Friday, July 14, 2017

The Intersection of Religion and Politics

Illustration by Par Holman. Copyright © 2017 Par Holman

I read that a few days ago some evangelical types did a laying-on-of-hands for Donald Trump, praying for him. Trying to jump start his spiritual battery, I suppose. Trump is not exactly what I would call a religious type, but in this case he probably figured what-the-hell. What did he have to lose? Presidents, no matter if religious, find that catering to the faithful among the citizens is good politics.

In that way we mix religion with State.

On a more personal note, the adage of keeping out of trouble by avoiding the topics of religion and politics in conversation is true. It has caused a major rift in my wife’s family, some of whom are speaking, some not. My wife’s brothers are, like me, anti-Trump and unreligious. My wife’s sister and her husband, as well as some of their children, are evangelicals and pro-Trump. Like most families you find both kinds at the family reunions, except in this case there are no family reunions. The only mixing we have done with that side of the family was at a wedding several months ago, and we decided to handle it with smiles. We were comfortable, the other side of the family was not.

The morning after the 2016 election one of the members of the family’s pro-Trump faction posted on Facebook, “When Trump won, God won.” That person is not on my Facebook page, so I heard about it second hand. Despite knowing their evangelical gusto and spread-the-gospel zeal, I could not see how they equated Trump with God. I believe that Trump could be the poster child for what not to do to lead a religious lifestyle. But then, maybe I should not be surprised. I live in Utah, where the state is not only solid Republican, but the lawmakers are almost all Latter-day Saints. Despite their core religious beliefs, they come in all types, and some of them make Trump’s chicanery seem childish. Not for nothing does Utah have the reputation for being tops in having the faithful suckered by con men.

As churches, evangelicals are spread out over Utah, but they are a minority in the larger Christian community.

Back to Trump. The guy has a reputation for being crooked in so many areas that he reminds me of the types that Jesus supposedly ran out of the temple. Why is it that some of the poorest people in this country are putting their faith in Trump, whose business acumen is mainly how to borrow money, declare bankruptcy, hire out his name for shoddy products (Trump Steaks, Trump University), and stiff contractors when they have completed their work? As mentioned before, Trump has more lawsuits against him than any other real estate mogul. He is not a religious icon, he is just this side of criminal, and maybe if we knew more about him we might see him to be more criminal than saint.

One of the things the Facebook letter said to my brother-in-law was that “liberals” are a sad and unhappy bunch. Well, maybe some are. I am only sad because Trump is president, and for some reason the Democrats could not get it together enough to beat the Republicans, losing the House, Senate and presidency. Other than that I am not unhappy, because karma, or judgment from god notwithstanding, things do tend to even out. Had Trump not run for president he could have enjoyed without much scrutiny his life of opulence and pleasure on the backs of little people. But now that he is in the white hot spotlight, everyone is focused in on him and his family of ne’er do wells. I go back at least 30 years in reading stories about Trump. He gloried in his reputation as a philanderer.  He took pleasure in his reputation as a business shark. I guess what the guy who wrote the Facebook letter to my brother-in-law missed out on is that Trump will never be presidential. There is nothing that will restrain him from being his own worst enemy.

Remember the Spider-Man credo? “With great power comes great responsibility.” Great power also comes with the eyes of the world fixed on the powerful. Everything that person does is under constant scrutiny.

So what to do about those religious people, like those in my wife’s family, who are still imbuing him with attributes he does not have, i.e., conscience, fair play,..a soul (even if I do not believe such a thing exists)? Nothing I can say to them will shake their faith or make them think less of him. It actually has the opposite effect. Because liberals like me, my family and my brothers-in-law don’t like their idol it gives them further fuel for their paranoid conspiracy theories, that the “left” along with the “fake news” is out to get him in some sort of witch hunt.

 I guess the best thing to do is sit back and watch as all of the shady acts of Trump’s life come back to get him in the end. Might be sooner, might be later, but as my religious neighbors might say, good Lord willin', it will get him.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

L. Frank Baum, father of the Wizard of Oz

Lyman Frank Baum created a whole world in his Oz series for children. Published originally in 1900, the original Oz book has gone through countless printings, and the 1939 movie based on it is considered one of the greatest movies ever made. This article, by Daniel Mannix, which appeared in the December 1964 issue of American Heritage, is a tribute to both the man and his creation.

Copyright © 1964 American Heritage

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The hungry, haunted house

Haunted house stories in fiction can be very entertaining, even if you don’t believe in ghosts and wandering spirits or demons.

I don’t know if Robert Bloch believed in the supernatural. But he was a writer who wrote all kinds of fictional weird tales, including stories of hauntings. He made his living writing stories like “The Hungry House.” I am presenting the scans from its original appearance in the magazine, Imagination, April, 1951. So, whether you believe in ghosts or!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Hollywood Rule: Between facts and legend, show the legend

I watched The Revenant again recently. This time I felt the need to look up what is known of the mountain man, Hugh Glass, an attack by a grizzly bear, and the truth of his quest for revenge on men who left him to die. During my second viewing I thought the story seemed too good to be true, more Hollywood than fact.

Such is actually the case. Or what little is known of it. Glass’s encounter with the bear happened in the wilderness in 1823, which was a long way from any newspapers or traditional ways of telling the story. The historical accounts I was able to find don’t mention the son of Glass, killed by the slimy Fitzgerald (played by Tom Hardy), as shown in the movie version.

This cartoonist’s version of the Glass story, taken from an old pulp magazine (sorry, I don’t know which one), has Glass going after the men who left him to die, but then forgiving them. In the movie he exacts a gory and violent revenge, which makes a lot better cinema, but impugns Glass’s real-life character.

Click on it to make it big.

This article, "A Difficult Man to Kill" from True West magazine, tells what is known of the facts of the story.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

What DON’T we know about Donald Trump?

Copyright  © 2017 Par Holman

Since the election of Donald Trump this past November this blog has been mostly about my outrage. I have found out that to a lot of other people, not just me, there have been feelings of depression and anxiety. Depression that we have four years (at least) to look at this man's face, and anxiety that we don’t know what he will do.

In most of my posts I reiterate my feeling that what we do know about Trump makes us wonder about what we don’t know. Personally, I want see more of his taxes. I was interested in the one example we have, released by the White House ahead of Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC. The taxes showed that in 2005 Trump had earned about $158 million, but paid taxes of $38 million. That seems fair and right to me. A statement he made after that revelation was not challenged by any of the TV people who make a living talking about Trump, that Trump wanted to change the tax codes to prevent that from happening again. I am surprised the news media (what Trump calls "fake news" if it doesn’t agree with him) didn’t pick up on that. Trump would like to change the tax laws to be more in favor of the rich. As he attempts to do just that, we will have to see how it all shakes out. I hope there are enough members of the Congress and Senate to block new laws that just shift more of the tax burden on middle class families.

Recent revelations about another rich man, Fox News broadcaster Bill O’Reilly, paying millions to women suing him for sexual harassment brings back my oft-repeated question about Trump. How much has he paid women to keep quiet about his own sexual proclivities? He is a self-confessed adulterer, and has bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy,” not to mention being caught on tape describing his days as owner of the Miss Universe and Miss Teen USA pageants. He was able to walk into the dressing room where young women were in various forms of undress, and brag there wasn’t anything they could do about it. He was the boss! He has also been sued by several women for groping and unwanted sexual attention, but it seems as soon as those stories appear they disappear. The women allow themselves to be identified. Trump would like everyone to believe they are lying. But I believe the stories fit the image we have already of Trump.

Another big nine-day wonder of a story had to do with Trump paying Russian prostitutes to urinate on the hotel room bed that Barack and Michelle Obama had slept in while guests in Russia. Again fitting Trump’s image it could be true, but I believe the news media has dropped it because its origin is hard to pin down. Of course Trump denies it, but then he denies everything negative about him. In this case he could be right. I believe we will probably have to wait until the various investigations about the Trump dealings with the Russians are completed. And I am only about 50% certain those investigations will be unbiased, actually looking for the truth rather than a whitewash.

I still think, as the cartoon above shows, that Trump has proverbial skeletons in the proverbial closet. A guy doesn’t get through life defrauding contractors, denying certain races access to his rental properties, groping women, having a couple of ex-wives who say nothing about him because of non-disclosure agreements, without having a lot of things someone knows about him that have not been made public.

I also read that Trump has had over 3500 lawsuits, both those brought against him, and suits he has brought. He is sued for not living up to a contract or for egregious behavior. He has more lawsuits than the next five most successful realtors in New York combined.

Timothy O’Brien, who wrote a book a few years ago that claimed Trump was worth about 150 to 250 million, rather than the billions he claims, was sued. Trump lost that one. Trump also uses the threats of suits to shut down what people say about him. For Trump image is everything, and when people point out that his image is tarnished beyond hope of re-plating or polishing he turns to his lawyers. That's the sure sign of a bully: pick a fight, then get someone else to go to battle for him.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Faked-out by fake news

After all the recent talk and accusations about fake news, I was reminded of an incident years ago, seeing the result of fake news in person. I recently went through the online archives of Weekly World News, a sometimes satiric supermarket tabloid no longer published, so I could show you the actual issue that caused a grocery store checkout-line uproar.

Over 20 years ago I was waiting to buy my groceries in a local supermarket, when a little old lady ahead of me in line became very concerned. She was looking at the cover of the Weekly World News issue of July 11, 1995. She exclaimed to the checker, “Oh no! They are going to take away my Social Security! What will I do?” There was anguish in her voice. Just moments before I had seen the same headline, but it did not mean the same thing to me as it did to the woman. The checker told her, “That’s not a true story...that magazine is trying to be funny.” The woman said something that registered with me, so that I still remember it. She said, "But they can’t publish it if it isn’t true!”

Weekly World News was something I sometimes noticed because of ridiculous stories about UFOs landing, aliens taking over the White House, Jesus coming back, and the the silly Bat Boy. I had heard the woman’s assertion before that something has to be true to be published, and as a Mad fan, knew that satire was a protected area of free speech. But when satire doesn’t look like satire, then to a gullible mind the story must be true.

I wonder if she went home and had a sleepless night, fretting about losing her monthly government stipend.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Nowadays, reading the article by “Nick Mann,” I can see how someone could be suckered into thinking it was true. It comes off as a fairly straight news story, not as outrageous as most Weekly World News stories. It is essentially how some people fall for screwball Internet stories about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a Washington Pizzeria. To many of us that claim is so ridiculous on its face that we would just dismiss it as being in that Weekly World News category. But to some, like a man who invaded the actual pizzeria and fired a shot into the ceiling so he could free the sex slaves, the distinction between fantasy and reality isn’t so finely tuned.

I think we will hear more in the future about fake news, because now it is proliferating. If the president of the United States cannot tell the difference between fantasy and reality, then we are in for more outbursts like that of Trump’s tweeted beliefs that he had his “wires tapped” by his predecessor. We also have a clear indication that fake news is not only created internally, but also used by groups from Russia trying to destabilize us, and doing a pretty good job at it.

If you read the Weekly World News article, in the first paragraph it states that “Social Security will be abolished during a trumped-up financial crisis.” The irony of the current president’s name being the same as a word that is defined as to “fabricate, devise (1690s)”, and “deceive, cheat (1510s)” is just too incredible not to mention. Like the story that uses it, it seems almost too apt not to be true.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Allow me my own alternative fact...

This cartoon by Liam Francis Walsh, which appeared in the February 22, 2016 issue of The New Yorker, is both brilliant and funny. Who doesn’t remember those terrors in the night, worrying that if you put your feet on the floor, something under your bed would grab you? I was lucky with both my dad and mom who were there to reassure me there was nothing lurking in my bedroom...nothing to grab me and eat me, anyway. My imagination was very powerful.

Copyright 2016 The New Yorker

Based on current events, seeing the cartoon again the other day gave me a completely different spin. Just 7 weeks into the Trump presidency, I see the monster as Trump, carrying off innocent citizens who have done nothing wrong, and the dad peering under the bed being representative of those Trump fans who refuse to see the monster in him.

After all, we had example after example in nearly two years of campaigning that a belligerent Trump has only a passing acquaintance with truth. He believes that when something, no matter how outrageous, comes out of his mouth and gets reported, that makes it true. Then when the fact checkers get through with him, he just blames the news media for being “fake.” (Dictionary makers take heed: there is now a whole new definition of the word “fake.”) Trump gets his information from people online or on cable TV that we think of as total screwballs. That may be unprecedented in modern history.

I have so many questions about Trump, most of them unanswered for what I think are legal reasons: people who know the worst things about Trump are probably silenced by having to sign non-disclosure agreements. I am sure his ex-wives have signed them, and I wouldn’t doubt that even his children and current spouse have signed them. We know nothing of Trump’s medical history. Sometimes I wonder if he is on drugs, or exhibiting signs of dementia. Is there some requirement that a president take a physical? A quick check shows that no, there is not.

There are so many things we are able to observe about Trump which make him seem the most unlikely and unqualified person in America to be its president. Yet he still has millions of fans who think he is doing just great.

With all of that weighing on my mind at the moment maybe you'll understand why I looked at the cartoon and saw an “alternative fact” for its meaning.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

We think we know way more than we actually do

The New Yorker for February 27, 2017, has an article, “That's what you think” by Elizabeth Kolbert. It is why humans think the way we do. Hint: it has to do with evolution, and fitting into society.  One of the parts of the article especially  intrigued me. Students were given a questionaire, asking them to describe how a toilet works.
The assignment, according to the author, “revealed to students their own ignorance . . . (Toilets, it turns out, are more complicated than they appear.)

“Steven Sloman, a professor at Brown, and Stanley Ferbach, a professor at the University of Colorado, are also cognitive scientists. They, too, believe sociability is the key to how the human functions or, perhaps more pertinently, malfunctions. They begin their book, The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone, with a look at toilets. . . [they] see this effect, which they call the ‘the illusion of explanatory depth,’ just about everywhere. People believe they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people. In the case of my toilet, someone else designed it so that I can operate it easily. This is something humans are very good at. We've been relying on one another’s expertise ever since we figured out how to hunt together, which was probably a key development in our evolutionary history. So well do we collaborate, Sloman and Fernbach argue, that we can hardly tell where our own understanding ends and others’ begins.”
That is fascinating, because I realized  many years ago what they are saying. The article did not mention cars, because I think I know a lot about cars, but I understand I know the functional, not the mechanical.  I can drive a car, maneuver in traffic, brake, read speed limit signs, traffic semaphores, and after 56 years of driving I have developed a sort of sixth sense of what other drivers are doing or are about to do. But if the car breaks down I need someone else’s expertise. All of the extra senses in the world won’t get a car running if the timing belt is broken, or the starter motor goes out. But then, unlike the toilet, which depends on gravity and some very easy to understand principles of plumbing, cars nowadays are full of computerized parts. Even the car experts need external help to figure out what’s wrong. I think most people understand they don’t know enough about modern cars to fix more shade tree mechanics, for instance.

But the part about the toilet struck me, because I thought I knew what made a toilet work. When I looked it up online I was surprised at how simple it is, but someone had to think of it first. That person was most likely a genius in their time. “How Toilets Work”.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

New Yorker: Eating a dog

(You all know how to click on a picture to make it bigger.)

Years ago, watching the PBS series, The Last Place on Earth, the story of the first explorers to reach the South Pole, I remember feeling revulsion when they ate their dogs to stay alive. I sometimes project myself into a situation if I am watching in a movie or on television. I thought I would rather starve than eat a dog.

Dogs and cats are sacred to Americans. Most of us, anyway. I know one guy who objects to spaying and neutering animals because we'll need to eat them when we are in the midst of the apocalypse. I excuse him; he is what I call quirky.

Because of our feelings for domestic animals, a cartoon like this from the December 14, 1940 New Yorker, would probably not be published today. It would provoke outrage. Carl Rose is the cartoonist behind this eye-opener. He’s an artist who has been mostly forgotten,* but he was an award-winner, and did illustration work as well as gag cartoons.

My guess on how this dog cartoon came about is when he (or the editor, who may have assigned it to him) read the article in the November 25, 1940 issue of Time. His imagination ran free on how a food editor might experience what a dog tastes like. It’s appalling, but funny in a sick sort of way. Still, no boycotts of me, please. I am just showing it as an example of what we can’t show today. (That makes no sense, I know.)

*Hairy Green Eyeball has a couple of collections of Carl Rose’s work, including a fictional cartoon history of a heroic war dog.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Is the current president of the United States a sociopath?

I am writing this just one month since Donald Trump took the oath of office. With the constant uproar coming from Washington it has seemed like a long month, but overall, not all that surprising to those of us who have carefully watched Trump’s character quirks. When the plea went out after the inauguration to “give the guy a chance,” we thought about his insults during the campaign, his lying, his incredible ego, and we said, “Show us he can change.” What he shows us is more of the same as during his campaign. After the inauguration we were told to overlook the president’s bizarre takes on what is truth and what is fantasy. We were asked to consider his realities “alternative facts.” We said, “Fat chance.” There are facts, and there are not-facts, and no one has the right to confuse them.

What I have seen so far is a man who is begging for attention, which accounts for the bizarre sight of him still campaigning, four weeks after his swearing-in. A couple of days ago he held a rally and once again listed his triumphs, which are skewed to his core believers. They believe everything he tells them, and love the way he tells it.

We hear from someone within his inner circle that the president has cabin fever. He regrets being cooped up in the Oval Office. He misses his free-and-easy life as a bon vivant who has dinner in his favorite restaurant with his pals, a group of the anointed, those fit to sit at the table with Trump. Basking  in his tales of glory and his alternative facts. One would ask, did he not know this would be his life if elected? It is what he signed on for, and now having buyer’s remorse really isn’t an option for him, is it? (If he wants to quit, I say, go for it, Donald!)

For me, this month has been one with many other Americans, trying to figure out why Trump acts like he does. He is 70.  He won’t change, except to get worse with age. Like others I have asked, does Trump have dementia? He produced some letter from a doctor during the campaign explaining he was in good health, but what about an examination by a physician working for the people, not for Donald Trump? What would that show?

I have also wondered if Trump is on drugs, prescription, or over-the-counter, or even illegal? What do we know about him, anyway? He was a rich young guy during the swinging years of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Was he snorting coke with other members of the Who’s Who of the Rich and Cool? If he was, is he still?

My belief is that people in Trump’s inner circle, if not sworn to secrecy, are probably bound by legal confidentiality agreements. They have been paid, or have signed a document not to tell what they know about him. That would account for why we haven’t heard anything from his two ex-wives. We have heard from some people who have had some business dealings with Trump (mostly bad), which Trump can dismiss with a wave of his hand. He can claim they came away from his deals on the short end, that they are “whiners and complainers.” And perhaps they are, except that Trump’s dealings with the American public have left a lot of us with the broader sense of what must go on with him behind closed doors. Nothing good, I think.

I am reading The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, Ph.D. The book was published in 2005 and is not about Trump. Not directly, anyway. He isn’t mentioned anywhere in the text, but several things Dr Stout has written seem to shout out “Trump”  to those of us in 2017.

Dr Stout describes a sociopath as a person without empathy or a conscience. She gives us the statistic that one in four people are sociopaths. People who kill without any remorse are sociopaths. People who run con games are sociopaths. People who sabotage fellow workers for their own benefit can be sociopaths. The list goes on. You and I have probably worked with sociopaths, have a sociopath or two in our families, or wondered about some public figures. Trump, for instance.

What first caught my eye, quoting directly from the book:
“. . . sociopaths have a greater than normal need for stimulation which results in their taking frequent social, physical, financial, or legal risks.” Also, “. . . as a group they are known for their pathological lying and conning [confidence games].” [Page 7]
A fascinating section of the book called “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” deals with leaders who scapegoat other races or groups of people, called “others” or “its” in the book:
“Using fear-based propaganda to amplify a destructive ideology, such a leader can bring the members of a frightened society to see the its as the sole impediment to the good life, for themselves and maybe even for humanity as a whole, and the conflict as an epic battle between good and evil. Once these beliefs have been disseminated, crushing the its without pity or conscience, become an incontrovertible mandate.

“Why do we continue to allow leaders who are motivated by self-interest, or by their own psychological issues from the past, to fan bitterness and political crisis into armed confrontation and war?” [Page 59]
The section that I think is an apt description of a person like Trump:
“Benjamin Wolman, founder and editor of the International Journal of Group Tensions, writes, ‘Usually human cruelty increases when an aggressive sociopath gains an uncanny, almost hypnotic control over large numbers of people. History is full of . . . sociopathic megalomaniacs who managed to obtain support . . . and incited people to violence.’ Insidiously, when such a “savior” abducts the normal population to its purposes, he usually begins with an appeal to them as good people who would like to improve the condition of humanity, and then insists that they can achieve this by following his aggressive plan.” [Page 93]
Trump is doing nothing more than other world leaders have done in the past, pointing at certain groups, Mexicans or Muslims, and declaring them enemies of what is good and right about America.

Luckily, Trump’s approval ratings are around 39%, as I saw on television last night. But that is still too many people who are buying into his distorted message.  History teaches us that leaders like that don’t do well when their history is written. In looking back, there have been several leaders, maybe some of the most damaging in the history of the planet, in the twentieth century. All of those who scapegoat Jews, Muslim, or foreigners, have come off on the wrong side of history. So why are we still electing people like Trump? I assume it is because a certain segment of the population believes that “its” or “others” should be persecuted and shut out, and some just don’t know history at all.

So, my answer to my own question, “Is the president of the United States a sociopath?” is, in my mind, yes. People laughed at Hitler; they made fun of him. But then for years he got the last laugh. It was only when forces drove him from power that he could be held up as an extreme example of what happens when a sociopath leads a group of fellow sociopaths in their destructive ways. People laugh at Trump. They take him as a joke. The problem is, in a couple of years, will his ways still seem funny?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Time Out — Science Fiction by Postino

January 19, 2017

I know my story sounds crazy, but I need to get it down before I forget everything. This document will be my only record of what was, and what happened. In a matter of hours my mind will have absorbed and adjusted to my new reality, and the old reality will cease to be.

That’s what they told us during our basic training of course, when we were given both the theories and actual nuts-and-bolts of time travel. Twenty years ago I was a college graduate looking for a career in government service. Because of my graduate and post-graduate studies in nineteenth century history, with an emphasis on the American Civil War, the interviewer shuttled me over to what turned out to be the most secret black op of all, Project Yesterday. It is so secret even the President of the United States doesn’t have a need to know. (Some unscrupulous president might want to use it to go back in time and purposely alter history for political reasons, which, next to a giant meteor hitting Earth, would be the worst thing that could happen.) We were told Project Yesterday is a history project, studying every aspect of American and world history up to the present, so the definitive history of life on Earth can someday be revealed. (I think there is probably more to it than studying history, but it’s above my pay grade to know more than I am told.)

The basic science of time travel was originally developed by the Germans in the 1930s, but did not work until  taken over by the Americans at the end of World War II. With captured German scientists and equipment, of course. It is terrifying to think of what would have happened had the Nazis gotten control of time travel.

We are not supposed to divulge any details of the Project under pain of imprisonment. But I felt it was important enough to risk even that.

Despite that,  here is a very broad view of what my team of Temps (short for our title, Temperonaut) does. With any secret program and need to know, we are compartmentalized, and we don’t know what else is going on within the Project, just the work of our own unit. Our unit studies the Battle of Gettysburg. We record every second of the fighting from every angle possible. We have made a record of every soldier from either side, with photos and names, and every action, gunshot, saber rattle and death during the battle. It would be impossible to do it in Live time, so we operate under a different time system, where we are invisible to the participants of the battles. We call it Time Out. I’m a historian, not a techie, but from what I can understand, we are watching it from a time in between time. So we see everything as a tableau, soldiers frozen in the act, standing like statues. It took some getting used to, seeing minie balls hanging in mid-air, or exploding into some poor guy’s face, and us Temps moving between the action, taking pictures.

It was quite an experience the first time I stood in front of a guy with a stream of blood coming down his face from a bullet hole between his eyes. I took the pictures, and went through his pack or his uniform, looking for his name on a letter, or a bible with an inscription, or anything else that might give me his identity. We take DNA samples, too, with blood draws on everyone who participated in the battle.

We use special digital cameras, so when a soldier is identified, that information goes into the main database. Every picture taken of him uses facial recognition technology to identify him.

In my latest assignment, I was photographing a teenage Confederate rifleman, and there was a power glitch. That glitch meant that as I was photographing him Time Out suddenly went Live, and I was in the middle of the battle. In a sudden panic I dropped my camera.

It happens very rarely, but occasionally there is some overload or problem with the hard drive, and until it corrects itself, usually within seconds, those of us on the battlefield are suddenly in grave danger. Not to mention looking like apparitions to our subjects. We wear coveralls, helmets and masks to keep us from spreading our viruses, or from inhaling any 1863 germs. Detecting our presence can cause a distortion of the time stream, at least momentarily, so the software is supposed to correct it. This time that didn’t happen. I was photographing the kid from the front and when he went Live it shocked me. I jumped out of his way and dropped the camera. I dove behind a nearby tree, just before a shouting pack of a half-dozen or so riflemen ran by me. In about 30 seconds the computer came back on line, corrected itself and went back to Time Out. Even after a careful search I could not find the camera. Maybe one of the riflemen saw the camera and stopped to pick it up. Regardless of why, it was not there when I looked for it.

No one living in 1863 would know what they were looking at if they stumbled onto a digital camera. But we have to be very careful of what we are supposed to be constantly on the lookout for when introducing anachronisms into the time stream: the Bradbury Effect.

Do you remember that story by Ray Bradbury, “A Sound of Thunder”? In it some time travelers on a hunting expedition in the dinosaur era wander off a designated path and one guy steps on a butterfly. That changes history down the line. So when the main characters get back to their original time period everything is changed. They even have a new president, an “iron man.” Would the Bradbury Effect happen in real life? In theory reality would change in a way a person would be shifted into a new reality without remembering the old reality. That is how it was explained to us, anyway. But here I am, knowing I am proof of the Bradbury Effect, and hurrying to write it down before the alternate time stream in which I now find myself causes my brain to erase the old stream and let the new take over.

Which brings me to Live, right now. Before leaving the time travel facility adjacent to Gettysburg, I had to make a report and admit I lost the camera. My boss was not one bit happy about it. I got a lecture on abandoned anachronisms and what they are thought to do — and it made me think, am I really the first Temp to lose something in the time stream? —then he added another indignity. He put me on temporary suspension while the effect of my screw-up could be studied.

Well, he needn’t bother, because I can see the effect for myself, and that is why I have to write this before my brain adjusts to a new reality.

When I was last in 2016 it was the day of the general election. As I reported for duty, just before slipping back to 1863, the news was all abuzz about how the first female president was sure to be elected, and what it was going to mean. On the other hand, her opponent, a cranky curmudgeon with a bad comb-over hairstyle and an orange spray tan, would hopefully disappear into the night and never be heard from again.

All the polls said she would win. Everyone I knew voted for her. Everyone hated the orange man. They didn’t like anything he said or did. She was a shoo-in!

Imagine my surprise on coming back today and finding out there is no first female president. The orange-faced guy is now our new president. The inevitable question is, what the hell happened?

I sit here shaking. Something like that could not have happened had we not had an alteration to the time stream. It is my fault. I know it. My lost camera is the reason that this man is now President of the United States.

I do not think any punishment could be severe enough for putting this pumpkin-head in the top office of the most powerful country in the world.

The only solace I have is that within a very short period of time, as the theory holds, I will not remember being the cause, but until I blissfully lose this memory I offer here my mea culpa, and if allowed to go back to 1863, I promise this time I will attach my camera by a strap so I can’t lose it again. But then…how much worse could I confuse the time stream than what I have already done?

January 20, 2017

It is inauguration day and that man is now officially the President of the United States. Unfortunately, the part about having memories replaced when time changes occur is not true. I remember everything. I may have to live with this nightmare for the rest of my life.

Lord help us if that man in the White House ever finds out about Project Yesterday, and what he would do with it if he seized control of time travel technology. Remember what I said about it being terrifying if the Nazis had control of time travel?

Forgive me, America. Forgive me, world! I am the one who did this to you!

Copyright © 2017 Postino

Friday, January 20, 2017

“...and curse Sir Walter Raleigh, he was such a stupid get!” A 40-year anniversary of the day I quit smoking

Today is another anniversary for me. I have kept it in memory for 40 years. Because my wife was pregnant I quit smoking cigarettes on January 20, 1977. I made note of the date. I had smoked for ten years, at least two packs a day, and yet I was able to quit on my first try. (Hurrah for me.)

Well, amend that. It wasn't until the mid-'90s when I went on the anti-depressant, Wellbutrin (trade name for bupropion), that the cravings for nicotine left me for good. Bupropion is also marketed as Zyban, for smoking cessation. In my case Wellbutrin was working on two things at once.

 Stock photo of a couple of 1960s GI’s firing up their gaspers.

I had smoked off and on as a teenager, mostly with friends, but could go days or weeks without a cigarette. I was sent to Germany by the U.S. Army in May, 1967. When I got to my duty station I bought two cartons of cigarettes for $1.70 each. Individual packs were 17¢. (You folks who are smokers now are paying around $5.00 a pack, mostly because of taxes. We had no taxes on our cigarettes bought in the PX.)

I remember the day 50 years ago I realized I was addicted to cigarettes.  One evening we were on a field maneuver, and some old sarge gathered us around to talk to us. We had been listening to him talk for about a half hour when one of the guys couldn't stand it anymore and lit a cigarette. The sergeant told us, “Okay, if you want a smoke, go ahead and light up.” I lit up because I had a strong craving. I knew I was addicted. At that moment the nicotine drug had finally taken hold, and in a strange way I was relieved. No more playing around, I was a full-fledged smoker.

As is common with addictions, soon the addiction is running you and not the other way around. Until my wife got pregnant I had not intended to quit, or at least not quit until sometime in the future, but thinking of a baby growing up in a cloud of smoke (as I did, since my father was a smoker) made me determined to quit.

When I was a two-pack-a-day smoker it became a drag. Stinky cars, stinky clothes, stinky breath. Ugh. I wanted to change that. And then the writing was on the wall for all smokers. The clean air acts were being put into law, limiting where smokers could light up. The pariah status for smokers was slowly implemented over time.

When my doctors took my medical history and asked if I had ever smoked I told them I quit in 1977. As the years have gone by it seems less likely that there would be any lingering health effects. Maybe I’m wrong, but if I get lung cancer I don’t believe it will be as a result of my history of smoking half a century ago.

Over time we have learned that the companies that sold cigarettes were not only aware of the health risks and tried to deflect attention from them, but by careful study they knew exactly what the effects of the chemicals in cigarettes were doing to the human body.* They knew the mechanisms of nicotine addiction. One line that came from an employee of a big tobacco company stayed with me when he described cigarettes as “a nicotine delivery system.” Big Tobacco is a legal death dealer, and has never been made to pay the full price for its deadly deception and being the cause of thousands of deaths per year. There is nothing I can do about that but tell people not to start smoking just because you want to be cool, or look like all of the dopes who smoke in movies and TV shows.

*The Big Book of Vice is one of a series of “Factoids, ” drawn comics style, and published by Paradox Press, a division of DC Comics. A chapter in the book is devoted to tobacco and cigarettes. One four-page section of that chapter is about the tobacco companies that sacrificed their fellow citizens for profits. It is written by Steve Vance, and drawn by Seth Fisher.

Copyright © 1999 Steve Vance and Seth Fisher

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Life and Legend (and Art) of Wallace Wood

On a day in 1956, while Mom did her grocery shopping, I passed the time waiting for her by looking at the paperback book rack. I found The Mad Reader paperback. It was one of those moments I can say changed my life. I was already a comic book fan, but this tipped me over into the world of Mad, satire, Harvey Kurtzman and his retinue of fabulous cartoonists: Will (then called Bill) Elder, Jack Davis, and Wallace Wood. “Superduperman” and this Wood splash panel in particular, was what did it for me.

Wood’s short and unhappy life was in sharp contrast to all of the joy he brought to his fans. He died in 1981, yet the cult of Wood refuses to die. I believe everything Wood ever drew professionally, or even as a kid, has been reprinted somewhere. What was meant as a throwaway medium, the comic book, has been elevated to the status of art, and has value as a collectible. Wood is one of those artists high on the collector’s want list.

The Life and Legend of Wallace Wood, published by Fantagraphics, reprints in a deluxe format a lot of the highlights of Wood’s career, as well as tell the story of an obsessed artist. It is enlightening, but also sad. Wood destroyed himself by overwork, cigarettes and alcohol. In the end suicide by gun brought the end to his torment.

I prefer to think of Wood in the way that I saw him when I was a youngster reading Mad paperback books and then Mad magazine, as a somewhat mystical figure who came up with drawings that fascinated and delighted and inspired me. As far as I knew Wood did not even put pen and ink to paper, but drawings came in a ray from his forehead and transferred themselves to my brain via the printed page.

In the late fifties and early sixties Wood’s work reached a form of glossy perfection that is still a wonder to me. He did illustrations for science fiction magazines (Galaxy, primarily), and his work in Mad went from pen-and-ink line illustrations to an ink wash technique that gave his figures a modeled effect on the page.

These examples of his Mad work are from issues number 44, 45, and 49, all from 1959.

Copyright © 1959, 2017 E.C. Publications, Inc.

This illustration was done for Galaxy magazine, cover dated December, 1958.

Copyright © 1958 Galaxy Publishing, Inc.