Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Strange Muddle or American Incompetence and Apathy





Speaking from personal experience, unless a person knows those around him are like minded it is best to not say anything that might be perceived as critical about the United States or Americans. The best example I can give happened several years ago while I was hanging out with a couple of friends with a few others tagging along. It was a Saturday afternoon and we were all drinking beers while daydreaming we were on some tropical beach when I made a casual mention of someday permanently moving to Mexico. At that particular moment my desire to expatriate had more to do with finding some rustic beach shack on the Yucatan or Baja California coast and begin looking for the proverbial lost shaker of salt.

I made no mention of rancid and self destructive American politics nor the putrid nature of popular culture but the bother-in-law of one of my buddies was quite bothered by the idea of someone permanently leaving the United States. It would not be an exaggeration to say he considered it a form of treasonous behavior on par with the infamous Benedict Arnold.

“So the United States is not good enough for you?” This person asked with his voice betraying a heaping dose of righteous indignation. Since this event was taking place in the American South for several minutes there was the mandatory pissing contest between me and him that was only defused when my buddy explained the nuanced nature of my statement that also involved beautiful senoritas, ample supplies of tequila, along with cheap and easy living.

The explanation placated the overly patriotic brother-in-law and he apologized saying that he didn't like anyone who criticized America. He went on to mouth something along the lines that if a person didn't love America they should quickly leave it. To him, America was the freest, smartest, and greatest nation God in his infinite wisdom ever created on the planet. While not exact quotes I can say with near unquestioning certitude that my friend's brother-in-law's face took on this look which was a combination of total serenity and absolute fanaticism as he explained his fervent and devoted patriotism. I just stood there looking at him figuring similarly dedicated individuals gleefully burned heretics at the stake in the name of Jesus Christ during the Middle Ages.

Given the state of patriotism these days and how easy it is for people to be insulted I figure I should go ahead and say that there is nothing wrong with a person being proud of his or her country. The problem comes when patriotism is replaced with a fanatical certitude that their beloved homeland is not only perfection but deserved total and unquestioned obedience.

Yeah I know, such active proto-fascist dickheads have always existed in one form or the other but they have generally been offset by significant population of thinking adults that while proud of the United States understood its flaws and took an active interest in trying to correct them. That seems to have changed, while exceptions exist with millions of good and intelligent Americans still working to make this a better country and improve the world, they seem overwhelmed with a stagnant and near moronic population preoccupied with trivial issues seemingly created just to distract from real problems.

There are more examples of this self destructive disinterest than I am frankly comfortable with or have time to discuss. I could mention the blatant disregard and utter lack of concern to the human suffering going on at the Mexican border with thousands of Central American children coming to this country. Entire towns of Anglos have been on the television news waving signs saying that they don't want any of those kids being kept there as our dysfunctional congress dithers over funds and a humanitarian way to solve this problem.

The bizarre nature of this xenophobia is that I'd guess that a majority of these nearly riotous red-blooded American defending their precious country from children just seeking a safe place away from drug gangs and stifling poverty is that they consider themselves Christians. This is where dear reader that you need to remember all the New Testament quotes from Christ on helping your fellow man.

I could carry on about our crumbling infrastructure and how expensive it is to continually patch roads and bridges that in all actuality have long exceeded their workable lifetime and need to be replaced. But that would requires some knowledge that our infrastructure is the vital backbone of our economic strength and that it might mean Mr. and Mrs. Joe Middle Class might have to pay more in taxes. No, the windmill I will attempt tilt today involves a subject the vast majority doesn't give a damn about and in fact, is always eager to increase.

Way back in those wonderful 1980's a movement swept the country to stop cuddling criminals, laws were enacted that required mandatory sentencing for some crimes as well as a simplistic idea where if a person was convicted three times they would spend the rest of their lives behind bars. This placated the frightful population concerned that some evil intruder would do them harm. Now to be fair, like the late Richard Pryor once said, “thank God for penitentiaries,” because that is the best place for some people who are clear and present dangers to society.

The fly in the ever comfortable idea to sending someone into prison then throwaway the key comes with the nature of their crimes. Mandatory sentencing requirements and Draconian drug laws have caused the American prison population to explode until the freedom loving United States has 2.2 million under state and federal confinement while the commie People Republic of China has only 1.7 million. Now the mathematically challenged might think that we have only around a half a million more prisoners than the Chinese but when you take into consideration that the total population of China is well over 1.2 BILLION, by percentages it is the United States, with a population of only 313 million, that seems authoritarian. If you add up the numbers that means we incarcerate 716 people people per 100,000 of the national population, the highest in the world. And while we only make up 5 percent of the world's population we house 25 percent of the world's prisoners.

When you add to the mix that mandatory sentencing and drug laws hit African-American and Hispanics far harder than Caucasians you have a recipe for conspiratorial ideas that at the very least say if you are white, the scales of justice are weighed down in your favor.

For me though the exploding embarrassment of our prison population says more about the simplistic and childish intellectual nature of Americans. Like I said some people need to be in prison but the nature of crime isn't black and white, when a person is born into poverty with no genuine opportunity for escape it is human nature to lash out whether in crime or through substance abuse.

Possibly the most insidious little fact about the American obsession to throw as many people in jail as we can is how there are companies whose sole purpose for existence is to make a profit running penitentiaries. Given that a few other highly sleazy facts exist about these businesses that should make any decent person's skin crawl I will defer to the John Oliver video below.


Another aspect of strange nature to the current state of dual American fanatical patriotism and abject apathy is the condition the United States' nuclear arsenal. If there is one things many Americans are inherently proud of in a semi-psychotic and surreal way is the idea that the United States is the lone superpower in a world of piss ant nations. Now we do still give lip service to such accomplishments like the Apollo Project which put humans on the moon and war effort by the people who fought in the armed forces and worked in the factories during the Second World War but they pale in comparison to the current fixation on our ability to sterilize the planet.

The trouble is that while we Americans own way over four-thousand nuclear weapons, more than enough to render Earth unlivable except cockroaches and Cheneys the management of these weapons is marked with sheer incompetence, lack of proper maintenance and upgrades, and the occasional accident that should send freezing cold chills down the spine of any sane person. Once again I defer to the John Oliver video blow for a more thorough explanation.






Sunday, July 27, 2014

Nomad Feet--Last day at Disney's Hilton Head Resort

As usual, the last full day of my vacation found me in a hammock plotting nothing less than revolution on both the personal and global scale. My seditious thoughts revolved around the basic question as to why in the hell would anyone willingly leave such a beautiful place. Vacations, if they are good, relax the body and open up the mind to a whole spectrum of ideas that would otherwise be oppressed during the normal routine of daily life. As for those ideas I developed while relaxing in that hammock, I'd like to think I can make a few of the personal ones work for a change.

My wife, daughter, and I stayed in a studio suite on this visit to Disney's Hilton Head Resort. Except for a small refrigerator and a microwave there was no real way to cook in the room so we either ate out or ordered in, this required me to finish off the pizza we had for dinner a few night before. I must admit, that cold slice of pepperoni  pizza I had for breakfast while sitting next the marsh was one of the best meals of the trip. 

Okay, this is going to sound weird but I can't remember a time I have ever saw anyone staying in these condos across the water. The building itself is in great shape along with the crystal clear pool but on that beautiful and already stifling hot Friday morning it looked deserted, just as it has every other time in the past.   

After my pizza breakfast I came across several guys just hanging out watching something intently. After joining the group I discovered they were watching a yoga class taking place on paddle boards. The group was made up almost entirely of ladies in bikinis doing some complex positions on the boards. Now I admit I hung out with the guys for several minutes watching the class. Yes, it was crass and totally immature and possibly sexist for grown men to stand around gawking at those ladies like nerdy high school boys. While I cannot speak for my male compatriots, since I was already in a seditious mood I decided to embrace the immature side of myself and take a couple of pictures.   

Late that afternoon a massive and angry thunderstorm moved in that lasted for hours. Far from spoiling anything the storm brought back memories of similar events back in my hometown in which my grandfather would pull out a lawn chair and sit underneath his carport and enjoy the weather. For reasons I can't figure out such storms are rare in the little suburban town I live, in fact I have watched television weather reports in which a line of thunderstorms heading towards the greater Columbia area split in half and go different ways. 

video
A short video of the storm along with my daughter complaining about not being able to go crabbing.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Wandering Toes--Hilton Head, South Carolina

Yeah, I constantly whine about soulless suburbanites forever toiling in their precious yards like serfs bound to some medieval warlord. For me, life begins and ends with the sun rising above the ocean accompanied with a soft breeze. Hilton Head is not my favorite beach by a long shot, but I always hold to the Buffett-inspired philosophy that a bad day at the beach always beats the best possible day at work. This family vacation started Sunday afternoon but we didn't really get into the relaxation groove until Monday morning.    

This might be weird, but I've always had a fascination with abandoned sandcastles, it's either the writer in me or my interest in archeology. I find myself wondering what the builders were thinking as they filled buckets of sand to construct towers and dug trenches for moats. Did the creators of that fortress fight off invading hordes or did it fall to the efforts of gallant freedom fighters wishing to free the oppressed? I also have a tendency to equate sandcastles with the inherent transitory nature of human civilization. 

Last time we were at Hilton Head my daughter, Darth Wiggles, and I did a little crabbing. Like the last time we caught one highly irate blue crab who we quickly released back into the waters of Broad Creek.

Did a ghost tour of Savannah, Georgia last night, it was awesome if a little too tame for my wife and me. A few too many stories of "nice" spirits and ghosts. As for the sign, it was in front of Barracuda Bob's restaurant, a nice place and I recommend the Cuban sandwich. As for the statement, I find it debatable, see one of my ex-girlfriends from many years ago was so cold she could freeze the surface of Venus. Deficient on planetary knowledge? Well Freezing Venus would be quite the accomplishment.   
video
A brief video featuring Shannon Tanner, a truly outstanding singer and performer. He's playing in Shelter Cove area of Hilton Head for most of the summer.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Whe Johnny Comes Marching Home--Part Two


 (Author's note: This is fan fiction based on the Domination of the Draka alternate history storyline created by S.M. Stirling. Simply put, he had American loyalists flee to southern Africa instead of Canada at the end of the American Revolution. A minor change you might think but the result was fiction that had him described as the H.P. Lovecraft of political science. Now, I had to change a few things from the original books that in essence has created a slightly different universe. You can read Part One here. Lastly, I'm on vacation at the moment and will not get to correcting my scores of typos and mistakes until much later.)  



Late September 2013
Original Timeline
Seven months after the start of the Final War

The skies over the State of East Tennessee were filled with scores of clashing jet fighters all caught up in a deadly aerial ballet. Missiles streaking towards targets and glowing cannon rounds flying through the bright daytime sky were all elements of the dance. Most failed to find their prey but dozens of explosions still littered the blue sky like fiery, evil roses that quickly evaporated to smoke.

For Aerospace Force Captain Richard Douglas none of the other fighters he shared the sky with mattered, his universe had narrowed to a set of computer generated symbols displayed on his helmet visor with different colors showing which was friend or foe. His goal was to out think the Draka pilot he pursued and put either a missile or cannon round through the snake's plane.

As Douglas and his opponent desperately tried to out maneuver each other time for both lost most of its meaning. Its only relevant factors had to do with fuel consumption and whether or not there would be enough for the other to return to base once the battle was over. Still though, part of Douglas' mind had time to appreciate his enemy, he or she was an excellent pilot and if numerous immutable factors could be different he'd love to buy the other a beer and discuss their mutual love of aerial combat.

Decisions, both practical and those clouded with passion, made centuries before prevented any sort amicable encounter between the two enemies. One of them believed they were superior to all other human beings and were entitled to control all aspects of their lives while the other was defending his homeland from a ruthless invader. Circumstances demanded that one of them had to die, it didn't matter whether it was a from small mistake or simple fate and on that occasion it was the Draka who died.

Despite generations of breeding and years of training for the briefest moment in time the enemy pilot slipped into the center of Douglas' target sight allowing complex software to react far swifter than any human. The cannon on his plane burped six explosive rounds that sped across the sky to pierce the Draka's starboard engine and fuel tank. Everything happened so fast that the Draka never realized that she ceased to exist.

Wolf Six,” Douglas screamed over the radio, “dead snake falling, I have a clear path to the transports.” The Draka fighters were not the real objective, they were providing air cover for six heavy vertical landing and takeoff cargo planes that were attempting to unload a brigade-sized unit. Even as other American fighters continued to dance with the enemy Douglas armed the four sledgehammer missiles that his plane carried in recessed pods along the fuselage.

While the Draka considered themselves artists when it came to war they had not provided their VTOL transports with much in the way of defensive armaments. All they had were two light cannons positioned above and below the fuselage. This provided Douglas a relative clear path to come straight in at the hovering beasts. Two sledgehammer missiles sped away from Douglas' plane and impacted the closest two transports, both of the weapons reached their targets and impacted near one of the engines used for hovering leaving behind a small secondary munition that caused even more damage before exiting out the other side.

The genius of the sledgehammer missiles were their ability to engage multiple targets, because once they thoroughly destroyed the first two transports they went on to hit two other hovering giants. Luck was with the Americans that day because three of the four destroyed Draka transports crashed on top of the first two that had already landed and were in the process of unloading troops and equipment. In the space of twenty seconds an entire Chiliarchy of forty-five hundred troops was destroyed. The two other transports attempted to flee the growing disaster but other American jet fighters made quick work of them.

Douglas had little time to enjoy his heroics, just as he turned for home he heard and felt an explosion on the port side of his aircraft. Computer generated graphics on his helmet visor told him the engine on that side of his craft had suffered a massive structural failure. Again computer software came into play realizing that the plane had no chance of making it home, that made its number one priority the survival of the human pilot. With only a couple of seconds to prepare, Douglas was ejected from his aircraft. When his parachute deployed Douglas took some satisfaction that American skies in his area, were for the moment, free of enemy aircraft.

The problem he realized was that the initial Drakan biological sneak attack on Alliance and American leadership had greatly hamstrung their efforts. The resulting period of chaos the Alliance suffered through was the main reason the Draka had the strategic advantage. Alliance and American forces could still win battles but with the Draka leadership intact, they had a big edge in logistics and coordination of forces.

Douglas hit ground in a large meadow, knowing that while the brigade-sized Draka force was effectively destroyed there were certainly survivors skulking in the area he immediately removed his parachute harness and ran for the cover of the wood line. He knew that the Aerospace Force pararescue troopers from his base and any Army Rangers in the area would be looking for him but in the meantime he had to avoid enemy contact, he was neither equipped nor trained to handle them.

Whatever plans Douglas had of staying concealed until he was rescued were rendered moot just as he reached the trees. He heard the ghoul first, the sounds of its panting and bounding through the woods echoed like thunder. While the warning was nice, it was difficult to get an idea which direction the genetically engineered abomination was coming from, and Douglas knew that did not bode well for his survival.

Just as Douglas pulled out his pistol he caught sight of the creature. It had stopped twenty meters away and was starting to circle him, images and reports of the ghouls chomping down on humans danced inside Douglas' mind. Supposedly, the Draka had engineered the ghouls with a near human level of intelligence despite its appearance of an overly large baboon with a dog's head.

Come on you piece of shit,” Douglas yelled at the thing. “You want to eat me, come and try.” The creature just growled but then jumped towards Douglas with its destructive intentions quite clear. All Douglas could do was raise his pistol and squeeze off several shots. At first, it seemed that none of the five rounds he fired hit the creature, and when it jumped for the final lunge Douglas figure he was dead. Douglas was able to jump to the side at the last second and saw the ghoul hit the ground and not get back up. He pumped several more rounds in the creature's head to make sure it wasn't faking.

Well Yank,” Douglas heard someone say behind him in a bizarre slurring accent similar to Australian English, “you've had a bloody busy day.”

Douglas turned and saw his worst nightmare, a Draka soldier just a few meters away. Even worse, Douglas realized that given the soldier's size and physical stature he was probably looking at one of the post-human Drakensis creatures engineered for speed, endurance, strength, and just about every other characteristic that was useful for killing. The ghoul was bad enough, but Douglas now measured his remaining lifespan in single digit minutes.

That beastie was my pet,” the Drakensis said, “I raised it from a pup. I was going to bring you to headquarters because the bounty on live pilots is big, but now I'm just going to cut you into little pieces.” Knowing the American pilot could offer no real resistance the Drakensis slowly disconnected the targeting cables running from the side of his head to the assault cannon he had just placed on the ground.

Armed with only his pistol and a knife Douglas knew he was a dead man walking. But he had no intention of going without a fight. “Well snake,” he said to the Drakan super soldier, “how many friends did you have on those transports?”

His statement actually appeared to catch the monster off guard. “Was that you Yank?” it asked. “Cause I had bunches, on those carriers.”

Yeah, I figure there must be over four thousand dead super soldiers like you with clouds of flies buzzing around their crispy corpses. If I die today it will be with high degree of satisfaction.” Douglas said slowly readying his pistol for a one in a billion shot.

The best Alliance intelligence suggested that while physically the Drakensis were unbeatable and that intelligence was above average, their egos could be easily bruised. The enraged Drakensis pulled a ugly looking machete from a scabbard and ran towards Douglas.

Drakensis creatures still bleed and die like humans, it's just a lot damn harder to do. The simplest way is to pump a couple of heavy rounds into their chest or just one in the head, armed only with a pistol Douglas had to go for the latter. With barely a second to aim, Douglas raised his pistol and tried to hit the creature's eye in the hopes the slug would penetrate the brain. He fired off a single round but wasn't able to dodge the Drakensis like the ghoul before and the collision to Douglas felt like getting first hit by a semi then a locomotive.

When the stars that seemed to spend an eternity floating in front of his eyes cleared, Douglas found himself on the ground. At first his body refused to obey any commands. Douglas sympathized, it had been a truly shitty day with having his plane blow up, dealing with a ghoul, then having to try and survive an encounter with a Drakensis. Despite the totally attractive idea of just continuing to lay on the ground among the dead leaves, he forced himself to stand up. Unfortunately, standing up meant Douglas caught sight of the Drakensis calmly walking toward him. For Douglas there was a small consolation when he saw that he had indeed hit the super soldier in the right eye, but it wasn't a direct hit. The round had impacted at an angle blowing away the eye and a good chunk of his skull.

Douglas willed his hurt and exhausted body into action allowing him to land several blows on the Drakensis. Except for the glancing blow to the creature's injured head, nothing he did seemed to bother it. For the Drakan super soldier, Douglas was just a bloody rag doll for him to throw around. “That the best you can do big boy?” Douglas said trying to taunt the monster a little more before he died.

Right when Douglas' vision started to go black he thought he heard some commotion off in the distance. Sure enough, the super soldier heard something as well, it dropped Douglas and walked away. Struggling to stay conscious Douglas saw the Drakensis' chest explode first then its head. The last memory he had of that day involved a pararescue team arriving on the ground and the chopper in the air.

Consciousness came back in bits and pieces, one moment he saw his wife Aileen Garcia by his side. Her lovely face showing toxic combinations of worry, fear, and uncertainty. “You were right babe,” Douglas whispered during a brief moment of lucidity, “it was best we didn't have any kids. The world has certainly gone from simple shit to utter terror.”

Other times he woke up to find himself alone in his hospital room with the television left on showing one of the channels the Draka occupation forces now controlled. He knew the broadcast was from Charlotte, North Carolina because he recognized the young lady at the news desk who started giving news reports just days after the war started. He long blond hair was now gone and she now sported a numerical tattoo above her right ear. The Draka's way of keeping track of their slaves.

The entirety of her broadcast was now devoted to instructing Americans on how to act around Draka forces and the processes involved with becoming a slave. Video clips were periodically shown of long lines of Americans having their hair shaved off, issued a utilitarian jump suit, then put to work. Other video clips showed what would result if anyone resisted, namely impalement on a piece of wood or metal rod. Images were shown of impaled American soldiers and civilians along some highway, some still alive. Their pleas for a merciful end to their pain and suffering being laughed at by Drakan troops. Douglas had no idea how long he had been unconscious, but it was clear the war was going exceptionally bad.

One morning Douglas had an unexpected visitor, his base commander General Lee Peterson. “Captain,” he said standing beside an army general he didn't know, “I know it ridiculous to say this but the situation is beyond grave. You have two more days to rest and recover, after that you have an extremely unusual and dangerous mission to perform. One that could possibly win us the war before it even started.”

Richard Douglas heard every word but figured that after all the images of terror and disaster he watched on the television he must have been dreaming.

***

Current Timeline, July 2014
Fifty-six days after the appearance of Captain Richard Douglas

We found her,” Colonel Ellen Marcus said as she abruptly threw open the door and entered General McDonald's office.

The general was sitting at his desk with his chair turned away from the door and just staring out the large picture window behind his desk. As scenes go, Ellen thought to herself, it was rather uninspiring since it was just one of the Pentagon's many parking lots. It was several hours before sunrise and McDonald seemed lost in thought contemplating all they had learned in the last two months. “Where was she,” he asked after finally turning his chair to acknowledge his long time friend and protege.

Colonel Marcus had spent years working with McDonald and knew this mood. She grabbed the seat next the door and sat down. “Believe it or not, she's an Air Force surgeon stationed in Germany. I've checked her personal and family history, it matches exactly with what we know of Captain Douglas' wife in the original timeline. The only problem is that she's married to another doctor and has two kids by the guy.”

Crap, that sucks, I should have figured it was too much to hope she was single,” McDonald said as he opened one of the desk drawers and pulled out a bottle of tequila and two glasses. “I imagine you've already contacted her?” He said while casually pouring some of the clear liquid in both glasses.

Yes,” Marcus said while taking one of the glasses. “She will be on a special transport in about an hour. I personally talked with her over a secure line and told her this situation was to be considered highly classified and that everything would be explained once she arrived in Virginia.”

The two sat in silence for several minutes occasionally refilling their glasses. For some, the quiet would have felt awkward but for McDonald and Marcus there was a comfort in being together. “What's really bothering you Scott?” Marcus asked figuring he would not get moving again unless she got him thinking out loud.

The President and the Joint Chiefs are pressuring me for a final report. The problem, of course, is that I have more questions now than when Douglas first appeared and no answers. We have over thirty theoretical eggheads battling each other over the finer points of time travel, alternate timelines, and temporal paradoxes with no clear opinion was to whether the Draka still exist in some fashion. It's too bad Dr. Randal Bernard Lewis does not have a counterpart in our reality, he's probably the only one who could provide some real answers.”

Ellen leaned back in the spare office chair and quickly threw back and swallowed the clear liquid in her glass. Damn, she thought to herself, a four-star general and he continues to buy the cheapest crap. “Got to admit,” she said once the bad aftertaste had cleared, “after seeing the video of Dr. Lewis on Douglas' computer tablet I wondered if his counterpart was Hunter S. Thompson.”

McDonald laughed at that suggestion, “One of our scientists said the same thing, and that it would take such a brilliant, totally off the wall eccentric come up with a way to invent a time travel device. Lewis' eccentric nature was also a testament at how desperate the United States and the Alliance were in the original timeline. I've had time to review some of Lewis' personal journal entries, both the United States and the Alliance threw billions of dollars at every project that had even a hint of a chance at giving them an edge against the Draka.”

In a way it served them well,” Marcus casually said, “the Alliance ended quite a bit ahead of us in many technologies. The memory core on Douglas' computer tablet is well over ten terabytes, and our space program is a totally embarrassed compared to theirs.” Neither Marcus nor McDonald wanted to think about the Alliance's “New America” project and the fact that after substantial prompting, astronomers had confirmed the existence of a Earth-sized planet orbiting in Alpha Centauri A's Goldilocks zone. Further confirmation that the planet the Alliance named Samothrace had a breathable oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere was at least several years away.

Yeah,” McDonald began after throwing back another half-glass of cheap tequila, “we might still be stuck in Earth orbit but at least we don't have to worry about those damned post-human Homo drakensis creatures nor those genetically-engineered hybrid baboon-canine combinations the Domination used to disrupt Alliance forces.” While the Alliance had a significant lead in electronics and computer technology, the Domination of the Draka were masters of genetic engineering. Douglas' computer tablet had revealed that the Draka as early as the 1970's had sequenced the genomes of many living creatures and had moved directly to creating hybrid combination and even a post human version of themselves geared for combat. The most insidious element of the Homo drakensis monsters were their ability to subtly control the enslaved populations through the pheromones they produced, which had the effect of unconsciously pacifying normal Homo sapiens and the Homo servus creatures the Domination also created.

The two old friends fell into a silence that last several minutes. “What are we going to do Scott?” Ellen finally asked revealing a rare moment of worry and outright fear.

At first McDonald refused to even look at Ellen, and when he did he took a long time to refill his glass before answering.“Despite the fact Dr. Lewis believed his temporal calculations allowed a time traveler to loop back on him or herself and stay in the original timeline, our people aren't so sure. Most believe that when Douglas did his temporal jump he just crossed over to an alternate universe, that his went unchanged. The one thing our scientists do believe is that Lewis' device in essence rang our timeline like a bell, possibly drawing the attention of any sufficiently advanced Draka in a near infinite number of other universes. So what will we do Ellen, prepare for the worst possible scenario.”


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Lovely Cruise--Buffett Inspired fiction




The first thought Jim had when he awoke in the darkness of his cruise ship cabin was that he figured the worst episode of emotional turmoil in his life had to be over. The pain from the dual gut wrenching body blows of embarrassment and heartbreak he received the day his fiancee left him at the altar seemed to be fading. He stilled remembered the looks of pity and concern on the faces of his parents and the pastor as he opened the small note Emily had wrote explaining what had developed between her and his now former best friend, Robby.

The note was the expected mish mash of apologises and rationalizations that the two of them could not fight the overwhelming desire of what their hearts told them was real. Standing in the pastor’s office it was then that Jim realized that over the years of their mutual relationships the two had always seemed at each other’s throats over the smallest things.

You’ll find someone else,” Jim’s mother whispered continuously a couple of hours later as she sat next him in the backseat of his dad’s car. Truthfully, at that moment Jim didn’t care, he felt that way mostly because he was in shock but another part of his mind realized it was far better for them to go their separate ways before things like a mortgage, joint bank accounts, and kids made everything extremely complicated.

Son,” his dad said from the driver’s seat, “I know you won’t appreciate this question but what are you going to do about the honeymoon cruise? You and Emily were supposed to catch a plane to Miami in the morning and board the ship that afternoon.” It didn’t take Jim more than a second to decided.

With Amanda’s naked body still entangled with his, Jim felt no hurry to move or disturb her sleep. He had meet her two days into what was supposed to have been a week long honeymoon cruise in the Caribbean for him and Emily. By chance, Jim and Amanda had met each other at a late night deck party and started talking. Both quickly recognized that there was chemistry going on between them with Amanda soon after telling her former college sorority sisters that they were going off to one of the quiet bars on the ship to continue their conversation. Amanda’s girlfriends all squealed in delight wishing Jim good luck as the two headed off on their own.

The rest of the evening was nothing more than them sitting together in a lounge sipping wine and telling their life stories. Both refrained from saying much about the status of their current relationships fearing it might scare the other away. It ended in the early morning hours with Jim walking Amanda back to her cabin, exchanging a deep kiss with her, then making plans for dinner together that night.

Things went by a lot faster that night with them ending up in Jim’s cabin. “This is an awful big cabin for just one person,” Amanda said as Jim opened the door for her to enter.

Yeah,” he said trying to think of someway to explain without having to admit he was suppose to be on his honeymoon, “this cruise was supposed to be a anniversary gift for my parents. Something came up and they couldn’t go and a refund for the tickets was out of the question.”

Oh I wasn’t complaining,” she said with a coy smile while shrugging off her loose fitting sun dress. “This just gives us some uninterrupted privacy away from my friends and plenty of room to have fun.”

The rest of the cruise went by in a blur, Amanda became a bit of a running gag to her friends who only saw her in passing, while Jim bathed himself in the restoring powers of wanton lust and carnal activities. Jim could have went on this way indefinitely, except the cruise line had other plans. As Jim lay on his bed still holding the sleeping Amanda he heard click of the ship’s intercom and then a series of soft chimes.

Good morning passengers,” the senior cruise director said through the speaker, “we will be docking at the Miami terminal in two hours. Please have your bags outside your cabin as soon as possible so they can be collected and processed. We will be disembarking and going through customs by deck numbers to speed the process along. We hope you had a lovely cruise and will sail with us again.”

Oh crap,” Amanda said upon waking up, “I’ve got to get back to my cabin and get ready. My friends are going to kill me if I hold them up. We have a long drive back to Tampa.”

Jim just smiled as she jumped out of bed, quickly gathered up her clothes from the previous night. “It’s been great,” she quickly said to him while leaning over the bed, “we’ll have to do it again.” They kissed one last time and then she was gone like a sudden gust of wind.

It only took Jim a few minutes to prepare for his own departure, an unfortunate circumstance of being alone. In the final minutes of the trip Jim opened the curtains covering the cabin window and watched the harbor lights draw ever closer. He had no plans for the future other than returning to his job and dealing with the all the sickly sincere pity and compassion that was sure to come his way from friends, family and coworkers.

Jim knew that what Amanda and him had was just a romance of convenience, but there was this nagging little voice in his head saying that maybe it was something more. When Jim’s time came to disembark he bullied his way through anxious crowds all wanting to get back to their normal lives as fast as possible. Jim’s plan was to get inside the terminal building and locate Amanda before she disappeared forever.

While not as claustrophobically crowded as the hallways of the ship the terminal building was still awash in humanity all going in different directions. For close to twenty minutes Jim ran around the building like a madman almost drawing the attention of security before finally seeing one of Amanda’s friends who was heading out the door.

Fearing he would be too late, Jim cut a different but quicker path through the building to exit out a different door. The morning sun was incredibly bright allowing Jim to see Amanda and her friends off in the distance handing a man about his own age their bags which he placed inside a minivan. From Jim’s vantage point this unknown man’s smile and familiarity with the ladies suggested he was more than just friend there to take them back to Tampa. Amanda’s friends climbed into the vehicle leaving her and the man standing outside, it was then that Jim caught a glimpse of the gold ring complete with a nice sized diamond she was now wearing. The final confirmation of their relationship was when she threw her arms around the guy and passionately kissed him the same way she had done Jim in his cabin a few hours before.

Feeling strangely unhurt but satisfied, Jim drifted back inside the terminal to await the bus that would carry him to the airport. A couple of hours later Jim meets his dad at the airport. “How was the trip son,” he asked hoping the trauma of the botched wedding had faded somewhat.

Jim smiled in way that both relieved and caused his father some concern. “It was a lovely cruise dad, I might try and have another just like it real soon.”



(Author's note: Was doing my usual over abundance of daydreaming the other day when I heard this song. It reminded me that on one of the Disney cruises my family has been lucky enough to enjoy I saw this guy who seemed to be alone. Now on most cruises this would not be an issue, its just that on the boats owned by Mickey you have newlyweds, families with kids, older couples, and single parents with their children. A Disney cruise is not a place a guy by himself would normally be found. So, in the spirit of a wannabee writer my overextended imagination came up with this story. I hope you enjoyed it.)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes-- A movie review





The American movie industry is a scared little creature these days who has found relative safety in churning out a constant stream of sequels, prequels, reboots, and simple remakes of film ideas that have already made them money. I'll be charitable and say most of them are mediocre efforts, the new “Star Trek” and Spider-man films quickly come to mind as prime examples. Exceptions do exist in the form of the Dark Knight films done by Christopher Nolan, which on a side note, means Ben Affleck is pretty much screwed. I admit, I've never been a fan of his to begin with, but when you have to follow the acting efforts of Christian Bale he'd better hope most people stay preoccupied with the new guy playing Superman.

Be that as it may, the rule of reboots being lackluster was definitely broken with the release of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” three years ago. For those who don't know the producers and director of that movie took the tired and now campy 1970's Apes franchise and updated to the point that you got an intellectual examination on animal experimentation, unrestrained capitalism, and simple human folly.

The movie in the nutshell has to do with a genetic researcher, played by James Franco, who is desperate to cure his father's advancing Alzheimer's. Franco's character develops a possible cure in the form of a genetically engineered virus and tests it on chimpanzees who all show significant advances in intelligence. The carefully controlled environs of the lab are violated when one of the chimps escapes its cage and goes on a rampage throughout the corporate headquarters only to be shot dead in front of all the company bigwigs.

Since the corporate suits are traumatized by the experience, Franco's boss orders all the chimps put down. The flunky hired to look after the chimps compiles but refuses to “put down” the last one, a newborn infant who Franco reluctantly takes home. Franco's character not only comes to love the baby chimp, who his father names Caesar, but sneaks home some of his experimental cure to use on his dad.

Several years go by with Frano's dad successfully being treated and with Caesar becoming part of the family. During this time Franco's character discovers that Caesar has been brought to at least human level intelligence and that the enhancement has been incorporated into his genes meaning it will be passed down to his offspring. The trouble starts as when the dad's Alzheimer's comes roaring back and the adolescent Caesar gets in trouble with the next door neighbor with the police being called.

With his dad becoming ill again, Franco's character develops an even stronger version of the virus while Caesar is tossed inside a rundown zoo-like facility with other apes. Caesar quickly adapts and becomes the dominate male in the facility, only to eventually escape and find the stronger version of the virus back at home. After stealing several containers. Caesar returns to the facility to infect his hairy buddies and bring them up to his intelligence.

These enhanced apes rebel and escape into San Francisco being chased by the police. The climatic battle takes place on the Golden Gate Bridge with the apes victorious and finding refuge in Muir Woods National Monument. Now the humans soon end up with greater concerns than enhanced apes loose in the forest. See, the stronger version of the Alzheimer's cure becomes an extremely lethal flu-like pandemic killing off most of the human population throughout the world. Setting the stage for the next movie.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes----Warning, there are spoilers ahead

Ten years have passed since the last movie with Caesar and his tribe doing quite well where we last saw them. They have built their own settlement and are well on their way to creating a distinct culture. As for the humans, civilization has fallen with the apes actually believing they might be extinct.

This is where a couple of apes encounter a small party of humans making their way to an abandoned hydroelectric dam in hopes of using it to return electricity to the small, fort-like part of San Francisco they now live. Of course one of the humans is an idiot and automatically pulls out his revolver the second he sees the apes. One of the apes is shot while the rest of the small band of humans are almost killed on sight. Only Caesar stops the angry crowd but promptly tells the humans to get lost and never to return.

Humans being particularly dense they soon return anyway and the movie revolves around Jason Clarke's character and Caesar trying to avoid war and build a fragile peace between the two groups. The humans, typified by Gary Oldman's character believes the apes are “just animals” and wants nothing more than to exterminate them with leftover National Guard weapons. This is where the movie gets complex, because one of the apes is just as blinded by ignorance and hate as Oldman's character. The ape's name is Koba and he is a survivor of years of human experimentation that in truth was more torture than science. Koba carries a huge grudge against humans and after Clarke's character and Caesar begin to build some trust, plots to kill the latter and then get revenge on all the plague survivors in San Francisco.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is awash with symbolism that I sincerely hope most people got, but it essentially boils down to the idea that individuals of honor, intelligence and understanding exist in all groups. But most of the time these good people are overwhelmed by those that represent the worst aspects of human behavior like ignorance, apathy, and hate.

It doesn't take an expert in anthropology to understand the world of 2014 is being destroyed by those like Oldman's character and the abused Koba. The greatest challenge we face in this era is not preventing nuclear war or even halting human caused climate change. No, what will decide the fate of all humanity is whether or not good people can overpower those who wallow in abject ignorance and hate. I'd like to write some hopeful words that we can do just that, but right now it's not looking good. It seems that most nations and peoples still live by the "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" rule.

Still though, I highly recommend Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it is a truly awesome movie, well worth your time and money.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

When Johnny Comes Marching Home---Part One.

 (Important author's note: This story is pure fan fiction! All the concepts and ideas are the creation of a fantastic writer by the name of S.M. Stirling. Several years ago Mr. Stirling pondered the effect on history if Americans loyal to the British Crown migrated to south Africa instead of Canada. Add even more arch-conservative refugees in later years, namely unrepentant Confederate Americans nursing a significant grudge and you have the makings of a nightmare called the Domination of the Draka. 

The various books based on this premise caused someone to describe Mr. Stirling as the "H.P. Lovecraft of political science." His imaginary creation, and thank God for that, are a people forged for nothing but war and conquest and the will to see their desires through to the end no matter how many they kill. I write this with no exaggeration that these imaginary Draka have given me nightmares. I offer this fan fiction for others like myself who would have very much likes to see those fictional monsters defeated. I will provide a link to his books at the end of this post.)  


For any casual observer that had some understanding of the often quirky workings of the Pentagon it was nothing unusual to see a group of sullen men and women dressed in either civilian attire or military uniforms standing outside an undistinguished conference room apparently waiting for someone to allow them inside. The normal assumption would be that some star-wearing officer with delusions of godhood had organized yet another boring discussion panel to promote his or her pet project that was sure to save nation in some fashion. For those civilians and military personnel waiting in front of conference room sixty-nine a closer observation to the details would have revealed some disturbing differences to the usual redundant meetings those permanently inhabiting the Five Side Funny Farm was known to promote.

The most obvious was the extreme early hour of the morning, one or two of the civilians would occasionally look at their watches and mutter something about no sane person would be awake at this hour and that this better not be some damn practice drill or false alarm. That sort of comment would quickly earn the offending civilian a silent but stern look of rebuke from a couple of the military types. But yes, for the military officers in the gathered group the early hour of the morning was indeed a bad omen.

The civilians did in fact notice the second unusual thing about the gathering, namely that they were all physicists of some type and in fact many were colleagues on research projects around the world. What none of them mentioned through was that they were all under contract with the Department of Defense for emergency consultations. The fact that over the years all of them had at one time or another been pulled out of their warm beds for practice drills kept their natural suspicions at bay.

The third difference were the three armed Marine guards standing in front of the two large mahogany doors leading into the conference room, not an uncommon occurrence except for their obvious level of extra alertness. The conference room itself was also somewhat different than the scores of others in the Pentagon, situated on relatively deserted section of the massive building it was rarely used. However, its lack of use was never more than an afterthought by anyone passing it by on their way to a more populated and active section of the building. As the years passed, the room had faded into the background and now went unnoticed, few would have guessed that was the whole intention of those who ordered its construction.

Without warning the two doors for the conference room began to slide open, at the same time the three Marine guards stepped aside to allow those waiting to go inside. As they walked into what looked to be a medium-sized auditorium a few of the civilians noticed that the mahogany doors were extremely thick and that the opposite side was made of metal. Just on the other side, a junior officer greeted each civilian and then escorted that person to a seat reserved just for him or her. Those civilians who worried that they may have been awaken and pulled from their homes for some false alarm or practice drill began to think that this time the situation might be different given that on previous occasions they had never entered such a secured room with such extreme formality. For the military types in the group, they had long since realized something serious was afoot and took the solemnity in stride. It took thirty minutes for the entire group to be seated, but during that time enough of a realization had spread among the normally talkative and unruly civilians that the room remained silent.

Without notice a four-star Air Force general abruptly walked out onto the stage followed by five civilians who all looked as if they had seen a ghost. A few of the civilians in the audience recognized the people up on the stage with the general as colleagues from their university's history department but said nothing. The civilians who accompanied the general took seats on the stage while he walked up to the podium placed in the center and began speaking.

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen,” the senior Air Force officer said with a seriousness that actually began to scare a few in the audience. “I am General Scott McDonald of the Defense Intelligence agency,” he continued, “and the first thing I want you all to clearly understand this is not a drill and that everyone will be held to the top secret security clause of their consulting contracts. This is a level five-alpha briefing, which everyone should understand carries with it possibility of life imprisonment or even the death penalty for violators.” The general paused for dramatic effect while looking out at his captive audience, absolutely none of the civilians had the courage to protest his explicit threat.

“The historical information,” General McDonald began again, “you are about to see and hear has all been verified by the men and women behind me. Each one of them are experts in eightieth-century America from the late colonial period to the years after the Revolution leading up to the establishment of the Constitution. I'd advise each and everyone of you to keep your mouths shut and your minds open. At the end of these proceedings, everyone should have an idea of the unprecedented but bizarre threat that the United States and the world as a whole faces. But first, Colonel Ellen Marcus will give a small briefing explaining how this surreal situation first developed.”

As if on cue, just as the general stepped aside, a stately African-American woman wearing a similar Air Force uniform walked out on the stage to take the spot behind the podium. “Getting down to business,” she said, “ I am Colonel Marcus, current head of installation security at the Cheyenne Mountain Complex located outside Colorado Springs. As you probably know, for decades the complex housed under Cheyenne Mountain was the center for the North American Aerospace Defense Command because of its ability to take a near direct hit from a nuclear weapon and survive and for its total security. With one point for both entrance and exit, we have never had a cause or reason to worry about someone we didn't authorize from gaining access, until now. The following event took place approximately three weeks ago on one of the lowest levels of the facility used for storage.”

Colonel Marcus stepped aside long enough for a motorized video projector screen to be lowered from the ceiling above the stage. A second later, a black and white video security surveillance feed appeared showing a large warehouse room filled with various pallets stacked with boxes along with large containers all neatly organized to provide plenty of space to allow for access. Like all security videos, the time and date, along with location information was placed up in the left hand section of the screen.

The audience watched the recorded video feed for almost a minute seeing nothing in the way of activity. The seconds ticked by several were heard to loudly exhale in annoyance until a bright ball of light appeared in the lower right-hand section of the screen. An automated tracking mechanism adjusted the position and focus of the camera until the the disturbance occupied the center of the screen. The ball of light quickly grew in size and brightness almost overwhelming the camera's ability to compensate.

When the ball expanded enough to touch some of the nearby containers small fires were sparked with automatic sprinklers coming on to extinguish them, on the video feed new information popped up but it was incidental the final result. Once the ball of light reached its maximum size, it quickly faded to nothing leaving a man standing in the same space. The man was dressed strangely and while the camera had a difficult focusing on the unknown subject due to water on the lens, it was evident that he was hurt in some way. He stood in the same spot for several seconds appearing to survey his surroundings only to finally collapse on the floor.

By that time a security detail arrived with weapons drawn. Since the unknown subject was on the floor and unconscious one of the men could be seen calling for a medical team over his radio. The video feed was cut as more security personnel arrived and Colonel Marcus then retook the podium, “This intruder was taken to the installation medical center and was found to be suffering from some significant internal injuries as well as symptoms of moderate to severe radiation exposure. As you can guess, we would have liked to question him as to how he accomplished his neat trick but the subject has been in a coma since he collapsed on the floor.”

Marcus then stepped aside from the podium to allow the audience to view an image on the screen of clothing arranged neatly on a white table, “Things got even weirder when we examined his clothing, they were of a fashion popular in late eightieth-century North America and after numerous tests, experts in the field of textiles determined they were made of the same relatively course material common to that era and sewn together in the same way. The problem is that despite their damage and filth, they appear to have been made just a couple of years ago. We were assured by these experts that while not an impossibility in this day and age, the number of people who could accomplish this feat numbered less than twenty. We checked with each of these individuals and confirmed they had not made any of these clothes for the unknown subject nor anyone else.”

A tremor of unease rippled through the audience, both of astonishment and disbelief, at the implied implications which Colonel Marcus allowed to pass only so she could deliver the final bombshell. “This unknown subject was also carrying a bag also common during that era which contained this.” The image of the old style clothing was replaced with one of a fairly nondescript computer tablet. Several different images then flashed by showing the device in different positions. The one obvious difference from tablets available at any electronic store was that the device looked to be constructed to work in rough conditions.

“We cannot,” Colonel Marcus began again, “identify the manufacturer of this device. In fact, it took the best computer specialists we have to even figure out how to disassembly the damn thing. However, we didn't have to, it seems that the unknown subject made a message readily explaining to whomever discovered him and the tablet his identity and that he was on a last chance mission in hopes of saving not only the United States of America but something he called the Alliance for Democracy.” Colonel Marcus stopped there and stepped aside to allow General McDonald to retake the podium.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, “the unknown subject identified himself on his recorded message as Aerospace Force Captain Richard Douglas from a town called Fort Endurance located in California.” An image of the unknown subject appeared on the screen as the general spoke. “Ignoring his use of the word aerospace, we searched all through our personnel records for anyone of that name and came up with nothing. We then searched all through the Department of Defense records then through the California birth records database. As far as it can be determined this Richard Douglas should not exist in fact, some bright individual decided to look up his hometown and there is no municipality with that name. In short, as incredible as it may sound this man does not exist. From his message the United States and this Alliance for Democracy were defeated by a power he called the Domination of the Draka. In a last ditch attempt to snatch some form of victory from the jaws of defeat and enslavement a team of scientists sent Captain Douglas back in time to short circuit the birth of this enemy.”

Stunned silence ruled the auditorium as the captive experts the military had collected pondered everything they heard. “Ladies and gentlemen, the implications of Captain Douglas' mission go beyond any espionage thriller ever conceived and straight into the realm of science fiction. Your mission is to come to a consensus as to whether the change in the timeline was successful and eliminated this enemy or, does these Draka still exist in some fashion. Colonel Marcus and I have said enough, you will now hear Captain Douglas' message.” The lights of the auditorium were turned down and the screen over the stage again came alive.

***

When the video began it showed a room with blue walls and a couple of pictures hanging in the background, daylight streamed in from an unseen window off to the right. In the foreground was an overstuffed chair situated several meters back from where the camera was located. Captain Douglas comes from behind the camera and takes a seat in the chair. His demeanor is somber but he looked uninjured.

“Hello, my name is Captain Richard Douglas of the United States Aerospace Force and I offer greetings to whomever finds this message. Given that you are viewing this and not talking with me directly it would appear that I am either dead or gravely injured. Such was the warning if I tried to make a return jump back to the year 2014. However, I can report from the year 1799 that I was successful in eliminating the key leaders of the American Loyalists movement that pushed for them to migrate to southern Africa after the United States won its independence. It appears that they have taken up residence in the Canadian wilderness thereby eliminating to the Domination before it was ever created. How this change in history will unfold I have no idea, I just hope it is enough.”

Douglas paused for several seconds, as if he didn't know what to say, “Both General Powell and Doctor Lewis advised me to make my life in this era whether I was successful or not, but I can't, I find myself missing my wife Aileen and will use the temporal dislocation device to try and return to her. I fully realize that this attempt could not only mean my death but that with the timeline altered she or I may not even exist. While the dislocation device will be destroyed once I return my computer pad will have a full historical record of the unaltered timeline as well as full information on the Draka.”

Douglas again looked out the window, “I have never been a religious man but I find myself praying that I have truly killed everyone of those monsters for the sake off all humanity no matter the historical damage I have caused. I also hope I am forgiven for all the innocent lives I have ended before they ever began.”

Douglas then got up and was meet by a man who experts identified as none other that Thomas Jefferson. Seconds later the screen momentarily went dark and was replaced with a the scene of a tired and terrified young woman sitting behind what everyone in the audience recognized as a television news desk. Behind her was a computer generated map of a very different United States of America that stretched from Alaska all the way down to Panama.

“This report,” the female newscaster said, “goes out to anyone in our broadcast range with a working television. It has been three weeks since the start of the war and there still no word if any of the senior Alliance or American leadership survived the initial biological assault. Both the national capitol of New York and the Alliance headquarters in San Francisco have taken multiple nuclear hits with fires raging out of control for hundreds of miles.

The young lady started to breakdown but successfully regained her composure. “Several surviving state governors,” she said, “have taken command of the military forces inside their borders and are attempting to develop an overall defensive strategy. All surviving members of active forces and reserves are instructed to proceed to their bravo-six rally points. I can confirmed that while Draka forces have been successful repelled from the North American mainland, they have taken several of the Caribbean states. News from the other members of the Alliance is not as good...”


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