Saturday, December 13, 2014

Raw Culinary Disaster




Without a doubt, I am sure at some point during my marriage one of my in-laws has told my wife that you simply cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear concerning some of my less than refined habits. I freely admit I was raised in a lower middle class family with absolutely no aspirations to crack the societal caste ceiling and dwell among those who know the proper function of utensils at a formal dinner party. In other words, I haven't a clue which spoon on a place setting is used to stir my tea, east my soup, or taste the dessert. In fact, at one dinner party involving several of my wife's fellow attorneys, a couple of judges, and one certified ass who happened to be a state senator the looks I got when I buttered a dinner roll with what was probably the wrong knife forever swore me away from such functions. I probably could have farted and come away better, the state senator sure as hell did when he about cleared out the room with his.

Still though, my lovely wife hasn't given up on taking me to restaurants that lean more to a cultured culinary experience than just allowing the unwashed masses to engorge themselves on cheap imported food while ignoring the fake Americana bric-a-brac hanging on the walls. Most of the time I actually feel sad about it because, once again, where I was raised a family dinner out was going to the one fast-food restaurant my small hometown had back when I was a kid.

The best example of my wife's hopeless campaign to open me up to refined dining happened a few years back while on vacation at Disney World. We all were staying at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, a beautifully resort decorated in an African theme that happens to sport several upper class restaurants.

Usually, I will check out the menu of the fancy eateries my wife wants to experience before we go. That way I'll know what will be the safest choice for me, while she can fully absorb all the culinary delights. For whatever reason, that time I didn't do the required research and was totally blind when the attractive hostess seated us next the large window that showed off the decorative water garden outside. For a couple of minutes my wife just enjoyed the atmosphere of the restaurant and chatted while watching the assorted brightly colored coy swim around the window.

After being handed the menu it didn't take ten seconds for me to realize I was in rather deep trouble. I saw nothing listed that even looked remotely appealing. This restaurant, named Jiko, was definitely high-end with the food priced to match. It was all new cuisine type stuff that, from my observations of the tables around me, looked more like art or biology experiments performed by cultured serial killers. For the most part the pricey nature of the items on the menu that didn't matter, we were on vacation but more importantly my wife was in the mood to enjoy herself. The absolute last thing I wanted to do was spoil the evening for her.

“Is there a problem?” the waitress asked when she came to take the order for our entrees.

“Ah yes,” I responded trying to think of a polite way of saying everything that I had read on the menu or seen at other tables came close to making me puke. “Are there other items available that aren't listed on the menu?” I asked trying to seem casual and not like some redneck who had mistakenly stumbled into the wrong place. A difficult task since Jiko had a dress code and while I technically met it, my wrinkly cargo pants, colorful Hawaiian shirt, and hippy sandals probably sent the manager scurrying to the Mickey Mouse guest etiquette book to make sure.

“Why yes,” the waitress happily said, “we have a delicious tuna salad available that one of the chefs made but failed to get listed on the daily specials.”

Hooray! I joyously thought to myself. A normal tuna salad with lettuce, some boiled egg, and other leafy things would be just the ticket while my wife ate her snails or other elaborate entree. What came a few minutes later totally shocked me since in truth, I should have realized nothing so plebeian as a normal tuna salad could be possible.

The plate was large, huge actually, with the center area occupied by two significant slices of raw tuna meat and a scattering of lettuce along with a few pieces of red and green peppers. The outside section of the dinner plate was decorated with a Jackson Pollack-like design using some sort of sauce that I'm sure was made with something equally unacceptable to my lower middle class, Southern upbringing.

“That looks absolutely delicious,” my wife said to me as she tore into her entree.

I was frozen in place looking at the contents of my plate wondering just how in the hell I was going to play this off. Yes, I have ate and love California Rolls but this was a level of rawness that I was quite uncomfortable with and had no intention of eating.

“You don't like it.” My wife said what could have been a couple of seconds or several minutes later, I have no idea since I was lost in thought.

“Yeah...no, I don't like it,” I mumbled, “I thought tuna salad meant Charlie Tuna from a can, not straight off the boat.”

My wife thought this was all funny. “Go ahead and try a bite,” she said almost giggling, “it won't kill you.”

Normally, I would have said no, but the factors present at the time all conspired against me. Namely that my lovely spouse was in an awesome mood with me thankful our place at the resort had the kids sleeping in their own bedroom. There was also the fact that the price of my raw tuna entree could have paid for five or six people to stuff themselves at the average Olive Garden.

So I manned up and sliced off a respectable chunk of the now deceased but uncooked Charlie Tuna and ate him. Instantly, there was a wonderful explosion of unhindered and untainted taste in my mouth. The flavor was everything I had come to know about tuna but exponentially greater, somehow I heard the 80's rock band “Foreigner” singing “It feels like the first time.”

For about five seconds everything was utterly wonderful and I actually thought for a moment that I would enjoy the meal. Then the aftertaste hit me like an exploding volcano, all of a sudden I felt as though I had tried to snack on a decaying zombie that had been wandering around in the hot sun for a couple of months.

“Are you okay?” my wife asked, “you look a little green.”

No, Charlie Tuna, didn't return to make a mess of me and the fancy restaurant but another bite was totally out of the question. “I'll be fine,” I said, “but for me this restaurant is a wash. I simply cannot eat another piece of this tuna.”

Surprisingly my wife didn't roll her eyes in embarrassment, nor did she get that look recalling one of the times my mom-in-law and dad-in-law probably told her she could have done much better in choosing a husband. After the waitress removed our plates, we spent the rest of the our time at Jiko's talking and eating one of their wonderful desserts.

During this relaxing time the hostess seated another couple at the table beside ours. Being my usual nosy self I couldn't help but overhear the gentleman say that he saw nothing on the menu that interested him.

“Well,” his wife or girlfriend said absently, “just order off the children's menu like you did the last time and tell them to make it adult sized.”

As my wife and I left after paying the bill the waiter for that table placed one of the most beautiful cheese burgers I had ever seen in front of that guy along with a normal looking side salad. I was simply stunned into silence not believing what I was seeing.

“Let's go,” my wife said finally rolling her eyes, “you had your chance.”

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Essence of Being Human - Part Two

 "Challenging the meaning of life is the truest expression of the state of being human."
Viktor E. Frankl


For two months Kyle Parker waited for the New Life Corporation to ready the android body he needed to save himself from the disease that was causing his nervous system to fail. Everyday he felt a little more of his motor skills slip away to the point he now had a full time nurse to watch over him. It was a easy job, Parker still could walk, communicate, and operate things like a computer but he found himself having to concentrate harder on the tasks to the point that he was utterly exhausted at the end of the day. Having the nurse allowed Parker to perform his usual duties until he needed assistance. As routines went it wasn't ideal, but for Parker it would work until New Life said the android body was ready.

“Parker,” his assistant Denise Smith said rushing into his office, “New Life just called, your android body is ready and they are willing to do the procedure immediately if you want.”

Parker didn't even have to think about it for moment,” Tell them we will be leaving within the hour.”

***

Within minutes of arriving the New Life staff had Parker in an operating room, laying on a surgical table wearing what amounted to cheap pajamas. After a strong local anesthetic was injected into the saline solution being fed intravenously into his left arm two surgical technicians shaved his head, then maneuvered the segments of the table into a position resembling that of a recliner.

“All right Mr. Parker,” one of the technicians said, “the next step will be quite painful so we're going to put you under put for about an hour. But once you wake up the consciousness transfer will begin.”

Another shot into the saline drip put Parker to sleep, when he awoke everything seemed fine except that his hands were strapped down on armrests now attached to the surgical table and head didn't really feel like it was attached to his body. “Will someone tell me what the hell is going on?” He said to the medical staff walking around the operating room.

Elizabeth Perez, wearing surgical scrubs, a face mask with hood that covered her head, and rubber gloves broke away from small group observing several video displays clustered together and walked over to Parker. “Welcome back Mr. Parker,” she said, “as we talked about in the briefings concerning the procedure, we had to remove the top portion of your skull to implant probes that will allow the consciousness download.”

Slightly mollified with Perez's simple explanation, Parker carefully leaned his head back into a cushion also attached to the surgical table and tried to relax. New Life and several other advanced human restoration companies had decades of experience recording the structure of a living human brain down to the atomic level and storing that information inside a memory crystal one centimeter in diameter. The real trick the human restoration companies had down to a practical science was linking that crystal to the living brain of a clone giving it the personality, memories, beliefs, and all the other attributes of the original person it was grown to replace.

Parker understood that the situation was different with consciousness transferring. Most of the public accepted life insurance clones only in the sense that they were a continuation of a person after a tragic accident or death by disease. The pivotal point being that the insurer had to die first before the cloning process could even start. Even with the accelerated growth of the clone it took about seven months for them to reach the average physical age of the person they were going to replace. That left a huge chunk of missing time for a population squeamish about death and looking for a way to avoid it all together. Life insurance cloning had never been about cheating death anyway, it had always been sold, to those that could afford it, as a way to return loved ones to their grieving families. The development of exceptionally human-like android bodies sent the human restoration industry scrambling for a way to literally bridge the gap, bypassing death altogether. The struggle, of course, had been to develop a way for the recipient to accept that he or she had in fact done just that.

New Life corporation was the first with their process of linking the human and android bodies together. Once the person being transferred was fully aware in the android body the the injured or diseased human part would simply be terminated. In the initial trials the individuals downloaded into prototype android bodies reported no significant difference in their perceptions of themselves or the outside world. All this made New Life management and their shareholders exceptionally happy despite the fact the process was so expensive only the ultra-rich could even begin to afford it. The one factor neither New Life management nor their scientists had yet to consider was the effects on the person downloaded into an enhanced android positronic brain. Kyle Parker's rapidly deteriorating neurological condition and the fact he was one of the hundred or so individuals whose personal wealth was over one-trillion dollars all worked together for him to be the first subject downloaded into the enhanced android brain.

Kyle Parker's initial nervousness faded as he watched the New Life scientists and medical staff fall into what looked to be a well rehearsed routine. His curiosity was aroused when a long rectangular box, looking uncomfortably like a futuristic casket, was wheeled into the operating room.

“That's my new body?” Parker asked feeling slightly giddy.

“Yes, Mr. Parker,” Dr. Perez responded even as the casket-like container was placed into an upright position and opened. “Your sufficiently stabilized, so after we attach the fiber optic conduits to the android body linking you to it the process will begin.”

Almost as an afterthought, Dr. Perez held up a mirror in front of Parker's face. “Kyle,” she said softly,” our physiologists have determined it would be best if you had one last look at your human face. They believe it will give you some form of closure, although I have my doubts.”

Parker studied the reflection he was seeing, over his head was something he would have described as a crown was looked to be hundreds of fiber wires leading to long needles that penetrated his exposed brain. He felt no discomfort, but what bothered him was the look of his face. It appeared incredibly aged and haggard, he knew not from the procedure he was going through but from the disease that was not so slowly killing him, an illness that he knew had developed from from all the synthetic chemicals industrial civilization introduced to the environment. Parker rejected the reflection he was seeing.

After his neurological disease was diagnosed he had naturally gone through a period of denial and then anger. He was Kyle Parker, not some hourly troll working in one of his factories desperate to keep his or her job. Kyle Parker bought and sold factories like candy, the unsaid fact that the workers were too insignificant to be considered in the equation. A part of his mind was strangely insulted that he was going to be struck down with such a common disease. Parker had always been taught by his parents that he was above the rest of the groveling masses of humanity, to him even presidents and prime ministers of nations were petty functionaries whose sole purpose was to increase his wealth and power.

“That's enough doctor,” he snapped “I paying you people a significant chunk of my money for this, lets get started.”

Without saying another word Dr. Perez lowered the mirror and walked away. At the same time Parker began studying the android body he was soon be inhabiting. Parker was vain enough to take some pleasure with the knowledge that it was no glorified Ken doll, it would allow him to sense and experience everything a regular human could including making love. The one exception was food, Parker knew the android body would be powered by three tri-lithium/cobalt power cells. It had no stomach or digestive tract but the designers had created a subroutine program that would allow him to virtually taste any food he identified. Parker's contemplation of his new body was interrupted as Dr. Perez announced the procedure was beginning.

The first thing Parker felt was a strange fuzzy but warm feeling. Almost like the sensation when a hand or leg was in an awkward position partially cutting off the flow of blood, but for him it encompassed his entire body.

“I see stage one positronic activity.” One of the scientists called out.

It could have been seconds or hours later, Parker couldn't really tell, but at some point he began to feel dislocated, not really in his body. It was a disturbing but pleasant feeling, almost like what the tabloid press wrote about when someone died for a few minutes before being medically resuscitated.

“Motor reflexes coming online, seeing initial positronic awareness.” The same scientist called out.

Parker was about to say something when he suddenly saw himself staring at a person on a surgical table. He knew immediately that was his human body and that, or course, he was now seeing out of his android eyes.

“Mr. Parker,” Dr. Perez called out, “can you hear me? I need to know you're still with us.”

Amazingly Parker heard and felt both his human and android voices respond at the same time. “Yes, Dr. Perez, I am conscious and somehow seeing both bodies.”

“Alright, people,” Dr. Perez said to her staff, “we've crossed the threshold, lets ramp up the process.”

As the minutes tacked by Kyle Parker's android body became increasingly active to the point he could move his hands, arms, and head. Straps across his torso and legs kept the android body in place but Parker was to fascinated with the sensations he was feeling to even think about moving. Parker was astounded with the ability to focus his awareness in one body or the other. His android body felt alive and strong as compared to his human body which seemed weak and withered by comparison.

As time went on Parker began to feel his human body beginning to seem more distant, as if it was drifting away from him. Not that it mattered, Parker was loving his new android body and found himself waiting for the word that the download was complete.

“Mr. Parker,” Dr. Perez finally said, “it's time, I need permission to terminate your human body.”

“Please by all means,” Parker responded.

Seconds later Parker noticed his human body simple disappeared from his awareness like the popping of a soap bubble. He watched idly as technicians disconnected all the tubes and wires from his former body. “What will happen now to my former residence?” he asked Perez.

“We will cremate the body and dispose of the ashes,” she said, “or we could give them to you. You could think of them as a souvenir.”

“No, dispose of them as you see fit.” The new but same old Kyle Parker said with a detached indifference. “I have more important concerns.”

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Winyah Bay Stary Night





Memories have a way of not only fading but getting twisted over the years making some things worse or far better than the actual events. This hold true for a camping and fishing trip my dad, mom, and myself took to a sandbar island just outside Winyah Bay, along with another couple and their son. The time was probably the late 1960's with my dad and his best friend holding the general idea that after crossing Winyah Bay we would setup camp on one of the long, almost barren sandbar islands and build a fire for a cookout. That night with the wives and kids asleep in the tent, the guys would then take the boat out into the Gulf Stream and do some serious fishing.

Winyah Bay is a coastal estuary in South Carolina situated about sixty miles north of Charleston. It has been an important fishing and hunting area stretching back to the times when only Native Americans occupied the continent. For the residents of Georgetown county, and a huge number of visitors, the outer edge of the bay close to the ocean is still very much a paradise even now after fifty years of hyper-development making most of the coast one gaudy attraction after another interspersed with overpriced condos and suburbs.

The main reason the outside edge of Winyah Bay has yet to suffer the usual ecological indignities is because of the danger of hurricanes. Way back in the ninetieth century I believe there was a significant settlement on North Island, a barrier island situated on the northern side of the entrance to the bay. Several local legends tell of how a massive hurricane hit North Island, not only killing everyone who did not heed the telltale warnings and leave, but literally leveling all the buildings down to their foundations. Whatever actually happened, except for a lighthouse nothing permanent has been built there since, although there are always countless proposals from weasel-like developers desperate to get their oily hands on its pristine beaches despite the ever present danger of hurricanes.

My parents, Sean and Lilly, myself, along with Peter and Michelle, and their son Kent set out in my dad's boat to cross Winyah Bay about mid-morning. This wasn't the first time I was going to cross Winyah Bay, there were a couple of earlier fishing trips with him, my uncles, and my granddad. None of those trips were easy, Winyah Bay is famous for its rough waters, so much that many experienced boaters have drowned over the years for not taking a quickly developing thunderstorm seriously.

Another issue was the potential trouble small boats could get into at both the North and South Inlets of the bay. To enter or leave the bay from the North Inlet required navigating a meandering array of shallow, muddy waterways through the marsh. The potential of running aground was always present, especially at low tide along with simply getting lost. At the South Inlet the problems revolved around ocean going cargo vessels entering or leaving the bay. While wider than the North Inlet, those behemoths took up a lot of space and could easily swamp a small civilian pleasure craft, which almost happened to my dad's boat once.

Like I said earlier, memories get twisted and simply fade over time but I seem to remember we took the North Inlet passage for this trip. I vaguely recall talking with Kent while going through the muddy channels heading out towards the ocean.

I do remember when left the muddy waters and entered the ocean and saw the sandbar island we would be camping at for the first time. I'll hazard a guess and say it was about a half-mile long and at it widest point it stretched about five-hundred feet. The only vegetation on it was patches of sea oats and a few other stunted species I wouldn't recognize even now. Immediately after the bow of the boat hit the beach my dad and Peter made sure it wouldn't float away by embedding the anchor into the sand then setup the tent up on the highest portion of the island, to protect it against the coming high tide. Kent and I just ran around I believe talking about finding pirate treasure.

After the tent was assembled, we broke out the trusty Coleman camp stove and the portable charcoal grill and cooked up some burgers that made the journey packed in an ice chest. Right then I started to notice the isolation inherent with our out-of-the-way location. Yeah, I was five or six years old and something in me was soaking up the solitude. The years have only enhanced those feelings. For me these is just something about being away from the greater mass of human civilization I find attractive.

Trust me, I wouldn't want to make it a permanent condition but those moments alone without having to deal with the human-made sounds in some weird way reboots my brain. Yeah, I realize I have an anti-social side to my personality that can be damn inconvenient living in a world where a lot of people take great pains examining and judging the actions of others.

As night fell we were treated to the sun setting on the marsh creating a glorious array of colors. The funny thing in all this is that I don't remember being bothered by any horse flies or mosquitoes, which makes me think this trip probably took place during late fall or early winter. The trouble with that idea is that I clearly remember wearing a t-shirt and shorts with everyone else in similar clothes. Whatever the case, my dad and Peter began getting the boat ready for the night fishing trip on the ocean.

I distinctly remember both my mom and Michelle telling their husbands the fishing trip was a very bad idea. They also asked the guys how those of us left behind would get off the island if they never returned. Neither Kent nor I were privy to some of the heated discussions going on between the spouses although in hindsight their questions were important. I am sure my dad's boat didn't have a marine radio and, of course, cell phones were far in the future.

Despite the protests from the females members of our tiny and temporary colony, I remember seeing the guys push the boat out to deeper water and quickly disappear into the night with only a couple of navigational lights to signify they existed at all. With the moms in charge, both Kent and I were rounded up and put to bed, which was an old blanket spread out on top of the bottom of the tent. Screened windows in each of the tent's canvas walls allowed the breeze to blow in the cool and salty air.

The best part of the whole trip took place a few hours later. Being a little kid I woke up sometime during night needing to go pee. A small propane lantern turned way down allowed me enough light to get outside without tripping over any of the other three. I did wake my mom enough to hear her say something about doing my business quickly and getting back inside.

It took a couple of minutes for my eyes to adjust to the near pitch black darkness. Although, even then I was expert enough to complete the mission without needing much in the way of light. When my eyes did adjust, I looked up and saw something that to this day still blows me away thinking about it. I don't remember if the moon was out that night, but the sky was crystal clear with the stars looking very much like glittering diamonds. There are damn few today living in North America and that can see such a display. These days the constant glow of city and suburban lights overpower most of the celestial nighttime show leaving just a few pitiful examples of the universe's brilliance for humans who will take the time to look up at the sky.

Since this camping trip occurred in the late1960's, a little over a decade before the hordes of commercial developers descended on the South Carolina Lowcountry, the Milky Way sparkled in a way that seemed god-like. I'm not a religious person but someone would have to be truly dead inside not to be shaken to their core with a sense of utter awe to see such a sight. A rational conclusion would be that my memories have warped over the years making more out of that experience than what it was in reality. Any other time I would possibly agree, except that there were a couple of other occasions where I felt a similar awe. The first was in my granddad's backyard, his neighborhood was well enough away from Georgetown's lights for me to do some decent stargazing. And during my years in the active army I spent several rotations out at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California and got to see what was at least similar sights out in the Mojave desert. The NTC is about a two-hundred miles away from Los Angeles and that distance, along with the relative isolation, made it a great spot to look up at the universe. There was even a few times while at the NTC I got my hands on a starlight scope, a night vision device that magnifies ambient starlight. When I aimed that thing towards the Milky Way it was like seeing the stars for the first time.

Whatever the case, camping on that sandbar and my nighttime surprise was more than enough to make that trip something I will probably remember for the rest of my life. So much, that one of my deepest desires to be able to see the stars like that again at least once before I die. 

A map of Winyah Bay to make some sense of this post.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Esssence of Being Human--Part One

 "The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point it makes friendly intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one's love on other human individuals."
George Orwell 


 “Explain to me once again,” Kyle Parker said betraying the notion he wasn't convinced, “how this android body will be me and not some copy.”

Elizabeth Perez, the chief scientist on the New Life team, sat across from Parker at her clean and retro-futuristic desk carefully preparing the words she was about to say. Over the years she had become less a true scientist and more of a salesperson and knew just how to handle the worried speculations of the ultra rich but terminally ill wanting desperately to cheat death.

“Mr. Parker, she said, “ the consciousness download procedure will have you directly connected to the positronic neural network in the android body while your human body is still fully aware. You will in essence be in two places at one time. Understand, while your two selves will be in the same room, we will have to administer a local anesthetic to prevent a cognitive feedback. But once the procedure begins you will slowly feel more sensory input coming from your android body than the human one. When that happens your human half, for the lack of a better word will simply go to sleep.”

“So this is completely different from the standard clone life insurance?” Parker asked referring to the practice of returning a loved one to their family by having that person cloned from stored cellular stock, put through an accelerated growth phase, then having a copy of the deceased consciousness downloaded into the clone's brain. Eliza Perez smiled as Parker mentioned the procedure having personally seen hundreds of families made whole when a loved one was returned.

“Like I said Mr. Parker, for most of this new procedure you will occupy two distinct bodies at one time. Only when the consciousness transfer is complete will your diseased human body be shut down.”

Parker nodded his head knowing he was beginning to irritate the scientists. “Dr. Perez,” he said, “please understand my ignorance and stupid questions, its just that I will be the first real patient. I know you've tested this procedure on prisoners but I will be the first to receive a true positronic brain and android body far more enhanced than the test subjects.”

“Oh yes Mr. Parker,” she said, “and I'll be honest with you. Because in a way you will be a bit of a test subject for us. For the first couple of months after the download your positronic brain and android senses will be restricted to human norms. As you become more settled, for the lack of a more descriptive word, in your new body the enhanced aspects will slowly come online. The computer projections suggest your ability to perceive and process information will be orders of magnitude greater that any Homo sapien that has ever lived, just think of what you could accomplish.”

Dr. Perez could clearly see Parker was clearly impressed but still scared. “Dr. Perez, I have two final questions. All bullshit aside, just how long will this android body last?

“We didn't lie Mr. Parker, with proper maintenance and the occasional upgrade at the minimum five-hundred years but there is the possibility you could be immortal.”

Parker struggled with that thought for several seconds, for him everything boiled down to the financial empire he had built since the death of his father. He was one of only ten people on Earth that could claim the title of trillionaire, his every waking moment until his was diagnosed with one of the new neurological diseases that in a few months would make a him a babbling idiot was how to expand his wealth and power. Just when he was about to give up New Life approached him about a possible way to cheat certain death.

“The second question Dr. Perez, is just what will be the legal status of my android self? You know better than anyone the life insurance clones have been around for fifteen years and while legally they are recognized as just a continuation of the deceased, they have yet to be fully accepted in society.”

That question was actually a tough one for Perez to handle. While it was true most family members were able to accept life insurance clones, some couldn't. Perez had talked to some who said that while a clone looked and sounded like their dead husband, wife, son, or daughter something deep down told them it wasn't. When this happened the clone almost always had to be removed and given a new identity. The android project had the prospect of making this situation exponentially worse on levels she and her team could not even begin to imagine.

“Mr. Parker,” Perez said, “the European Union just recently passed a law giving full personhood status to android downloads as has the Pan Asian Alliance. The United States is a bit of a problem, the American Christian Party has our counterpart bill held up in one of the congressional committees on science saying androids are an abomination to God and that anyone downloaded into such a machine is without a soul. The senior management of New Life is lobbying congress hard to get the bill to the president's desk.”

“So why should I even bother with this android project Dr. Perez?” Parker asked as a wave depression sweep over him.

“Why, Mr. Parker?” Perez said getting tired of his whining. “Because with all your wealth and power you are scared out of you mind of dying. And deep down even though you know a clone would have your every memory, attitude, and opinion you now possess the one thing that prevents you from going this normal route is that you feel a clone would in everything that counts be a completely different person. Don't feel too bad Mr. Parker, your egotistical and completely self-absorbed to the point of utter comic absurdity perspective is normal for you ultra rich types. So make a decision Mr. Parker, I have a dozen multibillionaires wanting to give me everything they own for a chance at an enhanced android body.”

Parker realized everything she said of him was true, especially since when his father had died he himself had stated in his last will and testament he didn't his body and mind clones for the same reason. No matter how routine a procedure Parker just didn't believe the clone that would take over his money and power would be same person as him, there was simply no other option. “Fine Dr. Perez,” he said, “lets do it as soon as possible.” 

(Author's note--This series actually has a bit of plot I have thought out. Keeping segments short though since I tend to run off at the mouth. For those wondering about my other two series I am working on them.) 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Carolina Parrothead book review-- sort of


"The Collapse of Western Civilization" by Naomi Oreskes and Erik. M. Conway


Always on the lookout for an informative and intriguing book my ears perked up several days back while listening to a guy on National Public Radio interview the authors of a book entitled “The Collapse of Western Civilization.” The way Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway described their book I immediately thought it would follow in the tradition of such novels as “Warday” and Nature's End”, both written by the team of Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka.

Since both of those books have long since passed into obscurity a little background might be helpful. Originally published in 1984, Warday is, of course, a fictionalized accounting of two friends traveling through an America dealing with the aftermath of a limited nuclear war. Given the scale of human suffering, Dark Age-level chaos, and the de facto balkanization of the United States portrayed in that book from just a limited exchange I probably could not have dealt with the nightmarish descriptions from an all-out nuclear war. Their followup work, published in 1987, is called Nature's End and is set in the year 2025 where over population, pollution, and social inequality have pushed the planet to the edge of destruction. In that novel the global situation is so bad that an international suicide movement has formed whose members believe a drastic reduction in human population is the only thing that can save the planet. Yes, global warming/climate change does play a role in the overall story, although I don't remember it being the central problem.

Both Warday and Nature's End are complex tomes, heavy on the fictional side using facts to paint a broad picture of just how badly humans can screw up the environment and their cherished institutions. “The Collapse of Western Civilization” seemed to be following in a similar vein, this time emphasizing how global warming/climate change destroyed not just our hyper-consumerist society but the basic underpinnings and assumptions on how we live our lives. I was so intrigued from the authors interview on NPR that a few minutes later I'm on the Amazon website ordering the book figuring not only would I learn something new about climate change but would be entertained in the process.

About a week later I receive a package from Amazon about the size of a DVD case rather puzzled over what I could have possibly ordered. Once I opened the package I was surprised not to find an actual book but a glorified pamphlet entitled “The Collapse of Western Civilization.” Upon a closer examination of its Amazon webpage, and reading several customer reviews I discovered there was no mistake, the book I had eagerly awaited was about the size and length of a travel brochure. Needless to say I was both disappointed and more than slightly ticked since the price for this item was about that of a regular book. I was so upset I did something I rarely ever do and that was give it one star review on Amazon along with a snarky comment. With those pitiful actions out of the way I then went about to read my newly arrived pamphlet.

Spoiler Alert- damn book is so short it makes it unavoidable

At least “The Collapse of Western Civilization” lives up to its name despite its abbreviated nature. Essentially what happens is that despite all the scientific evidence that climate change is real nothing concrete is ever done to break away from fossil fuels. Because of that climate disasters increase in frequency along with their severity. This includes massive continent wide crop failures along with the emergence of new diseases and a few old ones, like bubonic plague, coming back with a vengeance and going pandemic. Seems disease carrying insects and microorganisms just love the warmer weather and take full advantage of populations weakened by famine, forced mass migrations, and unsanitary conditions. Sorry folks, for those who might want to take a simplistic approach and just close borders and build fences I have a bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you for a great price.

What really delivers the knock out punch to western civilization is that the increased global temperatures due to the burning of fossil fuels sends the planet past the tipping point and methane that had been locked up in permafrost for tens of thousands of years is released into the atmosphere. This creates a nifty feedback loop releasing more methane, which increasing the temperature even more causing yet more permafrost to thaw. For the scientifically unaware, and there are a lot of folks like that in the good old USA, the one thing we have in a near infinite supply of in northern regions of the planet is methane. So much that the authors describe that the only thing that prevents the Earth from becoming like Venus is the creation of a genetically engineered fungus that is able to consume carbon dioxide at a much faster rate. One of the drawback of this is book is that the authors write that this fungus visibly altered the landscape but leave the readers hanging as to what they meant.

While this is going on the massive ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland begin an accelerated melting that cause coastal cities around the world to be flooded. Nations, barely dealing with the increase in famine and plagues now have to contend with moving hundreds of millions to higher ground. At that point many nations are reformulated and become highly centralized to deal with events. For example a neo-communist “Second People's Republic of China” is proclaimed along with Canada and the United States merging in some fashion. Sorry Canada, you know with over three-hundred million egotistical folks south of your border the urge to merge would eventually become overwhelming, just be happy it took what amounts to a biblical disaster for it to happen. Oh yeah, none of these new nations have time for the niceties of democracy in the face possible extinction.

The main idea this tiny book tries to convey is that all the relevant data concerning how the burning of fossil fuels was akin to civilization suicide was know as far back as the late twentieth century. But yet the mighty forces of the free market not only totally ignore the information but did everything possible to muddy the waters of public discourse. This failure centers around not only our dependence on fossil fuels as fuel for transport but how the use of oil is fundamental in many of the products ubiquitous to everyday life. This lack of caring combined with an industrial power base who could easily spend hundreds of millions of dollars making sure the right people are elected to political office and you have something far worse than just ignoring the handwriting on the wall.

Sitting from my vantage point literally trapped in a pleasant suburban hell I can at least understand this willful ignorance. The pod people around me have it made, while I am sure they all have shortcomings in their lives they essentially want for nothing. They live in huge houses that just forty years ago would have been considered ornate mansions in every sense of the word. The cars they drive are all relatively recent models with every family owning at least two, with more quite common. The stores they shop overflow with cheap goods and foods making life one grand experience they will do everything to defend, including ignoring all warning that this lifestyle cannot be maintained.

All our excesses add up to the point that even though we are less than five percent of the world's population Americans use one-third of world's paper, a quarter of the oil produced, twenty-three percent of the coal, twenty-seven percent of the aluminum, and nineteen percent of the copper. The fact that some Americans actually believe a huge chunk of the world hates us for our “freedoms” would be outrageously funny if the idea wasn't inherently Orwellian at its core.

When you add everything up about “The Collapse of Western Civilization” I cannot help but feel it is a halfhearted attempt at best by the authors. The message it is trying to convey is vitally important, in that the United States and the rest of the world is living on borrowed time, but while the facts about climate change are unassailable the fiction is woefully lacking the required punch.

The sad realization I cannot avoid is that our civilization will continue to pump out carbon from our addiction to fossil fuels for decades making the coming disasters far worse. Our consumerist lifestyle, not political freedoms and rational thought, is now the basis of Western existence. Voting rights can be curtailed, the press can become lap dogs to business interests, corporate CEO's can edge ever closer to a new privileged aristocracy, and our politicians outright puppets and the one thing that will outrage people is having their lifestyle inconvenienced in some fashion. I can't help but think that maybe such a civilization doesn't deserve to survive.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Far Sharper Than Just Any Serpent's Tooth




Samuel Duncan knew there wasn't a chance in hell his parents would let him leave for college alone and in peace. Despite repeated pleas that they just allow him to load up the few belongings he felt would be needed and head up to Clemson University without them he knew deep down they just could not resist the urge and would follow him up to try and continue to dominate his life. If that was the case, Sam was going to throw caution to the wind.

While still early in the morning when he arrived the campus grounds surrounding the high-rise dormitory where he would be living the next four years, if everything went as planned, was as busy as an ant hill someone had kicked. Cars, trucks, and vans were scattered around his building and all the others nearby with new college students and parents busy offloading a wide array of small appliances and cheap furniture.

Sam parked his car in the lot reserved strictly for students and hiked the half-mile to the dorm taking just some clothes packed in a travel backpack and his new laptop on the initial trip. After showing his registration papers to the pretty young girl sitting at the desk in the lobby he claimed the key to his room and walked up the required four flights of stairs. Once inside he found his roommate had not arrived yet. Both sides of the small dorm room were mirror images of the other consisting of two twin-sized beds, two small desks with an attached wooden bookcase, matching chairs, and small closets. He immediately claimed one of the beds by laying his backpack and laptop on the left side foam mattress then plopped down in one of the chairs.

The small room was dominated by the window on the opposite end from the door. It offered a view of three other dormitory high-rises and a section of the main road leading to the main part of the campus. Uninspiring to say the least but the cold and efficient design of the buildings sort of matched the worn nature of the wooden desks and chairs in his room. Sam couldn't help but wonder how many students over the years had sat in the very spot he now occupied.

With the door to the room shut hardly any noise from the hallway seeped in allowing Sam an unusual amount of solitude, which, unfortunately, only lasted about an hour before the first of his parents showed up.

“Sammy,” his mother Ellen Parks, yelled as she stormed through the door, “we were all supposed to convoy here together!” Her face almost glowed in righteous indignation at what she considered to be a show of disrespect. “After all your stepfather and I have done for you and you treat us so callously.”

Sam was almost as angry as his mother was annoyed. “Mom,” he said forcing his voice to be calm, “I told you that I didn't need anyone coming with me.”

Ellen acted like she hadn't heard a word her son had spoken and went into a long diatribe about the sorry condition of the room openly wondering if it was modeled on a prison cell. Sam was able to tune out his mother's meaningless rant by grabbing his laptop and beginning the process of connecting to the university's wifi, to prepare for what amounted to as Armageddon for his family.

Sam didn't hate his mother, it was just that she was an overbearing perfectionist struggling with disillusions of grandeur. Having been born to an upper middle class family in the small town of Georgetown, South Carolina Ellen fell in love with the city Charleston, situated sixty miles to the south of her hometown, during a fifth grade school trip. After seeing the magnificent colonial homes and meeting several important people Ellen decided during that trip that not only would she live there, but would be accepted by its high society.

Ellen had gone as far to construct her life around that idea by first attending the College of Charleston mainly to make connections, then marrying Sam's father, an attorney who she thought might one day sit on the Supreme Court, then by raising a child who would go into politics. While she did graduate from the College of Charleston everything after that fell apart.

The first being that Sam's father, Michael Duncan, became a glorified ambulance chaser after a short stint as a county prosecutor. For years his face had emblazoned the sides of buses and billboards all through the South Carolina Lowcountry proclaiming his ability to make the insurance companies pay. Ellen's second assumption that her child would go into politics was a total nonstarter. In a blatant attempt to dissuade his mother or her fantasies for him, Sam joined the American Communist Party and posted a picture of himself standing next the flag of the old Soviet Union on Facebook. Given the backward attitudes and unparalleled vindictive nature of South Carolina politics Sam's action, while ultimately childish, was in essence political suicide.

Truthfully, Ellen never had a chance of being accepted in Charleston high society, mainly because she was not born into any of the proper families. When Michael give up the county prosecutor's job to become a personal injury lawyer the two promptly divorced with her marrying an up and coming golf course developer named Barry Parks a year later. Through it all Sam realized he couldn't judge his mother too harshly because all during the time his parents were married his father had been a serial womanizer.

As if on cue the door to his room opened again with his father, Michael, coming in and step-father, Barry just a couple of seconds behind. “Yeah, you tell that bastard if he doesn't agree to my terms I'll sue his ass sixteen ways to Sunday.” Michael said to someone through the Bluetooth device he was wearing in his right ear. Sam's step-father, Barry, rolled his eyes at the overly dramatic nature of Michael's cell phone conversation.

It would have been difficult for two men to be more different from each other. Michael was a man in his mid-fifties and of average height and build. His most distinguishing physical feature being his bald head, something he played to his advantage in all his advertisements for his personal injury law practice. Dressed in a stylish black sports coat, orange polo shirt, and white slacks, Michael always looked like he could have modeled for a fashion magazine for those over fifty.

Michael's upper scale fashion combined with a witty down home personality had allowed him to build both a successful personal injury practice raking in over a million dollars a year and charming close to two-hundred women into his bed. Michael's greatest accomplishment in his career field was curiously enough not successfully suing some errant insurance company or negligent product manufacturer for his wronged clients but by coming to numerous backroom deals with those businesses to soften their losses.

One of the greatest struggled in Sam's life was trying to keep some respect for his father after learning what he did behind the legal scenes. It was near impossible since Michael was nearly always on his cell phone discussing some aspect of a injury case. It made Sam feel incredibly sleazy to have his father openly talk on the phone in front of him about screwing one of his clients over. The situation was made worse when Michael would look over a Sam and winked, as if to include him in on his shenanigans.

His stepfather Barry was almost a completely different type of person, and not in a good way. He had the build of a football linebacker and not only knew it, but made a conscious effort to use his size to intimidate people when it was useful. Barry had at one time been an athletic superstar for the Andrews High school football team eagerly recruited by several different colleges in and out the state. His college athletic career was cut extremely short by the fact that no one other than his uncle, who was his high school coach, could tell the hulking man-child anything.

All it took to have Barry literally tossed out on his ass was a mild attempt at intimating the head football coach of a major South Carolina university. In the process of flying through the air and landing on the sidewalk of the coach's Columbia, South Carolina office he injured his right knee. With no other options, since the military wouldn't take him, he limped back home telling everyone it was the injury that ended his career.

However, Barry's path to the American Dream was cut by the riding lawnmower his uncle let him use to start making some money. With the addition of a commercial-grade leaf blower and weed whacker Barry then became an entrepreneur. Once his business was built up enough that he needed some help he could claim the title of respected community job creator.

What saved Barry from a lifetime of residential lawn care drudgery was the chance meeting with a golf course developer who saw him as a kindred spirit struggling to make a honest living despite a growing legion of welfare leeches and lazy bums looking for a handout. It was a strange viewpoint disconnected from all reality for Barry and his friend to hold since every person under their employment were minorities often paid under the table and well below minimum wage. Still though, Barry took to building golf courses like a pig to a pool of muddy shit or a politician to carefully managed bribery, which is essentially the same thing. By the time Barry married the newly divorced Ellen Duncan he had more than enough money to provide the kind of lifestyle she demanded.

Over the years since Barry had married Sam's mom he had come to a few conclusions. Namely that like many others in South Carolina, Barry was an idiot savant, that he could do one thing really well and absolutely nothing else. To ask Barry what he thought of some abstract idea would exactly like going up to a tree and asking what it knew about American politics. The second thing was that Barry and his development company could claim credit to the destruction of more coastal wetland in South Carolina than any other person. To Sam, Barry was more than just a combination of dumb brute, unethical businessman looking for any way to cheat a person out of a buck, or blatant ignorant hypocrite blissful blind to the world, he was the personal embodiment of twenty-first century America.

“Sammy my boy,” Michael exclaimed taking a few minutes to actually talk to someone in person instead of over a phone. “We were supposed to have a family breakfast this morning. Denise even bought you a present and wanted to see your reaction when you opened it.” He added while walking over to rub his hand through Sam's hair as if he was still five years old.

“Dad, we talked about this, I didn't feel the need to have breakfast or convoy up here. Sam said giving both Ellen and Barry a sharp look. “Wait a minute,” Sam said after a second of thought, “where is Denise anyway?” He added figuring if the shit was going to hit the fan his father's twenty-something trophy wife might as well be around for the initial impact, especially since she was going to play a major part in the fireworks.

“Listen Sam,” Barry almost growled, “I didn't want to come up here, the Carolina game starts in a couple of hours and I wanted to be back home in front of the television. So keep your whining to yourself, I don't give a damn.”

“Watch your mouth moron,” Michael said, “that's my son your talking to, so keep a civil and respectful tongue in that slobbering pie hole.”

This was the main reason Sam wanted to be free of them all. From the moment Ellen brought Barry home there had been what amounted to a low-level war going on between them all. At first Barry played his usual card and tried to intimate Michael, who promptly responded by alerting certain government types to his hiring practices and questionable impacts on the environment.

Barry and Ellen tried to respond by threatening to take Michael to court to challenge the shared custody agreement. Their high card was Michael's womanizing.

Neither side would back down and when a family court date was set not only did the judge, a personal friend, dismiss the allegations of moral impropriety against Michael, he offered him full custody of Sam. Something Michael declined since it would have put a crimp in his style.

Barry didn't fair as well during his day in court, investigators found severe irregularities in his employment practices resulting in fines that almost put him out of business. Michael, using personal contacts, stopped the environmental review and had a private conversation with Barry telling him if he ever got half an idea Sam was endangered he would spend time in a federal prison. Since then Barry was scared of Michael and usually did everything possible to stay on his good side. Which generally meant free and unlimited access to all the golf courses he either controlled or could talk the owner it letting Michael play for free. Golf courses being the place white people conduct the most business, Michael happily accepted.

Since that time both Ellen and Michael had been engaged in what amounted to a parental cold war with each doing their best to show they loved Sam more than the other. This meant both parents, and their respective spouses, attended every special function and activity Sam took part, even when the step-parent very much didn't want to go.

“Sammy honey,” Ellen said, “you just don't understand how much Barry and I love you. It's so mean and hateful the way you treat us.”

Sam looked at the people taking up far too much space in such a small room and felt it was time. “Mom, Dad, and Barry,” he said, “there's things you all need to know about each other and I've been waiting for just the right moment.” With those words Sam hit a key on his laptop bringing up a video with the camera situated outside was was certainly a cheap motel.

“This here mom,” Sam began, “is video outside the Red Roof Inn in North Charleston. Notice the sports car in the center of the screen.” Barry, always one needing a few minutes for reality to fully process inside his brain, didn't realize until it was too late that the car in the video was his. By the time he realized what was up the video showed him coming out of a ground floor room with Michael's wife Denise following behind. Denise inadvertently helped Sam make his point by clearly shoving her panties inside the small pocket book she was carrying. The video then ended with Barry backing out of the motel parking lot and driving away.

The real-life Barry, standing in Sam's dorm room, knew that not only had the shit hit the fan but that Ellen would do everything her power to financially ruin him. Never in his life had he felt so utterly powerless. His usual course of action would be to begin threatening both Sam and his father but with Ellen standing beside him even he, with his limited mental capacity, knew that was impossible.

“Sammy, Ellen screamed, “you turn off that computer right now! We'll need to talk about this as a family at some point.” His mother statement initially confused Sam, until he realized that for his mom Barry was not only a reliable and undemanding meal ticket but that she was no longer a young and attractive woman. She knew that if the video was seen by anyone else, her reputation would be ruined, she'd have to leave the state over the embarrassment.

“Wait a minute you little shit,” Barry said suddenly coming to life, “after this I refuse to pay a cent for you to go to college. That clearly isn't me in that video, you've doctored it or something.” He said desperate to save his ass.

After hitting another key on his laptop, another video began this time at the same motel but positioned much closer to his sports car. This time it was Barry leaving the room without being fully dressed.

“Oh yeah,” Sam said to both Ellen and Barry,” I forgot to mention I uploaded both these videos to the internet and sent emails to everyone in your contact lists to watch them. As for my college tuition Barry, my entire four years was paid for by the inheritance I got from my grandfather. Plus, I imagine you and mom have some serious things to discuss on your drive back down to Charleston. At least you'll never have to worry about me again.

Sam's paternal grandfather, Jacob Duncan, had been a tough old, Great Depression era curmudgeon who happened to own several square miles of inland swamp land just north of Charleston. About the time Sam was born several developers had begun offering him ungodly amounts of money for the property, including the individual who a few years down the road would take Barry under his wing. After the wheeling and dealing was done Jacob pocketed a couple of million along with setting up a sizable college trustfund for Sam. Jacob, being an intelligent man of the world, along with not caring one bit for his grandchild's mother set up the money so he wouldn't have to depend on anyone, as long as he got a college education.

Realizing Sam was totally untouchable, Barry knew he was utterly powerless, but after years of dealing with such a massive idiot Sam felt the need to twist the knife a little more. 'Barry, one last thing, you remember the summer I helped out at your office? What did you say to me back then? That I needed to do some actual work before I went off to college. Well I found several curious memos and canceled checks back then and mailed them off to a few state and federal officials this morning before I left. I figure you and mom better settle things no later than Tuesday.”

Barry would have liked to say something, anything really then get violent. But Ellen stormed out of the room and even someone as dense as Barry knew it would be wiser to follow her, especially since she was muttering the word “divorce” as she walked out. That left Sam's father, Michael, who up until that second had been utterly speechless.

“Dad,” Sam said, “I'm sorry about Denise, I'd been collecting stuff on Barry for quite a while and she made the mistake of leaving a message on his private line back at the house. They seem to have started seeing each about a year ago.”

“That's okay son,” he said almost beaming in pride. “I was about to dump her anyway.”

Sam didn't hate his father, nor his mother for that matter, but now it was time to cut the strings with him as he had clearly with her. “Dad, I want you to know I didn't leave you out of my little sting. I've alerted the Bar Association of your unethical behavior concerning your clients. I figure you;ll have some visitors as well in a couple of days.”

That clearly surprised Michael. “Well son, I guess its best that I leave now.” He said as he walked out the door but still clearly smiling. As the door to his dorm room shut, Sam took a deep cleansing breath and reveled in the peace that had finally come to him.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

La Parguera--My Special Happy Place





The evening rush hour traffic had piled up as expected along Highway 378 making all the slowly moving cars look like a giant segmented toy mindlessly inching towards from pre-programmed destination. Another way of thinking about it had the cars as individual cancer cells spreading out from Columbia to form tumors outside the city people liked to call suburbs. Either way there was irony in the idea that nearly everyone of those privileged individuals, all moving slower than a snail's pace, had at sometime rejected the idea of city living so they could escape its congestion and crowds.

Making this twice daily game even more fun, long both sides of the already overburden highway, feeding in from side streets and roadside businesses, were even more people inside their cars waiting for a chance to join the lemming-like procession. As long as these suburban road warriors made right-hand turns merging onto Highway 378 going with the flow or made left-hand turns at intersections controlled by traffic signals everything was as preachy keen as anything can be in twenty-first century America.

Unfortunately no, given the unthinking nature of most Americans that assumption was so unrealistic as to border on fantasy. See last Tuesday I was tasked by my lovely wife with several errands that forced me into the insanity that is afternoon rush hour. Like a good browbeaten husband married long enough to know that as long as the wife is placated I will be left relatively alone I accepted my fate and endeavored to complete the required tasks as quickly as possible. The details are unimportant but that evening I found myself not only surprised at the simplicity of the errands she gave me but that traffic was uncharacteristically light. As many might be able to guess the proverbial light I saw along my journey through the dark tunnel was that of a massive high-speed train.

What happened was that in the space of fifteen minutes Highway 378 was engulfed in a tsunami of motor vehicles with me caught up in the collective urgency of everyone trying to be the first home. Still though, traffic was going relatively well up until I reached a strip mall that sat on the corner of a major intersection.

This strip mall is pretty typical of all the others that sit along America's highways consisting of about twelve segments providing locations for such businesses as a nail salon, eye clinic, Chinese restaurant, and a couple of insurance places. Its parking lot has three access points with one connected to 378 and two others leading out to the road that runs perpendicular. Now throw in what appears to have been a suburban mom driving one of those tank-like SUV's attempting to cut across rush hour traffic to make a left-hand turn onto 378, not from the traffic light, but from the strip mall parking lot and you have the makings of a comedy or apocalyptic movie. Since this suburbanite was also talking on a cell phone as she used her behemoth to forcibly interjected herself into traffic I saw nothing humorous in her actions from my vantage point about five or six cars back.

While the lady driving the SUV was able to wedge herself into the right lane of traffic no one in the left lane would stop to allow her to cross over to the median running down the middle of the highway. As you can imagine this created a major impediment to the flow of traffic with the SUV driving suburbanite actually becoming so irate that she began blowing her horn and flashing her lights as if she was the one being wronged. Personally I just wanted to get home before I missed my nightly hour of Big Bang Theory reruns and had lady suburbanite just gone through the traffic light this whole event could have been avoided.

After about ten minutes lady suburbanite gets really stupid and ends up hitting one of the cars in the left lane when it refused to let her through. When the deputy sheriff showed up that was when I settled in for a much longer wait and decided to go to my happy place.

Last April my wife and I were lucky enough to accompany our daughter, and most of the kids in her Spanish Language Immersion class on a trip to the island of Puerto Rico. While only a four day trip it was an incredible experience, allowing us all a taste of the island's culture and history along with meeting a truly remarkable people. While intended as a learning experience for the kids it was easily the best vacation of my life.

Since my return to the land of the free and home of the brave I have found that during times of stress I mentally return to that Caribbean jewel, with the village of La Parguera being especially idyllic to me. It is either that or have my blood pressure jump fifty points as I fight the urge to rip out the throats of the wonderful people I find myself living among.



It also helps to have some music as well.