Friday, November 24, 2017

Black Friday: Whose Stupid Idea Was This?

US shoppers’ lust for Black Friday bargains this year has reached absurd new levels, evidenced by a viral joke that morphed into a disturbing new trend to help shoppers beat Wal-Mart and other big box store crowds by disguising themselves as temporary holiday employees. It started when Twitter user @OverlyLiked announcing he would be selling his Walmart vest for $100.
“I’m selling this Walmart vest for $100,” he wrote. “Use it to skip the line during Black Friday. You can even walk in, grab what you want, and walk out."
The violence and incivility show how much Christmas is a cultural identifier in America, not a religious belief.  Some stores in the Boise area were starting Black Friday at 6:00 PM on Thursday.  What a nice demand to put on your employees. :-)  This is why I do not shop on Black Friday: every customer is providing a corporation with an excuse to mistreat its employees.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Progressive Fake News

11/21/17 Newsweek explaining how to have a "woke" Thanksgiving (to annoy your "deplorable" family):
1. Center the struggles facing Native American communities.
It’s common knowledge that the history behind Thanksgiving dinner that we learn in grade school is a myth: The pilgrims in Massachusetts were far from friendly to the Wampanoag, and the entire premise of a “friendly dinner” between the two stems from President Abraham Lincoln, who after the Civil War offered a lovely—but mostly false—story of comradery among foes.
Of course, like nearly all progressive claims, it is false.  Here is the only contemporary account of what became the current holiday from Mourt's Relation Or Journal of the Plantation at Plymouth (1865), p. 133:
If Lincoln gave such a story, I can't find it in  Of course, being progressives and Newsweek, they do not even know how to spell "camaraderie."  And Lincoln was assassinated within days of the Appomattox surrender, but I don't expect progressives to know this, either.

Strange Notion of "Right Way"

WALLER COUNTY, Texas- A woman in the Brookshire area is accused of sending explosives to three government leaders in 2016.
According to the six-count indictment, 46-year-old Julia Poff mailed explosives to Governor Greg Abbott, President Barack Obama and Commissioner of the Social Security Administration Carolyn Colvin on Oct. 12, 2016.
Other court documents say Gov. Abbott opened the package, but it failed to explode because he didn't open it right. If opened correctly, documents say "it could've caused severe burns and death."
She was allegedly upset with Gov. Abbott for not receiving support from her ex-husband.[emphasis added]
I think he did open it the right way.

Finally! A Democrat Calls Out the Clintons

11/22/17 CNN:
As a wave of stories unfold about sexual harassment and assault by men in power, a senior Democratic leader says her party should reflect on how it handled such charges when they were leveled against former President Bill Clinton.
"Not only did people look the other way, but they went after the women who came forward and accused him," says Kathleen Sebelius, the former secretary of Health and Human Services and Kansas governor. "And so it doubled down on not only bad behavior but abusive behavior. And then people attacked the victims."
Sebelius extended her criticism to Hillary Clinton, and the Clinton White House for what she called a strategy of dismissing and besmirching the women who stepped forward—a pattern she said is being repeated today by alleged perpetrators of sexual assault—saying that the criticism of the former first lady and Secretary of State was "absolutely" fair. Sebelius noted that the Clinton Administration's response was being imitated, adding that "you can watch that same pattern repeat, It needs to end. It needs to be over."
She distinguishes Sen. Franken from others because Franken has apologized, while others have denied the claims, with no apparent awareness that some of those accused might be innocent. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken

My boss called me into her office Monday morning.  There had been rumors floating around that something big was coming.   My first thought was a layoff.   In government service this is not common.   I mean, if the government is doing it, whatever “it” is, it must be something so critical that we cannot live without it, right? 

Our operation was hardly typical of government service.   Is time travel and historical research in the ordinary realm of common or needed governmental services?  And of course, being in a black projects budget made us so invisible that the ordinary pressure groups that protect agencies did not apply.  Indeed, the group most affected by what we did, historians (if they knew) would have regarded us as trouble.  Our research could not be published in the professional journals: who was going to be persuaded by an interview with Cotton Mather, when (and especially when) we had an audio recording of it? 

For the most part, we salted the past with documents that provided evidence to correct what was missing or had been misinterpreted.  This was not really inside the charter that CIA had created for the Historical Integrity Verification Project, but it made some of the professional historians who worked for us feel better about the hefty paychecks they received.  I was pleased as well; my work as a Time Detective had turned what had been a boring GE class at University of Iowa into a fascinating hobby; I was actually willingly reading the books and professional journals now, not just when told to prepare for a mission.   I enjoyed physics class in college because we put our knowledge to hands on experience with air hockey table experiments.  Hands-on works for history, too.

“Nick, you have doubtless heard the coffee pot chatter about a new phase of the project. You are going on a mission as part of it.”

I was thrilled that whatever it was, I was important enough, or skilled enough to be part of it.  But I kept my mouth shut to avoid sounding arrogant. Jane recognized by my silence that I was waiting for her to spill the beans.

“As you know, we have long been fearful of breaking the past. Even a minor change, a lost locket, an extra deposit in a colonial outhouse, might cause some subtle but potentially critical change in our present.  The Company originally funded our work in the hope of making such minor changes to effect positive results in our time without destructive side effects.” 

She paused, and I interjected, “Prevent Communism without destroying too much of the positive results of modern history.   Without the Cold War, modern electronics would not exist and the space program would likely have never developed.”

“Precisely.  We seem to have figured out how to determine the consequences experimentally.  What changes will happen to the future if my car stalls on the railroad tracks this evening?”

“With or without the speeding locomotive coming down the tracks?  With or without an ambulance standing by?  With or without a busy ER?  And was that ER upgraded to a Trauma Level 1 facility ten years ago because the local state legislator put this piece of necessary pork in an appropriations bill?  And what bribe, or pretty and easy lobbyist persuaded him to do so?””

She held up her hand.  “Okay. you have been reading Isaac Asimov's The End of Eternity. I get that.  You know the enormous number of forks in the path of history--like looking 20 moves ahead in a chess game with 10,000 pieces and 2000 locations on the board.

“It turns out that every fork produces a separate temporal result—parallel universes if you like.  We have figured out how to examine those parallel universes.  Some have surprising results, not too far from the dead butterfly causing primates to not be the dominant sentient species.”

I was briefly floored by the prospect of all the possible forks and therefore the number of parallel universes.  “How many have they found?”

Jane smiled and went to the whiteboard.  Don’t think of them as truly parallel universes.  She drew a circle labeled A at the top of the board, then two lines below it, each leading to another circle, followed by more circles with lines.  “A-left is the result of one choice.  A-left-left is another choice in A-left.  A-right-left and A-right-right are often very similar.  In A-right-left, his name is Abraham Lincoln; in A-right-right, his name is Ezekiel Lincoln.  In some cases, we cannot identify what is actually different; the difference is there, but we either do not know what to look for, or the change is too subtle.  Perhaps someone has blue eyes, not brown.  In other cases, the differences have no measureable effect; Johnny still marries Suzie, but they meet at a disco instead of a high school dance.”

“So history can be self-healing.  Interesting.  How do you determine what’s different?”

“I don’t know if you noticed that new building across the street,” and Jane gestured through her window.  “The neutrino measurement system examines each fork and stores all the information it can gather.  The storage requirements are huge.  Now we can’t store every forked universe, so we only store the ones that have easily identified differences.”

“So how far out do we go?  Or do our changes not alter anything beyond the Earth.”

“Pretty obviously, the Space Age dramatically transforms the problem.  We are terrified of the number of forks (nearly all irrelevant to Earth) caused by Voyager’s pass by of Jupiter in the 1970s.  Every little dust collision makes a tiny fork in the future, at least at that distance from the Sun.  We limit our probing to Earth for that reason.”  Jane loved to spin these sort of hypotheticals (or at least I assumed that they were hypotheticals) to show how smart she was.  And it worked; I was in awe of the number of forks that hitting 500 dust particles that far away must have caused.

“So, what’s my task?”

“We have identified an event in 1698 that could cause a fork.  We want to change that event, and see how it expresses itself on our fork compared to the fork not taken.”  She sounded and looked dubious.

“So why the concerned expression?”

“You are going to prevent the death of a little girl, Patience Williams.”

My curiosity was now fully piqued.  “I would think that you would be overjoyed to save someone’s life, especially a child.”  I knew Jane had three children.

“It’s hard to see this as a negative, but messing with history, even in a controlled experiment still seems risky.”

I asked, with some concern for this little girl, “Can we reverse the experiment if needed?”

“Sure.  We analyze the experiment in its own branch, created by sending one of the physicists to Hawaii for two weeks before the first fork experiment.  It makes a minor branch, with no other significant effects.”

“The horror—two weeks paid vacation when it is snowing here.  So what do I do?”

“Patience Williams gets lost in the forest outside Salem Village in November, 1697.  She never comes back.  We have recently located her remains.  Our examination of her remains indicates death was natural causes, likely hypothermia.  You need to lead her back to town.  Try not to allow public adoration to swell your head or become too widespread.  That adds too many possible branches.”

“Do I know where to find her?”

“We’ll drop you a few hundred feet from where we found her remains.  She may be in a bad state by that point, although the weather was not that cold.  Keep her warm, and return her to her home.”

The next day, I entered what all of us had by this point come to call ‘the Time Machine.’  I put on my dark glasses, passed through the flash of light interface and fell to the ground.  I turned in all directions in the gathering gloom and saw a little girl of about six walking through the forest.  I saw her trip over a log, followed by a scream.  I reached her and saw her holding her badly bruised knee. 

“Sir, it hurts,” she sobbed.

“Let me help you find your way home.” I picked her up and was immediately struck by the smell.  This late in the year, bathing became less frequent because of the problem of heating bath water.  She wasn’t very heavy and it felt good to carry this sweet little girl back to Salem Village.  I knew from previous missions which was the Williams farm.  I knocked on the door and handed Patience to her mother.  “She fell in the forest and hurt her knee.”

The mother took Patience, and asked, “And who may I thank for helping Patience?  You are not from around here.”

“Ryan, Goodwife.  I am a traveler on the way to Salem Town.  I was walking through the forest and heard her scream.  If we do not look out for each other, how can we call ourselves children of Christ?”

“Would you care to join us for dinner?”

“No, thank you.  I still have some distance to travel this afternoon.”

A few minutes later, I was back in the laboratory.  Jane motioned me towards her office.

“Did we learn anything?”

Jane looked ready to cry.  “Yes, she needed to die in the forest.”

“What?”  I was incredulous that the death of this little girl played some important role in history.  Worse, while I have no children, I still found a soft spot for little Patience.  The prospect of her freezing to death in the forest was quite upsetting.

Jane saw my anger and quickly tried to defuse it.  “Let me show you what we recovered in the control branch.  On the screen of her computer I saw a video of a funeral sermon being delivered by Rev. Parris.

“Why little Patience died is another of those mysteries that Almighty God burdens us with.  There must be some purpose for this tragedy, even if we cannot immediately understand it.  We pray for wisdom in handling our grief at this tragic loss.”

Next, she showed an image from the Boston Gazette, dated April 4, 1720.  The headline reported the execution of Patience Williams for poisoning men in the tavern where she worked.

My head was now spinning.  “So I only saved her from freezing to death so she could be hung two decades later?”

Jane became increasingly uncomfortable.  “It took a while to figure out in the control branch, although it was instantaneous in our branch.  We just looked in the storage vault for their report.”

As I have previously related, one of our researchers had transferred antiques to the present by burying them in a chest in the forest, then retrieved them in the present day.  This has since become our method of relaying information from past to present.  Time travel forward, very slowly.  It appears that the vault is present in the control branch as well, providing a parallel universes communications channel.

Jane again looked pained.  “Patience was terribly abused a year after you saved her by a traveler passing through town, perhaps a sailor.  Like many children, she said nothing, and just buried the hurt inside.  She drifted into Boston as a young adult, and became a barmaid in a harbor tavern.  She started poisoning customers, largely sailors, which is why we suspect a sailor was her attacker.  Ben Franklin stopped in for a beer as a very young man and passed away.  Imagine the impact that had on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and Revolutionary War American diplomacy.  So the control branch passed a no-go message to our branch before you left.  An hour ago, you did not go back and save Patience in the forest.  Your memory of this persists, as does mine, but the parallel universe where Patience murders Ben Franklin is gone.”

I cringed at the memory of little inadequately bathed, cold Patience and wanted to cry.  “Could we go back and off this monster who destroyed Patience’s innocence?  I would gladly use some vacation hours to do so.”  Now I was really mad.

“We thought about that, but that sailor has a complex, poorly understood connection to some of the Green Mountain Boys in Vermont after passing through Salem Village.  We might be able to figure it out if we could see and travel to 1690s Vermont.  But we can’t.  No one is happy about this, you know.  But Rev. Parris might be right.  Robert Frost’s poem ‘The Road Less Travelled’ comes to mind:

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Brain Dump: Early 1960s

In 1962, my family lived in Chula Vista, a suburb of San Diego nestled against the Mexican border.  (The last time I visited, I noticed the Jack-in-the-Box ordering box for drivethru had the Spanish in larger letters than the English.)  We lived in an apartment on Woodlawn Avenue, apparently 544, according to online maps and my reconstruction from memory, immediately north of the elementary school (maybe junior high) my sister Marilyn attended, which is now Mueller Charter School.  Not immediately adjacent, but very close was the I-5 freeway.  I have a vivid memory of helping my mother and Marilyn put up some silly poster covered in matchbooks as part of her pursuit of some student body government post.  (Was she matchless?  I do not remember.)  It was cold.

Travel was fairly rare for us.  We were definitely not well off.  Complicating the matter was that my father was sought by the FBI, and so he generally worked away from home.  The FBI would sometimes enter without warrant or probable cause to search for my father and threaten my mother that her kids would be taken away.  Finding my father on these accidental "interstate flight to avoid prosecution" charges could not have been a high priority task, because we drove to San Pedro almost every weekend to visit him.

My father worked at Todd Shipyards as a welder repairing ships.  He rented what in retrospect was a very odd house on top of a hill which seems may still exist on an unaccountably unbuilt hill.  It wasn't very big and it was ancient, even in 1962, but big enough for him to live in while working graveyard and swing shift, repairing I believe both commercial and Navy ships.  There were spectacular views from front and back of the house and lots of black widow spiders that caused my mother to put the fear of God into me.

We started driving north when my mother got off work.  I have no strong memories of the car except one bad one.  I have this odd impression that we arrived at my father's place in the wee hours of the morning.  Roads were slow at the time; the Interstates were far from complete, and state highways were often stop-and-go through every little town.  I do know that when we arrived, the smell from the kitchen was overwhelming.  My father always had a pot roast ready with onions, carrots, and potatoes.  Even at 5, this was an overwhelmingly good smell and flavor experience!

Cars, even new cars, which we never had, had no seatbelts.  I can remember standing up in the middle of the bench seat next to my mother.  It was quite common to make "car beds," collections of blankets that provide something that would help kids fall asleep.  Perhaps they provided some padding for minor crashes.

The only strong memory I have is a blackout, then waking up hours later in the bed of my Uncle Lloyd's pickup.  A drunken Marine from Camp Pendleton had rear-ended up, destroying the car.  My siblings have no memory of me being hurt, but for many years, I had a night terror, in which I was lying in the back seat of that car, and suddenly something monstrous raises its terrifying face to the window.  (If you have never experienced a night terror, good for you.  They make nightmares seem pretty pleasant.)

The weekends with my father were wonderful.  I always loved my father immensely; he was kind to me in a way that my mother simply could not manage.  There was a grape arbor over the walkway to the house and it was a lovely place where we often ate dinner outside on Sunday afternoon.  There were not enough beds, so we were often camped out on blankets all over the house.  Amazing how much easier it is fall asleep at that age.  I have several very positive memories of learning there.  Marilyn drilled me on my multiplication tables.  I was not in first grade yet.  My brother taught me to read so young, that I have no memory of not reading.  I always assumed that I learned at 3 1/2.  My sister Susan's memory is that I was 2.  I know that by first grade I was reading, learning, and memorizing from my brother's high school chemistry textbook.  This was a great advantage.  I went from child care to first grade at St. John's Elementary School, skipping kindergarten.

Returns to Chula Vista were disheartening.  I have memories of arriving in north San Diego to a very hard to miss Flying A gasoline station sign.

There will be more.

One other trip to San Pedro memory.  For some reason, our mother put Marilyn and I on a bus to San Pedro.  A Greyhound for the long trip to San Pedro.  We then rode a city bus to the base of the hill on which our father lived.  While that may sound like a crazy thing to do, in the early 1960s, it did not seem so.  By the end of the city bus trip, there were guys making either  catcalls or inappropriate remarks to my sister who would have been 12 or 13.  The bus driver told them to knock it off and they did.

How Small is My County

The county-wide newspaper The Idaho World has this headline today:
Volunteer Fire Department Saves Parrot!
The body explains it was actually a macaw.

It's been an exciting week in Boise County!