Saturday, April 18, 2015

Early 2016 Campaign Fear and Loathing

(Author's Note: Yeah, I'm in a bad mood.) 

Despite the fact that my political beliefs are so left of center when compared to the average South Carolinian I could readily be classify as a seditious communist I have alienated numerous people I associate with on the internet. The main problem seems to revolve around the idea that while I would love to see Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts or Bernie Sanders of Vermont or Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida elected president the current American zeitgeist makes that impossible. Leaving alone for the moment the assumption that if any of those three were elected president by some near magical twist in reality they would immediately face a hostile congress bent on nothing but their defeat and embarrassment I will instead concentrate on my issue with my fellow political comrades.

Being open and honest while I would like nothing better than the United States to embrace many policies of the European social-democracies like universal health care, worker rights, environmental protections, and social libertarianism most Americans run from such ideas because they seem scary and foreign. Hell, you want to talk about true American Exceptionalism, there is nothing like the utter stupidity of someone in this country whining about the spoiled nature of workers who belong to unions then start complaining about how their benefits are being cut and that they haven't had a pay raise in years.

Truthfully, that is when such non-union workers are even slightly aware of of something greater than what goes on outside of their narrowly defined lives. I know many individuals who literally cannot see past the numerous reality shows and favorite sports broadcasts they watch on their Walmart bought flat screen televisions. If such people do think of the greater society as a whole they follow the implied but never really stated position of corporate management that they should just be grateful to have a job and that if they get too uppity some unemployed putz can be pulled off the street to work for much less.

Proles and animals are free” (Ninteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell)

In short the American working class is the reality based version of George Orwell's “proles” from his book Nineteen Eighty-Four. For those who haven't read they book, proles are the lowest class in his fictional country of Oceania and make up the vast majority of the population. Despite outnumbering the middle management types of the “Outer Party” and the elite one-percents called the “Inner Party” a prole's purpose is just to work and breed. They live in poverty, receive little education, work manual labor jobs with no possibility of advancement, but are allowed to enjoy numerous entertaining distractions that keep them happy and quiet. If any of that even sounds the slightest bit familiar you can move to the front of the class.

This is where the election of someone like Warren, Sanders, or Grayson becomes problematic. All three like to point out the social and economic inconsistencies inherent to life in the United States and while they are tolerated are almost always kept at arms length and labeled “radical” by those in the press whose supposed job it is to uncover the uncomfortable truth.

The Lesser of Two Evils” (a common comment by numerous Utopia seeking progressives)

It would be an epic event if any of the Liberal big three were elected president, along with a socially progressive congress, but barring some major miracle it ain't going to happen. This coming election day in November of 2016 you can whine and stay home while listening to Joan Baez and dream about some progressive messiah but all that will get you is a President Cruz, or Paul, or Rubio, or yet another Bush. My personal nightmare is a President Chris Christie, that bastard makes Nixon look like a warm and fuzzy socially conscious hippy. Yes, what I am implying is that the alternative is none other than Hillary Clinton.

Sharing another bit of honesty I have rather disliked Hillary for years. While I am completely ignoring all the conservative-inspired conspiratorial propaganda she has always seemed a little holier-than-thou, in other words the poster child for the elitist liberal. Back in 2008 I was willing to ignore my perception of her until she came up with the ball-faced lie about her and her daughter landing in Bosnia while taking gunfire form Serbia militias. CNN, in a rare bit of actual journalism, showed her giving a speech telling that story while running the actual footage on a separate segment of the screen of her landing in Bosnia showing a slow walk off the military cargo plane with young local girls give her flowers.

My opposition to Hillary back then earned me the hatred of several progressives who called me a sexist pig and the snickers of many conservatives who assumed that my dislike of her would either keep me home on election day or force me to vote for War Crazy McCain. The only thing worse than being called a sexist pig from people I respected was the outrage from both groups when I declared my support for Barrack Obama. This is where the tendency for progressives to look for a socially aware messiah comes into play along with the near universal disappointment that follows when political realities are not faced.

I would only be exaggerating slightly when I say the election of Barrack Obama as president was viewed by many progressives as the beginning of the Age of Aquarius. He was suppose to take the oath of office then in the space of a few months end poverty, stop climate change, fix our immigration mess, end all wars, close Gitmo, and then fix the yawning economic gap between the rich and poor before the mid-terms.

Yes, during his first two years in office Obama had majorities in both houses of Congress but the idea that meant much is an uninformed assumption at best. Ignoring the fact for a moment that the 535 members of both houses each have their own individual agendas, namely to get reelected, Obama's fellow Democrats at that time covered the political spectrum from the DINO, (Democrat In Name Only), to actual progressives wanting to reform the country with the majority being the self-serving former. Now imagine some staunch, uncompromising progressive totally dedicated to upending the corrupt status quo being elected president. That person wouldn't last out their first and only term in office

Now add how progressives failed to vote in 2010 allowing the Tea Party-Republicans to win the House of Representatives and you have the beginnings of all the crap Obama has had to deal with since then. I truly believe many liberals and progressives have totally failed to appreciate the nature of the opposition Obama faced in congress along with the fact that the way our government is supposed to work means that the legislative and executive branches have to work together. Obama's executive orders to sidestep a racist congress is all well and good but I remember a time when George W. did the same thing with Democrats freaking out.

Politics is the of the possible, the attainable-the art of the next best” Otto Von Bismark

Don't get me wrong, Obama has made some huge mistakes during his time in office. But I refuse to start believing like one person on the internet I know that this means he has been in secret league with the same people who backed – or controlled Bush and Cheney. They don't compare politics to the making of sausage for no reason. Politics is about the art of compromise and what is possible. Tilting at windmills is all fine and good but when you are faced with people like Cruz, Rand, Rubio, or Christie and the several others all riding in the same clown car you damn well better be able to live with consequences. What that means to me is that all the idiots who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 bare some responsibility for the actions of Bush and Cheney.

Yeah, Hillary is too hawkish for me and along with that carries some political baggage that is cumbersome at best. But I live in the real world where reality isn't pretty and compromises have to be made so that in the end liberals like me can actually point to some progress for the common man and woman. I'd like life to be all about peace, love, pretty flowers, and unicorns that fart brilliant rainbows from their butts but it ain't going to happen. Idealism is an important part of the American political experience but unless it is tempered with pragmatism and the realization that building a better future takes time and often dirty work we will stay on our “trickle down” course the Republicans set for the nation back in 1980.

So unless something major happens I will most certainly be voting for Hillary in 2016. Am I happy about that fact, not really but there is only so many Citizen United decisions, corporate tax breaks, environmental disasters, civil rights degradations, and wars the United States can take. Who you vote for in 2016 is a choice each individual has to make but until the long awaited progressive messiah finally appears and awakens the distracted prole masses, I'll do the only viable alternative and vote for the perceived lesser of the two evils because in real life nothing is simple black and white.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Got Nothing but the End of Weekend Blues

This weekend was a total waste, I did absolutely nothing of any circumstance other than laying my sorry butt on the couch and watch the new Daredevil series on Netflix. My main excuse for being this worthless revolves around my allergies which have been particularly vicious recently.

In general weekends speed by at a velocity that exceeds the speed of light. As of this moment it is mid-Sunday morning but it just seems like a couple of hours ago I was walking away from my workplace early Friday morning.

I can't blame my excessive slackerly behavior on just my allergies, a good part is simple apathy given the nature of my fellow humans, which mean cosmically stupid behavior generally based on ancient Iron Age religions along with equally ridiculous ideas of nationalism and ethnic superiority.  

Oh wow, I was just slightly socially responsible. Good for me, and yes I will award myself a cookie. Mainly because I can't do tequila on Sundays because I have to go to work tonight.

I will leave you with this:

And this:

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Out of the Darkness--A Star Trek fan fiction short story

Ambassador-class starship

After the destruction of the Miranda-class USS Saratoga (NCC-31911) at the Battle of Wolf 359, Starfleet began making plans for a Galaxy-class vessel to next carry the name. Construction would take place at the New Seattle shipyards in orbit around the planet Izar (Epsilon Bootis 3). However, given the situation at the time, resources were redirected away from the larger exploration vessels with priority going to the smaller Defiant-class specifically designed to combat Borg cube ships. While initial construction had not yet started materials and equipment specific to large exploration vessels were on location and just left in orbit next the facilities.

Everything changed as the possibility of war with Gamma-quadrant based Dominion grew. Larger vessels that could take on the battleships crewed by the genetically-engineered Jem'Hadar soldiers were very much needed in the face of recent Starfleet and allied losses. When the decision was made to begin building the new Saratoga, all construction on new Galaxy-class ships had been temporarily stopped to incorporate new features and improvements. So to avoid unneeded delays it was decided that the next ship to carry the name Saratoga would be the proven Ambassador-class design.

The keel for the new Saratoga was laid on 2368, with accelerated assembly beginning six months later. The new USS Saratoga entered the war two months after the start of the actual conflict under the command of Captain Cynthia Boone of Mars. The ship served with distinction all through the conflict but narrowly avoided destruction at the Battle of the Tyra System. After the death of Captain Boone and with Commander Thrawn, the first officer, gravely injured Lieutenant Connor Douglas of Izar took command. After being cutoff from the main area of battle, the attacking Jem'Hadar ships began concentrating their fire on the Saratoga's main bridge and engineering sections in an attempt to finish off the ship.

With most major systems offline Lieutenant Douglas loaded several shuttle craft with photon torpedoes, remotely triggered their engines and ejected them from the landing bay at warp speed. The unorthodox maneuver completely surprised and destroyed the attacking Jem'Hadar ships. As the battle wound down the remaining enemy ships ignored the distant Saratoga, which at the time was essentially a lifeless hulk. They chose to ignore it and pursue the remaining allied vessels. That allowed the surviving Saratoga crew time to restore enough systems to eventually escape back to Federation territory.

After Saratoga crossed over into Federation space it was towed to the shipyards in orbit around the planet Axanar, where it spent six months in dry dock being repaired. It reentered active service under the command of the newly promoted Prown Thrawn of Andoria. For his clever improvisation during the combat Connor Douglas was promoted straight to the rank of commander to serve as the Saratoga's first officer. At first the Saratoga was assigned to Starbase 239 to provide protection for supply convoys headed towards the main battle area close to Bajoran space. However, when the Breen Confederacy attacked Earth, the Saratoga and three other ships were able to go to high warp and position themselves to intercept the fleeing vessels before they crossed back over into enemy territory. While the resulting battle was short and inconclusive it did allow Federation starships to get detailed sensor readings on the Breen energy-damping weapon to begin the process that would allow the allies to develop countermeasures.

For the USS Saratoga and its crew, the demands of war soon returned them to far less glamorous duties, but the universe is always filled with surprises.

Captain's log, USS Saratoga
Prown Thrawn in command
Stardate 52991.6
We are at present crossing sector 4451 on course to reach the Bajor in four days. All sixteen freighters in our convoy are fully operational along with our sister starships the Trieste, Buran, and Starling.

Word has gotten out that Federation and allied forces have begun the invasion of the Cardassian homeworld in an attempt to end this damn war. Early reports say that after taking heavy losses in ships and crew but Federation marines and Klingon warriors have landed on the Ebeen continent and have linked up with members of the Cardassian resistance. I have ordered that the convoy to increase speed to warp five and go to red alert. It is my hope to avoid any possible encounters with deep reconnaissance enemy starships.

Lieutenant Victoria Kinyor, tactical officer—from Earth, birthplace Kenya
Lieutenant Commander Tallas Bin, Science officer---Tellarite
Ensign Henry Reid, Helmsman—Earth, birthplace USA
Lieutenant jg Roberta Belzer—Earth, birthplace New Zealand

The bridge of the USS Saratoga was as silent as a tomb with everyone concentrating on their duties. The only real sounds came from the faint but constant hum of the life support systems and occasionally from the ship's computers when one of them needed to alert a crew member. Experience earned from the spilled blood of friends and colleagues had taught them all that at any moment Jem'Hadar, Cardassian, or now even Breen raiders could leave carefully camouflaged hiding places and attack. The only thing greater than the tense and demanding nature of wartime duty was the realization that just maybe the tide had turned in favor of the Federation and its allies. No one wanted to make a mistake with the possibility of victory and peace now within sight.

“Commander Douglas,” Lieutenant Victoria Kinyor, the tactical officer said, “I've detected a belief and very weak signal from a rogue planet that is 2.7 lightyears away from the lead elements of the convoy.”

Douglas turned the command chair around to face the young woman who was standing at the tactical station. “What type of signal?” He asked feeling that sickening combination of excitement and terror that had become all to normal since the start of the war.

“Analysis of signal's power and frequency suggests a Cardassian distress call but it was cut short as if they changed their minds.” The young officer answered.

“Bring up a tactical display of the rogue planet and begin a full scan of the body. Also, alert all the ships in the convoy of a possible enemy contact in the area.” The first officer said before swinging the command chair back to the front. Douglas then toggled a small button on the command chair before saying, “Captain Thrawn, please report to the bridge.”

Barely more than a second later, the lanky blue-skinned Andorian came rushing out of his ready room while at the same time Douglas vacated the command chair and took a seat just to the right of his captain. “What do we have Number One?” Thrawn asked while claiming the command chair.

“A possible enemy contact,” Douglas said, “the signal was weak but Lieutenant Kinyor reports it could be a Cardassian distress call.”

On the main screen at the front of the bridge both Kinyor and the Tellarite science officer, Tallas Bin had posted all the information they had gleamed from their scans. The rogue planet was a fairly boring frozen rock that had been drifting in the depths of space for billions of years since being ejected from the solar system where it had formed. It had no atmosphere because the gases it consisted of had condensed then fallen to the surface as it left its parent star behind making it impossible to support any type of carbon-based life at the surface. But life doesn't have to live at the surface on any world.

“The body is roughly fifteen thousand kilometers in diameter,” Lieutenant Commander Bim said from his spot at the operations station. “And the surface is covered with a layer of frozen nitrogen mixed with an array of other chemicals all common to rogue planets suggesting it was indeed ejected during the formation of a solar system.”

“Any sign of refined metals or power signatures?' Captain Thrawn asked.

The Tellarite's hands danced over the operations panel massaging the sensors to provide every possible piece of information possible. “Uncertain captain,” Bim said, “the planet has a curiously high level magnetic field with quite a few localized distortions of even high power. It could mask a small ship like a raider.”

“Captain Thrawn,” the helmsman Ensign Henry Reid suddenly said interrupting the science officer with an eagerness a little to energetic to be acceptable, “should I set a course for the planet to check it out?”

Both Thrawn and Douglas inwardly groaned, at the start of the Dominion War the young helmsman was just a third-year cadet at Starfleet Academy. But due to the shortage of trained personnel many like him were graduated early and immediately placed on duty on ships that served support functions well away from actual combat. Unfortunately, circumstances let a few slip through to ships like the Saratoga that had not only seen combat but came damn close to being destroyed.

“No Ensign,” Douglas snapped playing the hard-nosed first officer, “keep your eyes on your duty station and your mouth shut.”

“Aye sir,” the chastised young officer said before going silent.

Douglas glanced over at his captain and noticed both of his antennas twitching in what amounted to Andorians as silent laughter. While a few Academy cadets had unfortunately seen combat, young Ensign Reid hadn't despite a rather immature desire to experience the thrill all in the name of defending the Federation.

The Tellarite science officer showed an uncharacteristic patience for the young human by allowing a second or two to slip by before continuing. “As I was saying captain, small raiding ships could well be hiding on the surface using a minimal camouflaged force field. But what caught my interest besides the shallow seas of liquid water underneath the surface ice were the localized magnetic fields themselves, there are suggestions of mathematical patterns.”

“Both Thrawn and Douglas sat up straighter in their seats. “Number One,” Thrawn said, “maybe young Reid is correct. I think a reconnaissance of the planet is in order.”

Commander Connor Douglas had served as Thrawn's first officer long enough to know where this was leading. “I'll order one of the runabouts to be readied. And after a few seconds of chagrined hesitation, “Ensign Reid you will join me on the away team.”

Despite the appearance of looking like a simple short-range shuttlecraft Starfleet runabouts were in fact actual full-fledged starships in their own right capable of warp five speeds allowing them to perform missions that require long range interstellar travel. With the rogue planet less than three lightyears away Commander Douglas was graceful for such a short trip.

“Going into standard orbit, sir,” Ensign Reid said, “and beginning close science scans.” From the runabout's viewport the rogue planet looked like a sphere of frozen green ice. Since there wasn't a star anywhere around for lightyears the image was just a holographic trick. If they had viewed the planet without the image enhancements it would have appeared just as a black circle blocking out a portion of the stars in the background.

“Good job Ensign,” Douglas responded, “Lieutenant Belzer stay alert on the tactical scans. There's still a chance a few of our enemies could be hiding somewhere.”

“Aye sir,” the young security specialists said at the station where she sat.

Douglas was himself manning the runabout's weapons and shields ready to respond if in fact encounter enemy forces. But it didn't take long for both Reid and Belzer to find interesting things on the scanners.

“Commander,” Belzer called out, “I'm detected two small ships. One Jem'Hadar and the other Cardassian although neither is a danger because they running on extremely low power.”

“Ensign, get the coordinates from tactical and plot a course to that location.” Douglas said prepping the weapons just in case despite the fact he didn't believe they would be needed.

Minutes later the runabout is hovering twenty meters above and in front of the two enemy ships. Both were partially encased in jagged ice structures with thin filaments of light running to them from beneath the surface. Near the Cardassian ship was a fresh crater that to Douglas looked like it had been created with energy weapons.

“I'm dropping shields and powering down weapons folks,” Douglas said to the other two people with him.

“Commander,” Reid said, “the magnetic distortions are off the scale here. Whatever is happening appears to have tapped into the systems of each ship. Shouldn't we keep shields up?”

“Ensign, what is the purpose of Starfleet?” Douglas asked while running several exobiology scans.

“Starfleet is the peacekeeping and defensive arm of the Federation.” He said not sure where Douglas was heading.

“Sounds like you were an admirer of Professor Stewart at the Academy,” Douglas said. “That sounds like some of the crap he tried to pass off when I attended. No Ensign, our primary job is to seek out new life and new civilizations, I admit being cops and soldiers is part of wearing the uniform. But if we define ourselves under Stewart's parameters we will become no better than the old nations of Earth and they almost killed each other off with their fears. No, Starfleet is something far different and the sooner you learn that the better.”

“Commander how do you explain the Dominion and species like the Borg, they know nothing but conquest and assimilation,” Reid asked back.

“I admit, our way is the more difficult because we have to take chances and that means every once and a while we will find a lifeform that doesn't share our beliefs. But to hide behind defenses and constantly prepare for nothing but war is no way to live. You remember early twenty-first century history, back then the nations of Earth knew nothing but fear. Billions went hungry and died of simple illnesses because vast war machines had to be kept manned and up to date all because of the fear someone might be lurking in the shadows. Those fears feed on themselves and eventually lead to the Eugenics Wars and monsters like Khan Singh. The human race finally had to come to the realization that fear was poison and that the only way around it was to build bonds of trust no matter how hard it seemed before things started to get better.”

Douglas waited for Reid to say something else but the young man remained silent. “Okay Reid,” Douglas said, “land the runabout next the ships and then suit up. Unless I'm very wrong we're about to make first contact.”


Douglas stepped out of the now decompressed runabout and onto the surface of the planet. For a moment, he looked up to gaze at the glory of the galaxy without using any of the image-enhancements technology integrated within the helmet of his environment suit. “This is why we make the big bucks,” he said out loud.

“Excuse me sir,” Reid said puzzled at the expression he had just heard.

“Nothing, just keep your eyes on your tricorder readouts and your hands off the phasers. I'm not sure how this will unfold but I do not want any misunderstandings with the natives.” Douglas them switched on the image-enhancer inside his helmet turning the surface of the rogue planet into something he could see. When the image stabilized he started walking towards the enemy ships with Reid following behind.

“Commander,” Belzer called from the runabout, “energy levels just jumped again. And I'm detecting movement inside the Cardassian raider.”

Douglas and Reid were fifteen meters from the two ships when a humanoid form appeared out of the Cardassian craft. The computer generated images inside their helmets couldn't keep up so for almost a minute the emerging figure walking towards them was just a dark silhouette. As this was going on Douglas was playing with the universal translator mounted to the sleeve of his environmental suit. When Douglas and Reid were just a few meters away from the figure the resolution cleared up and they saw a Cardassian standing in front of them. It was a male and he was covered with oddly shaped shards of ice containing filaments of light which stretched back to the ship

“I am Commander Connor Douglas, of the Federation starship Saratoga, who are you,” he said not really knowing if he was addressing a Cardassian or something else.

The body of the Cardassian just looked at them for several seconds with pulses of light running along the filaments towards the ship and then back out to body. “We are the Troe,” it said slowly as if speaking was something unbelievably bizarre and new, “why have you invaded out domain?”

“My people and I have no intention of invading your domain. We will leave immediately if you want but the body of the being you control and the others inside the ships have attacked my people and wish to enslave them. We were watching for our enemies as we passed close to your domain when we detected a fragment of a distress call originating from here but as we scanned we also noticed your civilization. My people seek out new lifeforms in an attempt to peacefully exchange knowledge and ideas. On behalf of the Federation I offer friendship and the possibility of both our peoples developing a greater understanding of the universe.”

“Your words have meaning to us,” the Troe said speaking through the Cardassian, “but we have been alone since the beginning of awareness and knowledge of the beings living in the greater realm outside our domain is so new and strange. Please leave now, but we have learned much of the metallic structures that brought the first beings here. We will make contact with you when we are ready.”

With that Douglas slowly backed away and grabbed Reid's arm. “You heard the entity Reid, we are not welcome for now.”

Captain Thrawn had slowed the convoy to warp three to allow the runabout to catch up. Once Douglas and his people returned to the Saratoga, Thrawn pushed the convoy back to warp five. After briefing both Thrawn and a positively ecstatic Tallas Bin, Commander Douglas slipped off to Saratoga's bar to unwind. Much to his chagrin he was soon joined by Ensign Reid.

“Excuse me sir, but I have a few questions.”

“Have a seat then, and ask away,” Douglas said.

“Sir, how did you know the Troe would want to contact and not do the same to us as they had the Jem'Hadar and the Cardassians?”

“The short answer would be that I didn't really know what would happen. But we didn't try to blast holes in the ice like the Cardassians, that's why I powered the weapons down before we landed. Call it an educated guess, but from the looks of the landing site I got the impression that the Jem'Hadar probably shot up the first emissary the Troe sent forcing them to engulf their attackers. It also looked like at least one of the Cardassians tried to establish communications but something went wrong, maybe he got nervous and pulled a weapon.”

“So what you're saying sir is that you gambled our lives on a hunch all in attempt to avoid conflict?” The Ensign said trying to understand everything that happened.

“That's why we make the big money Ensign,” Douglas said with a smile.

That only confused Reid more, “But sir, we don't use things like money in the twenty-forth century.”

Douglas just groaned, “Go look up the reference on the library computer Ensign before I assign you to the biological waste reprocessing department.”

(Author's note: Just for giggles here are two pictures so you can get an idea as to what Andorian and Tellarites look like. Oh Yeah, Commander Douglas will return in another story.)

Captain Thrawn

LCDR Tallas Bim

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Fear the Reaper

It was well past midnight as the driver of a BMW coupe turned into the underground parking garage servicing the building where she worked and proceeded to search for an empty spot close to an elevator. Nervousness and frustration swirled within her head as she descended deeper into the concrete structure. Every parking spot near the elevators were taken but yet if she went down any further the advantage of a quick exit from the building would be lost due to the extended time it took to escape the underground structure itself. Time, or the lack of it, was the current linchpin of her existence and if she didn't do everything right in the next couple of hours all her efforts, and possibly her life, would be meaningless.

Eventually the driver pulled into a parking spot on one of the mid-levels of the garage and proceeded to the next step in her plan. Wearing just casual slacks, a sweatshirt, and leather jacket her attire ran totally counter to the required dressed code during normal working business hours. Before leaving her apartment she had actually considered dressing up for her late-night visit but decided against it since it might raise more questions with security personnel and the small skeleton crew of office workers who watch the computers during the night.

The ride up the elevator to the ground floor reception area was uneventful. But the camera mounted above the sliding doors was proof positive that in some darken room one of the many security guards hired by her company had taken note of her arrival and had probably already alerted the guard standing watch at her first destination.

“Hello Ms. Drayton,” the security guard sitting at the reception desk said as she exited the elevator, “what brings you in this late at night?”

“Hi Roger,” Alice Drayton responded after searching her memory for the man's name. “I've got a bit of an emergency, I have a presentation this Thursday but a couple of hours ago I realized I had forgotten a vital report that I need to include. Is there anyway you can allow me to go up to my office and retrieve the thing so I can get this off my mind?”

Roger looked at Alice for several long seconds not saying a word. Fear began to build in her mind as the glorified rent-a-cop seemed to be weighing the validity of her reason for disturbing his peaceful shift. Alice knew that the company liked to hire ex-military types who suffered from an excess of testosterone and suspicion when it came to office workers like her.

It came as a shock and relief when Alice suddenly realized that Roger was just ogling her and hadn't realized the mental porno going on in his head was taking too long. “Roger,” Alice said again, “how about it?”

“Oh yeah,” he responded shaking his head while returning to reality, “that won't be a problem but you know the rules someone has to accompany you all the way up and then back out.”

“I figured that,” Alice said nodding, not telling the man she had a contingency plan that would take care of an unwanted companion.

Roger next spent several minutes on the phone trying to get another security guard to come take his place at the desk so he would be the one to escort Alice up to her office. His hushed but serious tones quickly turned to outright pleading. It got so bad that Alice actually turned away to look over the huge lobby in an attempt not to to embarrass the man.

Alice felt some significant regret over the actions she was being forced to take. The company, a national known investment firm, had hired her straight out of college and given her a highly visible and well-paid position. Not out of any noble attempt to address the inequalities inherent to American business but strictly as an old-fashioned token to show a mostly disinterested population that they were not really a corrupt “old boys club.”

Since the 1980's American ideals had taken a neglected backseat to the needs of aging baby boomers whose chief concern was their retirement portfolios. In the greater scope of life what are little things like civil rights and environmental responsibility when weighed against the need for enough money so former hippies and suburbanite proles can spend their golden years drinking iced tea and playing golf down Florida. Standing there in the lobby waiting for Roger to arrange her escort, Alice grimly smiled at calculated cowardice of it all. There was some satisfaction for her in the knowledge that all through history great powers tended to fall when narrow self-interest overwhelmed principle and thoughts for the future.

“Okay, Ms. Drayton,” Roger happily said, “I've got a guy coming to take my spot at the desk while I escort you to your office.”

Alice noticed that Roger was just too damn jovial for her present frame of mind. Back when the guy was on day shift he had hit on all the newly hired women. For the women of Alice's age group Roger's efforts were a sad comedy. Company scuttlebutt had confirmed that he was a divorced guy with two teenage kids and that ill timed flirting with one of the few senior female partners was the event that had banished him to work nights. The fact that he was closer to fifty than forty while carrying almost thirty extra pounds made his wooing of twenty-something women a joke that had long since closed the line to the other side of absurdity. The icing on the Roger's ridiculous nature was his neatly trimmed goatee that suggested the only person her truly loved was the guy that stared back at him in the mirror.

Minutes later, after another security guy relieved Roger they are riding the elevator to the floor where Alice's office is located. “Hey Ms Drayton,” Roger said in another attempt to engage her in conversation, “ did you catch the Braves game last night?” Apparently Roger somehow knew Alice grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, a fact that sent unwanted chills down her spine.

“No I didn't, I was with my boyfriend,” she answered in an attempt to shut the man up. Her response only cause Roger to chose a new line of questions.

The arrival onto the floor where Alice's office was located brought with it a welcomed silence where Roger just followed closely behind. A quick flash of her card key unlocked the door allowing Alice to enter. While security was tight the company didn't allow guys like Roger wandering around inside offices where there was sensitive material lying around. So Alice actually welcomes the idea of not having to smell the man's cheap aftershave.

“I'll just be a few minutes Roger,” Alice said after reaching her desk. This was the point of no return, the mere fact she was turning on her computer would alert the cyber-security types who would be able to backtrack every one of her keystrokes. The trouble was that she needed time and having Roger close by would not allow her accomplish the task.

“Roger,” Alice said, “would you come here. I'm not quite sure what's going on with my computer.”

Now had middle-aged Roger been more interested in his job than scoring with the young Alice Drayton he would have declined and forced her to leave the building until such time the proper technicians arrived in the morning. But seeing an unexpected opportunity he rushed in to play the rescuing hero only to receive the sensation of a sharp, thin needle penetrating his fleshy butt as soon as he leaned over close to Alice.

“What the hell,” he said quickly standing up and backing away. The mixture of compounds in the hypodermic auto-injector quickly flushed all through Roger's blood system first making him dizzy then causing the man to collapse on the floor. Alice suspended her normal human compassion because time was quickly counting down, the security guard down in the lobby would surely call Roger in a few minutes.

Alice pulled the small thumb drive from the pocket of her leather jacket and inserted it into the computer. The files she needed were quickly pulled up on the screen and then transferred to the device. At least when that part was over she breathed a fleeting sigh of relief. The next step would require some acting. Taking a moment to collect herself she picked up the phone on her desk and dialed the reception desk down in the lobby. “Hello,” she said in a panicked voice, “I'm up here with Roger and he complained about chest pains before passing out in my office. Please get someone up here quickly.”

The response time left much to be desired but eventually five security guards arrived at her office. “What happened Ms Drayton?” The night supervisor asked as a couple of others checked Roger's pulse and breathing.

Alice told a story about how Roger stepped inside the office complaining about how badly he was feeling before falling to the floor. The neat thing about Alice's story is that while there were enough cameras mounted all through the hallways on every floor, none were inside actual offices. Alice then danced about seemly scared, bordering on being hysterical to the point the night supervisor had one of the other security guards escort her out the building so they could prepare for the paramedics arriving.

When Alice got back to her little sports car she wasn't worried about them closing the gates and locking down the structure. Roger's collapse due to the drug she injected him with and her acting had all but convinced them she was just a typical woman who could not take stress. But still she hauled ass out and only felt better when she turned into traffic.

The next thing on her schedule was the rendezvous where she causally drove across town to a private airport. A sleek and foreboding Chevy Suburban was parked next a small executive jet. Inside the SUV was her contact, a man who had gone against his own bosses by giving Alice the auto-injector and coaching her through the procedures to retrieve the information she had told them existed.

"Reaper has arrived," the agent-in-charge said into a small microphone inside the sleeve of his coat. 

Allowing Alice enough time to remove the thumb drive and give it to him he then asked “Did you get it all?”

“Everything,” Alice responded watching him hand the storage device to another agent, “will this bring down the company like you said it will.”

“If the tidbits you showed us are anything like the overall package it will easily bring down the company, several government bureaucrats, and a few United States senators. The public simply cannot ignore the danger they have been exposed to because of the greed of a few elites. Are you ready to pay the price for exposing so many of the rich and powerful? Are you really ready to give up your identity, your past, and your family and begin a new life somewhere else?”

“Is our agreement still in effect?” Alice asked.

One of the other agents in the SUV had begun reviewing the files Alice stole on a small laptop. “What about it Agent Wilson” the agent-in-charge asked, “is everything there?”

“Yeah, it's all here and more. These guys and gals will be going to jail for a long time, that is if the public doesn't lynch then first.”

The agent-in-charge shrugged and then handed Alice a cell phone. She had long since made her peace with the decision to expose the company. Months ago she had said goodbye to her brother and mother even though they weren't close. So with no regret she dialed the number she had long since memorized and waited for the person on the other end to answer. Being so early in the morning she had to dial the number three times before an irate man finally answered.

“Who the hell is this and it better be important!” he bellowed into the phone.

“Hello Mr. Jackson, it's Alice Drayton I'm here to inform you there has been a data breach at the company.”

“What the hell are you talking about Drayton, what data breach?'”

Alice smiled like a cat about to eat a valuable and fat bird. “It's the Connors Chemical and Drilling files sir, the FBI now has them.”

“Oh my God,” was all Jackson could say. “This will ruin everything and everyone. How did it happen? Who gave them the files?”

“I did sir, and I am told you will be one of the first people they arrest.” Without saying another word Alice cut the connection and tossed the cell phone back to the agent.

“We're done here, lets get going.” The agent-in-charge said.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Future Hermit Kingdom

In a world where there is an overabundance of grotesque human jokes the country of North Korea wins the award for excuse-free craziness. Many other countries at least make up some vaguely plausible reasons as to why they oppress their populations, destroy the environment, or periodically look for a rational motive to plunge the world into war. For some its the easy excuse of religion, there's nothing like a few sanctimonious a-holes screaming infidel or blasphemer to get the uneducated masses riled up. Needless, to say I am including all three monotheistic religions in this criticism as well as most, if not all the rest. Another goody is the always trusty ethnic excuse in that some group comes to believe they are privileged in some fashion which means everyone else is slightly sub-human. The final one is the love of money. In this capitalistic age it has come to rival the other two as an excuse to commit all manner of crimes both great and small.

North Korea is immune to all of that, they're crazy and know it. So much that they just sit back in their tiny polluted corner of the world, make demands just like a mentally retarded petulant child, and then watch the rest of semi-civilized humanity fret over whether they will start a war that is almost guaranteed to kill millions. While they were once a Marxist nation, created at the start of the Cold War, I agree with the view that the unfortunate inhabitants of that land now live under some quasi-religious, family controlled cult where reality has no basis in fact.

Yeah, you say, tell me something I don't know. Okay, what I will tell you is that none other than the United States is every so slowly floating down a similar river. Case in point is the newly elected Senator from Arkansas, Tom Cotton.

In a move that suggests he wants to unseat Ted Cruz for the most clueless senator this mental giant goes and pens a letter to Iran saying that no matter what possible agreement you reach with a legitimately elected United States president—as opposed to George Bush—the next person to occupy that office could casually abandon that accord. Adding another dash of dark comedy to Cotton's letter is that forty-seven other senators signed it as well forever ending the idea that politics stops at America's shoreline when it comes to foreign policy. Yes, I remember Nancy Pelosi had an ill-advised meeting with the president of Syria several years ago during Second Bush. But back then there wasn't an Israeli/Republican cheer leading party demanding war with them like they are with Iran. 

All that is seriously deranged behavior but what truly freaked me out was another quote by Cotton. 

North Korea is a huge prison, it is a safe assumption to say that unless a person is somehow connected to the ruling elite there is only an extremely small chance of escape from that nightmare. It is a country where absolutely everything is geared for total war. To have an United States senator openly call for America to base its reason for being on anything even remotely similar to North Korea is the very definition of the word surreal. But yet that is where we stand, conflict has become our byword, not the search for peace or the betterment of our citizens but a perpetual call for war. To be sure, the world is dangerous place and we must stand ready to defend ourselves and our allies but somewhere in the recent past a line was crossed.

Yes, the United States has had the blood of innocents on its hands almost since the founding of the Republic but there was a time when we at least paid lip service to the idea that all wars are at their essence wasteful and monstrous enterprises. Now we writhe almost exclusively in the squalid and stunted glory of how many human beings our laser-guided bombs and trained snipers can kill in a day. At the same time our elites demand yet another war the national infrastructure is falling apart, certain schools are allowed to fail, and poor Americans are told to shut up and just be glad they have a job despite the fact it fails to pay a living wage. Don't know about anyone else but that is starting to sound a lot like North Korea.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Flu Shot Insufficiency

The first inkling that a torturous, virus-induced fog of flu was about to descend upon my existence came last Sunday afternoon. At the time it was a small nagging headache that just refused to completely go away. But the night before we had just “sprung ahead one hour” and the daily high temperatures the week before had oscillated between late-autumn lows and early spring highs making life seriously sucky. I literally went to work one night wearing just a t-shirt and jeans because it was so warm but had to put on a sweatshirt around the house the next morning because some freaky weather front had slipped by sending the temperatures into the low forties. When you also consider the fact that I work night-shift, which is like a suicide bomber on my circadian clock, a small headache seemed insignificant.

That night at work though my condition had worsen to the point that I felt like I had slipped into an alternate universe governed by different laws of physics. Absolutely nothing made any real sense and in truth, I would have called it a wrap and went home had we not received news Sunday evening that one of my wife's uncles had passed away requiring a family trip up to Wilmington, North Carolina later in the week. So I sort of figured I needed to suck it up and go on into work so I wouldn't waste too much vacation time.

Monday and Tuesday there were times I would get better and feel close to human and living in a three-dimensional universe. But in the space of a few hours I would slip back into the Twilight Zone wishing someone would just shoot my sorry ass. It was Wednesday afternoon when the flu-induced fog permanently set in requiring I finally go to the doctor.

Since I am famous for being misunderstood I'll say this as simply as I can, I hate going to the doctor when I am sick. Despite the stupid and ridiculous nature of that statement there are real reasons. The first being that when I do go to the doctor with a cold I always have this nagging feeling that I am making too much of my illness. It's one thing to feel bad, but when I see another patient in the waiting room throwing up their lungs into one of those cheap curved plastic basins it sort of puts my illness into perspective. The second is work related in that when blue collar types like me call in sick their coworkers always have to pick up the slack. It's a spectacular and easy way to become immediately unpopular despite all the company related talk espousing the idea of teamwork. So it says a lot when I decided that no matter the repercussions, I had to see a doctor quickly.

A third general reason why guys don't like to see the doctor is the hassle. There is always paperwork involved, even when you're actually seeing your primary care physician. However, when I called my doctor's office I was told the first available appointment was two weeks away. The way I felt at that moment I wasn't going to last two days. So that left me one option, the local doc-in-a-box, urgent care facility.

After a nerve wracking twenty-minute drive through suburban rush hour traffic I pulled into the parking lot of the nearest doc-in-a-box establishment and walked inside. Thankfully the waiting room was empty so at least I wouldn't have to suffer through the mental angst of wondering who was sicker. But my troubles were just beginning, see since I had never visited that facility the bored receptionist handed me a clipboard with nine pages of information to fill out, many of them double-sided. At that moment I don't think I could have passed a first-grade spelling test and as I looked over the various sheets I saw questions that required some thought and reasoned responses.

Some ungodly time later I handed the clipboard back to the receptionist hoping she didn't look too closely at many of my responses that pretty much amounted to “beats the hell out of me.” Since she was on the phone with her significant other discussing plans for after work I sat back down pondering the demise of customer service and the scarcity of decent reading material in waiting rooms. No, I don't consider an ancient copy of illustrated Bible stories for children all that interesting.

The receptionist finally ended her phone call, but not before a hushed period where there was some whispering and giggling, and asked me for my drivers license and health insurance card. “Your lucky Mr. Johnson,” she said, “there's no other patients and the doctor will be able to see you just as soon as we finish here.”

Oh the joy! I thought while digging through my wallet. The drivers license was easy to find. But panic quickly set in as my health insurance card was nowhere to be found in my wallet. I have a tri-fold wallet and keep all my important cards in the center section. The end sections are for snapshots and important papers. Well, it didn't take long to realize I simply didn't have my insurance card and the receptionist said that unless I wanted to pay upfront there would be no services for me until I found the thing.

“I'll be back.” I said in a mechanical tone after leaning in close. The receptionist complete missed my intended joke having snatched up her cell phone and gone into texting mode totally oblivious to the rest of the world.

When I got back home I went straight to my sock drawer figuring I must have mistakenly pulled the insurance card out at some point and put it with the rest of the cards and stuff I keep there. No such luck, it wasn't there and I was feeling quite perplexed besides feverish and slightly nauseous. It was then I just gave up and laid down on the bed surrounded by a couple of dozen items like canceled credit cards, insurance agreements, and other pieces of junk required by our modern lifestyle.

“Did you look all through your wallet?” My wife asks when she came home.

“Yeah,” I said having a strange feeling her question was somehow loaded.

She then grabs my wallet and takes out the small piece of plastic designed to hold snapshots. Among the old pictures of my kids was my health insurance card. My wife explained that several weeks earlier she went looking for one of our credit cards and after digging through my wallet she put everything back. What she let go unsaid though was that she didn't place everything back where I normally kept such items like insurance cards.

Had I been of sound mind-yeah that doesn't make sense but screw it-I would have said something about how I'm not supposed to go tearing through her pocketbook but I just let the whole thing drop. No I didn't go back to the doc-in-a-box, it would have taken too much energy, I just laid in bed and somehow made it through one more night of work. I had already put in for Thursday night off to go to the funeral for my wife's uncle. I went straight to the doc-in-a-box the next morning after work and promptly spent two hours sitting in the waiting room. At least I wasn't bored, I got the chance to fill out all that paperwork again. The actual visit with the doctor lasted just fifteen minutes where he declared I had the flu and sent me home.

No, I didn't go to the funeral, although a part of me would have liked to float around several of my in-laws spewing flu viruses like a Las Vegas fountain. And yes, earlier in the year I did have the flu shot that was supposed to reduce my risk of catching it in the first place, go figure.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Wandering Toes: Harbison State Forest

Saturday morning brought with it my usual urge to get out of the house. In actuality what that really means is out of town but I didn't have the funds for a road trip. So in a surprising move I decided to check out Harbison State Forest here in Columbia. See, several years back while I was still in the National Guard doing my weekend duty my wife and young son went there once and got more or less lost on the trails. Something I heard about for years afterward whenever my wife wanted to complain about me being away on weekends.

First, if you visit Harbison State Forest the parking fee is fiver dollars. As you approach the gate entering the place you will see a locked metal box and a smaller one connected to it. The larger one is the cash box, but before you push your money through the slot pull out one of the envelopes in the smaller box. Fill out the pertinent information on the outside of the envelope concerning your car and remove the parking pass from the inside. Only then do you place your money inside the envelope and drop it in the lock box. I didn't read the sign listing the instructions and just pushed my five-dollar bill through the locked box slot. No biggie really, not because I went ahead and grabbed an envelope, removed the parking pass, and placed it on my dashboard but because I regularly do something stupid every time I go someplace new.   

I hit the Eagle Trail first, which was classified on the brochure as "Easy." I will not go into the embarrassing details but it kicked my ass. As the picture shows, the trail was hilly and I was surprised how much effort it took. It was pretty chilly yesterday morning and for the first couple of hours I'm sure I had that particular trail all to myself.  

Eagle Trail opened out onto several nice meadows which were very peaceful.

While not my first choice as an escape from the mind numbing confines of suburbia I did thoroughly enjoy walking amongst the trees. Unfortunately, this section of the forest was still close enough to the highway that I occasionally heard the rancid noises of the nearby decaying civilization.  

Due to state budget cuts this is what passes as a bench. No, I'm just kidding, mostly. Certain sections of the forest definitely needed some extensive maintenance. Trail markers and guide posts were few and far between with many of them heavily weathered and barely readable. 

"A fork in the road." I didn't get lost while walking among the several trails I explored but I could easily see how someone could. 

I'll be honest, my biggest compliant was the trail map. During my time in the army I had a better than average ability in land navigation using maps, compasses, and just terrain recognition. This map on the brochure didn't really bear any relation to the actual trails I could see.    

"You are here." Always something good to know. About the best way to navigate was to match up buildings, and in this case a road. With this excursion I have half an idea about exploring other state forests and parks here in South Carolina. With that in mind I might need to buy a handheld GPS.

The one thing the powers-that-be went all out for were the restrooms. It was clean and comfortable and mostly lacking that typical smell associated with port-o-potties. And the real biggie that surprised me was that it had decent toilet paper that didn't feel like sandpaper. So if you have to go in the Harbison State you can go with ease.

All told, I was on the trails for about three and a half hours. Not sure how much I walked but when I finally got back to my car I was ready to go home.

A decent picture of me, which just means I didn't break the camera.