Donald Trump is Going to Win Re-Election in 2020

Source: https://www.britannica.com/topic/United-States-Electoral-College-Votes-by-State-1787124

I’ve written in the past that it seems very unlikely that Donald Trump will step down at the end of his presidency, no matter how that happens. I think we may be able to dodge that bullet until 2024, because it looks like Donald Trump will not only escape impeachment, but he’s also poised to win re-election in 2020. There are a bunch of reasons why, but I want to focus on three major reasons:

1. The Mueller Report is not going to prove collusion between Donald Trump and Russia: This is probably the single biggest problem for Democrats going into 2020. After spending the last two years calling Trump a traitor, anything less than the special counsel report proving that Donald Trump himself spoke to Russian intelligence officials about the 2016 election will be a letdown that plays into Trump’s narrative about the entire investigation being a “witch hunt.” That’s not to say that Trump didn’t break any laws; he almost certainly has broken campaign finance laws at the very least. But breaking campaign finance law, and even obstruction of justice, aren’t the same as collusion, and they won’t rise to the level of convincing any Republican Senator to vote for Trump’s impeachment.

I misspoke in the opening paragraph that Trump would escape impeachment. The House, which is controlled by Democrats, may actually bring articles of impeachment against Trump (although even that seems very unlikely). Yet it’s the Senate which would actually try and convict the President if it comes to impeachment. A two-thirds vote is required to convict. That means that the Democrats, with 45 members and two independents voting with them, would need to pick up twenty Republicans to vote to reach the 67 Senators they’ll need to convict President Trump. There has been absolutely no evidence that Republicans are prepared to do that.

One of the potential events which might get Republicans to change their minds would be direct evidence of collusion. Some people are holding out hope that that evidence does indeed exist in Mueller’s future report. However, Michael Cohen’s testimony yesterday, while hyped up and entertaining, really didn’t change anything about the current political situation. He confirmed that Trump is a liar, a crook, and a racist, and that he probably broke campaign finance law. But we already knew all of that. Trump has never faced any serious consequences for those same actions, and is unlikely to face any now (especially since the Justice Department has a policy of not indicting a sitting President). Hearing Cohen confirm the same information again isn’t going to move senators now, or voters in 2020. And if Cohen is any indicator of the overall direction of the Mueller investigation, then it looks like we’re not going to get the smoking gun we’re hoping for. The people who are with Trump will remain with him. The people opposing him, on the other hand…

2. Bernie Sanders is going to wreck the Democratic primaries again: Full disclosure- I don’t like Bernie Sanders. I don’t think his ideas are nearly as radical (or well-thought out) as he claims they are. I don’t think he resonates with voters as strongly as everyone says that he does. I think he gets all of the attention he does because media reflexively defers to the old white man in the room (see: all the attention Howard Schultz got for doing literally nothing). I don’t trust any part of Bernie Sander’s platform, because I believe that while it may trickle down to people of color, it is primarily designed to help the all-important white working/middle class that politicians are obsessed with courting.

That’s just what I think though. Why don’t we get down to the facts? Here’s a fact: Bernie Sanders lost to Hillary Clinton. She was unpopular, had forty years of baggage, controversies and gaffes, and didn’t have the national media fawning over her as some sort of dark horse savior. And he STILL lost to her. I don’t really know why Sanders supporters think he could have beaten Trump if he couldn’t even beat Clinton. Besides, pandering to the white working/middle class is Trump’s bread and butter. Sanders would be trying to beat Trump at his own game, and that’s a losing proposition on its own.

Additionally, the Democratic party has decisively shifted in the direction of women, especially women of color. Black women showed up for Doug Jones in Alabama; Stacey Abrams came incredibly close to winning Georgia (with very real voter suppression happening); Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar are the new stars of the Democratic House caucus; Kamala Harris is a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination. White women are ascendant in the party as well.

And into this clear ideological shift steps Bernie Sanders, waving the same flag he waved in 2016. You remember 2016, when it was clear that he couldn’t win yet he refused to concede and support Hillary Clinton? To be sure, there were alot of other things that contributed to Clinton’s defeat (the Comey letter, the free advertising Trump got from major media, the electoral college), but a huge part of it was also Sanders damaging Clinton in the primaries and continuing to do so even after it was clear he lost.

I don’t think Sanders has learned anything from that experience, either about the direction of the country, the party, or his own refusal to get out of the way. If he had, then he wouldn’t be running for President now. He would stand aside and let the generation of young women who are the future of the Democratic party have their time in the sun. Instead, he usurps them at every turn, and will almost certainly continue his mixture of wink-nudge misogyny and appealing to white identity politics, but from his position inside the big tent of leftist politics. That will put the eventual woman nominee (because just like in 2016, Sanders has no actual possibility of winning the nomination) in the same place Hillary was in, in terms of party unity and a bunch of left-wing dudes crying bloody murder all the way until November 2020. Bernie will beat up on the other candidates in his doomed attempt at getting into the White House, and then sulk when he inevitably fails. That worked out really well in 2016.

3. Donald Trump is the incumbent, and incumbency matters: One of the reasons that AOC skyrocketed to fame so quickly was because she defeated an incumbent representative to win her seat in the House. As of 2014, 95% of incumbents in Congress won re-election. Defeating an incumbent is something of a minor miracle in national politics.

But what about the presidency? In the ten elections where an incumbent president was on the ballot since 1945, the incumbent has won seven of them. 70% is far lower than the 95% rate for Congress, but still well beyond a 50% chance of success.

The power of already holding office cannot be understated. It doesn’t guarantee victory, but it is a very powerful advantage. Combined with Trump’s ability to manipulate people’s fears, lie his way into a holding pattern with just about everyone who opposes him, and an electoral map which favors Republicans in 2020, and it looks like the political winds are at Trump’s back heading into 2020. Those winds can absolutely change, but I’m pretty confident in saying that Trump will be reelected in 2020. That will present us with a whole new set of challenges, but I suppose that at least one of them won’t be removing a recalcitrant President from office.

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Synthetics

This is story number two for my 12 stories in 12 months challenge. This month’s prompt was “New Me” and we had to write it in 1200 words. I liked this prompt better than the last, but my idea didn’t really need the full 1200 words. I hope the filler isn’t too distracting.

Theseus opened his eyes. “How do you feel?” the doctor asked.

“Fine. Did you do it?”

“We did. Your fingernails and toenails have been replaced with synthetics. You will find them stronger and more useful, and you’ll never have a hangnail again.”

Theseus looked at his hands and tapped his thumbs against each of his other fingertips. “They don’t seem any different.”

“That’s the idea,” the doctor replied.

“That’s everything, then?” Theseus asked.

“It is. As far as we know, you are the first person to have had every body part replaced with synthetics.”

“You didn’t tell anyone, did you?”

“Of course not. All medical procedures are confidential.”

“Good. I don’t want any press.”

“No need to worry. When I write it up, you’ll be given a pseudonym.”

“So, what now?” Theseus asked.

“Nothing really. I’d like you to rest today, but you can resume normal activities tomorrow. No restrictions.”

“Perfect.”

***

The next day, Theseus awoke a few minutes before his alarm went off. He lay in bed waiting for the alarm. When it went off at 6:30, Theseus turned it off, got up and walked to the bathroom. He looked in the mirror, then held his hands up with the backs facing him. “Amazing,” he said. Then he bent down and inspected his toes.

If he didn’t know, he wouldn’t know. That’s how all the synthetics were, though. No one could tell by looking that none of his body parts were original. He even felt the same as he’d always felt. The only differences between Theseus and everyone else were no grey hairs and none of the daily aches and pains that were common in people his age.

He knew he had to get moving. He started by brushing his teeth, then a shower, then breakfast. He had trouble deciding what to wear. He kind of wanted attention, it was a big day. But he hadn’t told anyone about the procedure. The only way he’d get noticed is if he wore something special. He decided on his regular khakis but paired them with a bright red dress shirt. That should get him a couple of compliments.

***

Theseus left the house a bit earlier than he usually did. Instead of taking the shuttle to work, he wanted to walk. He couldn’t think of any other way to test his new synthetics. It’s not like he used his fingernails much. Occasionally he would pick his teeth with them, or maybe lift a cover, but that was about it. And he couldn’t think of anything he’d ever done with his toenails. So, walking it was and he dragged his fingertips across railings or the sides of buildings as he passed them.

It took Theseus about twenty minutes to get to work. He pushed his way through the revolving door into the lobby. The floor was marble, probably not real marble, but it looked the part. There was a high, mirrored ceiling and there was a security desk with a woman sitting at it. Next to the desk was an arch that led to a door which led to the building proper. There were a few people milling about and chatting.

Theseus walked towards the arch and the door. “Good morning, Sophia,” he said as he walked past the desk.

“Nice shirt,” she replied.

He walked under the arch, like he did every morning. A red light started flashing, and when Theseus tried the door, it was locked. A puzzled look crossed his face.

“That’s weird,” said Sophia as she walked around the desk. “Step back out here, please.” He did and she said, “Now, try again.”

Theseus stepped through the arch again, and the same red light started flashing. “There must be something wrong with the scanner,” he said. “Can you buzz me in?”

Sophia was looking at a screen on the side of the arch. “It says you’re ‘unknown.’ I’ve never seen that before. Everyone’s in the database. Try one more time.”

He walked a few feet into the lobby, turned and walked back under the arch. The red light flashed. The other people in the lobby started to pay attention. Theseus looked around uncomfortably. He’d wanted attention, but not this kind. “Can you please buzz me in? I’m going to be late for work.”

“I’m sorry,” she replied, “but I can’t let you in without it being logged. Do you have an ID on you?”

“An ID? Of course not. No one’s carried ID in a decade. Not since the scanners were installed everywhere.”

“I need something to prove that you’re you.”

“But you know me. We say, ‘Good morning,’ every morning and, ‘Have a nice night,’ every night.”

“I know, but I could get fired. There’s no way they’ll take my word over the scanner’s. Excuse me,” she said to the small crowd that was watching. “Are any of you going in?”

A short man with thick, dark hair raised his hand.

“Glaucon!” Theseus almost yelled. “You can vouch for me. We’ve been working together for years.”

“Can I?” asked Glaucon.

“I’m afraid not,” Sophia said. “If they won’t take my word over the scanner’s, they won’t take yours. But, could you try going in? I want to see if the scanner’s messed up or if it’s Theseus.”

“Nice,” Theseus muttered.

“No problem,” Glaucon replied. He walked through the arch, no red light, and the door opened at his touch. He lingered for a moment, “Sorry, Theseus. I wish I could help.” Then, he went through the door and it closed behind him.

Theseus let out a sigh.

“Okay,” said Sophia, “Try it one more time.”

Theseus shrugged and walked through the arch yet again. The red light flashed, and the door stayed locked. “This is ridiculous.” He was starting to get angry.

“Were there any issues yesterday?”

“I took a vacation day yesterday, but it was fine the day before that and every work day for the past seven years.”

“What did you do on your vacation day?” Sophia asked jokingly.

A slow, “Oh, crap!” was Theseus’ response. “What does the scanner scan when it scans us?”

“I’m not really sure. I think it scans everything and matches it to the database.”

“This is embarrassing, but I had a procedure done yesterday,” Theseus said in a low voice. “I had something replaced with a synthetic. You don’t think that could be messing up my scan?”

“I wouldn’t think one synthetic would do it. You’re still mostly the same. There are tons of people who have gotten synthetics.”

“Crap, crap, crap. I can’t believe I didn’t think about this. I can’t believe they didn’t warn me. Oh, crap.”

“Warn you about what?” Sophia asked.

“I might not be me anymore.”

“Of course you’re you. What are you talking about? We’ve known each other for years.”

Theseus took out his phone. He called his boss, “Hi. It’s Theseus. I’m going to need to take a sick day today. I know I was out yesterday, but it’s important. I’ll explain tomorrow.” He hung up and put the phone back in his pocket.

“I’ve got to get to city hall,” he said. “This is going to be a nightmare to sort out.”

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Madame Bovary

I just read Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert. I have two ongoing goals. One is to read all of the Great Books. I know all of the complaints about the Western Cannon, and I’m not following the Western Cannon exactly. I’ve read plenty of non-Western Great Books. But, I do tend to think that the books that have made the list are generally worth reading. They made it for a reason. My other goal is to read all of the books that I was assigned as a student, but never read. Madame Bovary checks both boxes. I know it was assigned my senior year of high school, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t read a page of it at the time. It’s still an open question how I passed any of my classes in high school, but at least I’m doing the work, even if it is twenty-five (or more) years late.

I don’t know what to think about Madame Bovary. I didn’t exactly hate it. It’s better than Moby Dick or Ulysses. But I can’t honestly say I liked it much at all. I can’t help but wonder what the point of it was. According to the introduction, Flaubert was going for realism, and it was groundbreaking to do so at the time. But, for Flaubert, realism seems to be a bunch of awful people getting way too caught up in pointless nonsense from their day to day lives. It’s almost like a satire of the French common folk from the mid-nineteenth century. But satire doesn’t work when it’s punching down, and Flaubert spent the entirety of the book punching down.

In the last paragraph I mentioned the awful people. That was probably the strangest thing about the book. I’ve never read a book before where the author so clearly finds all of his characters to be completely contemptible. They didn’t generate any sympathy at all. There were only two things in the book that elicited any kind of feeling. One was when Hippolyte was the victim of a botched surgery, and the other was when Berthe was orphaned. But Hippolyte and Berthe weren’t even close to fleshed out characters. Any feeling associated with them just came from the fact that in theory it’s bad to lose a leg or to become orphaned. I just didn’t know enough about either character to feel anything specific. They were more like plot devices to show how bad Charles and Emma Bovary were.

If Madame Bovary weren’t one of the world’s Great Books, I’d describe it as sloppily written. But, I don’t read a word of French, so I can’t really comment on the style. Perhaps, in French, it’s beautiful, even though it didn’t translate as beautiful. But narratively, it is sloppy. The narrative voice is wildly inconsistent. The point of view changes frequently. It goes on lengthy tangents. And there are long periods where it is unclear whose story it is. The most egregious was during Emma Bovary’s death scene. It’s a very long and drawn out death. Personally, I think Flaubert really relished torturing his titular character. But right in the middle of her long, drawn out death scene, Flaubert takes a break and goes over to the neighbor’s house to have Homais, the pharmacist, act like an idiot for a few pages before going back to Emma dying. It didn’t advance the plot. It didn’t deepen our understanding of a character. It didn’t seem to have any reason for being in the book, but there it was.

It doesn’t do Madame Bovary any favors that the most obvious book to compare it to is Anna Karenina. They both follow women in unsatisfying relationships who have extramarital affairs and die. But Tolstoy’s characters feel real while Flaubert’s feel like caricatures. There is a depth of feeling in Tolstoy that Flaubert never approaches. The only point of comparison that Flaubert wins is that his book came out first.

Overall, Madame Bovary was just about the strangest book I’ve ever read. Strange is fine if that’s what the author is going for, but in this case, it clearly isn’t. I don’t think I’m sorry I read it. At least I have an opinion about one of the world’s Great Books. But I can’t recommend it.

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That Voice

I just saw Gladys Knight in concert for the first time. She has long been one of my absolute favorite voices. I’ve had a crush on her since before I really understood what that meant and it has always been all about that voice. During the show, I found myself wondering what makes her voice so special.

One statement I hear a lot is, “So and so can really sing.” It’s usually made about pop singers, especially pop singers who have been over-produced. I’ve always found it to be a strange statement, though. One reason is that the statement is being made about a professional singer. Of course she can sing. Another reason I find it odd is that it’s a pretty low bar to set. While I appreciate technical ability, when it comes to singing, it’s a fairly common talent. Stop in any high school or church in the country and there’s a good chance you’ll hear more than one person who can really sing. What separates the truly great voices from everyone else?

At the Gladys Knight show, there were three backup singers and they were great. Not only did they hit all the notes and sing in rhythm, they had real power behind their voices. Ms. Knight gave them each an opportunity in the spotlight, and it was impressive. I’d have paid money to see any of the three in concert. But it just wasn’t the same as when Gladys Knight was singing. I don’t want to say they were missing something, because they weren’t. I guess Gladys Knight just has something extra.

I think that extra thing comes down to timbre. It’s not the notes or the rhythms she sings, it’s the sound of her voice. There are just a chosen few who are blessed with a better instrument than everyone else. We are lucky that those who have the gift record and perform so we can share in it. Gladys Knight can really sing, but it’s so much more than that. By sharing her voice, she has made the world a better place.

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Foreign Policy with Jam Stunna: What Does “Great Power Competition” Mean?

Image Source: http://blog.naiop.org/2018/08/ai-and-the-return-of-great-power-competition/

It’s been a little bit of time since my last post in this series, but I want to be more consistent in writing about these topics. So today’s post is about a phrase that has been thrown around alot in the last few years: great power competition.*

Basically, great power competition is political, economic and military competition between the “great powers” of the world. Right now, that’s understood to mean competition between the United States, China and Russia. After the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 90’s, many American policymakers and military leaders believed that we lived in a unipolar world- that is, a world where the only global superpower was the United States. Leaders believed that both Russia and China would eventually become Western-style democracies, and the mood of a global system led by the United States was captured in Francis Fukuyama’s infamous essay, “The End of History?”

As we can see, history did not end. Russia and China did not become Western-style democracies. In fact, the United States’ status as the undisputed power in the world lasted for just about ten years, and crumbled into dust along with the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001. Yet the global War on Terror (which I’ll write about soon, because there’s alot to say), while a catastrophic and incredibly deadly conflict which has claimed the lives of people all across the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa, is not the same as great power competition. The War on Terror has been fought with organizations that are substantial and deadly, but could never really succeed in destroying the United States.

On the other hand, nations like China and Russia possess the power to inflict serious damage on the United States, and their power is growing. China already has 500 nuclear weapons, and the Russians have thousands of bombs. China and Russia are both in the process of rapidly increasing their other military forces too: building more ships, more planes, more missiles and more cyberweapons. We’re seeing these forces being put to use, both in Russia’s annexation of Crimea and China’s militarization of the South China Sea.

As these nations push further and further out, they will inevitably come into contact with American forces. The United States has a global presence; our military is present in 150 out of 195 nations in the world. Our Navy patrols every sea and ocean on the planet, even the Arctic. Military and civilian leaders believe now that, in order to maintain the United States’ global dominance, they must shift away from the tools used to fight terrorism and instead prepare for the possibility of conflict with other nations- in other words, to compete with other great powers.

But why should you care? After all, there are more pressing daily concerns for all of us than theoretical conflict with China. Perhaps we don’t need to have this concern at the front of our minds, but we need to be aware because the potential for conflict will have serious consequences for us. We only need to look backwards to see what those consequences could be. While the phrase wasn’t used in the past, we’ve seen great power competition before. The emergence of Germany as a unified nation in the 1870’s introduced a brand new country to a Europe where Great Britain, France and Russia were already competing for power; while a bit of an oversimplification, the result was two world wars and more than 100 million people dead.

China is now roughly in the same place that Germany was in the early 1900’s: powerful, and growing more and more powerful (this is another gross oversimplification, but I think the analogy works to make the point). American leaders consider China’s rise as a potential threat to our dominance, and this could lead to a phenomenon known as the Thucydides Trap– basically, that as one power rises (China) and another one fades (the United States), war becomes likely.

But history is not destiny, and knowing that our leaders are preparing for war gives us the opportunity to have a say. We have the right to say that maybe we don’t need our military everywhere around the globe; that maybe the South China Sea isn’t worth it; that we should be talking to other great powers instead of getting ready to fight them. Everything is a series of choices, and we need to start making choices that lead to peace.

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Breakfast

I’ve had a complicated relationship with my mother, as many children do. There were alot of problems, but the biggest one was that we’re too much alike. A surefire way to generate conflict is to put two smartasses together under the same roof, for years at a time, and under extraordinary amounts of stress.

I didn’t really understand just how much stress my mother was under when I was a kid. My mother had three sons and a divorce before the age of thirty, and she had to raise us with very little help from other people. And by “raise,” let’s be clear about what that euphemism really means- she had to keep us alive. My mother had to provide food and shelter for all of us, essentially by herself.

How much food does it take to feed four people? I got a lesson in that this morning as I was making breakfast. I don’t usually eat breakfast during the week (to be honest, I’d rather have the extra sleep than food in the morning), but on the weekends when my son comes over, I like to cook for him. Since my brother and my roommate were awake too, I offered to make them the Saturday morning special: pancakes. The order came out to six pancakes, six pieces of bacon, and four glasses of orange juice. That’s:

-Three cups of pancake mix
-Three eggs
-2.25 cups of milk
-Three tablespoons of vegetable oil
-Six pieces of bacon
-An indeterminate amount of butter (probably about a cup)
-A lot of orange juice

My son is here for the entire weekend, and my brother and roommate live here, so double that for breakfast tomorrow too. That means in one weekend, for two meals, we’ve gone through half a carton of eggs, more than 1/4 of a gallon of milk, half of the orange juice, half of the bacon, and put a decent dent in the vegetable oil.

But wait, there’s more!

Monday, February 18th, is a federal holiday. Guess who doesn’t have school or work? And guess who has to eat? So in fact, TRIPLE that order. Now we’re out of pancake mix, out of bacon, out of orange juice, down to our last three eggs, and running low on milk (thankfully you can buy vegetable oil in bulk pretty easily).

Again, that’s just for three meals, to feed four people. Two people had two pancakes, and two people had one. One of the people who had one pancake ate the bacon instead of getting a second pancake. This is not people who are being greedy and stuffing themselves. This is just breakfast. And the milk, butter, eggs and oil need to be available for dinner too (lunch is when everyone fends for themselves).

If I didn’t have the money or the food for breakfast, I could tell my brother and roommate to make do for themselves; after all, they’re adults. And if things got really dicey and I ran out of food, I could send Gabriel back to his mother’s house and she’ll feed him. Or I could borrow money from my roommates. I have a ton of options.

None of those were available for my mother. She had to feed us at least twice a day, every day, for years (seriously, thank goodness for subsidized school lunch. Even the full-priced lunch was only $2.00- can you imagine getting a full meal for that price anywhere else?). My mother worked hard to make sure that we ate, but also to hide the fact of how close we came to not eating on so many days. I didn’t appreciate the amount of strain she was under because I didn’t know. But now I do, and the rest of my childhood is starting to fall into place as I learn how fucking hard it is to make it with one son and a college degree, much less with three sons and a high school diploma.

Thank you mom, even though I was definitely right in some of our arguments.

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My Birthday

As a general rule, I don’t like true stories. They are not well plotted and the characters tend to the boring side of things. I like it when the author takes liberties. But for this story, I’m going to stick to the truth.

My birthday was last week, but I need to start a few days before that. I was in the shower (don’t get excited, it’s not that kind of story) when I noticed a weird, circular rash on my thigh. The more I looked at it, the more it looked like a bullseye. I know that’s a classic sign of Lyme disease, but my birthday is in the middle of winter. How on Earth could I have been bitten by a tick in the winter?

I had a nice little internal debate about what to do. Except for the rash, I wasn’t showing any symptoms. It seemed crazy that I might have Lyme disease. One the other hand, I know how nasty Lyme can be if it’s not treated early. So I called my doctor. I decided that a co-pay and a little embarrassment was a worthwhile cost to get him to tell me that it’s nothing.

I went in. The nurse took my temperature, blood pressure, and everything else. Everything was completely normal. Then, the doctor came in. I showed him the rash. He said, “Huh.” Then he asked me a whole bunch of questions about where I’d been the past few weeks. I hadn’t been anywhere where ticks are likely to live. So, he asked me a whole bunch of questions about symptoms. I was feeling fine. He decided that it was either Lyme disease or a fungal infection, but he was leaning towards fungal infection. He asked me to put athlete’s foot cream on it. If it grows with the cream, it’s Lyme and if it shrinks, it’s not. He was going to be out of the office for a few days, but he would be back on my birthday. He told me to pay attention, if it grows at all, or if I start showing any symptoms, to call him back.

I was feeling better when I got home. At least I had some peace of mind. But the next day, I started to feel like I was getting a cold. The rash was unchanged, so I told myself it was just a coincidence. Over the next few hours, I continued to feel worse. I started running a fever. I was pretty miserable, so I convinced myself that I had Lyme.

When my birthday rolled around, I called the doctor first thing in the morning. I told him that I was having flu-like symptoms and I didn’t think the rash had shrunk. I booked an appointment for a little later that day and went back to sleep. When I got to the office, I was feeling way worse than I had been a few days before. The nurse did all the same stuff as my last visit, but this time, she swabbed me to test for the flu (It’s remarkably unpleasant having someone stick a Q-tip up your nose). I let her do it, but I knew it wasn’t the flu, I’d had my flu shot. I had Lyme disease.

In a little while the doctor came in wearing a mask. I had tested positive for the flu. I asked him about the rash, and he wanted to take a look again. It had actually grown about a centimeter bigger. I asked what that meant and he said that it really looked like I had both the flu and Lyme disease at the same time. I asked if there was a test for Lyme, but he said at the stage where the rash is still showing, the test is incredibly unreliable. He felt it was best to start treatment right away.

For the flu, he said there wasn’t anything to do. Theraflu only works if taken in the first 24-48 hours and it had been longer than that. For the Lyme, he wrote me a prescription for Doxycycline, an antibiotic. He then told me about all the tummy trouble I could expect from the antibiotic. I was overjoyed.

I filled the prescription on the way home, crawled into bed, and stayed there for the rest of my birthday. I didn’t have any cake or ice cream. The closest thing I got to a gift was being diagnosed with two diseases and some pills that were going to give me diarrhea. For me, this was definitely a record setting bad birthday.

It’s been almost a week since my birthday, and I’m feeling much better. I’m still not 100%, but I’m functional. I probably won’t be 100% until I’m done with the antibiotic. I don’t think I’ll ever know what was the Lyme and what was the flu, but it was an experience that I never want to repeat. I just hope that next year’s birthday is better.

I apologize for the lack of plot and the boring main character. I felt like it was a story worth telling, though. Partly because it’s a fairly unbelievable story, and people like those. And partly because I can act as a warning for others. Apparently, with climate change, winter doesn’t protect us from ticks anymore. Just think, whatever the month, if you’re feeling lousy, it could be Lyme disease. Or the flu. Or both.

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Fatherhood

Ever since I had a kid, I’ve considered writing about fatherhood. I never actually go through with it, though. Sure, I’ve written some things about my daughter, or about some parenting decisions I’ve made, but nothing about being a father. There’s a simple reason for that. Being a father is such a unique experience that there’s no real way to talk about it.

At least that’s what I always told myself. I’ve read and heard many descriptions of fatherhood and none of them have been adequate. None of them match my own experience of being a father or even come close. Most are silly or absurd. Then I read this article by Anna Machin. She approaches fatherhood from a scientific perspective, specifically as an evolutionary anthropologist. It’s the first thing I’ve read about fatherhood that resonated with me. I could almost feel the neurochemical and psychological changes she was talking about. She gave me hope that maybe I could write about fatherhood.

Then, I tried to write about being a dad and ran into the same old barriers. I don’t have any scientific training to fall back on. The only way I can talk about fatherhood is talking about the lived experience of being a father. But I find that having the experience doesn’t give me the vocabulary. Being a dad is so different from every other experience I’ve ever had, that I don’t know where to begin.

The temptation, and trap, is to think of paternal feelings as regular feelings, except bigger or more powerful. I don’t find that to be the case at all. My feelings about my daughter are different in kind, not just degree. I’ve often thought about how crazy it is that I’m stuck using the same word, love, to describe my feelings about everything from my favorite food to my friends and family to my daughter. Love just isn’t a versatile enough word. Of course I love my daughter. That’s obvious. But it doesn’t get at the way that particular love is so completely different from any other love I’ve ever felt.

It’s almost like experiencing a completely new color. I don’t mean a new shade of blue or yellow or red, but an entirely new color. No matter how badly I wanted to describe this new color, I would be incapable of doing it. It just isn’t like anything else. It’s singular, unique. Ultimately, that’s what it’s like trying to describe the experience of fatherhood. I just have to accept the fact that I can’t do it. The most important experience of my life is one that cannot be shared.

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No One Can Know

In 2019, I joined a 12 stories in 12 months challenge. Each month we are given a prompt and a word count and we build our stories from there. This is my first story. The prompt was “no one can know” and the word count is 1500. I’m tempted to point out all the things that are wrong with the story before you read it, but I’ll refrain. Just know that it is a bit longer than I wanted it to be and it’s basically a first draft.

***

He finally pulled himself up on the ledge. He let out a long breath and watched the vapor drift away in the wind. This better be worth it, he thought to himself.

He looked around. The ledge was wide enough for three people and deep enough for four. The wall in front of him was craggy, and there was an opening about the size of a door in the middle. As he took a closer look at the opening, he realized that rather than crags, the opening was surrounded by carvings. Although, they were so old it was difficult to tell what they depicted.

He took off his pack and placed it on the ledge next to him. He removed a water bottle and took a long drink. How long have I been out here? he wondered. He had lost track of the days weeks ago. No one around here seemed to keep a calendar. It had been months at least.

He had been following one rumor after another, none of them panning out, but this was it. It had to be. This information didn’t have the feel of rumors. The people here were sure. They were confident. They knew. It wasn’t like this anywhere else.

This was his last shot anyway. Even if it wasn’t the right place, he had been away too long, he was low on supplies, and out of money. No one understood why he started this journey in the first place. Even he didn’t fully understand. But he was sure. He had never been so sure of anything. He had to know the answer, whatever it is.

He stepped into the opening which extended into a hallway. He couldn’t tell how long it was, but he could see a flickering light ahead. He walked slowly towards the light. The temperature rose steadily as he progressed. It smelled musty. By the time he reached the torch that was casting the light, he was sweating.

The torch was at the entrance to a large, circular chamber. When he looked inside, he saw the chamber was lit by a dozen torches at even intervals about six feet off the ground. The walls were stone and there was a carved chair opposite the entrance he was standing in. In the chair sat what looked like a young woman in a simple white dress. The chamber was otherwise empty.

He walked across the chamber until he was about ten feet in front of the chair. The young woman stared straight ahead. It was as if she didn’t see him or was ignoring him. He cleared his throat. She remained motionless. “Excuse me,” he said. “Are you the Oracle?”

She didn’t react and he was afraid she hadn’t heard him. Just as he opened his mouth to ask again, she looked at him and said, “You wish to know if I am the Oracle?”

“Yes,” was his reply. When she didn’t respond immediately, he added, “I mean, finding out if you’re the Oracle isn’t my primary purpose for coming. I just want to know if I’m in the right place.”

She looked at him, as if considering her answer. Her look made him uncomfortable. What is she waiting for? It’s a yes or no question.

“I have been called the Oracle by many.”

“Is that a ‘Yes?’ Should I call you something different?”

She continued looking at him. It was making him even more uncomfortable. “What do you call yourself?” he tried.

Her eyes narrowed slightly. After a pause, she said, “I am the one who speaks only truth.”

“That sounds like an oracle to me,” he said. She didn’t respond. “So, what do I do?”

After a moment, she replied, “Your question is too vague. I cannot answer it.”

He waited, hoping for more. Too vague? It seemed pretty straightforward. He shrugged and looked down at his hands, then to his feet. When he looked back up, her gaze had not moved. He took a deep breath, “If I want you to help me with a situation, what do you need me to do? Is there a ritual or an offering or something?”

“There is no ritual and I do not require an offering,” she replied. “You must ask me a specific question. If I am able to answer it, I shall.”

“Well, it’s a question, but there is a lot of background. Do I need to fill you in?”

She did not answer. She just stared at him.

“Right, where to start? I’ve been with this girl for about a year and a half now. I’m crazy about her. I still get butterflies whenever I see her.

“I didn’t think she was my type. I’m kind of a nerd and she is definitely not. But something just clicked. She knows I don’t have any money, or connections, or prospects, so I don’t think she’s using me for anything. I think she actually cares about me. So, I’ve been thinking of asking her to marry me.

“The problem is, she hates my family and my family hates her. It makes me hugely uncomfortable. My family has always been loving and supportive. I trust them. But I can’t see why they have a problem with her. And I trust her, but I can’t see why she has a problem with them. I feel caught in the middle.

“What I want to know is: should I ask her to marry me?”

The Oracle’s expression did not change throughout his speech. He fidgeted nervously waiting for an answer. After a few minutes, which seemed to him like hours, she said, “No one can know.”

“Excuse me?”

“No one can know,” she repeated.

“That’s your answer? ‘No one can know?’”

“It is.”

“That doesn’t help at all. If we did get married, would she and my family learn to get along?”

There was another pause.

“No one can know.”

“Are you repeating yourself or is that the answer to my second question?”

“It is the answer to both of your questions.”

“Is that the only answer you give?”

“No.”

“Then, does she really love me?”

“Only she knows.”

“How is that any different?”

She continued staring at him. “What takes you so long in answering my questions?” he asked.

“I must listen and consider my response carefully,” she replied.

“So, ‘No one can know,’ was a carefully considered answer?”

“Yes.”

“You do see why that’s not a satisfying answer, don’t you?” She did not respond. “So, let me get this straight. I left my home and my job and traveled across two continents. I don’t even know what country I’m in right now, which is probably illegal. I swam to this island where the villagers assured me the Oracle was and climbed this mountain. Well, it’s not really a mountain, but it is a pretty steep hill. I did all that so you can tell me that my question is not answerable?”

She regarded him for some time before saying, “Your questions were answerable. I am not to blame if the answers are not to your liking.”

“Not to my liking? Come on. ‘No one can know,’ is a classic non-answer. You might as well have just said, ‘Who knows?’ Who do you think you are?”

She answered more quickly this time, “I am the one who speaks only truth.”

“What does that even mean?” he asked as he started pacing in front of her.

After a another too long pause, she said, “It means I do not hedge, equivocate, or dissemble. I do not say what is possible. I deal in things that can be known with certainty. . .”

She did not appear to be finished, but he interrupted her with, “Certainty? Certainty? Nothing can be known with certainty. I’ve studied philosophy. There’s always room for doubt.”

He might have imagined it, but he thought she seemed uncomfortable. He waited for a response.

“There can be no doubt that my answers are true.”

He laughed. This is absurd. He was both angry and amused. He couldn’t tell which feeling was stronger. “That’s just great,” he said. “I came all this way to learn that it is true that my questions have no answers. What’s the point?”

She did not answer.

“Fine. I have two more questions. Then, I’ll leave you in peace.” He didn’t know why he waited for a response, but he gave her a minute, then asked, “Why are you known as ‘The Oracle?’ And don’t say ‘No one can know.’”

She replied, “Any answer would be mere speculation. The motives of those long dead are inscrutable.”

He smiled. That certainly seemed true. “Well, just one more. Have you ever actually helped anyone?”

Her expression did not change, but she somehow seemed sad. “I do not know. No one has ever come a second time.”

He chuckled, but he felt sorry for her. He turned and walked towards the hall to get his things and start the long journey home.

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A Shutdown In Name Only

This is something I wrote about the shutdown. I didn’t post it at the time because I was so annoyed with everything having to do with the shutdown that my own piece annoyed me. Now that the shutdown is over, at least temporarily, I figured I’d put it out there. I think the point still stands.

***

There is a simple way to end the seemingly endless government shutdown. Shut down the government. It’s strange that that isn’t what we do. Instead we stop paying 800,000 people but keep all the essential functions of government working. It’s a baffling strategy and deeply immoral.

In theory, a shutdown is like a strike or a boycott. The whole point is to cause the decision makers enough pain to force them to either make the right decision or come to a reasonable compromise. Depending on how you look at it, that means that the shutdown must cause pain to the president and Congress, or to a majority of American voters, or both. The current partial shutdown misses its point utterly. It hurts the federal employees who are not being paid, their friends and families, and the people who depend on the money the federal employees usually spend. That’s an awful lot of people, but it’s not the right people.

The shutdown doesn’t hurt the president or Congress, at least not in any immediate way. They are still getting paid. Their supporters continue to support them. Also, while it is hurting a lot of people, it is nowhere near hurting a majority of the eligible voters. Most people in the United States can go about their day to day lives without noticing the shutdown. Their flights are still flying, their interstate highways are still drivable, their borders are still protected, even their taxes are still being processed. There is very little incentive for any of the decision makers to end the shutdown.

The immorality of the shutdown should be obvious. It is pointlessly hurting many innocent people. That’s pretty much what immorality is. It is also immoral in more subtle ways. Most importantly, during a partial shutdown, the government is forcing people to work without compensation. If any entity other than the government tried to do that, the Department of Labor would shut it down. The back pay that is promised after the shutdown is over doesn’t cut it. Because of the time-value of money, it literally isn’t worth as much as regular paychecks. Plus, retroactive pay can’t pay bills retroactively.

There should be two takeaways from this shutdown. Given the immorality of the shutdown, we should discourage the use of shutdowns as a political strategy. Also, if we do use shutdowns in the future, we should make sure they cause pain to the right people. The way to do both is to actually shut down the government during a government shutdown. All of the things that the government does for us should stop happening. The pain still wouldn’t be evenly distributed, but the people who need to feel pain would feel it. It would make a shutdown a last resort, and, if a shutdown ever did happen, it wouldn’t last long.

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