Hopefully not. At least Stewart helped prepare us with his novel. The book is so widely-read and in so many languages that certainly many of those who are in the leading roles to battle this epidemic have likely read it, and have thus been thinking for decades about what to do if and when such an epidemic should happen. It has in fact been impressive to see how quickly they have begun to respond to it. So we shall wish them well and hope for the best.

In the meantime, you may want to re-read Earth Abide.

POSTSCRIPT, on the first day of spring 2020:

There is major economic and social disruption today – the economic weakening of society, and the isolation of neighbors from each other when cooperation and high social capital are needed but prevented by locking down a town. A city with which I am familiar (as was George R. Stewart) has one case. They have demanded the closure of all businesses except food and drug stores and the hospital. Businesses can’t pay rent or employees; employees can’t pay rent or buy food. For ONE case in a city of more than 50,000.

And there are proposals to close the national parks – the best places for people to get the medical benefits of fresh air and exercise with the best of social distancing.

This would be a good time to consider Rudyard Kipling’s poem IF – especially the first few lines:


If

by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, …


Let’s also follow the example of the locked-down Italians: Sing songs of hope.

Be prudent, keep your head, keep the faith. And sing from your balcony.

OLD WEST TIME TRAVEL: NON-WHITE VERSION – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I’ve always loved time travel stories, especially when they have happy endings. I used to think I’d love to be back in the Old West.

Ya know where I’m going with this. A man of color rides into town riding a handsome horse, wearing fine clothing — and two guns. You can see the women, kids, and cattle running for their lives.

All the alkies are lined up outside the town saloon staring at the stranger, whispering to one another as they gulp their cheap hooch. The saloon gals stare in fascination, their big boobs rising in anticipation over their wonder bras.

The sheriff dashes in to check his wanted posters, the colored section. The town bully sullenly sniffs his glue for some extra courage. The prim school teacher smiles, a warm inviting smile, suggesting that all are welcome in her classroom.

Meanwhile, the Choir in the old church is singing “Nearer My God To Thee”.

The colored gunslinger just keeps riding down Main Street, past the Chinese laundry and chop suey joint without stopping. Ever so slowly, he rides out of town. A small boy runs after the stranger, yelling “Come back, Stranger! Come back! We want you! We need you! Come back, please! We’re all ready for a lynching! Come back, Mister!”

The stranger keeps riding, softling humming “Kumbaya” as his profile disappears in the dust that rises over the horizon.

TIMING, TIME TRAVEL, AND THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT – ELLIN CURLEY

I am fascinated with the concepts of time travel, parallel universes and the Butterfly Effect. Fortunately for me, there are several TV shows today that deal with these things. One is Timeless and another is The Flash. The Flash is a Marvel comic based series in which the hero can run so fast that he can bend time. He can move both forward and backwards in time. Timeless follows a government team of time travelers who have to keep going back in time to prevent the ‘bad guy’ from messing with major past events and drastically changing the timeline.

In both of these shows, each trip back in time results in an altered present. In each, a seemingly random individual who is important to one of the main characters, is either dead in the present or was never born and no longer exists in the present timeline.

This brings up the Butterfly Effect, a theory popular with time travel enthusiasts. The theory, mostly used in science, states that a small change can result in a large, unrelated change down the road. In everyday life, this means that unimportant decisions, like whether to go out to dinner or eat in, can lead to very different ‘storylines’ in your life.

There is both a movie and a play that depicts the parallel universes created by a minor life decision. The movie is “Sliding Doors” from 1998 and stars Gwyneth Paltrow.

It tracks the different careers and love lives that the heroine would have if she a) catches a particular subway train or b) misses the train. For example, if she catches the train, she also gets home in time to catch her boyfriend in bed with another woman. If she misses the train, she also misses this tryst. Her life takes very different paths depending on that fluke of timing.

butterfly-effect-cartoon

The play was a musical called “If/Then,” starring Idina Menzel. The show follows the heroine’s parallel lives if she either chooses to go to lunch with friend ‘A’ or if she chooses to go to a play with friend ‘B’ instead.

Interestingly, in both the movie and the play, the heroine ends up with the same ‘love of her life,’ just at different times in her life. Her career paths diverge but I think most people like to believe that some people are ‘destined’ to be together.

The Jewish concept of ‘Beshert’ says that every soul is a half soul and that there is another person in the world who is their perfect ‘other half’. So in time travel shows, many aspects of life are allowed to be affected by chance. But we don’t seem to want to accept that chance can also change the big things in life, like true love.

TimeTravelSome time travel writers have a different theory. They talk about the fact that the past ‘resists’ change. Rather than believing in the Butterfly Effect as it relates to time travel, many believe that at least the major events in history are more predestined and less susceptible to change.

It might seem easy to keep a major past event from happening, especially if small changes in the timeline can eventually result in big ones. But time travel writers feel events, like WWI, the assassination of JFK, or the sinking of the Titanic, will always find a way to happen, no matter how hard you try to prevent it.

You might want to read Stephen King’s brilliant book “11/22/63” about attempting to go back in time to prevent the JFK assassination. It was also made into a mini series, but the book is much better.

I guess it is easier to accept the idea that relatively small things, like the details of an individual’s life, are changeable and not ‘meant to be.’ Maybe this is because on a small-scale, cause and effect is more linear and knowable. On the other hand, historians are still arguing about the multiple and interrelated causes of the Civil War.

delorean time machineMy grandfather was hit by a truck and killed when he stepped off a curb too soon at the age of 88. I used to obsess about what led him to that exact spot at that exact time. I used to imagine the tiny things he could have done differently that would have gotten him to that spot even a second earlier or later.

For about a year after that, I would imagine each time I reached a curb, that it could be my last moment on earth — if the stars were so aligned. Maybe this is the root of my love for some of these theories.

TRUMP THE BELLWETHER – Marilyn Armstrong

BELLWETHER, BY CONNIE WILLIS

This is a book I have read many times. I read it (again) because it’s funny and finding something to laugh about has not been easy recently. And also, because each time I read it, I see something in it the rings a gong in my brain.

Yesterday, someone asked me, “Why do people follow Donald Trump?”

He doesn’t do it on looks or personality. He’s not handsome., intelligent, witty, or moral. He’s a criminal, a fraud, a bigot … and he is cruel. Why do people follow him? Not merely follow him, but treat him as if he is the second coming (or first coming, depending on where you are coming from) of the Messiah?

Connie Willis_1996_Bellwether


Trump is America’s bellwether.


He is our lead sheep. His flock will follow him into nuclear war, into a fiscal deficit from which we will never recover, even into the death of their planet. They will applaud his vindictiveness, vicious attacks, and forgive his obvious stupidity and lack of education.

They can’t help themselves because they are sheep and need a bellwether. Without such a leader, they will mill in circles and bleat endlessly into the uncaring wind. It’s also why you can’t talk to these people. They are not people.  SHEEP! Have you ever tried to chat up a sheep? I rest my case.

So I read Bellwether — again and as usual, it grabbed me. Having read it at least half a dozen times before, I didn’t expect a surprise, but suddenly, I was surprised. Aside from all the humor about chaos theory and fads, it explained the meaning of “bellwether,” a term I’d heard, used, and misused for years, but never understood.

This time, I got it. The reason people follow insane, crazy, cruel tyrannical leaders is because they are sheep. A bellwether leads sheep. There’s no special reason why a bellwether leads and or why the flock follows. There is just something about that ewe!

That’s how a moron like Jim Jones can convince nearly 900 people to commit suicide and inject poison into their children’s mouths … and why these fanatics think Trump is right up there with God and Christ.

We are not those people. We aren’t sheep. Hillary Clinton got it wrong. She thought they were deplorables embodying evil. Evil notwithstanding, that’s not why they follow. It’s because, despite their human shape, they are ovine. Woolly-headed men and women who need a bellwether to tell them what to think, where to go, what to do.

We no more recognize our bellwethers than does a flock of sheep. We follow them with the same mindlessness. Is it some atavistic instinct, embedded in our DNA? That some are born to lead and others to follow?

Bellwether suggests answers to previously unanswerable questions. Why do people vote against their own self-interest and do so many stupid things? They’re following bellwethers who are loose amongst us, the usually invisible shakers and movers. No longer invisible, we have given this bellwether power … and guess what? He is using every IQ point in his ovine brain to do as much damage as he can. Moral of the story?

Never elect a sheep to be your president. Really bad idea.

You should read this book. Whenever nothing makes sense, I reread it and suddenly, something makes sense that didn’t before. When all other explanations fail, look around. Find the bellwether. That might be the answer.