Sunday, August 17, 2014

College Life

Six months after the birth of our son, Darth Spoilboy, my wife and I were playing with him on the floor of our den. It was early morning with various toys scattered about along with a couple of sippy cups that somehow could appear out of no where and then disappear again. What I remember most though was a casual but off the wall comment my wife made at the time.

Well,” she said, “it's been six months and we haven't killed him yet.” Nuance being the key here what she meant was that as brand new and totally inexperienced parents neither of us had done anything stupid yet that could have harmed our son. I, of course, agreed especially since a couple of weeks before that I had seen a new dad actually drop his baby. I just happened to be looking in the right direction when this person placed his child into one of those baby carriers without properly securing him. When the father picked up the carrier the child slipped out and plopped on the grass an overly large and floppy doll.

Luckily, that baby was fine, although I think the dad probably came close to having a heart attack once he realized what happened. The incident scared me as well to the point I spent years making sure neither of my children ever had to suffer through a similar event because of some careless action on my part. It's has been eighteen years since then but I have now reached a point where I can't look after my oldest child.

Yesterday we loaded up his car and mine and along with Dragonwife and Darth Wiggles we followed him up to Clemson University to help him set up his new residence in one of the dorms. It was a simple chore compared to some of the other parents I saw there. They seemed to have brought along everything from home including the kitchen sink for their kids.

As we drove away leaving Spoilboy to begin his own life I couldn't help but remember that father who didn't have the baby carrier secured correctly for his child. All I can hope is that my wife and I have prepared him fully for this new phase in his life.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Risky Games of Empire and Glory

(Author's notes: 1. As always excuse the typos. 2. If this rant bares any resemblance to reality you should be afraid, very afraid because I often feel I am simply nuts.)

Just a few short years after the demise of the Soviet Union I stumbled upon a magazine article with an uncharacteristically dark and dire view at that time of the coming decades. This article came out in the mid-1990's when the United States was awash in a soapy bath of pride and self-righteousness at being able to stand over the rotting corpse of its political and military enemy. Even among the other nations of the West the prevalent idea was that democracy and free enterprise had triumphed over Marxist-Leninism and that in time the whole world would fall in line with the winning team. In short, the general view among many was that we were seeing the “end of history.”

This troubling article I read, running absolutely opposite to the generally happy and optimistic view at that time, predicted not a world dominated by a benign and wise United States but a multipolar world filled with squabbling and dangerous nations all wanting their day as the global king of the mountain. However, with news like McDonald's opening its first fast food place in Moscow and the People's Republic of China going capitalistic faster than the fictional starship Enterprise can cross the distance between stars hardly anyone wanted to worry about possible wars.

Without a doubt the overly warm and fuzzy optimism of the post-Cold War, pre-Millennium era went straight to the proverbial dust bin of history after the 9/11 attacks. Well in truth, I've got to exempt all the proud and defiant Cold Warriors from that statement who were positively suicidal when it looked like world peace was breaking out all over the place. There was nothing more pitiful and more than slightly terrifying than hearing the intelligence briefing I got in my final days while in the active army from a newly minted Second Lieutenant who was convinced that crumbling of the Iron Curtain was an elaborate and clever deception. The arrival of a new and shadowy enemy was a godsend to those for whom peace and cooperation are bywords for stagnation and social decay.

Since then thing have gone from, and excuse the tired but awkwardly modified metaphor, from the fryer to the boiling cauldron of watery poop. Let's see where to begin, first and foremost I would be remiss if I did not mention the utter disaster of the Iraq War. If humanity survives for any length of time I am sure the Bush/Cheney Iraq War will go down in history as one of the stupidest strategic mistakes up there with the Athenian Expedition to Sicily during the Peloponnesian War.

While the American Army was not wiped out like the ancient Athenian force the combined deaths of Iraqi civilians and American military along with estimates of over a trillion dollars being spent on a war based on lies more than makes it an equal to that disastrous ancient Greek campaign. My main point being that the result of the war was not a free and democratic Iraq but a near complete destruction of the social and political fabric of not just that country but of the entire Middle East. Let's face the fact that Bush/Cheney twisted every piece of intelligence data in attempting to tie Saddam Hussein to 9/11 as well as create an illusion that he was some Arab version of Hitler just waiting for his chance plunge the world into war. In short, the Iraq War was a post-colonial conflict that flouted international laws and proper behavior to secure oil and a new section of the globe for the American Empire. Excuse me if I see the ghost of Thucydides shaking his head in disgust at the Iraq War while the one for Pericles looks a lot like Dick Cheney.

Since the nation of Iraq is an artificial construct merging three main groups who on the whole hate the others, disturbing this Frankenstein's Monster, even in the name of freedom, threatens a wider war that at least endangers hundreds of millions if not the entire planet. Of the three main Iraqi groups Sunni and Shiite hate each other, and the Kurds are just looking for a chance to declare independence. That these centuries-old religious and ethnic problems could drag Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey into a regional war which in turn could pull in the nuclear armed big boys should give any rational diplomat plenty of sleepless nights.

Throw in the brutal fighting between the Israelis and Palestinians where the innocent are suffering far worse than the warmongering monsters on both sides makes the regional birthplace of the three monotheistic religions, who each proclaim peace and love is the best way, a farce far more surreal than any piece of fiction a talented writer could create. If the world was still the technologically primitive and sparsely populated place it was for the majority of human existence these conflicts could continue without endangering the rest of humanity but we don't live in that era. The modern world is based on a complicated and highly interconnected existence. Seemingly small things like nuclear and possible genetically engineered biological weapons employed by any of these ancient enemies could pile our neatly crafted twenty-first lifestyle on top of the ashes of the Soviet Union in the historical dustbin.

Part of problem to me involves how all through human history we seem to have based the rules of behavior between political entities on some overarching imperial power whether it be malicious or benign. You could go all the way back to Sargon ofAkkad to our era in the possibly waning days of Pax Americana but basing international behavior on some imperial power is losing proposition for everyone. All empires weaken and eventually fall, when that happens there is always a period of chaos where largely the innocent suffer as a new order is established. Yeah, the handover from Pax Britannia to Americana seems smooth until you think about how the United States didn't really assume global authority until after the Second World War with Britain financially bankrupt and war weary.

Global flash points do exist outside the tortured Middle East, in eastern Europe Vlad Putin is attempting to emulate Hitler's demand for lebensraum by slicing off pieces of surrounding countries. His latest adventure in Ukraine is uncomfortably close to Hitler's actions in Sudetenland back in the 1930's. This is after spending years imposing a new authoritarian regime that stifles over most forms of dissent. Frankly, I find the years where he allowed someone else to keep the presidential chair warm after his first two terms only to retake it for his current stint as leader of Russia hilarious. More petty dictators with delusions of omnipotence need to be as observant to the rules of protocol and decorum.

In areas off the coast of mainland China the People's Republic is intimidating its neighbors by claiming large areas of open ocean. This is mainly for oil and mineral exploration. China's fishing fleets, as well as many other nations, already strip the oceans clean trolling with nets that stretch up to ten to twenty miles long.

Please don't think I am directing my ire just at just nation-states. Multinational corporations flaunt national laws and avoid taxes at will by searching for the best place to, at best, temporarily call home. Most attempts by national governments to get these huge businesses to support the infrastructure that allows them to make profits far greater than some countries usually results in them whining about being abused and then running off to some other place that will not disturb all their job creation.

Truthfully, I not exactly sure at the point I am trying to make other than humans need a far better way to manage and regulate issues that cross all political and geographic lines. There is far too many of us alive now crowded together on a planet whose resources are nearly exhausted if not dangerously polluted. It depresses me to no end that many people, especially here in the United States, desperately cling to the mindset the Earth's resources and its ability to absorb our waster is limitless. For Americans this is an easy concept for us to believe since we are still on top of the international power structure. For example, the fact that drinkable water is damn near nonexistent in some places around the globe, while we play in our own backyard swimming pools, a hard idea to accept. Exceptions in the form of rational and globally aware people exist but they are outweighed by idiots who tend to blame poverty and famine on local ignorance, laziness, and bad government.

Personally I can't seem to escape the idea that nation-states are outdated forms of government for all the reasons I have listed above. Nation-states love achieving global imperial status while abhorring any type of perceived imperial weakness which usually sends every nutcase into a power-grabbing feeding frenzy.

Some believe this is a good thing, that losers in our constant battle for global dominance are incorporated into larger societies where the winner develops a more effective government to stay in power longer thus promoting peace and prosperity. Yeah, but once again, all empires eventually weaken and fall prompting another round of fighting. Add nuclear and possible biological weapons and now going for the global brass ring of empire now might mean human extinction if not a sterilized planet.

So there we have it, while I feel an effective world government is out of the question for the foreseeable future I cannot see how we can continue our current level of technological civilization without strengthening our current global organizations. The problem, of course, is that even the best and most enlightened countries would sooner die than give up sovereignty while most national populations still fear the “outsider” or “alien” on an instinctive level even though we are all Homo sapiens.

You might be thinking why in the hell do I give a damn? Well because I am a parent with children who I want to grow up healthy and strong with every chance to make the most of their lives. Stealing a line from an old television drama I have suffered through various verbal slings and arrows for my strange beliefs, often being called a witless wonder for my ideas. But maybe it the quality of wits that matter instead of the quantity because even I know that in our world unless basic human rights ultimately apply to everyone and we develop the ability to look beyond things like nationalism, religious beliefs, and ethnic hate there will be no safe place for your children or mine.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Echos Through Time

 (Author's note: This is just a story, no statement on my beliefs are implied.)

Jacob Haas heard the cry of his infant daughter from the speakers of the baby monitor sitting on his nightstand. Being a caring and dedicated dad, Jacob instantly recognized the screams coming from his daughter were one of sheer terror, probably from a bad dream, as opposed to the ones associated with hunger or a dirty diaper.

“I'll get the baby,” Jacob's wife, Emily, said sleepily.

“No honey,” Jacob said leaning over to gently kiss his wife on the forehead, “you go back to sleep, I'll get the little munchkin.” If Jacob expected a response, he was sorely mistaken because his wife had already fallen back sleep the second he said he would take care of the baby.

Jacob carefully got out of bed and walked into the hallway hoping not to step on Archer, the family cat who often chose the strangest places in the house to sleep. A few weeks before Jacob had stepped on the cat in the darkness while going to the bathroom and instantly feared he had killed the poor creature. The resulting noise and confusion as the cat screeched and Jacob fell to the floor scared the baby all the way in her room and woke his wife up. Luckily, the cat escaped unscathed except for nursing a clearly visible grudge towards Jacob for a couple of months.

Jacob reached the baby's room without endangering the cat, who heard his approach and issued out a nasty warning growl from his position on one of the living room couch's armrest several feet away. “Let it go you damn cat,” Jacob whispered, “I said I was sorry.”

Archer the cat was unimpressed with Jacob's words and quickly went back to sleep. Feeling slightly rebuked Jacob opened the door to his daughter's room and went inside. The light from the tiny fairy lamp allowed Jacob to see his daughter standing up inside her crib. The tracks of tears running down her small face glistened in the weak light.

“What's upsetting you little one,” Jacob asked as he scooped his daughter into his arms. A quick check revealed a dry diaper and Little Kathy rejected the bottle her dad pulled from the refrigerator and warmed up in the microwave a couple of minutes later.

Little Kathy quickly went back to sleep in her daddy's arms as he sat in the rocky chair across from her crib. Jacob relished these moments knowing that the years would fly by with her eventually going to college and making her own life away from Emily and him. It was the combination of the nighttime stillness and Jacob's own wandering mind that brought back the memory of how his daughter got her name.

The morning Emily went into labor Jacob called his mom and dad as soon as his wife was checked in at the hospital. The result several hours later was an invasion by his extended family who took up residence in the labor and delivery waiting room. Nine hours later Jacob's daughter was born with his great-grandmother the first person to hold the baby.

“Well my goodness,” the ninety-two year old woman said, “it's Katherine.” Jacob and his family was both charmed and saddened by the old woman's statement. Katherine had been Jacob's older sister who had been killed three years before in a car accident. Jacob's great-grandmother took the loss extremely hard because as much as she refused to admit it, Katherine had been her favorite. Matters were made worse when the old woman began talking to the newborn infant as if she were the deceased Katherine.

When it came time for the nurse to take the baby for further checks the old woman had a fit and began screaming for Kathrine to the point she had to be restrained. The event was discounted as an example of her advancing dementia but both Emily and and Jacob thought it would be a fitting tribute to name their daughter after Katherine.

About an hour after Little Kathy awoke Jacob felt it was time to place her back in her crib. The maneuver went off without a hitch with the baby still asleep as Jacob placed her on the small mattress. It was when he attempted to close the door to her room that Little Kathy awoke and began screaming again. Jacob retrieved his daughter and again sat with her in the rocking chair. Obviously exhausted the infant went back to sleep but again awoke when he tried to close the door to her room. It was on the third attempt that Jacob left the door open with Little Kathy staying asleep this time.

“What's wrong with Kathy,” Emily asked as Jacob climbed into bed.

“I don't know,” he said while making himself comfortable, “it seems she is like my sister after all and just didn't want the door closed.” It was common family knowledge that during her childhood Katherine had demanded the door to her room be left open. In fact, years before while they both still lived with their parents, Jacob had played the occasional trick on his sister by shutting her door in the middle of the night. However, both Jacob and Emily knew it was not uncommon for some children to feel more comfortable with the door to their bedroom left open and thought nothing more of it.

From that night on Little Kathy refused to go sleep with the door to her room closed. If she fell asleep someplace else she was sure to wake up in her crib a couple of hours later screaming until someone opened the door. For a while the joke going up and down the family grapevine was that great-grandmother might have been onto something when she appeared to have suggested Little Kathy was the reincarnation of her late Aunt Katherine.

Within weeks though, the amusement surrounding Little Kathy's behavior evaporated completely and was forgotten when Jacob's great-grandmother passed away in her sleep. The following months were quiet and uneventful, and for Jacob and Emily happy ones as they watched their healthy daughter grow and thrive.

Little Kathy's first real words came early to her, they were simple things like the expected “Dada” and “Mama” but also important ones like “cookie” and “milk.” It was during this time of happiness and tranquility that great-grandmother's words came back to haunt Jacob.

It was a late Saturday morning while Jacob was on the floor of the living room playing with his daughter. Emily was on the couch relaxing both reading a magazine and watching her husband and daughter play when Archer the cat jumped in the middle of the two on the floor wanting attention. As cats go, Archer was quite fond of the baby and was known to sleep underneath her crib some nights.

Little Kathy was known to squeal in delight and say “kitty” whenever Archer decided to make an appearance but this time she clearly said, “Hello Mr. Twinkles.”

Emily immediately saw how her husband first looked confused in response to Little Kathy's words, which quickly changed into shock and maybe even a little fear as the seconds ticked by. “What's wrong Jacob,” she said growing very concerned as her husband began to back away from his daughter who was now playing with the cat.

Jacob looked at his wife still feeling like someone had stepped on his grave. “Little Kathy just called Archer by the name Mr. Twinkles.” He said while standing up and quickly walking to the kitchen.

Emily followed and found her husband leaning against the sink clearly scared. “What about it,” she asked.

Jacob's response scared her as well, “It took me a couple of seconds to remember because it was so long ago but when I was very young my sister Katherine had a cat she had named Mr. Twinkles.”

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Strange Muddle of American Incompetence and Apathy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When you add to the mix that mandatory sentencing and drug laws hit African-American and Hispanics far harder than Caucasians you have a recipe for conspiratorial ideas that at the very least say if you are white, the scales of justice are weighed down in your favor. Because dear folks the best evidence that a person is going to found innocent in the United States is not facts pertaining to the case but the size of the defendant's wallet. 

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

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

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

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

In short, and I sincerely apologize if this offends anyone, but there is more to maintaining a coherent and great society that ignorant bluster and insane thinking that we are somehow special either through a direct condition with God or military might. History is littered with peoples and empires that had their time essentially ruling the world only to dissolve to dust overnight. With a willfully ignorant population that increasingly gets upset when some fault of the country is pointed out I'd say we are will on our way to joining the ranks of Babylonians, ancient Egyptians, and Roman Empires.     

Sunday, July 27, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Wandering Toes--Hilton Head, South Carolina

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 21, 2014

Whe Johnny Comes Marching Home--Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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