Contributors

Monday, December 19, 2022

The Gun Bubble

I find myself often wondering what life is like inside of the gun humper bubble. They really don't seem to be aware of what's happening in the real world.

Take, for example, this recent story about Shannon Watts, the Dr. King of gun safety and patron saint of children who don't want to be murdered at school because gun humpers need to be coddled about their paranoid delusions regarding government. 

In total, up to 140 candidates who were volunteers with the organization she founded, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and its newly formed arm, Demand A Seat, were elected to office. In Rhode Island alone, seven of the eight Moms Demand Action volunteers running won. Sixteen won in Illinois. Seats were flipped in previously Republican-held districts.

Moms Demand currently has ten million members, twice that of the now mortally wounded NRA. 

And those 140 candidates can now build upon this...

In response, states across the country stepped up. States have passed more than 525 significant gun safety laws in the decade since Sandy Hook. These laws undoubtedly protected the residents of the states that passed them. As our report demonstrates, while gun violence has increased since 2012, residents of states with strong laws are safer than those in states with weak laws.

Do you see what's happening, gun humpers? The days of mentally ill people killing themselves and others due to your criminal negligence are over. 

We are taking back our country and relegating you assholes to the dustbin of history...

Saturday, November 12, 2022

I Have Bought My Last Gallon of Gas

A month or so ago we bought a Chevy Bolt EUV. It replaces a Subaru Forester.

We liked the Bolt because it has a more traditional design aesthetic, with lots of physical knobs and buttons for the heating and air conditioning, instead of putting everything on screens like so many other electric vehicles. (The other manufacturers do that because it's cheaper, not better.)

The Bolt is basically a regular car, costing half as much as a Tesla Model Y, at about $33K instead of $67K. It has all the bells and whistles: heated steering wheel, heated and cooled seats, cameras all around the vehicle, a rear-view mirror that can display a panoramic view out the back (useful if you've got something big in the hatch), etc.

The Bolt has a range of about 250 miles on a full charge, but that of course depends on the kind of driving you're doing, and how you drive. If you're on a freeway going 75 mph, it will get less because of the all the wind resistance, just like a gas car's mileage plummets at high speeds.

If you're driving on city streets at 25-35 mph with stops for street lights and stop signs, you'll get a lot of regeneration, especially if you use one-pedal driving, and you'll get much better mileage. We've been getting about 4 miles per kilowatt-hour, roughly what the stated range is.

The thing Tesla drivers always crow about is the acceleration. The Model Y can go from 0-60 mph in 3.6 seconds. Wow. So impressive. And useless.

The Bolt's 0-60 is 6.8 seconds. The motor doesn't strain at all -- you press the accelerator and the car goes immediately, without any hesitation or straining. 

My Forester's 0-60 was something like 9 seconds, and there was a long pause when you gunned it, then the motor started to strain, and then it would start going. A Toyota Prius takes 10 or 11 seconds. Tesla's acceleration is just a gimmick and not at all necessary in the real world.

The Bolt has one-pedal driving. With it off the car acts like a regular gas powered car. That is, when you put it into drive or reverse, you start to creep forward and you use the brake to maneuver out of the garage or a parking spot. 

When you turn one-pedal driving on you move only when you press the accelerator. If you take your foot off you immediately start to decelerate, as if you were pressing the brake. But that's not what's happening: the motor takes the kinetic energy from the wheels and recharges the battery, like an electric dynamo.

The deceleration is quite aggressive, and there is a learning curve to figure out exactly how it will respond. Of course, you can always use the brake if the car is not stopping as fast as you need. And you can turn off one-pedal driving at any time. I always do that when I'm pulling into the garage.

The Bolt has "Supercruise" option, which allows it to do limited self-driving on a freeways that have been mapped out. We did not get it. The whole self-driving car thing is a scam. If you don't want to pay attention while you're driving, you should take a plane, train, bus or taxi. It's that simple. 

There's too much weird stuff happening on the roads, especially local roads, for you to put your life in the hands of the programmers who are at the mercy of an idiot like Elon Musk, who makes outlandish claims about the efficacy of "full self driving," constantly changes his mind, and pushes his workers to meet impossible deadlines and then sends updates to the car's software in the dead of night.

Tesla's chaotic development process results in a recall almost once a month. As we've seen from Musk's purchase of Twitter, his management style is to try out dozens of things, make lots of stupid mistakes, blow up lots of rockets, crash lots of cars, and eventually he thinks he'll figure it out. I don't want to participate in Musk's eternal electric car beta test, thank you very much.

Chevy originally had serious problems with the batteries, which were manufactured by LG, and recalled all Bolts to replace them. LG owned up to the problems and paid $1.9 billion of the $2 billion cost of the recall.

Chevy has sold enough Bolts to meet the limit on federal electric vehicle rebates, so they lowered the price by about that amount, and offered rebates to buyers who had paid the higher price. 

When we built our house about four years ago we put two NEMA 240-volt outlets in the garage, planning to eventually get electric cars. We have 12 kW of solar panels on our roof, and on a good day we generate 70 kWh. The Bolt's battery capacity is coincidentally 65 kWh, so we an basically fuel our car for free on a sunny day. The battery can be charged with the Chevy-supplied level 2 charger from empty to full in about seven or eight hours.

When you buy a Bolt, Chevy will either pay to get your garage wired with with a NEMA outlet, or give you a $500 credit for EVGo charging stations.

The average person only drives 40 miles a day, so the 250-mile range is plenty. The longest trip we usually make is to my mom's house, 80 miles away. We just make sure that we have a full charge the night before and don't have to worry about it.

My wife still has a plug-in hybrid, which gets about 25 miles on a charge, which means she's gotten like 1,000 to 1,500 miles per tank of gas, because so many trips can be run on a battery alone. So I get it when people are worried about getting stranded if their car runs out of juice. A lot of people don't have a garage to plug their car into, so they can't rely on an electric car alone.

But there are millions of American families just like ours, who have two or three cars, with garages, who could easily get an EV as their second car. They don't need some expensive and fancy Tesla with nutso acceleration and instant charging, they just need a car that they can drive to work, pick up the kids, get the groceries, and then recharge overnight.

Chevrolet's Bolt EVs are real cars for real people, not gimmicky and expensive toys. Elon Musk has become the "world's richest man" on the strength of Tesla, but the stock valuation of that company is wildly out of line with the reality of its true value. Chevrolet, for all its faults, is doing a better job at making EVs accessible to the average American than Musk is, and they're not making themselves look like idiots on Twitter every day of the week.

My nightmare is that someone will hack Tesla's network and turn all those cars into expensive bricks, or worse, hack the full self-driving mode and crash thousands of cars all at once. Given Musk's totally haphazard approach to software development, it is all too possible.

Sunday, October 02, 2022

The Florida Pyramid Scheme

The state of Florida is one giant pyramid scheme, built on a foundation of sand. 

Much of the state is currently uninhabitable due to Hurricane Ian. But the fact is, houses should never have been built in the areas that were destroyed.

Sanibel Island, the epicenter of destruction in Lee Country, is a barrier island. Barrier islands are called that because they are barriers to wind and waves from the ocean, shielding the coast from hurricanes. Building permanent housing on barrier islands is the height of stupidity. They will be destroyed when there's a hurricane.

We used to travel to the Marco Island/Naples/Fort Myers area for ten or fifteen years back in the 1990's and 2000's to play beach volleyball in January and February. So we have some familiarity with the area.

It's a great place to visit. But no one should be living there permanently. People should not be making permanent homes there. Rental condos and hotels are fine. 

We know a number of people who own houses or condos down there. They buy a house in Florida near the beach, but they almost always keep their house or an apartment up north because Florida is uninhabitable in the summer.

The heat and humidity are unbearable, especially for the elderly, who are being suckered into moving down there by the millions. In the summer they're trapped in their air-conditioned condos, and when the hurricane hits they are crushed or drowned.

And it's not just Florida. So many people are moving to places like Florida, Arizona and Salt Lake City, and those places are getting hammered by climate change. If you take just a few steps barefoot on a Phoenix street you will get second-degree burns. The Great Salt Lake is drying up, and toxic dust is blowing into the city, the result of decades of mining tailings washing into the lake.

I just can't understand how people can be such wimps, whining about a little snow and cold. At least you can put on a coat and go outside during the winter in Minnesota and actually get some exercise. Take a walk or a run. Do some skiing or snowshoeing. But in Florida you're trapped inside for months on end, fleeing from one air-conditioned building to another.

Back in the day Florida real estate was a punch line: "If you believe that, I've got some swampland to sell you in Florida." In fact, one of the original sellers of Florida swampland is actually the man that the pyramid schemes are named after, Charles Ponzi.

Florida is still a scam. Millions of suckers are now seeing the phony fairy tale destroyed by climate change, and in another ten years their houses will be uninsurable, and no one is going to want to buy them.

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Proof Trump Thinks His Supporters Are Suckers

Trump supporters hate liberals because they think liberals think they're stupid. 

Actually, liberals think Trump is making suckers out of his supporters. They think Trump's lies and manipulations are so completely blatant that . . . well, the conclusion is obvious.

At the end of Trump's presidency he issued a bunch of pardons. One was to Steven Bannon, who had cheated Trump supporters out of a million bucks with the We Build the Wall scam.

The fates of Bannon's co-conspirators?

They were accused of taking money for personal expenses like hotel and credit card bills and to buy jewelry, a golf cart and a luxury S.U.V. The fund-raising effort collected more than $25 million, and prosecutors said Mr. Bannon used nearly $1 million of it for personal expenses.

Mr. Kolfage and Mr. Badolato pleaded guilty in April to wire fraud conspiracy in Federal District Court in Manhattan. Mr. Kolfage also pleaded guilty to tax-related charges.

A federal judge declared a mistrial in the case against Mr. Shea in June after jurors reported an impasse, saying one juror had spoken in deliberations of a “government witch hunt” and refused to consider the evidence. Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said he planned to retry the case.

Now New York authorities have issued an indictment against Bannon for his crimes.

To receive a pardon Bannon admitted he had committed a crime. His fellow criminals admitted guilt or escaped conviction (so far) due to mistrial.

In other words, Trump let Bannon off the hook for ripping off Trump supporters.

Oh, and the wall? Not built.

Why aren't Trump supporters angry at the guy for helping his cronies rip them off? They should prove liberals wrong and show them how smart they really are, and pick a guy who's not guilty of inciting sedition, not getting his own supporters killed, and not just using them to make a buck.

Friday, September 02, 2022

Sarah Palin: Loser, Quitter and Whiner

In the 2008 presidential election Alaska governor Sarah Palin was Donald Trump before Donald Trump. She paved the way for idiots to run for the highest offices in the land. 

After John McCain and Palin lost, many in the Republican Party blamed Palin for the loss. The selection of Palin was a clear indication of McCain's lack of judgment. The loss was particularly irksome to Republicans and racists like Donald Trump because Palin made McCain lose to a Black guy.

After her loss, Palin quit the governorship in a huff. She and her family (her daughter got knocked up by a boyfriend after Palin had pushed for abstinence-only sex education) had a number of embarrassing appearances in the public eye and on reality TV.

Palin showed herself to the people of Alaska and America to be a loser, a quitter and a whiner.

But eight years later Donald Trump was essentially a rerun of Sarah Palin, and he won the election in the electoral college -- but not the popular vote. It was a clear indication of the dumbing down of the Republican electorate.

Now Palin has lost again. In a special election for a congressional seat that was vacated by the death of Alaska's lone representative in the House, she lost to Mary Peltola, a Democrat who will be Alaska's first indigenous American member of Congress.

The election was the first to be held with ranked choice voting, and of course Palin and the Republicans insist that the whole thing was rigged.

But was it? This was a three-way race, with Peltola, Palin and Nick Begich (also a Republican) running. In ranked choice voting you basically assign a number to each candidate: your first pick, your second pick, etc. 

When the votes are tallied, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is tossed out, and their second-choice votes are added to the totals of the remaining candidates. You keep doing this, with third-choice votes, etc., until someone gets 50% of the vote.

The rationale for this system is that it's supposed to "guarantee" that the winner has a majority of the vote. I personally think this argument is bogus. It's not really a majority unless the majority of the voters picked you first. More on this later.

This was how the numbers worked out in Alaska:

CandidateMary PeltolaSarah PalinNick Begich III
PartyDemocraticRepublicanRepublican
First round74,807
39.66%
58,328
30.93%
52,504
27.84%
Maximum round91,206
51.47%
85,987
48.53%
Eliminated

In the first round Peltola got more than 16,000 more votes than Palin. In this three-way race Peltola beat Palin, plain and simple. It doesn't matter than more voters voted for Republicans than for Democrats. This was a three-way race, and Palin lost. 

Peltola got 16,399 second place votes from Begich voters, and Palin got 27,659. That adds up to 44,058, which means that more than 8,000 voters did not make a second choice. They were Republicans who could not bring themselves to vote for Palin or a Democrat.

Why? Palin is a loser, a quitter, and a whiner, who was endorsed by a wife beater, money launderer for the Russian mob and seditionist who is trying to overthrow democracy in the United States. She also brought a great deal of embarrassment to Alaska with her family drama and various crime-adjacent antics when she was mayor of Wasilla that made Alaskans look like hockey hillbillies.

Now, there were probably voters who were confused about the ranked-choice system. But it seems pretty straightforward with just three candidates. And this brings me to why I don't like ranked-choice voting. 

It pretends to be a system that selects more moderate and less polarizing candidates without needing a primary, but because you can withhold your second-place vote and play other games, it doesn't really.

Many cities are now using ranked choice, and frequently this results in ballots with a ridiculous number of candidates. In the 2021 election for mayor in Minneapolis there were 19 candidates. And because you can only rank three candidates, ranked choice voting does not guarantee the victor will have more than 50% of the votes, contrary to what its proponents say.

Nineteen candidates is ridiculous. Voters can't be expected to know enough about that many candidates to make a rational choice. This allows organizations to flood a ballot with bogus candidates to intentionally confuse voters.

But that's not what happened in Alaska. There were just three candidates, like there were three national candidates when Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and John Anderson ran in 1980, or George Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot ran in 1992.

Peltola won a plurality of the votes, just like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton did. She beat Palin fair and square, straight-up.

Would Palin have won if Alaskan voters hadn't approved ranked-choice voting and used the old two-election primary/general system? Maybe. But a majority of Alaska voters decided to use ranked choice voting, so quitcher whinin', Sarah.

Palin is clearly an embarrassment to Alaska and America, and even the people who held their noses and voted for the lipsticked pig in this election are hoping that this loser, whiner and quitter will go away and stay away for good this time.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Trump Gets Another Sucker Killed

Yesterday Donald Trump incited one of his followers to attack the FBI office in Cincinnati. This was the poor sap's last post on Trump's social media cesspit:

His last post on Aug. 11, the day police said he tried to breach the FBI office, said, “Well, I thought I had a way through bullet proof glass, and I didn’t. If you don’t hear from me, it is true I tried attacking the F.B.I., and it’ll mean either I was taken off the internet, the F.B.I. got me, or they sent the regular cops while,” before ending abruptly.

He died shortly thereafter after fleeing the police on the freeway, turning down a country road and was shot by police after an hours-long standoff.

Donald Trump has ruined the lives of thousands of his followers. Think of it: the guy who took fish tank cleaner because Trump said hydrochloroquine would prevent Covid. The dozens of people jailed for threatening Democrats at Trump's behest. The woman who was shot by capitol police on January 6. The thousands of people who donated money to the Build the Wall scam. The Trump contributors duped into weekly donations to Trump, when they think they're signing up for a single donation.
 
Remember when Trump said that he couldn't be bought because he was so fabulously rich? Then why is he scamming retirees for their Social Security paychecks?

And, of course, the hundreds who were duped by his lies to attack the capitol on January 6th. Those suckers are going to jail by the boatload.

And for what? Trump is a not-so-rich, mobbed-up New York money launderer for Russian oligarchs who thinks he's smarter than everyone else. He cheats on his taxes. He paid off strippers and Playboy bunnies and lied about it, a crime that his lawyer, Michael Cohen, went to jail for, but somehow Trump hasn't been charged even though he told his lawyer to commit the crime. He brags about molesting women sexually and peeping at undressed teenagers backstage at beauty pageants. And people like this scumbag?

Republicans love to talk about how Democrats are suffering from Trump derangement syndrome. But it's Trump Republicans who are being totally deranged by Trump, and getting themselves arrested and killed.

And why did the Cincinnati nutjob attack the FBI? Because Trump kept classified files about nuclear weapons at Mar-a-Lago. The same Mar-a-Lago where a Chinese spy had free run of the place.
 
Trump has literally compared himself to Hitler, wondering why his generals weren't loyal like the Nazi generals were to Hitler (they weren't -- as Trump's own chief of staff told him, they tried killing Hitler at least three times, the most famous attempt being the one orchestrated by Col. Claus von Stauffenberg). Trump has spoken jealously about Kim Jong Un numerous times, wishing that his people cowered the way the North Korean dictator's people do. As far back as 1990 Trump had nothing but admiration for the vicious Chinese massacre of the protesters at Tiananmen Square.
 
And to this day, Trump still cannot bring himself to criticize his puppet master, Vladimir Putin, as Putin causes skyrocketing gas prices and world-wide food shortages.

For Trump, and apparently his deluded followers, there is no right and wrong. There is no morality. There is no love. There is only power. And fear.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

The ProLIfE Lie

Back in the day the Republican Party supported abortion rights. But in the 1980 presidential election Reagan's campaign operatives realized they could capitalize on anti-abortion sentiment among Catholics and Evangelicals.

Around the country they packed Republican district conventions and caucuses with single-issue anti-abortion voters and Reagan won the nomination over George Bush and John Anderson (who ran as a third-party candidate that year).

But this whole time the proLIfEr movement has been a lie. These people are not pro-life, they are anti-women. The states -- red, Republican states -- that are banning abortion now don't care about life. How can I say that? For a number of reasons.

Red states have looser gun laws. 

More guns means more death. It's really that simple. Any moron can get a gun in Texas and shoot up a school full of kids.

Red states have more murders. 

Here are the top ten murder states: Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Missouri, Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Maryland, Illinois and New Mexico. Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Oklahoma aren't far behind. New York is in the mid-30s and liberal bastions like Massachusetts and Minnesota are in the 40s.

Red states have more suicides.  

The top ten: Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, New Mexico, Idaho, Oklahoma, Colorado, South Dakota, Utah, West Virgnia. Arkansas, Kansas, North Dakota and Missouri aren't far behind.

And I think these numbers underestimate the number of suicides. A few days ago my brother died in North Dakota. He texted my sister and mother about five in the morning and told them he loved them. This is not a thing he would normally do. My sister was alarmed, and called the sheriff's office to do a wellness check. They found him dead in his house, and said it was "natural causes." They officially called it myocardial infarction. But there was no autopsy. No toxicology report was run. No check for an oxycodone overdose.

Which is nonsense. Everyone dies of myocardial infarction, because as long as your heart is beating you're considered alive.

He had been suffering from severe back pain and was considering having multiple vertebrae fused. The last time I saw him he looked and moved like a 90-year-old man, and he was just 61.

I think that the police in North Dakota chose to tell my family it was "natural causes" because they thought it will spare their feelings. And will make North Dakota's suicide rate less embarrassing.

The death penalty is still in force in most red states

It is the height of hypocrisy to claim that you are proLIfE if you support the death penalty. The injustices of the death penalty are too numerous to mention here, but the question is: why are conservatives, who constantly moan about "government overreach," in favor of the most egregious type of government overreach: the taking of a person's life? 

Unless a murder is committed live on national television, there's always going to be some doubt about who really did it. Why give the government the power to kill sovereign citizens based on the word of crooked prosecutors, lazy cops who just want to close a case, and jailhouse confidants who offer up perjury in exchange for less prison time?

And just because someone confesses to murder doesn't mean they actually did it (Central Park Five, anyone?). There are countless cases of bad cops using the "Reid Technique" to force false confessions. 

No exceptions for abortions.

In many of these proLIfE states there is no exception for rape, incest and the health of the mother. Women will die because doctors won't perform an abortion on a dead or dying fetus for fear of being maliciously prosecuted by DAs eager to please proLIfE fanatics.

Life is cheap in red states. 

So why are they so hell-bent on banning abortion?

Think about it. Conservatives have been bitching about "welfare queens" since Reagan's time. Yet by banning abortion they are forcing more women -- and women on welfare -- to bear children that they can't afford. If they've got new-born children they can't work. The state will have to educate these children. And then these unwanted children will wind up getting pregnant at 14, be forced to bear that child, and the cycle will repeat over and over.

And why no exceptions to rape and incest? Why reward vile criminals by forcing women to bear their children? Aren't conservatives afraid the impulse to rape is a genetic trait? Isn't it better to be safe than sorry, and abort a potential rapist, this demonseed, if that's what the mother wants to do?

Conservatives are also behind the movement to reduce access to contraception, most notably the Hobby Lobby decision, which allows businesses to exclude contraceptive care from their health insurance coverage. How does this make any sense? Why do they want more unwanted children?

"But it's an innocent life!" the proLIfErs will scream. No, it's not a life in any meaningful sense. An unfertilized egg is just as alive as a fertilized one. A sperm is alive too. For centuries churches hated on masturbation ("onanism") because "spilling your seed on the ground" was a sin against God! They mistakenly thought that sperm was the baby that men implanted in women, and that women were just the vessel for the miracle of life that men produced. Today's proLIfE fanatics have similar misconceptions about conception with their abortion bans.

Historically, in Jewish and Christian law an unborn child was not considered a person. Infanticide was common. God frequently commanded his followers to murder babies and "ravish" women. A rabbi in Florida has filed suit against the state's limits on abortion as a violation of Jewish religious freedom, considering it the imposition of religious Christian tyranny.

A blastocyst is not a person. A zygote is not a person. An embryo is not a person. A person is someone with a brain, who has memories and has lived a life. A fetus that cannot survive on its own is not a person. It is a part of the woman, like her kidney or gall bladder. 

We recognize this truth with brain death at the end of life. It's exactly the same at the beginning of life. A six-week-old fetus has less of a brain than a tadpole.

Why do people oppose abortion? 

Some legitimately believe the fetus is a person. They're wrong, but it's a legitimate religious belief, as long as they also oppose suicide, the murderous guns-everywhere mentality, the death penalty, and support exceptions to save the mother's life. But it is still wrong for them to impose their religious beliefs on everyone else, no matter how firmly they hold them.

But mostly, people oppose abortion to keep women down and in their place. And that leads to the next reason:

It's a desire to punish women. Donald Trump played on this impulse, intentionally or unintentionally, when he said, "There has to be some form of punishment" for abortion. The proLIfErs were embarrassed and quickly denied this. Trump recanted the statement later, but he had screwed up and given voice to the proLIfErs' real sentiment.

This constant hunger for vengeance has consumed the Republican Party in general, and Trump and his fanatics in particular. That's why they want the death penalty, that's why they want guns. That's why they commit more murders. That's why they want no exceptions for abortion. They want vengeance. There has to be some form of punishment for accidentally getting pregnant.

But why punish the women? 

I mean, women don't get pregnant by themselves. They get pregnant because a man had sex with them. And I would guess that 95 out of 100 times a woman needs an abortion it's because the man initiated the sex.

Why is there never any discussion of punishing the men for knocking the women up in the first place?

Seriously. The cause of every, single, solitary unwanted pregnancy is all these men who can't control their impulses.

Instead of banning abortion, how about we let the women have the abortion and then imprison the men for getting them pregnant?

We all know the answer. If men were on the hook for abortions, all these laws would be repealed tomorrow.

Kansas just had a referendum on abortion, and rejected the proLIfE lie by 18 percentage points. If we had real democracy in all those red states, instead of the gerrymandered plutocracy that Republicans have imposed on more than half the country, abortion would be legal in every state.

Monday, August 01, 2022

The Generation Fallacy

I have in the past blasted the entire notion of a "generation:" the conceit that everyone born between an arbitrary set of dates shares personality characteristics with everyone else in that cohort. The topic recently came up again at dinner with a friend.

The idea of generations is a form of astrology, which posits that everyone born when the sun lines up with groups of stars that the ancient Greeks imagined were a lion or a ram or a scorpion somehow share the same fate.

It's true that major social events can make an impression on an entire group of people as they come of age. The Viet Nam war and the sexual revolution are purported to have had a huge effect on the Baby Boom generation, which is typically defined to include everyone born between 1946 and 1964.

Those dates include people like Donald Trump (1946) and Barack Obama (1961). Not a lot of commonality, is there?

I'm included in the Baby Boom, but I never even had to register for the draft. I remember kids getting shot at Kent State protesting the war, but Watergate had a bigger influence on me than the Viet Nam war. My generation also got hammered by high gas prices (look up oil embargo), runaway inflation and outrageous mortgage rates (12%!, double what people are paying now).

A couple of years ago, when we were building our house, the construction supervisor constantly whined about millennials: they were lazy, needy, always late, can't live on their own, etc.

But whose fault is that?

A lot of Millennials got a raw deal when the economy melted down in 2007-2008. A meltdown that was engineered by Silent Gen, Boomer and Gen X financial "geniuses" screwing around with bogus financial instruments based on extremely questionable lending practices. When Millennials were getting out of high school and college they couldn't get jobs, buy houses, or even find apartments because everything was in free fall.

And then there's their folks' parenting practices. When I was a kid, in the 1960s and 1970s, my mom and dad just let me run loose. Like pretty much all parents back then, they didn't schedule play dates, take me to baseball practice, drive me to school, do my homework, write my college application, or any of the things that helicopter parents and tiger moms did. They couldn't -- they had six kids and just didn't have the time for that nonsense.

A lot of people in the Eighties and Nineties thought were a bad parent if you didn't watch over your kids like a hawk. And so a lot of Millennials were brought up by overprotective parents who tried to do everything for them. And those parents? They were Boomers.

Whose fault is it when kids behave the way their parents raise them?

Now these prejudices go both ways. Some Millennials and younger generations think that Boomers are clueless when it comes to tech. It's true, a lot of them are. Some of these young folks think that they are "digital natives" and the older generation are not with it.

But who invented the iPhone? Steve Jobs (1955). Text messaging? Matti Makkonen (1952). UNIX, which Android's and Apple's OSes are based on, and the Internet protocol? WWII babies.

My father-in-law (1926), literally to his dying day, was compiling Linux on his laptop for his Raspberry Pi (that's a tiny computer, for the uninitiated).

Are people who never use Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or TikTok or Telegram or BeReal clueless old farts? Or are they just people who don't want their lives run by algorithms written to maximize engagement for the purpose of enriching American tech bros and Russian and Chinese billionaires? Are all these young people abandoning the church in droves damned to perdition, or are they jettisoning two thousand years of sexism, racism and religious bigotry?

Every generation is faced by a set of challenges. To think that everyone in that age group responds in the same way, regardless of family income, ethnic and religious background, the part of the country they're from, and their own beliefs and morals, is lazy at best, or exhibiting a form of racism (generationism?) at worst.

People need to be judged on their own merits, not automatically lumped into some arbitrary cohort based on age, or ethnicity, or religion.

Monday, July 18, 2022

The Jesus Plague

I wrote this story in the 1990s, after a spate of murders and bombings by "pro-life" fanatics at women's clinics across the country.  With the recent Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade, it has gained new significance. I didn't realize it at the time, but it has a premise similar to a 1957 novel by John Wyndham that was made into a movie in the 1960s.

 The Jesus Plague



Celine Klein sprawled on her bed, wishing she could vomit. Through the blinds, the rising sun cast bars of light on her legs. She had to get up, get ready for work and get on the freeway before the traffic became impossible, but she was too nauseated to move. The sounds of her roommate, Marika, in the bathroom provided an excuse to delay getting up.

This was the third day in the row Celine had felt this way. The sickness went away by lunch time, but she still didn’t have much of an appetite by then.

The toilet flushed. There was a soft knock on Celine’s door and Marika peeked in.

“You up yet, Cee?” she whispered. Her blond hair was wild and unkempt, starting to come in dark at the roots.

Celine groaned and rolled on to her back. “Morning, Em. What are you doing up so early?”

Marika sat down on the corner of the low dresser. She wore a white t-shirt and pink underpants with purple flowers on them. Her bleached eyebrows were tightly knit, her lips set in a pout and she looked scared. “Celine, I think I’m pregnant.”

Celine sat up in a hurry. “I didn’t even know you were seeing anybody.”

“I’m not! I don’t know how it could have happened.” She shivered.

Celine rose, a little dizzy, and sat beside Marika, putting her arms around her roommate’s shoulders. “How can you be so sure?”

“My period was supposed to start a week ago Sunday, and it didn’t,” Marika said, near tears. “You know how it’s like clockwork, every 28 days. Today I threw up. It’s morning sickness, I know it. And I’m still on the pill!”

“Why? You haven’t been seeing anyone for a year.”

“Just in case.”

“Just in case! Just in case you meet a guy whose first impulse is to screw you? Em, I can’t believe you!”

Celine’s stomach suddenly turned inside out. She ran to the bathroom, barely making it to the toilet in time. Afterwards she felt a little better.

Marika stood in the doorway, watching her in horror. “You too?”

“No . . .” Celine said, refusing to believe it. “I can’t be pregnant. It’s been two years since I broke up with Dan!” She sat on the cold tile floor and pulled her nightgown tight around her feet. Wrinkling her nose at the vile, sour taste in her mouth, she reached for a tissue. Celine hadn’t had a period in seven weeks, but that was typical; she was lucky — if you could call it that — when she had six a year.

“Cee, what are we going to do?” Marika moaned.

Celine wasn’t listening. Her mind instead was filled with thoughts of how her life would be completely turned around. How could she manage a job and a baby alone? The men at work would have a field day with this. And how could she tell her mom and dad? They’d want to know who the father was, and as far as Celine knew, there wasn’t one!

Celine got up queasily. “Come on. Let’s go to the drug store.”

* * *

They sat at the kitchen table, staring at the home pregnancy tests they had bought.

“I can’t believe I’m pregnant. There’s no way. There’s just no way,” Marika said over and over.

“These home tests aren’t very reliable,” said Celine. “I’m going to see a doctor.”

“Me too. But I’m getting rid of it. Today.”

An abortion, Celine thought. The word repulsed her, conjuring up visions of bloody, mutilated fetuses. The bones of the skeleton in her Roman Catholic closet rattled with guilt.

“I don’t know if I could go through with that,” she said.

“You’ve got to do it. You don’t know whose baby this is. Somebody probably sneaked into our apartment one night and —”

“And artificially inseminated us while we slept? Right, Em.”

“Maybe it was something we ate?”

“Em, think about it. If you’ve been pregnant for a month or so, when will the baby be born?”

“Let’s see. It’s May . . .”

“Fourth. Add seven or eight months.”

Marika shrugged. “January. So?”

“Try end of December. Christmas?”

“You’ve got to be kidding, Celine. Yeah, I’m the Virgin Marika and I’m going to have the baby Jesus. Who are you the mother of? Santa Claus?”

“I’m serious. Remember what year it is?” Celine demanded.

“1999. So?”

“It’s the millennium, Em.” Celine shuddered as she said it. “The second coming of Christ.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot,” Marika said, rolling her eyes. “Celine, get a hold of yourself. There’s some reasonable explanation for this. There’s got to be.”

Celine shook her head. “I don’t see what it could be. I’m going to call and make an appointment right now.”

* * *

Celine tried to call in sick to work, but no one answered the phone. Traffic on the freeway was light, almost as light as a weekend. Marika cranked the radio up all the way. Sandwiched between Paula Abdul and Prince was a snippet of news: after receiving reports of thousands of unplanned pregnancies, the FDA was investigating Ortho Pharmaceutical for massive failure of their Ortho-Novum 10/11 birth control pill.

When they got to the clinic the lot was full; Celine had to park a block away. The waiting room was clogged with harried women, whining children, and a few nervous husbands. Celine and Marika filled out the forms, turned them back in and found the last two empty chairs.

A pinched line of worry appeared between Marika’s eyebrows. “There’s an awful lot of people here. You think we’re the only ones with our — problem?”

Here, among the crowd, Celine’s apocalyptic vision faded. More and more she saw that her fears were unfounded — her own “pregnancy" was probably a case of the flu and an erroneous test result. As for Em — well, she often forgot how she got home after a party. “That birth control pill thing on the radio probably has everyone worked up.”

“Yeah,” Marika nodded. She put her Walkman headphones on and leaned her head against the wall. More women were piling into the clinic; the line at the reception desk was already ten deep. A nurse started handing out numbers scribbled on Post-it notes.
 
Celine looked for a magazine to read, but the only thing at hand was People. Casting about for something more to her tastes, she noticed an older woman trying to find a place to sit.

“Ma’am,” Celine said, standing up, “you can have my seat if you want.” The way the woman wore her hair, in a tight white beehive, reminded Celine of her grandmother.

“Thank you, dear.” She smiled, sat down with a flourish and a sigh. The smile quickly faded, replaced by unease.

“Are you here with your daughter?” Celine asked, sitting on the edge of the magazine table.

“My God, no,” the woman said, putting her hand on her heart. The words gushed out of her in a torrent. “I think I’m pregnant, and I’m sixty-five years old! I went through the change ten years ago, but I know what it’s like to be pregnant, I tell you!”

The others nearby gasped. Celine almost slipped off the table. Marika yanked off her headphones, not sure she had heard right.

“I’m glad my husband is no longer with me,” the older woman went on. “If the stroke hadn’t done him in, this certainly would have. He was always a suspicious old goat.”

“It’s the same with me,” said a tall, thin, freckled redhead who sat beside a young girl. “I’ve been divorced for three years and I haven’t been with any men in four, but I missed my last period. Amelia hasn’t even had her first one —" she put her arm around the girl, drew her near “— and she had some spotting and morning sickness. She’s only nine, for God’s sake!”

“I’m on the pill,” chimed in a short, squat blond.

“My tubes are tied,” said an elegantly dressed, professional-looking black woman. 

A petite fifty-something piped up. “I had a hysterectomy six years ago. Uterine cancer.”

“I don’t know what you all are complaining about,” said a small, dark-haired woman with a pale complexion. She grasped the crucifix she wore around her neck. “My husband and I have been trying to make a baby for twelve years, and now we’re finally going to have one. It’s God’s blessing!”

The redhead glared at her. “Honey, the last thing I need is another kid. If this is a blessing, I’ll take a curse instead, thank you.”

“God will curse you to hell if you murder this baby,” the brunette retorted. “Jesus —" She stopped herself, as if she had accidentally blurted out a secret.

“What were you going to say?” Celine pounced.

The woman stared down at the floor, lips pursed, clasping her hands together as if in prayer.

At that moment two nurses and a silver-haired woman entered the room. The latter wore wire-rimmed glasses and a white doctor’s smock over a dark business suit. She cleared her throat. “We have an announcement to make.”

The low buzz of conversation dropped off immediately.

“I’m Dr. Alexa Macalester. Most of you are here for the same reason: you are experiencing symptoms of pregnancy, even though there is
‘no way’ you could be pregnant.

“For the last week or so we’ve been getting a few of these a day, but unfortunately we dismissed them. Condoms fail, people forget to take their pills, or use their diaphragms wrong. A report yesterday from the FDA appeared to confirm our suspicions when they reported a tainted batch of birth control pills. But these rationalizations were wrong.

“Today we started getting hundreds of calls from women who said they were pregnant but simply couldn’t be. We contacted other clinics in the area and they reported the same thing. Across the state, across the country, women have become pregnant when they can’t be. I became convinced of this when I had myself tested this morning — I, too, am pregnant.” The doctor’s chin quivered as she spoke.

“How can this be happening?” Marika interrupted. The other women joined in with a chorus of whys and hows.

Dr. Macalester raised her hand for quiet. “About half an hour ago, a news conference was held in San Francisco. They believe that this is a parasitic infestation of the uterus, manifesting itself with the symptoms of pregnancy.

“Another group of researchers sequenced the DNA of the ‘infestation,’ and found that it has 51 chromosome pairs instead of the normal 23 in humans. The first 22 pairs are completely human — and genetically identical in samples taken from sixteen different women.”

“What are these things?” Celine asked.

“We’re not sure. We’ve performed several vacuum aspiration procedures today. We found no evidence of infection or infestation, unless you call a fetus in the fifth week of development a parasite.”

“Then these are real babies?” the redhead said, her face a mask of pain.

“We don’t know. They might be. But I won’t try to talk any woman out of terminating this pregnancy.”

Suddenly the petite brunette leapt to her feet. “Murderers! Baby butchers! Don’t you see? We’re all like the Virgin Mary, and these babies are Jesus. The saviour is come to each and every one of us!”

Dr. Macalaster nodded to the nurses, who slowly made their way toward the woman. “Please, stay calm. Nobody is murdering anybody.”

The woman backed away, her brown eyes wide with fury. “Baby killers! Judases! You call yourself a doctor?” she spat at Macalester. “You’re Pontius Pilate in a skirt. You would crucify Jesus in the womb!” She scurried toward the exit, grasping the crucifix tightly. “Well, you’re too late! We’re closing down this slaughterhouse!”

The clinic was in an uproar. Children were crying, women were screaming and shouting, getting up and running out of the clinic.

“Please, everyone remain calm,” Dr. Macalester shouted. “Take your seats again and we’ll continue as before. Please. Sit down.”

The hubbub slowly subsided. The doctor returned to the examining rooms, leaving her staff to calm the frightened crowd.

Celine didn’t know what to think, what to feel. She always thought she’d have a baby when she found the right guy, when the career merry-go-round slowed down enough to get off for a while. She watched moms in the parks with their laughing babies, holding the little hands as they guided those precious first steps. She tickled the tummies of her friends’ infants, cooed over them, but she gave them back to their mothers when diapers needed changing. Celine wanted her own baby, something of herself and the man she would love, not some unknown thing.

“Em, can I borrow your Walkman?” she asked.

Marika had her knees pulled against her chest, huddling her arms around them. “Sure.”

Celine put the headphones on, turned the volume way down, and tuned in the all-news public radio station. They already had a name for the crisis: the Jesus Plague.

Madness was quickly spreading across the country. Angry crowds were gathering outside abortion clinics. People were selling their cars and burning down their houses in preparation for Armageddon. The senate leadership announced that committee hearings would begin the next morning. Now that’ll fix everything, Celine thought cynically.

She got up and looked out the narrow window. In the bright spring sunshine the crowd was already assembling. In the span of only a few minutes, it built from nothing to a mob of hundreds of chanting protesters, as if they had heard the clarion call and heeded it as one.

They carried hastily printed signs: “END THE BLOODSHED,” “STOP KILLING BABIES,” “DON’T CRUCIFY JESUS IN THE WOMB,” and “JESUS SAVES, SAVE JESUS!”

Police cars pulled up, their lights flashing, and uniformed officers piled out to form a cordon around the clinic. Buses disgorged loads of protesters; the crowd grew constantly. Within half an hour a sea of angry faces surrounded the building.

Inside, the smells of bad perfume, unchanged diapers and fear suffused the clinic. Celine could hear the chanting through the thick plate glass window. Not the words — just the roar, the anger, the hate. The protesters grabbed women who tried to enter the clinic, dragged them back into the mob. They threw disfigured dolls at the police, and splashed red paint, or ketchup, or blood on the officers.

Sickened, Celine went back to Marika. Few people spoke; everyone looked pale and scared. Celine could read the thoughts of the women in their grim faces: What is this thing growing inside me? Is it mine?

The door to the clinic burst open, flooding the room with the angry chorus of the protesters. Dozens of black-uniformed men wearing peaked police caps rushed into the room. An official-looking man in a black suit led the way, flashing a badge. The men in black spread out among the women in the waiting room, arms folded across their chests or behind their backs. When they had all filed in, they outnumbered the patients.

“It’s all right,” the leader shouted. “I’m Lt. Adrian Oliver, with the police department. We’re here to protect you in case the mob outside gets out of hand. I’d like to talk to the person in charge here.”

Adrian Oliver was a short, blond man with cool gray eyes. He carried himself confidently, as if he had a mission. Each black-uniformed officer had three or four pairs of handcuffs and a nightstick on his belt, but none of them carried pistols. They looked around expectantly, sizing up the women. Celine noticed that they were concealing handcuffs in their hands as well. She was going to say something to Marika, but stopped when she met the gaze of a man who watched her with the intensity of a stalking lion.

Dr. Macalester arrived in a huff. “What’s going on? Who are you?”

“I’m Lt. Adrian Oliver, with the police department,” he told her. “We’re performing a rescue operation.”

It was the cue. In a single, uninterrupted motion the man staring at Celine lunged, grabbed her wrist and twisted her arm behind her back. He snapped one cuff on her wrist.

The room erupted in a welter of frightened screams as the phony policemen wrestled with the women.

Celine’s attacker was a huge muscular man, easily twice her weight. As his arm snaked around her chest, she brought up her heel and kicked him in the groin. He howled in pain and bore her to the floor, crushing the breath out of her.

“Uhh!” he grunted. “The last thing I want to do is hurt you. Don’t fight me. Please!”

Celine gasped under his weight. “Let — me — go — damn you!”

“I’ll let you up if you stop fighting.”

There was no way Celine’s tiny 5’4”, 105-pound frame could stop this six-two hulk from making her do anything he wanted to. Fuming impotently, she acquiesced. He snapped the other cuff on his own wrist and pulled her to her feet.

Two serious fights broke out between the bogus policemen and some of the patients’ husbands. The “police
used their nightsticks expertly; the husbands went down quickly, bloodied and unconscious.

The women’s resistance was over in seconds. Each was handcuffed to a black-uniformed goon, even the old woman and the nine-year-old. Marika’s nose was bloodied — Celine knew she would never give up without a fight. As the screaming died away the bawling of babies arose.

“Please, please, everyone calm down!” Adrian Oliver shouted.

“Free us at once! We are not criminals,” Dr. Macalester protested as two men restrained her. She had lost one shoe and her glasses in the scuffle. “We’ve done nothing wrong!”

“Ah, but you have, doctor,” Adrian Oliver said. “And we’re here to stop you from doing it again.”

“You’re not with the police. Who are you people?” she demanded.

Oliver smiled at her. “First, let me reassure you: we’re not here to hurt anybody. Far from it. We are the Guardians of Jesus. We are on a mission of peace, for the King of Peace. We are like God’s guardian angels, but we watch over the unborn babies that each of you carries in your womb.”

“You can’t keep us here against our will,” Macalester said.

“Not for long. But long enough to do what needs to be done. Long enough to make you consider the sanctity of the life within your womb, and to help you decide to nurture it, not murder it. Right now, across the country, this same scene is playing out in hundreds of abortion mills. Millions of people are behind us, and we hope you will join us.

“We’re calling on the government to outlaw the butchering of innocents. We’re going to stay here until they do. We have barricaded ourselves in this clinic. Thousands of believers are outside, and most of the police are with us: no one will leave here until we have an iron-clad guarantee that the murders will stop.”

“That’s crazy,” Celine said, aghast. “You can’t keep us hostage until Congress passes a law. We could be here for weeks! And even if they did pass it, it would never stand up in court.”

Adrian Oliver’s smile was beatific. “The only court that matters is the Lord’s court, and by year’s end all appeals will be heard by the Lord God Himself.

“You are all so lucky. I have Jesus in my heart, but you have Jesus in your womb! Each of you will be the mother of God in His second coming.”

“You have to let us go!” a woman shouted. “I have to get back to my family.” Other women joined the clamor.

“Hush! Sacrifices must be made in the battle for the lives of the Christ children. We’ll be bringing in food and formula. Now, please. Everyone just sit down and stay calm. Guardians, instruct your charges.”

Celine’s Guardian made her sit on the table while he towered over her. He had brown hair and blue eyes, and an air about him that said he thought women found him irresistible.

Celine looked into the faces of the other men and saw nothing but masks of smug fanaticism. They regarded their captives as vessels for holy relics, not human beings. Except for Celine’s Guardian: his gaze roamed up and down her body; she didn’t like it at all.

Unattached Guardians started confiscating purses and diaper bags, despite the angry objections of their owners. Several minutes later cardboard boxes arrived, filled with bread, cold cuts, fruit and cans of soda.

Practically yanking her arm out of the socket, Celine’s Guardian slapped a sandwich together and offered it to her.

“I’m not hungry,” she said. “Besides, I don’t like mustard.”

“You’ve got to eat to keep the baby healthy. How about an apple?”

“No, thanks.”

The man popped open a can of soda and guzzled half. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and regarded her coldly with his ice-blue eyes. “If we have to force-feed you, we’ll do it.”

She frowned and took the proffered apple. “I am thirsty. I’d like a Coke.”

“Sorry,” he said, wolfing down the sandwich. “Caffeine’s bad for the baby. Here’s a can of spring water.”

Suddenly Celine was no longer afraid; anger consumed her. “Why are you doing this? You don’t care about people. You care only about the perfect innocence of the unborn. As soon as these babies emerge from our wombs you’ll throw them away as just more imperfect human trash!”

His lips twitching, the man balled his fist. The expression on his face appalled Celine; no compassion, no guilt, not even hate. Just an incredible frustration that he couldn’t haul off and hit her.

“Keep your mouth shut or I’ll muzzle it,” he growled, his fingers slowly uncurling.

Celine drank the water, surveying the situation. She might wrest the nightstick from his belt, maybe knock him out with it. But then what? She’d have a two-hundred pound anchor on her wrist and a lot of angry Guardians. She discreetly tested the cuffs; there was no way her hand could slip out.

“So, what’s your name?” her Guardian asked conversationally.

“You won’t muzzle me if I dare speak?”

“Sorry. You just got me mad, is all. What’s your name?”

“Celine.”

“Pretty name. I’m Todd Henderson. You married?”

“That’s none of your business!”

He shook his head, mouthing the word bitch. “Okay, honey. Be that way. Right now I gotta take a leak. Come on.”

He pulled her ungently to her feet, the cuff scraping the skin on her wrist. Celine looked wistfully back at Marika as they picked their way through the crowd of women and Guardians. Two men stood outside the lavatories. Henderson nodded and pushed the door open.

The thought of going into the men’s room, alone and handcuffed to this man, smothered Celine with a panicky, claustrophobic fear. Never before had she felt such an intense, throat-constricting dread of being raped. That sort of thing only happened to women who invited it, and she had done nothing, nothing to bring this upon herself.

“Hold it!” she shouted, jerking on the chain with her free hand. “I’m not going in there with you. Leave me out here with these two.”

Henderson snickered, enjoying Celine’s plight. “Look, honey, I’d love to take you right now, but you’re already knocked up. Besides, I’m on a mission from God.”

Her eyes implored the other Guardians for mercy. The first one looked disapprovingly at Henderson, but the second laughed. “Sorry, lady. We don’t have the keys for these cuffs. You two are joined at the hip for the duration.”

Henderson yanked her into the lavatory. He stopped at the first urinal. “You can watch if you want,” he said with a sneer. “You’ll be really impressed.”

Celine turned her head away, clenching her eyelids tight. She heard his fly unzip and a brief tinkling. For a moment she considered taking the nightstick and hitting him while he was exposed, just to get even for this humiliation, but he was already done.

He rezipped himself, then suddenly twisted her around, shoving her against the hard tile wall. He pressed solidly against her, forcing the breath from her. “Last chance, honey.”

She smelled the faint scent of shaving cream under the stronger odor of mustard. He pinned her legs and her free arm against the wall. He ran his hand from her hip toward her breast.

All fear fled Celine as she squirmed and writhed in his powerful grasp. A white-hot knife of repulsion and hatred welled up in her. No matter what he did to her, she would fight, even if it killed her. “Help me!” she shouted, banging her forehead into his nose.
 
“Ow!” Henderson cried. He raised his free hand to slap her. “God damn you, bitch!

The door swung open and the disapproving Guardian stepped in. “Come on, Todd. No one else is treating their charges like this. We’re doing God’s work here, not hustling chicks at the bar. Leave her alone.”

Henderson let
Celine go. “Just playing with her mind, Stan. Just playing with her mind.” He led her out, neglecting to wash his hands.

* * *

They waited. There was no word from the outside world, just the incessant, mindless chanting of the protesters outside. Celine and Marika didn’t talk under the watchful gaze of their Guardians; they just held hands, looked at each other with worried eyes.

Henderson visited the men’s room four times more in the same number of hours, dragging Celine along. She thought it excessive; her father, brothers and boyfriends had all had much greater capacity. He probably
was just playing with her mind.

Celine held it as long as she could, but eventually she had to give in. “I’ve got to visit the ladies’ room,” she told him.

“Now we’re talking! Let’s go, honey.”

“I want to take my friend with me.”

“You really are kinky. Sorry, one at a time.”

He brought her to the lavatory. As they went in, one of the Guardians said, “Lay off her, Todd.”

He entered the stall with her, smirking, and pressed up against her. “Okay. Go.”

“I’m not going to go with you watching me,” she said, with little conviction. She had to go so bad it hurt.

“I can wait here as long as you.”

She saw it now. It was a game for him. His raw masculine power against her pitiful feminine weakness. He would toy with her as long as she made it fun for him. And calling in the other Guardians would only anger him, force him to get even.

She sat down on the toilet seat and hunched over, struggling one-handed to pull down her pants. He tried to peek, but her clothing managed to cover everything, and even he had the decency to stop pestering her in a moment of such vulnerability.

“Why do you demean me so much?” Celine said, waiting for the irresistible force in her bladder to overcome the immovable object of her embarrassment.

For the first time he answered her with a straight face. “Women like you need demeaning. You don’t know your proper place. You murder unborn children. Someone’s got to put a stop to it. Someone’s got to save the babies.”

“They might not even be human! What gives you the right to make me bear this thing growing inside me?”

“That thing happens to be our Lord Jesus Christ.”

She shook her head, her eyes boring into his. “Is this what you want the world to be like? Every one of us in shackles? Watching each other piddle? Would you submit the Virgin Mary to this indignity?”

The man screwed up his face and turned away.

At last Celine’s pipes thawed. He does know some shame after all, she thought.

* * *

Henderson was in pain. He dragged Celine into the rest room twice more, but nothing came out. He tried to hide it, but he kept grimacing and pushing on his abdomen. His snide comments dried up as well. When he finally slumped down into a fetal ball, almost dislocating Celine’s shoulder, Marika’s Guardian called for Adrian Oliver.

“What’s wrong, Todd?” Oliver asked, kneeling over the man.

“It feels like I gotta piss, but I can’t,” he said through gritted teeth. “It hurts like hell.”

“I’ll have the doctor look at you. Can you walk?”

“Yeah,” Henderson grunted, getting to his feet. His mincing walk was comical; Celine didn’t try to stifle a laugh.

Two Guardians brought Henderson and Celine to an examining room. They got him up on the table, groaning and swearing. Celine watched him squirm in agony, sweat dribbling from his forehead, his face pale.

A faint smile on her lips, she leaned near and whispered in his ear. “Do you think this is divine retribution for the way you’ve been treating a vessel of Jesus Christ?”

Henderson’s face went ashen and his eyes turned heavenward. “Forgive me, Lord. . . .”

Moments later Oliver and Dr. Macalester, cuffed to a Guardian, entered. “This is the man,” Oliver said.

“You people take us prisoner and then expect me to help you? I should just let him suffer. But then I’d be no better than you. Okay, mister, what ails you?”

Henderson repeated his explanation haltingly. Macalester asked him a few more questions, then turned to Oliver.

“You’ll unchain me before I do anything,” she said flatly.

Oliver sighed, addressing one of the Guardians. “Philips, go find a hacksaw or a bolt cutter.” The man nodded and left.

“You’ll free two of my nurses and my lab technician. I need some blood work and an ultrasound.”

Oliver nodded. “Okay, you’ve got it. What do you think’s wrong with him?”

“I can’t tell yet, but from his symptoms, it could be kidney stones, or infection of the bladder, the prostate or the urethra, or a cyst in the urinary tract, or a tumor. Male urology isn’t my strong suit — I’m a gynecologist, remember?”

“Now,” Macalester said, turning to her patient, all business. “Jan, draw some blood and run all the tests on it. I’m looking for infection. Linda, prepare the ultrasound.”

The technician drew blood and unsuccessfully tried to coax a urine sample out of her embarrassed patient, then rushed off to the lab with her Guardian.
 
The nurses stripped Henderson down to his shorts and the doctor poked and prodded his abdomen mercilessly, making him howl.
 
Celine, standing awkwardly in the middle of all the medical bustle, tried her damnedest not to smile at her torturer's discomfort. It was a losing battle.

The bolt cutter arrived several minutes later. The Guardians cut the
chains on the doctors and nurses handcuffs, leaving oversized bracelets on their wrists
 
Macalester motioned to Celine. “Oliver, cut her loose too. Shes in the way.” 
 
“Do it,” Oliver told the man with the bolt cutter. “But keep her here. I don’t want word of this getting around.”

The man obeyed, freeing Celine. She sat in a chair in the corner of the room, curling her legs beneath her and massaging her wrist under the handcuff.

The nurse wheeled a machine to the examining table and ran what looked like a microphone smeared with clear goo over Henderson’s abdomen. Macalester watched the fuzzy gray images on the screen.

“Linda, does this pelvic structure look right?”

“It looks normal to me,” the nurse replied.

The doctor shook her head. “That’s exactly the problem. Liz, turn up the contrast. Thanks. Whoa! That looks just like. . . . No, impossible. It’s got to be a tumor.”

“He’s got cancer?” Oliver piped up.

“I didn’t say cancer — most tumors are benign. Look at this.” She pointed to one of the gray blobs on the screen. “This large tumor, here, is compressing the bladder, here, and the urethra, here, stopping the flow of urine.”

Celine stood up to look more closely, along with everyone else in the room. The image reminded her of the ultrasound picture she had seen when her sister was pregnant.

Macalester flicked a switch, freezing the image on the screen. “This man needs attention that I can’t give him. A biopsy —”

An urgent knock interrupted her. Oliver opened the door and snapped, “What is it?”

A Guardian had brought the lab tech back. “I have the results of the blood work, doctor,” the woman said. “Normal WBC count, but there are high levels of hCG, estrogen and progesterone.”

Macalester laughed. “I know I said all the tests, but I didn’t mean all the tests.”

A young Guardian rushed in and shoved the lab tech aside. “Sir! We’ve got another man with the same problem as Henderson.”

The Guardians exploded in a hail of shouts and curses.

At that moment the truth dawned on Celine — the ultrasound picture was too much like her sister’s. While the Guardians jostled each other at the door she went to Henderson’s side.

“I know what’s really wrong with you.”

“What?” Henderson croaked, his bloodshot eyes twitching.

“You keep telling us that Jesus will be visiting each and every one of us women, come Christmastime. But would it be fair if only women had their own personal saviors?”

He shuddered. “That can’t be. . . .”

“Will everyone please shut up!” Dr. Macalester shouted. “I want to revise my opinion.”

Oliver quieted his men. “What, doctor?”

“I believe that the infestation has affected men as well as women.”

“Impossible!” Oliver gasped.

She pointed to the image frozen on the ultrasound screen. “When I first saw this, I didn’t think it was a tumor. I thought it was a uterus. The hCG and progesterone in the blood prove it. This man is pregnant.”

“Shit! There’s one of those things inside me!” Henderson screamed, raking his nails across his naked belly. He twisted and fell to the floor, knocking over the ultrasound machine with a crash. “Get that God-damned parasite out of me!”

Dr. Macalester jumped out of the way of Henderson’s flailing limbs. “The structure of his pelvis conforms to the female norm. In women the infestation simply took up residence in the uterus, but in men it seems to be creating the environment necessary to reproduce itself. This man is being transformed into a woman, from the inside out.”

Henderson howled like a wounded animal, then fell limp, whimpering.

“The infection rate in females seems to be one hundred percent,” Macalester went on. “I can’t see why it would be any different in males. In six months there won’t be a man left on earth.”

“Is this truly God’s will?” Adrian Oliver’s mouth gaped.

Celine gave him a wide smile. “Welcome to the club.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Sports Betting. Really?

Sports betting is apparently making big inroads in the United States, with several states legalizing it and more eager to get in on the scam. The question is, why? 

A prime example of why sports betting is utterly without merit can be found, oddly, in India and Russia, of all places. The New York Times has an entertaining article about a scam run on foolish Russian gamblers:

There were floodlights, high-definition cameras and umpires with walkie-talkies pinned to their shoulders. The cricket players wore colorful uniforms. The broadcast had the voices of recognized commentators, and the logo of the globally recognized television channel: the BBC.

But this was no Indian Premier League, the lucrative cricket tournament that generates hundreds of millions of dollars every year. It was an elaborate fraud, turning a large farm in a small village in the western Indian state of Gujarat into an arena of sporting excitement.

After years of Russian hackers scamming and ripping off computer users across the world, this is, in one way, a refreshing change of pace. The scammers got scammed!

But why are Russians betting on cricket matches in India? I mean, I'm sure these Russians don't care about cricket or even know the rules of cricket (who does?). The players on the field were total amateurs: unemployed construction workers and village teenagers. 

I don't know anything about cricket, other than the pitchers are called bowlers, who throw a ball at a wicket and a batsman, who hits the ball then runs back and forth while the opposing team fields the ball.

But it's really hard to believe that the gamblers watching this fake cricket match couldn't tell that the players were amateurs. Such players would make tons of mistakes bowling and hitting, their hitting would be weak, they would run slowly, they would fail to field easy balls. It would be like watching a bad little league game. How could these gamblers not tell they were being scammed?

The only logical conclusion: gamblers are idiots. Or perhaps more aptly: suffering from a mental illness.

My only personal exposure to sports gambling was when I was eight or ten years old and my dad took me to the pool hall (they sold used comics) and he and his friends put money on the game. And that's not even real gambling. It's sort of like a self-run tournament. 

I've played in numerous volleyball tournaments in which there were prizes, but don't consider that gambling. The worst that happens in these events is when teams sandbag (for example, A level players play at BB level) for the regional tournament so they win the prize.

The one time I went to Vegas was to see a beach volleyball tournament. I never set foot in a casino (too much cigarette smoke back then), much less placed any bets.

But, again, why bet on something that you have absolutely no understanding of or control over? This compulsion to gamble is a mental illness, and has landed countless "church ladies" in jail for embezzling money from their jobs or churches to finance their casino sprees.

I can understand poker, in which your own skill makes a difference in the outcome. There's even some skill involved in craps. But why play the lottery? Or slot machines?? Or gamble in casinos on something like blackjack? What a total waste of time and money! If you actually use skill to play blackjack, you get thrown out for counting cards.

All those bets are sucker bets. The house always wins.

The entire ethos of gambling is corrupt. Cheating is endemic in all forms of gambling, especially in dice and card games among "friends." Loaded dice, marked cards, and hidden cameras these days, are the scourge of gamblers.

And then there's internet poker. Wow. Two obvious scams: 1) you're not playing against real opponents, just against the computer, which gives you good enough cards to keep you on the hook, but in the end is just siphoning money out of your credit card. 2) On a "legitimate" poker site the other three people at your "table" are sitting in the same room, looking at each other's cards, and splitting the take among themselves, playing you for a sucker.

On the internet nobody knows you're a dog, but they should just assume you're a cheater.

I can understand betting on your favorite team, though if you think putting money on the home team will somehow help them win you are delusional. Hopes and prayers have more of an effect.

Gambling on a sport inevitably corrupts the sport. The prime example is the infamous Black Sox Scandal of 1919, when the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. This resulted in rules banning players who bet on their own games, like Pete Rose, who bet against the team he was managing. This got him banned for life and kicked out of the Hall of Fame.

Now people across the country are legally betting on MLB, NFL, NHL and NBA games, and even college and high-school sports. 

This will inevitably result in cynicism and corruption across all sports. No one will ever be sure they legitimately won a game -- there will always be that suspicion that the opponent threw it to cash in on a bet.