Most people have heard of P.K. Dick thru the movies made from his stories. Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report and one of my favorites, The Man in the High Castle. Dick was a brilliant writer. His credit arrived about the time he’d managed to completely fry his brain with drugs. His later writings needed a Pharmacopoeia along side the novel, as a student of the Bible might reference a concordance. Psychiatric pharma was in his blood. The Man in the high castle, written in 1962, preceded his copious drug use by a decade or more. What brought this to mind was my meandering strip atop this post. In an alternate universe Steven King might have, may, should, or will, write about the Corona Circus and its scary Clown. The juxtaposition of the elements, the virus, the orange creature, the elephants, confused donkeys, and the sad clown, are the sort of raw material Steven King (in some universe) might make use of. The great Russian writers had revolutions and war and social calamity as background. They made good use of it. But current events, like manure, need to age a bit. When history is hot and still steaming it doesn’t make good fertilizer. That’s going to take years I’m afraid. It’s not going to be over by wishful thinking, the current approach in DC. What makes me think of Dick’s book is its setting in an alternate universe where the Axis, Germany and Japan beat the Allies. The Nazis occupied the USA east of Colorado and Japan took the western US. Dick’s alternate setting had one link to this universe, the reality we were familiar with (until this virus arrived). That link was a book called, “The Grasshopper lies Heavy” and it’s author the man in the high castle, the endpoint of the plot. I have not seen the TV production. I have read the book. The two diverge somewhat. Anyway, the analogy is that somewhere in this pandemic is a book and an author. Maybe King, maybe not, who has (or will) written an alternate story of this time. A story in which rational planning and competent leadership plus a sane majority allows a different path. This timeline is dysfunctional. But in the end I have to paraphrase from another sci fi flick, Terminator….there is no fate but the one we make, collectively. I guess we’re stuck with it.
So this is a war eh? I think I’d feel better without that analogy. Life in the trenches in WW1 or slogging thru jungle in WW2 was much tougher than this. But then I am not at the front. Those folks, the medical workers, the delivery and infrastructure people, they are fight the war, confronting the invisible enemy. I’m in a little trench, a spider hole, of my own design. Makes me think of “Ground Pounder Day” in Iceland. I’d been in the Navy (the USN) about a year. I was finished with tech schools & at my first assignment, Iceland. The US forces up there were by treaty part of the Icelandic self defense force. One day a year we needed to be out in the lava fields playing war. The rest of the time me and my crew sat at consoles listening for Russians. That involved headphones and teletype, not rifles and grenades. Never mind. If the “balloon” went up (if the shit hit the fan) we’d be ready to defend the island. An old timer at the base told me how to handle ground pounding day. “As soon as you get there”, he advised,”start stacking rocks and collecting moss”. The chunks of hard lava built up a wall to windward. The moss got stuffed into the cracks. He told me to also take a couple of sleeping bags. Lava isn’t the softest stuff to sit on. I had a rifle but no ammunition. I had a little radio. By mid morning I was snug as a bug & awaiting the main event. At our end of the valley, higher up, sat an army cannon. A mile or two away, at the other end of the valley, a couple of abandoned trucks. I can’t remember doing anything military that day. I listened to 60’s rock and roll from Armed Forces Radio and waited. I might have had a book, can’t recall…that was 1964, a long time ago. When it got late enough in the afternoon a megaphone announced the moment we’d waited for. The day’s highlight. Above and behind me the cannon roared. Might have been 90mm. Not my area of military expertise. Anyway it was loud. What I most remember was how long the projectile took to reach the other end of the valley and the cool sound it made as it flew above us. Time stretches when you wait for a shell to land. They must have had it sighted in because a few seconds after the cannon roared the target leaped into the air. An echo reverberated up and down the valley. Wow, I thought! My first and only taste of combat. Pretend combat. I didn’t enjoy it enough to switch from the Navy to the Army. The war in Viet Nam was heating up at that time but the Pentagon never called. Used to be civilians just cheered while the soldiers and sailors did the fighting. In the nuclear era the “war fighters” will mourn civilians. That’s new. Novel virus from China moving west, that’s a recurring theme in human history.
Five years ago I decided to run up a bit of debt in a good cause. The cause was experience. The debt ended up about five thousand U$D. The experience, a couple of months in Eastern Europe. The former East block, the USSR’s buffer, had been off limits to me for most of my life. When something is forbidden it becomes attractive. By the time I arrived, the Warsaw Pact and its tanks were gone. All the military and geopolitical posturing something for historians to ponder. Poland was at last free of the Nazi’s and Soviet Communists. I stayed two months in Krakow. Tired of tiny and too expensive hotel rooms I rented an IKEA equipped apartment. It was near the train station, itself a major attraction. It was on a street car line. I’ve never done the 14 day, 15 country type of tourism. Putting stickers on a suitcase like a gun slinger notching his Colt revolver. At my age I’d end up on boot hill with that much travel. No, I like to soak in the new place. Krakow was great for that. Like Madrid, Paris and a few other cities, Krakow was never bombed. When a city is a thousand years old it packs a lot of history into a small area. Krakow had that. It had tourists too, lots, including me I guess. I didn’t do the twenty year old thing and stay out all night. In the early evening I returned to the apartment with dinner’s ingredients. The train station mall included a supermarket. In that market, Ham and cheese and fresh bread, to die for, as they say. To die happy with clogged arteries. Fish too, fresh from Gdansk. After the evening meal I’d watch Polish TV or old movies on my little tablet. Someone I knew back in Ecuador was publishing online and I’d promised to keep them supplied. Fantasy stuff. Not traditional continuity comics, if there is a traditional form any more. A $50 hand scanner did a decent job of converting the watercolor sketches into files. I should make another stab at a strip but I’m not enthused much. What story needs telling? I can’t escape Hamlet’s take on this, “a tale told by an idiot,… signifying nothing” So visit toons, its just a click away.
Some days begin with a theme song. As soon as I saw the headlines I knew who’d be singing this morning’s song. The great and the late, Rufus Thomas. The headline that brought this icon of funky soul music to mind was, “State Department Inspector General fired for looking into Pompeo’s use of staffer for “Walking the Dog”. Pompeo is Trumps dog and some poor mutt is Pompeo’s dog. The headline prompted my memory to play Thomas’s 1963 hit, “Walking the Dog”. Each of these flea bitten hounds need “walking”, a euphemism for pooping on the lawn in front of the State Department. A bit of forensic scatology might reveal how deep in dog doo deep state is. Unfortunately the State Department’s watch dog will not be sniffing around Pompeo. Trump has Pompeo’s back and his scat too, it would seem. Like Conen Dowel’s “The mystery of the dog in the night”, this dog made headlines by not barking. It’s been silenced. Muzzled. That’s fine. A democracy needs watch dogs but a kleptocracy laden with Cronyism and nepotism, does not. The idea that government employees are personal servants of lackeys of the “Don” should have soaked in by now. That the government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish…is up in the air. November will decide it, maybe. I got a robo call yesterday with talking points from Trump’s re-election committee. Main message, Trump is not responsible!, I’ll buy that I thought, but the better word is irresponsible. The CDC has been added to the list of WHO IS responsible, along with the W.H.O. and China. Obama and Hillary have again been pressed into service for blame, once more rising toward the top of the list. A president from the mid 1940’s had a plaque on his desk which said, “The Buck Stops Here”. The phrase, “passing the buck” means never taking responsibility for anything. Whats on the desk now? A solid gold “pooper scooper”
There are signs that this bla feeling is passing. Not because the situation is less bla (for want of another “word”) More for it’s having been resident a couple of months. We get used to anything eventually. That’s not the same as getting to like it. Really, it gets old….familiar. Being locked down. Seeing death lurk around every corner. Checking plates on cars coming up from the hot spots to the south. A Hummer with NY plates seems to be shedding virus particles as it fly’s past. “Keep going til you reach Canada” I think. Not nice? A cloud of miasma, a fog of death trailing bling on wheels. The sign that the induced depression has faded is art. Drawing and painting are a bit looser now. Abstraction has become possible again. I didn’t pick up a brush for a couple of months. Everything was waiting in the studio but I wasn’t ready. Things were too serious for abstract expression. The literal too ugly to render. Now there is a sixteen square foot panel with something growing and morphing in red and blue. Now there are pencil drawings for the scanner and GIMP to chew on. Every day a new Rorschach test. Might be progress, we shall see.
I pace a lot now. Walking back and forth. Up and down. Covering the pathways worn in old carpets. I have a thousand square feet, potentially, to pace. Much of that covered with furniture. Chairs and tables. The pathways run between them. No other traffic, only me. No pets. No people. “You must be lonely” someone says. No, its boredom. Boredom isn’t confused with loneliness, is it? Companionship is two people who when bored toss little verbal grenades at each other. “Do you have to do that?” is a common one. “Do what?. Long pause, “Breathe” or, “do you have to chew like that?”. “Like what?”, with your mouth open, or closed, or anything. Must be hell, needing to live with another, but having the urge to throttle them several times a day. Maybe that urge and its suppression are part of the killing of time. There are (brings up calculator app) 86,400 seconds in a day. There used to be. Now there’s more. Must be more. It seems there must be. Each of those seconds needs to be gotten thru. Uncivilized people just let time do its thing and don’t intervene. We in our coveted highly advanced societies need to control time. We hammer out hours and minutes, seconds and even milliseconds from the raw material of time. A finite resource for both the universe and the individual. A petty pace says the bard. The thing physics and philosophy can’t crack open. Those rags, here Shakespeare says it succinctly thru Macbeth…
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
That is me, blog reader, an idiot putting the sound and fury of word and graphic onto the web. My brief hour on this stage signifying nothing. But, it’s something to do. Programmed by nature and habit to put one foot in front of another. Moving down paths between work tables piled high with distraction. Whats the point? What was ever the point? Does the new normal make any more sense than the old normal? Nature doesn’t love us so we invented God. God’s tough love gives the believer some distraction. It eats up part of Sunday or Friday – whatever holy day the faith designates. On the pulpit another idiot spews sound and fury. I don’t hear it. I don’t go on Sunday to the building with the pointy spire. I’m not blessed and damned or saved from sin. I walk these paths to dusty death. The one fate promised, the only one guaranteed. The end of any need for distraction, group or solitary.
The White House reacted to Doctor Fauci’s testimony to congress by saying his answer was “not acceptable”. That’s a little glimpse into the mind of our head of state. Not acceptable. I agree. Reality is not acceptable anymore either. It follows then that accurate scientific observation regarding reality is also, not acceptable. Dr Fauci’s statement suggested that opening up the economy and society too quickly and without enforced health protocols would cost lives. If there is any doubt of that we need only wait a few months. Even if the White House succeeds in suppressing the numbers from CDC, they will still be bad. An under count, as always. China is accused of suppressing the bad news too. A tradition with authoritarian regimes. This way of thinking in the White House, in Trump’s base, astonishes me. Its incredible that so many people can see what they are told to see. What they want to see. I’ve thought that they’d adjust to the real when people around them start dropping. I’m not sure even that will shock them into reset.
This magical thinking might be their default mode. Doctor Fauci respects the physician’s credo, “to abstain from doing harm”. Those who hold public office should follow a similar rule. Doing nothing (re: CV19) would be a vast improvement in Washington. The good doctor is literally speaking truth to power…and power does not appreciate it. There must be a lively pool betting on how long Fauci will last at the White House. He is mostly window dressing anyway, An expert on the stage, seeming to give weight to the idiot in chief’s inane statements. Fauci does not make the decision ultimately. He gives informed opinion regarding the epidemiology, the spread of CV19. If elected leaders say the society must reopen, in spite of the resultant deaths, that’s a judgement. Obviously things must start moving again. It is not either or, not the binary Trumpistas love.
It has nuance, shades of grey, detail. That’s not acceptable either! Choice must be reduced to one, as it is in China, as it is in Putin’s Russia. The mark of a totalitarian state, limiting information, limiting choice. The White House with one hand says open up safely and with the other it encourages disregard for health guidance. A doctor fired for speaking truth to power has testified that we could be in for a horrendous fall and winter. That the spread of the virus, accelerated by an undisciplined restart, will ramp up. Of course it will. Will 2+2=4 in the fall, as it does now? I’m sure it will. The virus will spread with the same certainty. A math function not subject to our desire, fear or hope. The variable we do control is R zero, The basic reproductive ratio of a virus. We totally control that, but…getting it to zero would mean zero social contact…not possible.
We need a balance, not the absolute of magical thinking. This virus shines a spotlight on that aspect of human behavior. Half of the population, sometimes more, sometimes less, exhibits this “magical thinking”. The “leadership” we have today, and its decisions, are the result of this behavior’s effect in the last presidential election. Let me throw out a scrap of meat to the people who voted for Trump…the only other choice wasn’t too good either. Just those two? WTF? Out of three hundred million citizens we choose between those two? The CV19 crisis would still be with us now had Hillary been elected. The gun totting zelots would still be guarding tatu parlors in Texas. The death count would not be much lower. No administration of any political stripe would be able to do what would be needed to push the numbers to zero. In China they couldn’t manage that. I wonder if it’s at all useful to mull these details, these crumbs of information and observation. Makes more sense to wait for the end game in 18 to 24 months. Better to wait for what happens and be informed by reality. Oh, the virus will win, there has never been the possibility it would’t. It will not go away. Sadly, many of us will be gone when the dust settles.
Yesterday, I think it was yesterday, I beat up on social media. I broke the icon, the silver lining in this time of CV, the heart (some would say) of the internet. But, I don’t think I’d agree that social media was the heart of the web, not for me. But without a doubt Zuck bet on a winner with Facebook. Is the WP platform social media? I don’t think it is, not in the same way. It values writing more. The old values finding a home in the ether. Punctuation preserved. Pacing and structure. Unique voices. This is because culture produced the written word long after the spoken. The line that produced Dostoevsky and Steven King started with an ancient storyteller’s voice. Early on, my tribe, the illustrators, put up matching story boards on cave walls. In flickering light the early audience listened to the story. The speaker’s words gave animation to the paintings. Red ocher animals ran and jumped with the speaker’s vivid description.
The suspension of disbelief that audience give their storyteller’s tales then isn’t exceeded now. The hunt, the day the sun died, the noble genealogy of the leader. The family tree with all the names remembered and honored. The audience hung on the words. The fire crackled. The speaker built up suspense and pulled each listener into the story. It was their story. Their fears and hopes were what they heard. Now tokens for sound, letters, words, paragraphs, chapters and books, tell our stories. The means of delivery and the content really haven’t changed. Did you ever get admonished for moving your lips when reading? Like that was a throw back. Uncouth?, Speaking the printed words somehow less civilized. I suppose it is less civilized. But that’s not a bad thing. Civilization comes with a price.
Anyway, keeping a stiff upper lip doesn’t stop the reading becoming speech. In the mind written goes back to spoken. It must, what else could it be to be understood? It was spoken first, in the author’s mind. It is spoken again in the mind of the reader. A huge difference is that in the cave the stories were preserved by apprentice storytellers. Stories passed generation to generation. A book can survive many generations. Electronic media might last even longer.
I still work from a script. But I wonder if a microphone wouldn’t be better for me than a keyboard or pen. It would help with the spelling, by eliminating spelling. Revision? or just let the error remain. The pause while the lips caught up with the brain. The stutter. The delay when text is scrolled. Must be an add on for notepad to give smooth auto scrolling. No I don’t use MS word, notepad does the job. MS Word’s bells and whistles are not at the heart of storytelling. The guy standing at the fire long ago didn’t have any of that. Don’t assume that guy was stupid. He wasn’t. Don’t assume we are smarter, we are not. The conversations we miss in the time of CV are exchanges of stories. The continuity comic strip describing our lives, frame by frame.
Iconoclast: A person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions.
There is something incidious about all of this. The images that spring to my mind are of the Sourcerer’s Apprentice or a squirrel on an exercise wheel. Micky in that Disney classic uses his master’s magic to help with a chore. The magic gets out of hand because he doesn’t fully understand it. The squirrel is at a keyboard as it runs. The wheel spins faster and faster, the squirrel types more and more. He is reassured by rows of other squirrels running on their exercise wheels, banging away at their keyboards. They’re gaining followers and comments. If he can just run a bit faster he can have that too…and money! Right now he glows in the warmth of attention and approval. He has followers and likes but needs to promote and link. It’s never enough somehow. Is all this healthy? is it sustainable? Why does the bug fly a tight orbit around the porch light? Some instinct it doesn’t question makes it want to do this. The natural urge to seek the light and its warmth has been subverted. It wastes time and effort but attains nothing. The pheromone traps use a natural lure, sex, to collect bugs. On the internet plenty of that bait set for humans. Social bait works well too. To be accepted by the group. To have the approval of others. To belong. Instincts in a social animal are very strong. When denied society and its approval the individual sickens. I remember one night, watching a firefly attracted to a light switch. Not the light itself but the little glow in the switch. It was flickering. Neon lamps do that when air seeps thru the seal between glass and wire. When the right amount of air mixes with the neon gas this flicker roughly immitates that of a fire fly. I suppose the interface me and the squirrel are connected to could fake it – could tell us that thousands were hanging on our every word. Wouldn’t be true but we’d feel great! And, as long as we didn’t try to extract any $$ from this popularity, who’d know? Wouldn’t mean anything. Wouldn’t be real social approval but we’d react as though it was. When nobody liked us or visited or viewed our site we’d be sad. I am not much brighter than the squirrel, or Micky. We invoke this magic but don’t understand it. No, I don’t mean we are ignorant of the technical stuff. I suggest we are totally clueless about the psychological part, the hook, the bait. The practical use of the web, ordering toys from China, is fine and an improvement on going into town. Uses less gas, pollutes less. Reasons from normal times. Now social distance goes to the top of the list. The market where people in the past bought and sold everything they didn’t make themselves, was also where they met. The web can substitute for one use of the market but not for the other.
Outside its trying to snow. Trying because the air is too warm, Snow flakes are not landing. Suits me. I’m inside and snug, inside a submarine in the western Pacific. We’re on war patrol – its 1943. Binge watching a 1950’s TV series called, “The Silent Service”. Having YouTube play one episode after another without intervention soothes me somehow. Being stuck inside, underwater, under a sea change, I can identify with these submariners. They were plucked from a normal life by the war. They never knew if they’d make it back to Pearl Harbor or Midway or Australia. Returning to the USA, resuming their lives, that seemed too distant to contemplate. Often they couldn’t see what was attacking. Aircraft dropping bombs. Depth charges that threaten to send them to the bottom. An anology? Unseen enemy with a deadly weapon. Hiding, diving for deep water to avoid the invisible? Tired of the confinment but always reminded that isolation was the best defensive weapon. They had radar and sonar. I navigate blind. I have the daily numbers, 1.3 million and 75 thousand right now. Those guys tallied thousands of tonns of enemy shipping. They could fight. I can only hide. Some of our “leadership” says the fight against CV is a war. I feel more like something in a Petri dish. So I go to war in a virtual way, a couple of years before I was born. Like those young submariners we will win. Like them that victory is years away. Clear the bridge, dive!, dive!