The state we’re in– further political thoughts, August 8, 2016

In a  previous blog post I made the case that Donald Trump is basically a megalomaniacal con-man who is exploiting the real hurts of average people to promote his brand, which is himself.  He has no a real plan to redeem the country, or even run it with reasonable competence.  His ideas are not merely unworkable (“We’ll build a wall and make Mexico pay for it!”), they are actually dangerous.

The sad truth, however, is that Trump is in no way the cause of the division this country is experiencing at the moment.  He’s merely using it to his advantage.  Our division into mutually antagonistic ideological camps has been going on for decades.

There has always been social and political tension and contention in this country.  This is inevitable in a society made up of many different groups holding a variety of beliefs.  The Founding Fathers actually recognized that faction was inevitable and took it into account when formulating the Constitution.  Americans have long had a genius for weaving contentious groups together into a, if not completely harmonious, then at least reasonably unified consensus.

Sometimes, however, this consensus breaks down.  The most obvious example, of course, is the Civil War.  Americans in the middle of the Nineteenth Century found themselves unable to continue to paper over the chasm between free state and slave state, between an agrarian South focused on social hierarchy and chattel labor and an industrializing North focused on an open society with free labor.  All attempts at compromise failed and Americans divided themselves into antagonistic camps which, in the end, could find no way to resolve their disagreements other than by force of arms.  The war quite literally destroyed the old Union and birthed a new political order, a new United States.  If that new society was any more just and free than the old, the price paid for it was undeniably high.

We live in another era of partisan division.  Many have remarked on how people are living more and more in “ideological silos”, in which they interact only with people who largely agree with them.  The Pew Research Center has done statistical analyses of this fact that are worth reading.  One of the interesting aspects of these analyses is the finding that those who are more political involved tend to have the most consistently liberal or conservative ideologies.  As these studies put it, centrists largely “…remain on the edges of the political playing field….”

The reasons for this bifurcation are numerous and go back decades– the upheaval of the Sixties, the rise of a vocal and uncompromising conservatism, the culture wars of the Eighties and Nineties, the advent of largely conservative media that has been less interested in journalistic fairness than in demonizing those who hold contrarian opinions (although liberals are hardly innocent of this sort of thing), the contested presidential election in 2000, 9-11, the Iraq war, and the growing threat of terrorism.  People have a profound sense that their government is more and more the creature of plutocrats and money-men.  On top of all of this, the nation is going through demographic and social changes which leave some people feeling alienated from their own country– the United States is well on its way to no longer being majority white, nor normatively heterosexual, nor largely Christian (I personally doubt we were ever really that Christian as a society, but that’s another post).

We are increasingly a nation divided against itself.  We have lost much of our sense of common purpose and identity as Americans– or rather, we spend a great deal of time telling ourselves that people who think differently from us or who look different are not real Americans.  This partisan division has been reflected in the operation of our government, or perhaps rather, its non-operation.  In recent years ‘legislative action’ has too often consisted of using the mechanism of government to deny your opponents legitimacy and anything resembling policy success.  When you see this sort of thing becoming common, it is a sure sign that the established mechanisms of governance have begun to break down, and that new mechanisms and a new consensus need to be created.

Unfortunately, at the moment no one seems to have a clear understanding of how to achieve this new consensus.  At the same time, many people seem to want to restore the America they think they’ve lost, or to bring in someone who will take positive action– whether or not it’s constitutional– to ‘protect’ us.  Hence, Trump.

The essential point is that, even if Trump loses this election, the forces he is exploiting– or that, in another sense, brought him into being– will still be seething with resentment and misplaced rage, doubtless looking for the next man on a white horse. This is almost unprecedented in our history.  The only analogous situation I can immediately call to mind is Huey Long in the Thirties, who was another demagogue who exploited populist discontent.  There was a reason Franklin Delano Roosevelt considered Long one of the most dangerous people in the country.

Personally, I have no ready remedy in mind to heal this rift and soothe the minds and hearts of those who are looking for– let’s not mince words– a dictator.  The rhetoric has become too heated, the divisions too deep for an easy solution.  Possibly all we need to tip us over the edge into some sort of authoritarianism is for some latter-day John Brown— domestic or foreign– to do something appalling (a terrorist nuke on America soil would do the job, if an example is needed) and the American people might just select a Trump-figure to lead them.  We are in dangerous waters.

The only thing I know for sure that we must do is speak the truth, protect the rights of everyone– even if they wear a hijab or have Mexican grandparents– and vote as if the future of the Republic is on the line.

Because it is.

 

 

Five awesome movie scenes

My personal taste in film runs largely, although not exclusively, to the epic and the heroic, with largely dollops of the tragic and the sort of romance in which true loves die happy because they’re together. After I see films like Les Miserables they generally have to carry me out on a stretcher (it’s not just the film, of course– the stage production does the same thing to me, and I’ve seen it live three times. My daughter finds it soo embarrassing that her father has to bring a full box of kleenex with him to the theater).

Individual movie scenes that kill me with epicness have certain common attributes– a desperate struggle against long odds, someone you want to see succeed (or at least survive) and the ticking clock of looming disaster. Usually for maximum effect you need some really effective music. For extra points, throw in children in jeopardy.

Here’s five scenes from five very different films I find really riveting. NOTE: inevitably each of these scenes involve spoilers. Be warned.

1. From the 2009 J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek, the opening scene in which James Kirk’s father sacrifices himself to save his wife and soon-to-be-born son–

This is a wonderfully effective scene, scoring high because it’s basically a father defending his family and sacrificing himself to save them.  Does me in every time.

2. From Captain America: The First Avenger, here is the climactic scene where Cap (Chris Evans) has to intentionally crash the Hydra flying wing into the Arctic ice-cap to save New York City, while talking on the radio with his true love, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).

Cap must not only sacrifice his own life in this scene, but also his chance for happiness with Peggy, which brings a poignancy to the interchange between them, and which has continued to resonant through the subsequent Captain America and Avenger films.

3. From the 1993 film Gettysburg, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s downhill bayonet charge at Little Round Top, which by itself just might have saved the Union–

Whether Chamberlain actually saved the Union is a matter of debate, but he knew his position was vital (the utter left flank of the Union Army), and he and his men held the position with incredible courage and endurance.

4. From the 1964 film Zulu, the famous ‘Men of Harlech’ scene–

Unfortunately, unlike Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s charge at Little Round Top, this scene never happened, at least as far the singing is concerned.  But the film captures the spirit of the true story of a tiny force who held off an overwhelming enemy through grit and good tactics.

5. From Return of the Jedi— a fan edit/compilation of the climactic confrontation between Luke and Darth Vader, with the Emperor egging them on. Most particularly, watch the forty seconds from 3:17 to 3:53 and listen to the soundtrack .  Those thirty-six seconds have more tragic drama in them than many movies have in their entire running time.

The interesting aspect of this scene is that Luke is trying to save not only Anakin Skywalker from the dark side, but also his sister, and, ultimately, himself– and, in the end, he does it by not fighting.  A nice twist on the classic climactic confrontation between the hero and the villain.

Each of these scenes contain attributes I hope my own writing at least occasionally captures.  I like stories and films in which something genuine is at stake, and the protagonists have to give of themselves to protect or rescue it.  In one way or another, I’m not sure why you would make a movie that did not have this sort of tension at its core, but they get made (e.g., in my biased opinion, American Hustle).  But I try not to dwell on such creations– there are plenty of films out there that spark my imagination and touch my heart.  I focus on them.

Later.

 

Some random thoughts on the finale of Game of Thrones Season 6

First thought–

Ho-lee frack.

Before I expand on that, however, a public service announcement–

**SPOILERS****SPOILERS****SPOILERS****SPOILERS****SPOILERS****SPOILERS

 

In making known my thoughts about this final episode, I assume most of you know at least the general outline of the overall Game of Thrones story.  I am not even going to think about summarizing the story so far.  We’d be here until winter (which is coming, you know).  If you don’t know the story, go and binge-watch the series, now.  This post will still be here in 2017.

So, in no particular order–

1.  Ho-lee frack.  Oh wait, I did that one already.

2.  Geez, how many characters were knocked off, blown up, incinerated, stabbed to death or self-splatted in this episode?  Margaery Tyrell (which made me really sad), Loras Tyrell, Mace Tyrell, Lancel Lannister, Kevan Lannister, the High Sparrow, King Tommen, Grand Maester Pycelle (good riddance), Walder Frey, Black Walder Frey and Lothar Frey (no tears shed over those a-holes, either).  That’s one way to help simplify the story-line.

3. Cersei has gone all Richard the Third.  I can’t decide if this was her plan all along or if it is a desperation move now that her crowned pawn, Tommen, is gone (although he had demonstrated a disturbing independence of late, as least from his mother).  Either way, she’s now got the power she’s always craved (and quite possibly full-on bat-shit crazy as well), with nothing in King’s Landing to stop her– but she’s also a patent usurper, even by the loosey-goosey standards of post-Targaryen Westeros.  Her destruction of the bulk of her enemies (along with a large number of innocent bystanders and a fair portion of King’s Landing) at a single blow is the move of a ruthless tyrant, brilliant as a piece of political assassination, but sure to set all of Westeros against her.

4. Maggy the Frog’s prophecy is coming true.  All that’s left now is for the “younger and more beautiful” queen to show up to finish Cersei off.  Smart money is on Dany, but GoT has thrown us curve balls before.  By the way, the show has allowed itself an extra degree of freedom than the books by omitting one line from Maggy’s prophecy, which reads as–

“And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.”

As valonqar is Valyrian for ‘younger brother’, this has generally been interpreted by fans as meaning that Tyrion will kill Cersei in the climactic confrontation between the Lannisters and everyone else (certainly that is Cersei’s interpretation, and the source of much of her antipathy toward her brother), but Jaime has also been suggested, since he was born after Cersei.  But since the show-runners excluded this line, they don’t have to expend any story time dealing with its implications.

5. The destruction of the Great Sept of Baelor is one intense piece of dramatic cinematography.  The music, which is a change of pace for the show, particularly builds up the tension.  The explosion and its consequences are dramatic, tragic and horrifying all at once (the bell’s a nice touch).  I’ve already noted how I hated to see Margaery Tyrell go out in this manner.  It all has the tragic inevitability of the Titanic’s sinking- you know it’s going to happen but you wish there was something you could do….

5. We see Olenna Tyrell negotiating an alliance with Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes (although it’s not so much a negotiation as a rather tart schooling), whereupon Varys, Daenerys’ envoy, shows up to offer an added element to the anti-Lannister vengeance coalition.  Olenna’s presence and appearance in Dorne makes an important point about something which has confused many fans– how people seem move around the world of GoT so quickly. For example, Varys appears to leave Meereen in one episode, appear in Dorne shortly thereafter, and then very quickly reappear on Daenerys’ ship at the end of the final episode.  The truth is that weeks have passed between each scene.  This is evidenced by the fact that Olenna is in mourning  when she goes to Dorne– she already knows about the deaths of her kin in King’s Landing.  She also refers to how “Cersei stole the future from me”.  If we took the breaks between scenes as amounting to a mere day or so, she would not have even yet received in Highgarden the news of the deaths of Margaery and the others, considering the distance between King’s Landing and the Reach.  In fact, in the show, as in the books, considerable time often passes between scenes, and the intervals are irregular, at that.

6. Daenerys is on her way to Westeros, and not before time.  There has been a lot of griping out there in fandom about the fact it took her six seasons to get moving in this direction.  As frustrating as that might have been to viewers, I think from a story perspective it could not have come any earlier.  Dany and her dragons have obviously been set up as key, perhaps critical, assets to be used against the White Walkers. Sending them to Westeros before the WW’s offensive reaches it’s critical moment would have ruined the whole plot-line, as if Frodo had actually flown a giant eagle to Mount Doom and just dropped the Ring into the lava.  Struggle, failure and frustration are essential to drama, and Dany’s effort to create a base for herself in Esteros was the necessary prelude to her offensive to retake the Iron Throne.  Time also had to pass in order for the dragons to realistically grow to their full, terrifying size.  You cannot rush drama without dissipating its energy (about which, see below).

7. We finally see the second part of the Tower of Joy flashback.  This sequence has been generally interpreted as confirming the “R+L = J” fan theory, that Jon Snow is actually the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen rather than Ned Stark and some unknown woman.  The scene certainly implies this, but I have to note that the show-runners are actually still teasing us– when Lyanna whispers to Ned, we cannot hear the first part (at least I couldn’t, and I turned my ear-buds up so high I nearly bled out my eardrums), hearing only “Robert will kill him” clearly.  The show-runners could still throw one of their curve-balls at us.  Fans, I think, should brace themselves for a surprise.  Just in case.

On the whole the episode paid off big in many ways, resolving story-lines and fairly effectively setting up the ultimate and necessary confrontations that will wrap up this whole epic.  Waiting a whole year for Season Seven is going to be very tedious.

Having said that, the episode is not without issues.  Chief among these (for me, at least) is the hurried way in which the alliance between Dorne, the Tyrells and Dany is cemented.  It seemed sketchy, as if the writers were feeling pressured to squeeze it into this season.  An alliance as critical to the story as this one should have involved more time and development.  The whole Dorne story-line, in fact, has felt rather thin, over both Season Five and Six, as if the writers didn’t have the time to do it up properly.

For me this raises a concern.  Despite the fact that the list of characters who still possess a pulse on this show is now considerably shorter, there are still a lot of story-lines to resolve, involving two major conflicts, between the Lannisters and their enemies, and between humanity and the White Walkers– and there are only ten hours of TV left in which to wrap it all up.  That’s not a lot compared to the weight of what needs to happen to bring this tale to a satisfactory conclusion.  It worries me.

Drama is hard.  Pacing in drama is hard.  Pacing in epic drama such as this, with hundreds of characters and all manner of disparate elements that all need to mesh, is supremely hard.  I’ve watched or read any number of epic stories in which the ending seems to be hasty, patched together, or thin, not living up to the promise of everything that preceded it.  J R R Tolkien is about the only writer I can think of off the top of my head who pulls it off successfully, resolving the critical story-lines and outstanding questions in a satisfactory manner, chiefly by taking time to work them out (in my paperback edition of The Return of the King, there are one hundred pages of action after the destruction of the Ring).  I am very much afraid the ten hours remaining to this series are not going to be enough.  I will be very, very disappointed if the good guys finish off Cersei in a perfunctory manner, and then vanquish the White Walkers in a few episodes, as if all the threat they have posed in the previous seasons was hollow and false.

Still, I’m going to risk the disappointment– I want to see how this all comes out.  I’m hooked.  It’s going to be a long year….

Later.

 

 

 

 

 

Once more, thank you, Jon Stewart

Once more, Jon Stewart has a clear-eyed perspective on all the craziness that’s going down right now in our national political space.  This is an extended discussion with Dave Axelrod at the University of Chicago on May 9th.  The whole conversation is worth listening to, but the first thirteen or so minutes are particularly on point, and are excerpted here.

Stewart connects the rise of Trump to the increasingly vitriolic and even apocalyptic narrative that has for years been the daily meat-and-potatoes of right-wing talk radio in particular, and the conservative mindset in general.  He’s not the first commentator to link Republican exploitation of white and particularly male anger at the social changes of the last two generations (aka “the Southern Strategy”) to the rise of a nasty, know-nothing populism (see Sarah Palin as a Trump forerunner), but he does so here in terms that make it hard to argue with his premise. Trump is, quite simply, a monster created by the Republican Party that is now running amok, out of their control, tearing through the heart of our body-politic like Godzilla with bad hair.

Frankly, this is how democracies die.  People get afraid or angry and disgusted with the existing political process– and it’s simply a non-partisan truth that at the moment there’s plenty to be disgusted with about how our government is working, or not working– a figure on a white horse appears who promises to make the bad stuff go away, while spouting slogans such as “make the nation great again” or “regain our national honor”, and the people hand the government over to the horseman.  These strongmen are frequently strong only in their rhetoric, and absolute disasters as heads of state.  Trump shows every sign of having just such feet of political clay.

We cannot, cannot, cannot allow this man even close to the levers of power in this country.  The stakes are just too high.

 

 

 

Now it’s serious– a few political thoughts, May 4th, 2016

In the 2012 HBO movie Game Change about the 2008 US presidential election, John McCain (Ed Harris) makes an observation about the populist anger he encountered in his town halls and rallies late in the campaign.  This is not a direct quote, but I think it captures the gist– “There is a dark side to American populism, and there are some politicians who are willing to exploit that dark side for their own advantage.”  It was an apt observation at the time, encapsulating the building political rage that would culminate in the Tea Party, and the politicians who have been willing to pander to it.  Unfortunately, it is even more apt eight years later.

Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.  Every other conventional or semi-conventional candidate flamed out and fell short, even the hard right conservative– in fact, dangerously theocratic— Ted Cruz.  Against all conventional wisdom, Trump has tapped into the boiling rage of people on the right who feel disenfranchised and left out.

Ironically, their sense of dislocation is not wholly without foundation.  People in this country across the political spectrum sense that the system is rigged, benefiting an elite rather than the greater mass of citizens, with a ossified governmental apparatus and economic forces that are grinding the middle class into non-existence.  This has found expression on the left first in the Occupy movement, and then in Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign.  The right-wing expression of this rage, unfortunately, is larded with racist memes and scary nativism.  The Tea Party and their allies are not wrong in saying that they’re being screwed, but they go wrong with their proposed solutions.

And now all this populist anger on the right has found a spokesman in Donald Trump.  People looking for an outsider who says what he thinks have elevated him to the status of someone who can right everything they see as wrong with our current system.  And Trump is an excellent salesman, who has proven adept at selling himself as the one person who can right the ship of state– no matter what it takes.

In other times and places this sort of person has been called ‘a man on a white horse’.

I don’t believe I am engaging in hyperbole.  Many autocratic or fascist strongmen have gained power not through a coup or a revolution, but by exploiting populist grievances to achieve office through established constitutional paths– and that list includes Adolf Hitler.  We have now reached a very scary moment in the life of our nation.

By all the evidence I can see, Donald Trump has no actual plan for America, and no guiding principle other than his megalomaniacal self-importance.  On the other hand, I see no evidence that his stated concern about working people is genuine.  It appears to be mere shtick.  His proposed policies are horrifying when they’re not just plain ludicrous.  His whole campaign has been about him, and the promotion of his ‘brand’.  He is clearly unfit for high office, and even conservatives recognize this.  And yet, the base of the Republican party has anointed this man as their chosen one.  You would think they’ve all gone dotty at once, except that Trump is actually the logical result of decades of Republican pandering to the dark side of the American right.  I can do no better than to quote John Scalzi on this point–

“Again, Trump has been leading the GOP polls almost without interruption for months. He’s not an outlier. He’s there for a reason. The reason is that the GOP has made space in their party for race-baiting xenophobic religious bigots, and has done so for years by conscious and intentional strategy. Trump did not bring his supporters into the GOP. They were already there…..The GOP wasn’t always the party of race-baiting xenophobic religious bigots — there’s a reason the term was “Dixiecrat” and not “Republidixies” — but they took possession of them 50 years ago and have been banking on them ever since.

The GOP’s problem is that Trump is the distillation of every political strategy they’ve honed over the last several decades, and particularly ramped up over the last two. Lionizing the “political outsider”? Check! Fawning over billionaires? Check! Ratcheting up political rhetoric so that everyone who opposes you is the enemy and sick and awful? Check! Scaring the crap out of not-young white conservative Christians with the image of lawless racial and religious minorities? Check! Valorizing the tribalism of white conservative Christianity over the rule of law and the Constitution of the United States? Check!

There’s a reason why the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s executive director wants GOP candidates to “be like Trump” even as [Lindsey] Graham bleats that Trump doesn’t represent the party. Lindsey Graham, are you shitting me? Trump doesn’t just represent your party. He’s the goddamn Platonic ideal of it. You can’t spend decades preparing the way for someone like Donald Trump and then pretend to be shocked, shocked when he roars down the field, flawlessly executing your playbook.”

So here we are, facing a choice between (mostly likely) a flawed but competent Democratic candidate, and a man who should not be allowed within ten miles of the levers of constitutional power, never mind the nuclear launch codes.  Voting for this man in the general election would be a vote for anarchy and, quite possibly, the end of the Republic.  I can’t put it any simpler than that.

Everyone who gives a damn about this country needs to oppose this man.  Even if you can’t bring yourself to vote for Hillary, please, please don’t vote for Trump.  Support your preferred down-ticket candidates if you wish, but do not cast a vote for this man.  A vote for him is a bullet loaded into a revolver and aimed at the whole country.  Period.

 

 

My Accidental, No Good, Epic Tour of Seattle, or my beef with the Washington State Department of Transportation

I don’t think I am natively stupid, but there are days when I just can’t do anything right.  Of course, today I may be able to plead the case that I was in the grip of forces beyond my control.

I had a dental appointment this afternoon after work.  Sadly, the clinic I go to is way, way down south on the other side of Seattle, which usually necessitates me breasting afternoon traffic on I-5.  This often makes a trip that would take about twenty minutes without obstructions into a journey of close to an hour.  Despite the traffic, however, I made my appointment on time.

When I was done (another hole drilled in my head, as if I needed more), I went to a nearby Starbucks and got a venti coffee, wanting to make sure I didn’t drowse off while driving home.  I’ve done that occasionally on the interstate, which is always scary, to say the least.

Unfortunately, it had barely registered in my rather preoccupied brain that today, this very day, was the day that the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), in a burst of criminal negligence, decided it would shut down the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a major artery in the Seattle transportation system.  The stated reason was that the boring of a highway tunnel underneath the Seattle waterfront might endanger the Viaduct, and WSDOT didn’t want to run the risk of having commuters on the Viaduct if it collapsed– an obvious moment of nervous nelly overreach, in my opinion.  I mean, sinkholes happen all the time anyway.  In any case, the result was to reduce the carrying capacity of Seattle’s already over-taxed road net and to make bad traffic far, far worse.

The upshot was that when I tried to get on I-5 headed north, I immediately ran into trouble. My first mistake was to not get at once into the correct lane to reach the northbound on-ramp. I then found that, in a profoundly Darwinian moment, no one already in the lane would allow me to cut in (“Yeah, sucks to be you, fella!”).  Meanwhile people headed for the southbound ramp were honking at me and screaming imprecations as they dodged around me.  In the name of self-preservation (not to mention a sense of profound embarrassment), I had no choice but to take the southbound ramp.

The positive aspect of this was that I was now moving at sixty miles an hour down I-5. The negative side was that I was headed toward Tacoma, not Seattle.

However, I formulated a cunning plan on the fly.  I went about two miles and exited off the freeway south of Boeing Field.  I cut over to East Marginal Way and headed north.  This artery, although no freeway, was wide open, and I felt pleased with myself.  I knew the downside was that I would have to wind my way through downtown Seattle, but I figured even that was better than fighting my way north on I-5, which by now resembled the world’s longest used car lot.

After three or so miles I cut over to First Avenue South, thinking that it would be the best detour around the Viaduct closure.  In moments, however, I realized that I had miscalculated, on the level of Hitler invading the Soviet Union— because tonight was a Mariners home game night, and First Avenue South goes right by Safeco Field.

Holy frack….

There is probably no metric comprehensible to the human mind to measure the degree of suckitude I now faced.  Mariners fans number in the millions, and every one of them over the age of fifteen insists on driving to the ballpark, which means that traffic around Safeco typically resembles something out of The Road Warrior.  I couldn’t turn east, as that would put me up against the clogged I-5, and going west might land me on Harbor Island, or worse, West Seattle.  I had no choice but to man-up and fight my way through the chaos.

(An aside– what is it about baseball, anyway?  A bunch of overpaid guys in uniforms hitting balls with sticks?  How did this become our national sport?  I have never been able to understand the attraction, unless it has something to do with the hot-dogs and beer…)

I finally battled through the terror and the gangs of rabid baseballites looking for parking and made it to downtown Seattle.  You know things are bad when going up First Avenue in downtown Seattle is an improvement in your driving experience.

I got through the heart of the city, passing the Seattle Art Museum and Pike Place Market, without further incident, and made it to Belltown.  At this point I had two options– go up and over Queen Anne Hill, or take Denny Way– both of which were possible routes to Highway 99 (or Aurora Avenue), aside from I-5 the only other major arterial leading north that I could access.  I decided to take Denny Way, so I went up Warren Place and turned right on to that street.

And stopped.

Five minutes later, I moved ten feet.

Another three minutes, and I moved another three feet.

I had quite stupidly forgotten that, while Denny Way leads to Highway 99, it is also an alternate route toward Capitol Hill and and out of downtown, and at that moment was jammed with people desperately attempting, like me, to bypass the even worse jammed freeway.  I would have started gnawing the steering wheel in frustration, except that it might have dislodged my new dental work.

At this moment, my bladder began to send signals to my brain regarding a certain impending necessity.  My decision to down a venti coffee at the beginning of my odyssey was beginning to appear less wise than I originally thought.  After some cogitation, I took the half-quart steel water-bottle I had with me in the car and emptied it out the window.  Just in case.

In half an hour I moved probably less than half a mile.  In the process I waved at the statue of Chief Seattle in Tilikum Place.  Images of Chief Seattle always strike me as sorrowful.  His tribe’s home would be unrecognizable to him now, and we don’t even get his name right, which properly should be something like Si’ahl.  We gringos are sadly notorious for mangling Native American words.

I finally passed under the Monorail and got to a side street on which I could make a left turn.  A quick  turn back west brought me to Fifth Avenue North, down which I streaked at a whopping twenty-five miles an hour, right past the Seattle Center and the Space Needle.

This street took me up the eastern side of Queen Anne Hill, which I know less well than the area surrounding Queen Anne Avenue itself, which is further west.  I turned left up a street, intending to cut over to the avenue.  Unfortunately, the route I picked was Ward Street, apparently one of those numerous Seattle thoroughfares that is a relic of the Nineteenth Century.  Even in horse-and-buggy days it would probably have been too narrow; it has a sheer drop-off on its left side.  In addition, nowadays some very expensive cars are parked on the curb to the right.  I spent a few tense minutes avoiding both the yawning abyss and scraping up somebody’s Mercedes.

I finally reached Queen Anne Avenue and turned north.  I sailed along the Avenue, dropped down the northern side of the hill, curved through some side streets and finally reached Highway 99/Aurora Avenue.  It was flowing freely– or about as freely as Highway 99 ever flows.  Any Seattle resident will tell you that it is unusual, to say the least, for someone to enter this roadway with a joyous shout of liberation, but that’s what I did.  I was so happy that I actually started waving at the resident hookers, until I remembered that the gesture might be misconstrued.

I went north at forty-five miles an hour, which was technically illegal but heady, past Woodland Park Zoo and Green Lake.  My joy was marred, however, by the warnings from my bladder, which had gone from Defcon Three to Defcon One.  I was now in serious danger of having an accident I had not had since the fifth grade, when my teacher told me, no, I had to wait until recess.  Even so, I still did not want to use my water-bottle, so I gritted my teeth and tried not to think about bodies of water.  I have to admit, though, that I screamed when the driver of the Honda Odyssey in the lane next to me decided that this was the proper moment to employ the windshield washer spray on his back window.

I finally, finally reached North 145th Street and turned west.  I was now very close to home, but I was also very close to that certain accident.  I roared up 145th, turned on to my street, and probably damaged my shocks screeching into my driveway.  Unfortunately, my wife was in the doorway when I came in at breakneck speed, and doubtless there will be an accounting for that later, but I made it just in time.  A journey of over two hours and much terror and confusion had come to a relieved (in more than one sense of the word) end.

This was my accidental, no good, epic tour of Seattle.  In the end I guess I have no one to blame but myself.  The moral appears to be that I need to pull my head out of whatever dark fundament it may be in and pay attention to mundane things like road closures.  I need to take that much responsibility.

Still, there’s just one more thing I need to get off my chest– here’s to you, WSDOT.

Yep, I’m unreasonable.  But I feel better.

 

 

 

 

Flash Fiction– Five Days

I have occasionally participated in a weekly flash-fiction challenge in the Writer’s Discussion Group community on Google-Plus, sponsored by one of the community’s moderators, Amy Knepper.  It’s usually based on a picture or an image (I don’t have permission to post the image here, so if you want to see this week’s you will need to go to the site).  I haven’t usually cross-connected the flash-fiction I’ve done on Google-Plus to my WordPress blog, but this week’s challenge kinda tickled me and I thought I’d share it here.

Horror, it seems, can lurk anywhere…..

Copyright 2016 Douglas Daniel

****************************************

Five Days

Day One:

I’ve sealed myself in.  I had no choice.  The chaos outside has become too great.  I nailed my door shut and piled furniture against it.  Otherwise THEY will break in, and it will all be over.

I have supplies to last me several days.  Hopefully the chaos will be over by then.  Judging by the horrifying sounds coming from outside, it surely cannot last long.

I try to focus on my work.  Perhaps it’s pointless, now, but it’s the only thing keeping me sane– a bit of normality in a world gone insane.

Day Two:

There was moaning outside my door last night– evidently someone in severe pain.  A sound of tremendous suffering–   it tore my heart.  I almost opened the door to rescue whoever it was, but I stopped myself just in time.  Perhaps it was a trick– THEY are ruthless, and will stop at nothing to keep me from completing my work.  I steeled myself and ignored the moaning.  I think I was right to do so, because soon after, before dawn, the chaos resumed.

Day Three:

It’s worse than ever.  Surely no one can survive the madness out there.  It sounds as if all the furies of Hell have been unleashed and have ridden down on us upon a whirlwind.

In the morning I heard THEM.  They were just outside the door, pounding on it, whispering, shrieking– “Jimmy…come out…we want to see you, Jimmy…come to us….”

I put a pillow over my head and strove to ignore them.  I’m safe in here, as long as I stay resolute.  As long as I don’t open the door.  I just have to keep the door closed.

Day Four:

This morning THEY resorted to a new tactic– they drilled holes in my door, letting in the watery, smoke-filled light from outside.  The appearance of each hole was accompanied by maniacal laughter.  I would have thought even so simple a technical feat would have been beyond THEM in their current state.   THEY proved me wrong.

I retaliated by spraying pepper spray into each hole.  This brought shrieks of agony, but gales of fresh hysterical laughter as well.  THEY are too far gone to care, I suppose.

Day Five:

It is over.  At noon the cacophony outside my door became too much.  I think my mind came unhinged at last.  Suddenly I had to end it, one way or the other.

I pushed away the book case and the furniture.  I ripped away the boards.  I shoved it all aside and pulled open the door.  The scene that confronted me was as bad as I had imagined, or worse.

Beer cans littered the living room floor.  Ashtrays were filled to overflowing with cigarette butts.  Boxes of half-eaten and mostly stale pizza covered the tables.  The room stank of cigarette smoke, spilled beer and pizza sauce.

My housemates lay scattered all about.  Hollis and Young slouched in easy chairs, watching a basketball game on the plasma TV, its volume cranked to the max.  It had to be, because Gary and Wesley were in the adjoining family room with Limp Bizkit blasting away.  Terry looked passed out on the coach, and on the divan Cheryl and Bruce were approximately the same position in which I had last seen them five days before, all twisted together and lip-locked.

“Goddamn it!” I shouted.  “I am trying to write a master’s thesis here!”

Billy, standing in his underwear in the middle of the room and wearing his dual beer-can hat, blinked at me.  “Dude, chill,” he said.  “Spring break’s almost over.”

Sunday Photo Fiction – March 27th 2016– A Vessel for Dreams

A flash fiction for the March 27th Sunday Photo Fiction challenge—  200 words based on this image–

149-03-march-27th-2016

More than usual, this is clearly an excerpt from a larger story.  On the positive side, it’s a concept for a larger story that sprang into existence the moment I saw this picture, so the challenge is certainly helping my creativity.

Copyright 2016 Douglas Daniel

************************************************

I came around the corner and stopped.  I stared. “It’s a bus.”

“Yeah, isn’t it great?” Steven said.  “I got it cheap.”

“It’s a bus.”

“Don’t fixate on externalities, John,” Steven said.  He threw an arm around my shoulder.  “Think of this as the vessel into which we can pour our dreams.”

I removed his arm.  “You’re crazier than I thought.”

“No, just willing to see the possibilities,” Steven said.  “We can do this.  I’ve got the concept, you’re the nuts and bolts man, Cecelia is getting our fuel….”

“If she doesn’t get arrested,” I muttered.

“You are so negative,” Steven said.  “Look at it this way– we need to be inconspicuous, or we’ll get shut down.”

“Inconspicuous?  How the hell is a red, double-decker bus inconspicuous?!”

“They won’t be expecting it.”

I stopped.  “Okay, you got me there.  But will it be strong enough?”

“Yeah, with our gear in it!” Steven said.  “With our equipment we can take this baby anywhere.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I said, but I sighed.  “All right.  I volunteered for this insanity, so I guess I can’t complain.”

“Great!” Steven said.  “You won’t regret this, John– building the world’s first starship is worth it.”

 

 

Democracy– untidy and beautiful

I took part in the Washington State Democratic caucuses today.  It was a special day in more than one way– not only are the stakes in this election extremely high, but it was the first caucus in which my daughter was able to participate.  This simultaneously made me extremely proud and reminded me of my age.  Just a little while ago my daughter was far, far more interested in crayons and her dolls than politics…

Our district caucus was held at one of our local high schools.  We arrived early, but not early enough– the school parking lot was jammed, and street parking was quickly filling up.  I dropped my wife and daughter off, and then had to find parking seven blocks away.  This made my hike back to the high school a bit of a chore, as I am nursing a sprained knee (and a possible meniscus tear– medical assessment in progress).

But I wasn’t going to miss this caucus.

The caucus was wall-to-wall with people– quite probably the largest number of people I have ever seen at a caucus in this state.  People congregated by precinct, and the subsequent discussion was passionate, but generally respectful.  In the end Bernie Sanders took three-quarters of our precinct vote, Hilary Clinton one quarter, which, at the moment, roughly matches the proportion of the vote state-wide.

It was good, face-to-face grass-roots democracy, and nobody called anybody names, and nobody got into a fistfight.  It gives me hope, seeing so many people engaged and looking for change.

Because, frankly, in this country we need hope, and we need change.  There is a real sense that our essential democracy is slipping away.  Working people are getting profoundly shafted, and our republic is in danger of becoming a plutocratic oligarchy.  I am convinced that if certain people from the other party become president (by which I mean all of them, but some more than others) the danger to the country will move from chronic to acute.  We need a political revolution in this country to restore our democracy, and to point the US toward a future that includes everyone.

The problem is that there are a lot of people whose dreams for this country are quite different, far, far too many of whom are threatened by the changes the country is going through, and who are looking for scapegoats for their sense of dislocation.  Certain politicians are pandering to that fear and paranoia and dislocation, offering up empty promises of ‘restored greatness’.  Others are ideologues spouting doctrines that are seriously disconnected from verifiable reality, such as denying global warming in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence.  And all of this is wrapped up in a political polarization that is destroying our sense of all being Americans together.

So I’m hopeful, and I’m worried.  It’s seven-plus months to the general election, which is very long time in American politics, and will be even more so in this election, which has been off-the-wall whacked-out and off the charts.  All we can do is buckle up, hang on and keep working toward what we believe is right, while remembering that while one election is not going to automatically make everything better, that one election could also put us in serious danger.

At minimum, I can do two things for my country at the moment– pray and vote.  To my mind, that’s a pretty powerful combination.

Later.

 

Pray and Write

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