Sunday, February 7, 2016

Cynical Musings on the 2016 Campaigm

There is enough here to make everyone mad.

Generally speaking, I had always understood that the main requirement for being a cynical curmudgeon was extreme old age and a decrepit body. These individuals, overwhelmingly men, had long since lost their sense of humor and viewed the human experience in general as a largely futile experiment being run by stupid young people suffering from grievous mental health issues. While I haven't reached the point where by body is falling apart, I must admit I beginning to hold some dark and grim views of much of what is going on in the world and this country.

Looking back on the “Good Old Days” of the 2008 presidential election campaign I must admit I now view it as a benign and slightly funny sitcom. Yes, I know George W. and Cheney were in the White house with the former bumbling around lost as the economy collapsed with the latter in his lair plotting new wars and snickering about prisoners being tortured. In the warm, golden light of hindsight the choices about the people who would replace them were glaringly simple. The Republican running for the nomination were an amazingly lackluster bunch, who while certifiably crazy and slaves to their rich benefactors didn't seem openly psychotic. Well, there was Frothy Rick Santorum who above all the others actually believed all his extreme religious rhetoric to the point he could have been a character in Margret Atwood's dystopic novel, “The Handmaid's Tale.”

Ultimately, all the 2008 clowns and fools were paired down to Senator John McCain. A genuine war hero who was tortured as a prisoner and who at one time could have been described as a “sane” republican. At times, I am tempted to think it is almost tragic the way he succumbed to the temptation for power while running for president like the creature Gollum who lost his soul and mind over than damn ring.

In a way McCain's fall could almost be excused since we're talking about about basic human nature and winning the White House, but along the way he did a really bizarre and comically destructive thing by nominating the Alaskan trailer trash queen, Sarah Palin as his vice president. Given that McCain unleashed Palin on an already frightened and neurotic population of scared white people fearful of numerous boogeymen, he'd have to save the planet from a zombie apocalypse or alien invasion before he would ever be okay in my eyes. Needless to say, with the election of Barrack Obama in 2008, the phrase that keeps popping in my head is that we dodged a seriously demented bullet.

Then came the 2012 presidential campaign with the Republicans not so metaphorically out for the president's head. That lineup sported a mix of old losers from the previous cycle and a few proto-megalomaniacs like Newt Gingrich who had a habit of abandoning wives like some toss empty soda bottles. Oh yeah, he also said during that campaign that if was elected president he see that the United States establishes a permanent colony on the moon. Now I was actually okay with such a suggestion until he also said that once it reached the required population it could apply for admission to the American Union. I can only imagine what Russia's Vlad Putin thought of that idea since he suffers from a perpetual case of penis envy when it comes to anything to do with the United States.

For reasons that that almost certainly prove the Republican party is an intellectually and morally bankrupt club dominate by semi-senile rich white men they go and nominate Mitt Romney for president. A bizarre throwback to the 1950's mentality, Mitt lacked any discernible human personality that at times made him seem more a bumbling character from a Monty Python sketch than a real person. Now he did possess a disproportionately large ego that allowed him to say with a straight face that his able body sons were serving their country by working for his campaign in the same way that soldiers and marines who were fighting in Iraq.

On election night back in 2012, I could help but to descend into a state of helpless laughter when I realized that despite the millions spent to defeat Obama a rather substantial majority of the American public clearly understood Mitt was a spoiled, flip-flopping little twit suffering from delusions of grandeur. What was curious though was just a few months after Mitt had his ass kicked, one of his sons told the media that his dad had never really wanted to be president. The first idea that came to my mind was that the guy was nursing a seriously bruised ego over his rejection.

So, for better or worse we now stand at the beginning of the 2016 presidential race. Except this time the menagerie running for the Republican nomination is a political scientist's nightmare of Lovecraftian proportions.

Right off the bat, Donald Trump goes and proves the point that while Gingrich was a flaming asshole and Romney was born with both a sliver spoon in his mouth as well as a platinum rod up his ass, his ego almost defies measurement. It is extremely frightening to see how Trump's professed beliefs about immigrants and Muslims appeals to darkest, fascist side of far too many uneducated white people. Numerous times the media has interviewed the enthralled hordes waiting to hear him speak and they all more or less say that they are mad and that Trump says what they are feeling.

Why are they mad? Is it because they have bought into the stupid idea that multimillionaires and billionaires are “job creators” and that they should be protected and left untouched as they languish in underpaid jobs wondering if they'll get lucky and see a tiny pay raise? One night at work one of the boorish idiots I have contact with bragged about all the billionaires in this country and how that made us special because they kept the economy strong.

Normally when something is so monumentally stupid is said in my presence I just act if I hadn't heard it and continue on my way. Not that night, overwhelmed by a futile urge I told that guy that that what kept the American economy alive and strong was the ability of hundreds of millions of people to go out and buy things like televisions, cars, washing machines, and other big ticket items. Of course, that meant people had to earn enough money at their jobs so they could have something to spend after buying the basics of living like food and shelter. That the rich just park most of their wealth in banks and what they invest is often done overseas because if they can get away with paying next to nothing to their workers that is more money back to them. All through this, I hit on raising the minimum wage and how it might sacrifice a few crappy jobs but the overall increase in general wealth was sure to create more allowing those workers to think beyond their next paycheck.

As I expected, the eyes of that dolt almost immediately glazed over with deep incomprehension, I might as well have been talking to the chair he was sitting because not a second after I finished he made some remark about an upcoming football game. This same dolt has also echoed Trump's remarks about immigrants and Muslims. No I didn't say anything to him, I've willingly jumped into losing battles before just for shits and giggles but the idea of trying to explain basic humanity and compassion as well as the inherent principles we Americans say we believe is an impossible task I don't want to try.

Then we have Ted Cruz who is so religious he makes George W. Bush look like a cynical atheist. I must admit, part of me has this idea that everything Trump says is just a rehearsed shtick to fool to mindless proles and that IF he won the nomination he would move sharply to the political center, and given the views he once held, maybe even a little to the left. As sure as bears leave steamy piles of poop in the dark and lonely woods you don't have that with Ted Cruz. He clearly believes every position he has spouted and doesn't give a rip about the consequences if he gets a chance to implement them. Hate the government spending too much, just block funding legislation until it defaults causing the American economy to collapse.

Far more troubling is Cruz's apparent view that working with Democrats is a fundamental betrayal of principles of the conservative movement. Without digressing to point out that numerous other politicians and common folk both on the right an left seem to hold that view compromise and deals are the essence of how democracy works. Yes, it can be ugly and often wasteful but we do not live in a narrowly defined and homogeneous nation with a few oddballs sprinkled throughout. Sometimes the greater good requires accepting a thing we disagree with or even hate with the hope conditions change in the future to allow that items removal.

All of this shouldn't take away from the fact Cruz is a dangerous religious nutcase whose ideas about how our government should be run isn't far removed from the followers of the Taliban, ISIS, or our old friends in al Qaeda.

I suppose I could write separate paragraphs for the also rans like Hukabee, Rand Paul, Frothy Pete, the New Jersey Fat Boy, and sad little Jeb, who at this writing has so underwhelmed that he is actually considering using George W. to bolster his dying campaign. I'm sure I have forgotten a few of these insane a-holes it's time to prove just how much of a curmudgeon I have become and take on the Democrats. 

I don't mean to be difficult but truthfully, I never really liked Hillary Clinton. Adding even more honesty, while Bill's administration did a great job running the country given the conditions he was forced to work around, his “antics” while in the White House did nothing to endear me to him. However, since George W. was the guy who followed him, I like many other Americans view Clinton's presidency as a kind of a golden age before the onset of the Bush dark age made far worse by the Iraq War.

My problem with Hillary can be summed up by the story she told during the 2008 campaign. Supposedly, she and Chelsea were sent to Bosnia on a goodwill mission during that country's bloody civil war. Hillary told the story that the plane they were on had to make a steep and fast landing to avoid enemy fire and once on the ground, the two were quickly rushed off because snipers had made the airport tarmac a killzone. The trouble was that someone dug up video of her and Chelsea calmly walking off the military plane being greeted by locals in colorful clothing carrying flowers. If I remember the video correctly, there was even a band not far from the plane playing music.

This fabrication by Hillary was bizarre in many ways because there was simply no reason for her to tell a falsehood. She was the First Lady and had in fact gone on the goodwill tour, which by itself meant she had more experience dealing with the outside world than most of the Republican bozos running for the presidency combined at that time.

And finally, Bernie...

In most ways, I like Bernie Sanders. He is the polar opposite of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in that he knows the middle and working class folks have been screwed over by the rich and their sycophants in government since Ronald Reagan became president. I like that he has no religious pretensions and has never claimed he had a direct communication with the Big Entity in the Sky.

Let me make this clear, while I am agnostic, I still feel that someone having religion does not automatically make them psychotic or a sociopath. For me it is far more important how a supposed religious person views the world and interacts with their fellow human beings. Quite frankly, while my spirituality comes from the idea that all life on Earth is connected by billions or years of evolution, I personally can't stand to hear someone like Richard Dawkins speak. He is as dogmatic and unbending as some of the religious people he criticizes. Long story short, I view someone like former president Jimmy Carter as damn near a saint, while I wouldn't piss on multi-millionaire preacher Joel Osteen if I found the man on fire.

Getting back on point, despite all the claims by Republican idiots about how America is the best place on Earth we have huge issues that are literally eating away at the heart of our Republic. Our education system is crap with many rural and urban schools left to rot both physically and figuratively with their white-dominated counterparts getting all the money. There are times I want to beat the hell out of some redneck or ignorant ass who thinks black kids are just lazy criminals waiting for their moment to become drug dealers. Poverty and crime feeds on itself with each new generation becoming more desperate to find a way to survive.

Through a combination of unlimited money being funneled to politicians for their campaigns and outright old fashioned bribery our elected leaders very rarely work for the people. In many ways I consider the 2010 Citizen United decision by the Supreme Court to be the fall of the American Republic. Yes, money is a form of free speech but to paraphrase George Orwell's, Animal Farm the amount of money available to a group or individual makes them a little freer than the rest of the public. I find it funny and disingenuous as hell that Republicans like to point out how labor unions have “a lot of money” to influence elections suggesting they are a counterpoint to business groups and rich conservative individuals all the while working desperately to undermine their very existence.

I could go about environmental issues, our crumbling infrastructure, student debt, the rabies-like gun violence sweeping the country, and many other issues that I feel Bernie understands needs to be addressed. But instead, and this will make some extremely angry, I just switch over to why I don't think he has a snowball's chance in hell being elected.

Bernie Sanders is a great and good man, the only problem is this is the real world and the senator from Vermont has made some choices in his life that I am sure teams of Republican strategists are working even now to exploit should he become the nominee.

First of all Bernie applied for and received conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War. Small potatoes you might say given that is essentially the ancient past. Yes, I totally agree and when you weigh in how such Republican stalwarts like Cheney, who received several deferments during those same years I would say it's a none issue. The trouble is that most of the nebulous mass of the American public don't yet know this fact but you can bet carefully scripted political commercials have already been written portraying Bernie as a coward and unqualified to be Commander-in-chief.

The nasty truth is that the Republican party is chocked full craven little pissants that somehow never found their way into the military but yet are fully ready to send American troops off to some war. It will be blatantly hypocritical to point out Bernie's Vietnam era decision when they themselves never served, but for Democrats to ignore this point is to court disaster.

Another knee jerk reaction that is sure to cost a possible Sander's nomination dearly was his honeymoon to the old Soviet Union and his other trips to communist nations. A lot of Democrats have become numb to all the tired and false accusations that President Obama is secretly a socialist out to destroy America. But for Bernie they have is own words saying he is a “democratic socialist” and well as speeches he gave while visiting communist nations delighting in their society. For any Bernie supporter to discount this ample and politically damaging amount of ammo is to prove the point that many on the left live in another reality.

Truth of the matter is that despite the grievous economic injustices here in the United States that greater nebulous mass of Americans I mentioned earlier don't give a rip. They are all nice and cozy in their McMansion suburbs living off credit cards while getting fat and watching their two-hundred satellite channel televisions. The vast majority have never served in the military but have a skewed view that they are patriotic citizens and that anyone who rejected the military service is either a coward or unamerican. Their attitude about war is that of course American should bomb the living crap out of all those nasty people who hate our freedom but my son or daughter shouldn't serve since I don't want them to die. Fighting and dying for the United States is something other people's kids do, especially those poor folks who can't afford to send their children to college.

Like I said before, I'm sure this will piss off some people but should Bernie be nominated he would be defeated in such a landslide that it would make the beatings McGovern and Mondale got seem mild.

One thing that my fellow lefties like parrot is that “choosing the lesser of two evils is still a choice for evil.” Yeah, but one thing these naive and yes, ignorant people fail to realize is that this is THE REAL WORLD! Good doesn't always win in the end and in fact true one-hundred percent good is a myth on par with the universe being six-thousand years old. Human civilization swims in an ocean of gray with the shades between white and black all relative. Countless times I have been called naive for stating a hope that at some point Homo sapiens pull their hairless primate heads out of their asses but if that ever occurs I will be long dead.

I wish like hell that the American public was mature enough to elect Bernie Sanders but in general they are a paranoid and scared bunch whose time at the top of the world mountain has created an idea that our shit doesn't stink. Truth always hurts but I see absolutely no evidence that a majority is ready for anything approaching the truth. Unlike the last two previous election cycles there was room for comedy when considering the Republicans running for the highest office in the United States, but not anymore. Everyone of them have the unbelievable idea of reinstating the policies of George W. Bush but strangely never mention his name.

So here comes the part where I continue to piss off my lefty friends, if I have any remaining, because I refuse to reject the possible in search of some unrealistic idea of the perfection I will be voting for Hillary Clinton in both the South Carolina primary and more than likely the general election in November. If in fact Bernie gets the nomination, I will vote for him in the general election, but with no expectation he will win.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Long Journey Home

One of the last things someone wants deal with after finishing a night working third shift is taking their car back to the dealership for required warranty work. Worse yet is when it's a repair or modification that will take several hours pretty much forcing the owner to either get a ride home or somehow hang around the dealership waiting. You might think such a shared inconvenience would have a chance to draw strangers together and build a nascent solidarity between people having to deal with typical corporate crap these days, unfortunately no, not in this lifetime.

To be fair some automobile dealership waiting areas are better than others. Back when I drove a Toyota that dealership's waiting area during my first visit had several televisions, a real snack bar/grill complete with cook that made sandwiches and burgers, and fairly comfortable chairs and couches that made waiting tolerable. The only thing it lacked that would have made it perfect would have been a dimly lit and quiet room with recliners that would allow the customers to take a nap. I actually recommended such a room on the customer survey only to return six or seven months later to see the snack bar closed, all but one of the televisions removed, and even the comfortable chairs and couches replaced with plastic seats that looked like McDonald's surplus.

My current car is a Kia Rio, and for the most part it's okay but last year about this time, I received a letter from the company saying that while there was absolutely nothing to worry about I needed to call the dealership immediately to schedule an appointment to have a few “minor” things fixed. The letter further stated that if I didn't schedule an appointment by a certain date I would be libel if anything bad happened. With those kinds of warm fuzzies coming from a huge, faceless multinational corporation I called just a few minutes later to schedule an appointment for a Friday morning, which due to the peculiarities of working third shift is the start of my weekend.

While the letter I received didn't directly say these minor repairers might take several hours the dude playing the role of the dealership's service center concierge informed me of that fact in a casual, backhanded manner.

“Okay Mr. Johnson,” he said while looking at his computer screen and typing what I was beginning to believe might be a novel he was working on given that he had been doing it for almost ten minutes. “These repairs usually take about five hours to complete,” he said in a nonchalant way suggesting I should have already known that fact.

“Excuse me,” I replied, far more upset that I should have really should considering the situation I was dealing with. In this day and age, whenever some massive corporation is forced to spend money and time fixing something they did wrong, it is a given that they will do their best to make it as uncomfortable as possible for their customers.

The concierge then informed me that I was more than welcome to take advantage of their waiting area. Which had a television permanently tuned to a channel playing nothing but infomercials, the usual plastic seats, and a pot of coffee that I had already tried and whose contents tasted like used battery acid. Truthfully, their coffee was in a weird way quite the dubious achievement since I had spent several years drinking the rancid swill served by army cooks to soldiers in the field and had come to believe I was now immune to all forms of caustic liquids including drain cleaner. When you take into consideration how tired I was, the last thing I wanted to do was spend five hours waiting for stuff to be fixed on my car that shouldn't have needed to repaired in the first place.

The obvious answer was to call my attorney wife and have her take me home. But that would have required her to stop what she was doing, drive to the distance to the dealership to pick me up, then drive across town to drop me off, only to drive back to her work. That idea was a NO-GO right from the start, so I began mentally preparing myself to stay until my car was ready.

“You know Mr. Johnson,” the dapper concierge said probably seeing the fatigue on my face, “we have a free courtesy shuttle that will take you home. It won't leave for another hour but your welcome to climb inside and catch a nap until that time.”

As soon as the words left that man's mouth I about broke into an impromptu interpretive ballet to display my utter happiness that I wouldn't have to stay in that place. The concierge then walked with me to the shuttle, which was a high-end minivan and unlocked the door. Being the the first person on site I called a perfunctory dibs and claimed the front passenger seat. I believe it took less than two minutes for me to doze off.

An hour later, three other passengers seeking transportation climbed aboard, and along with the driver and we soon pulled out of the dealership's parking lot. One of my traveling companions was a nurse who worked at a private practice that was somewhat located in the direction of my house. For that reason, after the driver dropped her off, he made the call to go ahead and take me home. A decision that did not sit well with the two other people in the van.

The first was a guy who, in my opinion, from the moment the driver opened the minivan's big sliding door to let them in seemed upset that I had already claimed the front passenger seat. He was a balding, middle-aged man dressed in a decent J.C. Penney-type suit and carrying a cheap briefcase, which he clutched like it carried the codes for the United States nuclear arsenal. While I am sure he would have about busted a nut had anyone asked if he was an attorney, to me the guy had the look of a second-rate insurance salesman desperate to make his quarterly commission.

The second was a forty-something lady decked out in a patented Hillary polyester paints suit complete with matching scarf and apparent bad attitude. From the moment she climbed aboard, her cell phone never broke contact with her left ear except to dial a new number. Of course, the conversations she engaged in while we were on the road were totally one-sided to the driver, insurance dude, and myself but it was made abundantly clear she hated her ex-husband and sister and didn't really think too kindly about her kids or the poor soul she was married to now. Thinking back on it now, had I been sharing the van's middle seat with her like the insurance guy was, I'd probably have clutched my briefcase tightly taking special care to position it over my tender male areas.

The only thing that united the two disgruntled people behind me were their chorus of deep sighs as the van we all rode moved further west on Interstate-20. I must admit, after a while their joint discomfort was beginning to bother me despite the fact that I had no real power determining the route we were taking. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a complete insensitive ass, I fully understood that their workday was just starting while my weekend was beginning. I'm sure they had tons of issues all demanding their immediate attention while, like me, they had been forced to take their cars in for repairs.

After what to my fellow passengers probably seemed like an eternity of back country roads after leaving the interstate the courtesy shuttle pulled into my driveway. Thrilled that I could now go inside get cleaned up, eat, and rest, I thanked the driver profusely with every intention of not looking back. However, there was this little nagging voice that said the people I was sharing the van with on that painful journey needed some acknowledgment.

“Hey,” I said politely the two after turning in my seat, “ I'm sorry this took you all so far out of your way, you guys have a good day.”

I'll give myself a point for trying to me a decent human being because my effort fell on totally deaf ears. Insurance dude was in a total daze, no he wasn't asleep, but had his eyes wide open and staring off into space. It was the kind of look men get when shit gets so weird they mentally transport themselves to their personal and secret happy place. Paints suit lady broke away from her latest cell phone conversation to give me one of those hate-filled looks that suggested if she had a knife nearby my manhood would soon have resided in a zip lock bag inside her stylish pocketbook.

Retrieving my car from the dealership later that afternoon was a breeze. My son came home from college for the weekend and after I bribed him and his girlfriend at that time with an offer to stop at local Mexican restaurant we loaded up, picked up my daughter from school and drove off into the metaphorical sunset while munching on chips and salsa.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Price of Our Past Sins - A Star Trek Fan Fiction Story


 Native planetary name: Kivant
Star system designation: DDED-1445
Location: Beta Quadrant, Sector 5411
Basic information: Was first cataloged
by the Phoenix 8 unmanned probe on stardate
0403.2. System consists of four rocky worlds,
all class M or below and three gas giants class J or below.

Native intelligent species: one
“Kich”- mammalian humanoid
pop- 426 million

Planetary Orbital characteristics
Aphelion: 172,100,000km
Orbital period:465.25 standard days         
Satellites: two
Carron: 2100km mean radius
750,000km distance from Kivant
Perloo:109km mean radius
120,000km distance from Kivant

The ship model I base my stories taking place on the USS Saratoga.

Planetary Physical characteristics
Mean radius:6371.2km
Surface area:510,025,000km
70.8% water
Surface gravity:1.009 standard G
Rotational period: 26 standard hours
Surface pressure(MSL):110.2kPa
Atmospheric Composition:
78.08% Nitrogen
20.95% Oxygen
0.930% Argon
0.039%Carbon Dioxide

The native intelligent species of Kivant, who call themselves the “kich”, are a mammalian humanoid race quite similar to Earth's Homo sapiens in both outward appearance and internal functions. The chief difference being an odd facial hair pattern on males and partial webbing between the fingers on females. Their evolutionary lineage in fact does go back to a hominid-like primate that inhabited the savannas of one of Kivant's continents.

The development of civilization began far earlier that what occurred on Earth or several other Federation members. In fact, the kich reached an 18th century level of western industrialized civilization around Earth's ninth century CE. Staying true to the theory of parallel planetary development, during the early years of Kivant's industrial and technological development it was divided up into seventy-five distinct nation-states with five major powers controlling large sections of the planet where socioeconomic maturation was not as advanced. These spheres of interest, or empires, often overlapped causing numerous wars generally fought by proxy agents made up of religious or ethnic groups under the direction by the major powers.

The turning point for kich civilization occurred around the eleventh century CE on Earth when Kivant's major powers became embroiled in a world war that ended imperial rule and created over a hundred new nations centered around two dominate nation-states. As it was on Earth after the Second World War, Kivant's two dominate powers championed conflicting social and economic systems. But the development of nuclear weapons prevented the two from engaging directly, instead a cold war ensued with the nation promoting totalitarian state control over personal lives and economic choices eventually collapsing from its inherent inefficiencies and corruption.

Further paralleling Earth's historical path, with the victory of the democratic and capitalistic system every underdeveloped nation on Kivant began rapid reforms to achieve the same economic level and lifestyle of the planet's dominate nation. Enormous industrialization projects were instituted in the developing nations which created a huge demand for resources that strained the planetary environment. This activity created vast fortunes overwhelmingly controlled by a tiny percentage who in turned used their influence to protect and continue rampant development at the expense of the majority of Kivant's inhabitants who were left to deal with the increasing pollution and encroaching environmental degradation.

The pollution and disruption of the planetary environment played havoc on the climate which caused crop failures leading to massive starvation and the resurgence of numerous diseases that were once under control. The kich population of Kivant peaked at 7.5 billion individuals around Earth's thirteenth century CE but soon began a steep decline as food and water shortages induced new wars. Combined with pandemics that were spread by waves of refugees the nations of Kivant were only barely able to stay ahead of onslaught of continuing disasters.

The breaking point came as frozen tundra located in the arctic regions thawed and began releasing massive amounts of methane. These events caused Kivant's average temperatures to shoot up even further making many areas of the planet uninhabitable. In less than twenty standard years the kich population fell to less than 251 million individuals with the survivors fleeing to the polar regions where temperatures remained livable.

At this stage of Kivant's ecological holocaust the last vestiges of national, ethnic, and religious identity were burned away with the remnants of kich civilization dedicating themselves to prevent their planet from succumbing to a runaway greenhouse effect. This Dark Age lasted for six-hundred standard years and only ended when the planetary climate stabilized around Earth's nineteenth century CE.

Eventually the remnant civilization on Kivant stabilized their planetary climate enough to allow for scientific research in fields unrelated to ecological recovery. By Earth's late twenty-second century CE the kich had advanced enough to build a subspace telescope array in orbit of their home world in an attempt to detect other intelligent life in the galaxy. This allowed them to detect the unmanned Phoenix 8 probe as it entered their system. The probe was not programmed to initiate first contact since it did not detect any evidence of warp technology. After a quick scan, the probe jumped back into warp heading towards its next programmed destination. Now knowing that they were not alone in the universe, the government of Kivant then began a crash project to develop their own warp capability. Twenty years later the Federation starship Ark Royal passed close enough to the system to be detected with the kich launching several unmanned warp probes in an attempt draw the ship's attention.

On stardate 2262.0, Captain Iyaad Sharaf initiated first contact with the government of Kivant. Within five standard years Kivant petitioned the Federation council for membership which was almost immediately granted. The kich have no off-planet colonies but have allowed Starfleet extensive use of their star system which included the establishment of Star Base 257 and the construction of substantial dry dock facilities in orbit around the fifth planet in their system. In return for this almost unlimited access, the kich have made extensive use of Starfleet's Corp of Engineers and its planetary restructuring technology to reclaim their damaged world.

With vast areas of Kivant now livable, the kich allowed over five million refugees over the intervening years to settle on their world. However, the polar cities the kich built during their Dark Age were declared off limits to protect their native culture


Captain's Log, USS Saratoga
Connor Douglas in command
Stardate: 54149.6

Forty days have passed since the beginning of a new round of Borg incursions into Federation space. Given the increased activity and now attacks on settled worlds there is little doubt that they are preparing for an all-out invasion. This time though their goal is not assimilation but outright genocide. For that reason Starfleet recalled us back to Federation space.

And we are now in our sixteenth day standing guard over the kich homeworld of Kivant. For that entire time we have not detected any Borg presence within range of our sensors. Due to this emergency, Starfleet Command sends us updates twice daily on engagements, which unfortunately includes losses in both ships and personnel. Even worse is the information we are receiving about the planets the Borg have sterilized. Despite the fact that the Borg have not yet penetrated into the core of Federation space, the death toll has now topped four billion sentient beings along with an uncountable amount of other lifeforms.

Several Starfleet ships have successfully defended their assigned star systems by improvising new tactics and weapons systems. As usual with the Borg, they quickly adapt and find ways to counteract these impromptu innovations. As we wait for our possible date with destiny, every person in the engineering, security, and tactical departments on this ship are working to come up with our own counter measures.

Like most modern Starfleet vessels, the senior staff conference room on the Saratoga was position behind the bridge to allow for immediate access. Connor Douglas walked through the sliding door to see every seat taken, except the one reserved for him, with six other members of his crew standing.

“Thank you everyone, “ Connor said taking his seat at the end of the table. “I know we are pressed for time but I just received a classified communication for Starfleet Command telling me the Federation colony world of Oranto was attacked by a Borg cube twelve hours ago. After destroying the starships Wolf and Sunrise assigned to defend the planet, it then sterilized the surface killing all sixteen million residents.”

Connor took a moment to say small prayer of thanks to whatever deity might exist for remembering to check if any member of his crew was from Oranto, or had family members living there. Connor had long since talked with the two crew members on the Saratoga from Oranto and they were being helped by friends and one of the ship's assigned counselors. Still though, given the momentary look of dismay on the faces of everyone in the conference room, it was clear they had taken the loss of another world to the Borg personally.

“Given this new information,” Connor began again, “the importance of coming up with a means to defeat or blunt a Borg attack cannot be understated. Lieutenant Sovan and Axor, have you two made any headway in devising a possible defense?”

For a moment, the Vulcan and the Bolian both looked like they were about to talk until Axor nodded to Sovan signaling him to begin what was obviously a prepared speech. “Captain Douglas, our respective teams have several ideas but most of them suffer from having already been tried by other ships. Needless to say, those ideas that did defeat the Borg have allowed them to adapt making them now ineffective. The idea we have come up with though does have a high probability of success although there our simulation usually result in the destruction of the ship.”

Connor leaded forward and smiled in a manner that Sovan thought was quite devious and chilling. “Lieutenant,” Douglas said, “believe it or not that is the best news I've had since we were recalled back to home space. Please tell me what you two have in mind.”

It was the blue-skinned Bolian that stepped into tell what the two teams had developed. “Captain, do you happen to be familiar with an Earth insect called the ant?”

Five hours later.

Alerted to approach of the visiting dignitary, Connor Douglas was standing at the entrance to his ready room as the portal door slide open. “Greetings, Primus Th'lou,” Connor said as he waved off the young ensign escorting the visitor and offered his left hand for the kich's version of a formal handshake. “I'm sorry I couldn't meet you at the transporter room but, as you know, the situation right now demands nearly all of everyone's time.”

“I understand captain,” the middle-aged kich said as Connor guided him towards the seat in front of his desk. “I'm just not certain as to why you have requested my presence, our agreement with Starfleet and the Federation allows them make all decisions concerning the defense of our homeworld and star system.”

Connor took a moment to gauge the being sitting on the other side of his desk. Th'lou looked to be average for a humanoid species, enough so that they could easily blend in with a dozen others from across the galaxy. What bothered Connor though, and Starfleet Command, was that while the actively supported Federation policy and principles very few of the kich species every left the planet. In fact, other than scattered communities that were integrated with the several million refugees that were now permanently settled in the newly rehabilitated regions of Kivant, the kich kept strictly to their cities in the polar regions.

Connor cleared his throat before beginning, “Admiral Lucas at Starbase 257 wants to make sure you understand our plan to try and defeat the Borg, if they decided to try and attack Kivant.”

“You mean using swarms of self-replicating mines that stay deactivated until they penetrated the Borg ships various fields?” Th'lou said clearly not comfortable with his location.

“Yes,” Connor said, “some species have issues with machines that self-replicate, and I've got to admit we humans aren't crazy about them. A few centuries back on Earth the pre-warp culture then liked to scare itself with various types of stories where artificial beings like robots or androids took over and tried to drive the human race extinct.”

“Yes, captain we kich definitely understand the concept of unrestrained technology. Th'lou said clearly referring to his own species brush with extinction. “Understand, we trust Starfleet to do the best thing for everyone on Kivant, in fact given the recent Borg attacks on other Federation worlds, the parliament has authorized another five million refugees be brought to Kivant for permanent settlement.

“That's quite generous Primus,” Connor said seeing Th'lou's body language strongly suggesting he wanted to end the meeting. “”Well Primus, I won't keep you any longer.” Connor finished while keying in a brief text message on his desktop terminal to his first officer just outside on the bridge.

Barely a second later, the young ensign that escorted Th'lou from transporter room stepped back inside the ready room and almost as quickly ushered him back out. The sound of the closing portal door had itself barely faded when Commander Zhoa Shou1, Connor's first officer and friend, walked into the ready room.

“I guess the guess the meet-and-greet didn't go over very well.” Shou said taking the seat the Primus of Kivant had just vacated.

“No it didn't, Shou, and in fact I probably inadvertently insulted the man and his civilization. If Admiral Lucas wants to find out why the kich are being so secretive I'm afraid he's going to have to make a request to the Federation State Department or Starfleet Intelligence. Because until the Borg threat passes we sure as hell can't play some second-rate spy game. 

Borg Cube ships--mean ass mothers' we better hope do not have a real life analogy.

(1)Had to change the name of this character after learning something about Chinese culture that I should have already known given that my daughter is from China. After reviewing a few things about China, I was reminded that surnames come before personal names. My bad. 

***Because of an ass load of interruptions making it impossible to write this weekend, this is the end of part one. Excuse the typos, maybe at some future date when everyone leaves me the hell alone for a short period I might be able to correct them.  

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Summer Storm

Saw this picture on the internet the other day and it reminded of a summer day during my childhood. Painting by Robert Henri (American; American Realism, The Eight, Ashcan School; 1865-1929): Storm Tide

 The neighborhood I spent a large part of childhood was first built in the late 1950's, probably out of a response to the growing affluence of white southerners brought on by businesses building new factories and relocating many from the northern states. They were all taking advantage of the relatively cheap labor that still paid wages far better than most Southerners had ever experienced.

For reasons I don't remember the neighborhood was named Kensington although I did hear a story once that the property was once an antebellum plantation. I admit, when you consider that possibility that a working class housing development was built on land where slaves once lived and died is quite unnerving. At least to those of us who possess this curiously rare thing called a conscious.

Whatever the case, during my childhood it was located outside the town limits of Georgetown, South Carolina. And it had what would today be considered the unusual features of having an elementary school and a couple of old fashioned mom-and-pop stores all within its boundaries. This allowed gangs of bicycle riding children a wide area to explore and play until the street lights came on forcing us all to rush back home for dinner. Today's carefully planned subdivisions all seem especially designed to make common chores require someone to get in a car and drive a short distance like dropping off the kids at school or buy a gallon of milk. That didn't mean self-contained communities like Kensington did not have some issues.

Sometime in the early 1970's there was a summer day where my mom pretty much issued the order that I go outside, find some friends, and play until the sun started to go down late in the afternoon. During this period she would have been taking care of the house and my two younger brothers, one barely a toddler and the other an infant. The last thing she needed would have been a bored six or seven year old bumping around the house all day.

So, I did what my mom said and started riding up and down the streets looking for some kids to hang out with until I could return home. I can't really speak for kids today with their in-home gaming systems and the tendency of parents to arrange most aspects of their children's lives, but once the kids in my neighborhood were let loose there was no telling where we would end up.

Surrounding the neighborhood were large sections of forested areas that were perfect for kids wanting to explore or play. These undeveloped parcels, being so near the coast, were quite swampy and inhabited with alligators, poisonous snakes, and even bears. The fact that I don't remember any of my fellow adventurers ending up as snacks for those wild inhabitants is a small miracle. Parents at that time just assumed that the kids would either stay away from the obviously dangerous areas or that they would think of some way to save themselves if they did stumble into trouble.

I don't remember the exact details of that day but I'm sure I spent a good deal of time in those woods playing soldier with the other kids whose moms had also kicked them out of the house. In one section located outside the neighborhood, there were unusual dirt mounds and, for the lack of a better word, trenches cut between those formations and we made full use them for cover and concealment while shooting each other with broken sticks we imagined were rifles. Before long all the shoot Em up bang-bang got boring and we kids would then ride off to some other location.

A few of us ended up at school with the intention of playing kickball in the softball field. This is where a kid's ability to ignore just about everything around them comes into play. It would be impossible to say how long when our hastily organized kickball game had gone on when one of us heard an adult voice scream a name of one of the kids in our group. We all turned and looked in the direction of that voice when we saw about ten adults quickly walking towards our location. At first all of us were puzzled but not concerned, none of us had done anything weird like destruction of property but when I saw the face of my mother in the crowd I instantly knew something had gone very wrong.

Long before the adult reached us, all the kids playing kickball began walking towards them all slightly wondering just what in the hell had we done wrong. Since the softball field was situated right against an east facing treeline of rather old and tall pine trees we didn't see the enormous change in the weather about to overtake the entire area of Georgetown. It was only when us kids stepped onto the neighborhood's main avenue that ran east-west did we see the clouds.

This wasn't a simply thunderstorm, something quite common to the coastal area, but something far more menacing. I looked up towards the east and saw a massive and midnight black formation of clouds that was something straight from a nightmare. Those clouds seemed to be consuming the world and the brief but numerous flashes of lightning underneath them only made the scene more terrifying. Adding to the ominous sight about to overtake us all, it was at that moment the first clap of god-like thunder hit sending all of us quickly scurrying back to our homes.

Luckily, for my mom, her parents lived a couple of streets over and she was able to get my grandmother to walk over and watch my siblings while she joined the search for the missing kids. My mom and I got back to the house a couple of minutes after the squall line hit the neighborhood, yeah, we were both soaked. Except for the lightning, I thought the run back home through the rain was quite the fun experience. However, my mother totally failed in every possible way to think of the sudden change in weather as anything like fun.

Turns out a tropical storm had suddenly formed off the coast and began making a beeline for South Carolina. With our more advanced weather monitoring systems, I doubt such a system could form these days but one of my clearest memories was of old and respected Charleston weather guy, Charlie Hall scratching his gray hair and worriedly explaining what had happened and how the storm would affect the coast. It mostly went unsaid but at the time the memory of the near apocalyptic 1954 hurricane named Hazel was still on everyone's mind.

This tropical storm eventually passed us by leaving little in the way of damage. The next day it was business as usual for all the other kids and myself but the storm did spawn a good number of tall tales that lasted the rest of the summer.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Doug Tompkins--One of the best who will be sorely missed


All of us lucky enough to draw a breath makes a mark on this planet and the people we encounter. For better or worse the overall impact of the average person is blunted because individually we simply don't have the vision or the resources to do more. To put it nicely, there is a line from one of my favorite songs that says a person, “fills his page of history, dreams his dreams then is gone.” Don't miss understand me, there is nothing wrong living a honorable and simple life taking care of friends and family. God knows human history is almost overwhelmed with individuals who were somehow able to achieve the deadly combinations of power and money leaving nothing but death and destruction in their wake.

Humanity's one saving grace are those few individuals that for whatever reason use their money and power to try and preserve or enhance the existence of people and environments not directly connected to them. Unfortunately, many of these people slip by unnoticed to the general public leaving the impression that someone representing the better angels of our nature never existence at all.

I recently learned about the passing of one of those individuals who really didn't have to use his own fortune to work to preserve an area of the planet which he was not directly connected. His name was Doug Tompkins and I first learned of him watching the 2010 documentary, 180 Degrees South: Conquerors of the Useless.

Born in Ohio in 1943, Doug Tompkins moved west in the early 60's taking part in numerous rock climbing and ski racing event before he and his his wife at the time, Susie, in 1964 founded the outdoor company,The North Face. Later they founded, under the humblest of terms, another company by the name of Esprit. By 1978 sales from Esprit were topping over 100 million a year but concerns over the environmental impact of the fashion industry caused him to sell his share to his now ex-wife, Susie, and take up conservation projects in southern South America after moving to Chile.

Tompkins' first conservation project was Pumalin Park in the Palena Province of Chile consisting of an 800,000 acre region of the Valdivian temperate rain forest. From there he and others went on to purchase more land immediately turning these new parcels in national parks. Here's the rub, after becoming the largest private landowner on earth all these lands were first rehabilitated then turned over to the countries they were located. Tompkins other projects include developing sustainable agriculture techniques and promoting biodiversity.

He passed away on December 8 in southern Chile when heavy waves caused his kayak to capsize. After rescue he was flown to a hospital but eventually died of acute hypothermia.

What I find fascinating about the late Mr. Tompkins is that he kept his public presence extremely low key, even though had he actively sought the spotlight it might have drawn more attention to his environmental causes. When you take into the consideration all the medium-level rich publicity leeches and outright megalomaniacal millionaires and billionaires out to reshape the world in their narcissistic image, Mr. Tompkins' understated and unselfish efforts provides a welcome but brief renewal of hope for our species.

Jump over to the websites below to learn about his environmental efforts.

 Check out 180 Degrees South on Netflix. It's a fantastic documentary.


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Chasing the Ghost

The pounding rain of the tropical storm bouncing around the Gulf of Mexico like a hazy but powerful ball in a giant pinball machine had long since lulled me into a deep and restful sleep. During that time I have vague recollections of some amazingly vivid dreams that were always interrupted with the ringtone from my cell phone. During the blaring music, which in truth was designed to be irritating enough to wake someone out of a deep sleep, everything in my wonderful pseudo-reality would be thrown totally out of whack.

When the music stopped though, the dream pieces would reassemble and I would find myself in some other place and time. Only to have the music return and disrupt whatever wild adventure or intimate interlude I was having with some beautiful lady. Eventually my tortured subconscious mind gave up and kicked me out of dreamland, just in time for the cell phone to start freaking out again.

“Yeah,” I groggily said into the phone while nursing a child-like anger for having my threesome with two former Sports Illustrated cover models interrupted. “You've reached Samuel Archer, what can I do for you?”

“Sammy my friend,” the booming voice of Hector Belmontes said, “I need you to meet me at Lost Horizons as soon as you can either shake the cobwebs out of your head or break away from the woman you picked up here last night.”

“What woman...?” I said trying to make sense of his words until my brain rebooted. I soon remembered I had spent the better part of last evening smooth talking to a newly divorced lady, only to have her cruelly shoot me down. “Oh, yeah, you know Hector you can be a real dick sometimes. This better be about a job or I'll put my foot up your ass, of course only after I gain fifty pounds and can bench your weight.”

Hector thought my words were so funny I worried the guy might be having a heart attack from laughter. Hector was a linebacker for the Miami Dolphins for a couple of seasons back in the late 80's and still looked like a guy who could easily pinch off a regular guy's head from his neck with one of his thumbs and index fingers. “Listen Sam, just get down here before the city floods. This is good, easy money and I know you need every bit of help that comes your way.”

“Yeah, I'm on the way.” I said resigning myself to my dark financial reality.

During the time I spent rummaging around my spartan apartment for things like a clean pair of pants and my wallet I discovered it was almost one o'clock in the afternoon. At least that explained Hector picking the Lost Horizon instead of something sensible like the local IHOP or even Waffle House.

After making myself presentable, to my sorry standards, I stepped out of my apartment. The clouds from the annoying tropical storm had cast a seriously dark pall on the Tampa Bay area leaving the impression of that the world was about to end.

Luckily the drive to Lost Horizon was mostly uneventful. Putting it a better way, as I left the Bay Pines area of St. Petersburg heading towards the strip mall close to the Albert Whitted Airport where Lost Horizon was located, the area hadn't flooded to the point that sharks were cruising the streets. An event whose truth is a subject of intense debate by local residents but I saw one of the damn thing swim by me as I stood on the steps leading up my apartment during a previous storm. But then again, I had endured a meeting with my ex-wife hours earlier and was probably transferring my fear and anger to something other than an evil, supernatural being.

Lost Horizon sat between a tanning salon whose claim to fame was that some reality television star stopped by for an emergency session and a frozen yogurt store that seemed to be staffed with just one person. Every time I walked into Lost Horizon the same 40-something guy would be standing in the same exact spot next the counter with a blank expression on his face. Occasionally, I think about going inside to try and talk to the guy just to make sure that he is alive but in all honest he sort of scares me.

Despite its strip mall disadvantages, Lost Horizon does have an interesting feature, an outside tiki bar complete with a grass hut-like overhang that extends out far enough to shelter several patio tables. After parking my car, I ran up to the empty bar wondering where the hell Hector had gone. I sat at the bar alone for several minutes before the beautiful Gillian Altman decided to leave the warm and dry confines of the interior to take my order.

“What the hell do you want Archer,” she said in a clearly demeaning tone that reminded me of my lovely ex-wife. Gillian is a curious creature, she looks exactly like the actress from the famous television show, so much that when she started working at Lost Horizon most guys who frequented the place developed a crazy theory that she might be the Anderson-type researching a role. An allegation she denied so strongly that three guys who stupidly made a pass at her came back sporting various broken bones. Like the actress, Gillian Altman sports a shapely feminine body, but unlike her doppelganger she also possesses a temper along with enough muscle strength and fighting skill to emasculate the vast majority of men on the planet. The standing rumor now was that she was an ex-CIA agent living with a new face and fake identity while hiding from any number of enemies.

“Just a beer, please,” I responded meekly. “Any idea where Hector might be,” I also asked quickly instinctively lowering my body to partially hide behind the bar.

“He went out to get someone, told me to tell you sit and wait for him.” She said clearly annoyed before stepping back inside.

She returned so quickly with the beer that I almost wondered if she had poisoned the thing. But I shrugged off that idea because if she wanted me dead, her biggest concern would be how to dispose of my body.

Minutes ticked by as I sipped my beer and waited, the rain and occasional clap of thunder my only companions. During this alone time I pondered my relationship with Hector. See I repossess airplanes whose owners have, for whatever reason, failed to make the required payments. People like me don't wallow in the dirty reality show glamour like the chumps who repossess cars, our deadbeats are usually high-end types who wear suits and ties and have college degrees. Which often makes them far more difficult to track down and quite a bit more dangerous. I started tracking one pilot down in Mexico only to end up on an Alaskan island so far in the Bering sea that I could hear some punkass Russian talking on the radio as I flew the newly reacquired plane back to the lower forty-eight.

Because pilots like me are few and far between once you get involved in this racket you eventually develop a relationship with someone who acts as your agent. That turned out to be Hector, who I ran into as both of us were searching for a plane in Jamaica that the owner said had been stolen. He was tired of all the crap involved with the business but wanted to stay close and I was losing assignments because I couldn't juggle the paperwork and find the planes.

Just when I had begun to think Hector might have forgotten about me, a car suddenly pulls up close to the overhang allowing Hector and another guy quickly jump out. After going through the usual motions of introductions Hector, the new guy, and myself settle down to discuss business.

“Mr. Belmontes tells me that you're quite talented at repossessing aircraft.” The new guy said who Hector introduced as Mr. John Black. Right off the bat, Mr. Black had the smell of trouble. Dressed in a suit that looked stolen from one of the Men In Black movies, the guy also possessed such average characteristics of height, face, hair color, and build that if he suddenly walked away I definitely wouldn't recognize him upon his return. While Mr. Black said he worked for a simple aviation finance agency, he reeked of government or, more than likely, corporate espionage spook looking for some fool to do his dirty work.

“Yeah, I'm qualified to fly anything up to the high-end luxury jets, ” I said walking into this situation fully aware of the possible disaster it could end up. No, I'm not a complete fool, but if they guy was willing to pay my price I'm give it a go.

Mr. Black chuckled, “No, nothing that glamorous I'm afraid. I need you to repossess a simple Cessna Caravan seaplane whose owner owes the people I represent quite a bit of money.”

“Awesome,” I said, “I known Caravans like my ex-wife's inner thighs, just where is this bird?”

“Aren't you curious as to why my people are looking for someone like you to find this plane?” Mr. Black asked in a way that almost contorted his face to the point it had the hint of an expression.

“Look Mr. Black,” I said wanting to get past all the usual bullshit, “if you pay the amount I ask, I don't give a rat's rear end about the details. Hector can tell you I've dealt with Central American drug lords, guerrilla fighters, and totally sleazy exiled mafia types who just can't give up that last perk of their former power. You want this plane, all I need to know is the serial number on the engine block, the name of the deadbeat who has it, and his or her last location. The only questions is the price, and I'll be honest, if you've come to me I know you're desperate and that means my fees will be high.”

I guess Mr. Black liked my answer because he smiled, not like a normal human being would but in the way some undead zombie might after stumbling across a group of stupid teenagers in the woods at night. Now, I did get slightly concerned when I told Mr. Black how much I was going to charge him to find this plane and he just shrugged. His one condition was that I could not attract the attention of the press in any shape or fashion. It wasn't an uncommon consideration given the notoriety of some of the deadbeats so I agreed.

After that we all shook hands with Mr. Black giving me the folder holding all the information on the person who had the plane. I had just enough time to read the name of the deadbeat then to look up and see Hector and Mr. Black drive off in his car. Just as the car disappeared in the pouring rain I saw Black looking my way with a mysterious Cheshire cat smile on his face.

The person I had to find was one Singapore John Smalls, scientist, adventurer, inventor, and billionaire who by all accounts was supposed to have died ten years before. “Oh crap,” I said out loud to myself, “this is going to be fun.” 

End of part one

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Grumpy Christmas Story

For reasons my wife never quite explained there were several years our house became the assembly point for her family's Christmas Day celebrations. At first I sort of enjoyed their company, most of my in-laws are highly intelligent and if we avoided politics the conversations could be quite stimulating. It sure as hell beat my family's tradition of spending several hours talking trash about whomever was being ostracized at that moment. A problem I solved by volunteering permanently for the job.

The other benefit of spending a holiday with them was the fact their usual habit was to show up on Christmas morning, spend precisely two hours catching up. Once that was out of the way the “experts” would proceed to the kitchen to either warm up something cooked earlier or outright prepare a special dish. The actual eating part of the ritual would just take about an hour with the following clean-up done by those lowly individuals who culinary inexperience would have resulted in bodily harm had they trespassed into the kitchen during the preparation phase.

The final segment lasted three to four hours, required because of the affect of consuming a near mutant turkey long overdosed with growth-hormones, consisting of everyone either on the couch or lying about the living room floor. Once everyone recovered their senses it was a mad dash to get back on the road or catch a Christmas Day flight to the other end of the country. The net benefit of those abbreviated warm family fuzzies was that no one was exposed to each other enough to fray nerves or set off a dormant desire to strangle the living shit out of a particular family member. I thoroughly enjoyed such visits since it allowed me to savor the rest of my Christmas holiday after they left in relative silence and peace.

Now choosing my house for all this unbridled affection had a lot of it had to do with the location of the retirement home for my wife's parents, which at first was an upper-crust golfing subdivision just off Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. If you've never been to Hilton Head it is not a terrible place to spend a holiday, but about fifty zillion other contentious human beings have already discovered that same fact with all them desperate to enjoy the balmy breezes and the overwhelming number of truly fancy restaurants.

I will say this, if anyone has a surefire scheme for suddenly jumping in front of a car and getting clipped for the resulting insurance money without getting killed, Hilton Head is the place. At any given moment you can throw a rock onto the crowded roads and easily hit an ultra-expensive Benz, BMW, Lexus, or any number of other supreme luxury cars. In fact, given the number of massive SUV's with suspiciously darken windows sharing the roads, a person could begin to believe some sort of summit of world leaders was taking place there. Believe it or not, Hilton Head was once the home of a thriving African-American community but the combination of golf courses, marinas, five-star restaurants, and full scale mansions has caused it to be overrun by the unabashed wealthy, not unlike how rats would act invading a full corn bin.

The second reason my house became the default meeting place was that my mom-in-law and dad-in-law eventually left Hilton Head and moved to Manning, South Carolina. Never heard of the place? No worries, it is a small town situated on the edge of Interstate-95 and has all the innate country charm its population of undereducated and overly religious folks can muster. Only the extreme Bible thumping Upstate of South Carolina can rival their growing enthusiasm for things like Donald Trump, civilian-owned assault weapon collections, and the impending second coming of Christ.

It was the discovery by my dad-in-law of a hidden lakeside golfing community that curled his toes enough to make him decided to abandon the Hilton Head area. Since I'm not a golfer, I simply cannot appreciate how not having to wait long hours for a tee time can make someone like him want to move to such a backwoods place.

Now having the in-laws come to my house for the holiday pow-wow was not without its issues. The most memorable one happened about six or seven years ago when my dad-in-law somehow got a hair up his butt one Christmas wanting everyone to dress up for dinner. We're talking suit and ties for the guys and nice formal dresses for the ladies.

Right off the bat you have to understand the relationship the rest of my in-laws had with my now late dad-in-law. The best way to explain this is to compare him to a silverback gorilla with everyone else his troop of lower-ranking underlings. What dad-in-law wanted everyone quickly sought out to supply, even though they might bitch and moan to the point I began to believe they had been in contact with my blood relations. Honestly, I would not be betraying any secret if I write that neither my mom-in-law nor dad-in-law every had any overtly warm feelings about me. To them I was semi-redneck their precious daughter had the misfortune to meet at a Jimmy Buffett concert and decided to start dating.

Quite frankly, I was flabbergasted and befuddled by his desire to dress up for an occasion that every time before we all just worse things like slacks, polo shirts, and maybe shoes. My traditional Christmas dinner attire was jeans and a clean surfer t-shirt, and if the weather was warm enough I would ditch the pants for my comfortable cargo shorts. Putting it bluntly, I do not get dressed up for any normal reason. If I have to wear a sports coat I'm probably on a cruise ship enjoying tropical sunsets. If I have to wear a suit and tie someone has died or is getting married, which in truth I believe is essentially the same thing.

I quickly told my wife this suit and tie thing wasn't going to fly with me. Actually I compared it to such things as a heavy lead balloon floating up in the air or the success of a submarine designed with a screen door. She at first she just poo-pooped my objections, then after I didn't let the subject go sort of hinted that I would be rewarded with wild monkey sex if I went along. It was her failure to cement the promise which resulted in my withdrawal from the agreement. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice saying you have a headache I'll buy because I'm a decent guy, fool me a third time and I'm the blithering idiot.

Well, that particular Christmas Day finally came and the usual suspects piled into my house around 6:30am that morning. It was all a happy affair, with still no explanation as to why we had to dress up when the time came to eat. Since this shindig was happening in my house and with no real explanation as to the reason for the dress up party I would go along, in my own way.

By the time I arrived to the dining room everyone else was already seated. My wife's brother was wearing some nice suit with a tie that looked like rattlesnake skin. A good choice since few that know my bro-in-law for longer than twenty or thirty minutes consider him to be such a reptile. My wife, her mom and sister were all wearing dresses that would allowed them entry into one of the swanky restaurants to the already mentioned Hilton Head Island. My dad-in-law took the cake though, he looked like he was trying to impersonate Marlon Brando's character from the first “Godfather” movie.

His attire was appropriate since the look of surprise and then anger he directed at me would have scared most people. See, I decided to “dress up” for Christmas dinner by wearing a colorful Hawaiian shirt, my cargo pants, and my docksider shoes, without socks. I do admit to having gone as far as ironing my cargo pants because they were quite wrinkly.

Dad-in-law's face turned rather red those first few minutes, enough that I sort of worried I might have gave the putz an aneurysm. No such luck, dinner eventually proceeded as usual with everyone doing the expected hasty retreat after recovering from the turkey induced fog. Dad-in-law did get over my protest actions enough to personally say goodbye to me as everyone filed out. A gesture that was unexpected, not because of my fashion antics but because he was usually the first person out the door.

No one should get mad at me for disrespecting the man back then or even now since he has passed on to the great Republican heaven/golf course in the sky. As the father of a rambunctious daughter I fully expect that holiday karma to come back to me in spades. Its just that I will welcome the aftermath still wearing my damn Hawaiian shirt.