Thursday, October 23, 2014

Don't Hold It Against Me



Back in January of 2011 I am sitting at a totally awesome beach-side bar on Grand Cayman island sipping a rather expensive beer enjoying both the tropical atmosphere and the eclectic bunch of people around me. The bar was Calico Jacks located on Seven Mile Beach and the group sharing this exotic local represented a good chunk of Humanity.

There was a Japanese couple, nice people who I suspect were academics of some sort. Don't ask me why I believe that, its just listening to them talk it was clear they were brilliant people. There was a British guy with a fantastic sense of humor who in my opinion was the social lubricant of our small and temporary group. His name was Michael, I believe, and he had a clear talent at breaking the awkward silence that often reigns when total strangers are in close proximity. Michael described his profession back home in Birmingham as an office bound instigator and reluctant mediator, not exactly sure what he meant but he made my time at that bar especially enjoyable. Directly across from me was an attractive lady from Canada, don't remember her name but from the looks she was giving Michael I suspect the dude was going to get exceptionally lucky sometime later that day. Rounding out my bar mates was another couple from Germany, a guy from Brazil, and a muscular Russian fellow who while never admitting a damn thing screamed Spentsnaz in his demeanor and bearing.

During this all too short enjoyable time Michael livened up everything enough, much like an emcee hosting a party, to get us all to say where we lived. Given my seating position at the bar I was last but when I said South Carolina the entire bar busted out in uproarious laughter.

It was immediately clear to me that South Carolina's reputation as an arrogant and ignorant backwater had gone worldwide. Making matters worse the good governor Mark Sanford had relatively recently gotten caught with his proverbial pants down. See this upstanding and moral individual, who was being looked at by the Republican party as a possible presidential nominee sometime in the future, had in 2009 supposedly gone hiking on the Appalachian Trail but somehow got lost and ended up in Argentina in the arms of his mistress. Now I admit, a politician having an affair is nothing new, but old Mark put a new spin on things by leaving the freaking United States without telling anyone in the statehouse. Yes, also means he didn't leave anyone else in charge should some type of an emergency occur needing immediate action.

Please my friends,” I said after finishing off my beer, “don't hold my home state against me, I'm really a nice guy.” My protest didn't exactly end the laughter but I was cool about the whole thing. What sort of made me laugh in return was the realization that most from South Carolina would have stormed off upset. Truth be told, South Carolina has worked hard to be perceived around the world as something between an American version of a banana republic and a collection of hopeless rednecks forever lamenting the defeat of the Confederacy.

Alas, not only has nothing changed since then but there is evidence that the situation has only gotten worse. Case in point, the one genuine redeeming jewel of this state, the glorious city of Charleston, somehow votes the world traveling adulterer Mark Sanford back into the United States Congress. On a side note, Sanford recently broke off his relationship with his Argentine “soul mate” by sending a message over Facebook, a truly classy way of doing things.

His replacement as governor, Nikki Haley, is also doing her best to keep South Carolina a bastion of the ridiculous while groveling like a twenty-dollar hooker to corporate CEO's at the expense of a large segment of the population. Ignoring her statement saying she would turn away businesses that wanted to bring unionized jobs to South Carolina she seemed to think CEO's have some special position above the people in this state. 

 

Yeah, I know Republicans are all about sheltering the mythical job creators from the evils of socialism, but come on governor, this is akin to have a tramp stamp tattooed just above your butt. 

While I firmly believe the Confederate flag needs to be removed from the statehouse ground, truth be told I don't know if a majority of the people here would vote for it. The white folks delusion about the Civil War being some noble cause is still very powerful here, as far as the slavery angle is concerned they tend to mouth off some platitudes then do their best to forget about the whole thing. Such is life here in the Palmetto State, still too large to be an asylum but still much too small to be a republic.

I have decided one very important thing though for the next time I travel, when asked where I am from I will say North Carolina.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Semi-Coherent Observations on Religion, Stupidity and Fear





One of my wife's standing criticisms of how I spend my meager mental energies is when I ponder about the nature of human behavior. Don't get me wrong, I don't obsessively pace the floor like the fictional Sheldon Cooper fixated on some aspect of daily life that is totally alien and beyond his more abstract level of comprehension. Now I do yell and scream when the daily parade of human stupidity gets to much and I have to vent leading me to ponder the nature of human behavior. Which of course instinctively provokes my wife to point out her wish that I use some of that energy to clean up the yard or do some internal home upkeep.

My usual solution to circumvent the entire issue is to just to not watch or listen to real news –BBC America, PBS, NPR, John Oliver, John Stewart-- anymore and restrict myself to the lighter level of American journalism like that of NBC's Brian Williams evening news. It is there I receive just enough information to stay partially abreast of the dark human comedy. The last thing anyone sane has to worry about while watching Brian, or any of the other broadcast evening news personalities, getting very deep into a significant subject. Yeah, time constraints inherent to the thirty-minute shows are a large part of the problem but Brian, and his backup Lester Holt, have devoted large segments to such trivial things as George Clooney's wedding, a blatant book promotion for a washed up sitcom actress, and even Burger King's new french fry recipe. I generally attribute such “stories” to the network bigwigs not wanting to bum out the viewing public before the prime time shows start. Corporate America ain't going to sale a lot of crap with a public outraged over injustice, greed, or the other human sins.

Unfortunately, there are a multitude of other avenues besides modern television journalism for utter stupidity that regularly raise my blood pressure as I ponder just how long Homo sapiens have to survive on this planet.

The meat of this tangent begins several days ago when I discovered at work what seemed to be a print out of an historical event. History is one of my great interests and I instantly grabbed the collection of papers after reading the title and short opening paragraph. The article was a recounting of the naval Battle of Lepanto which took place near the Gulf of Corinth on 7 October 1571. Boiling it all down to the bare facts a coalition of Catholic maritime states decisively defeated the naval fleet of the Ottoman Empire preventing its further expansion along the European side of the Mediterranean.

On the surface the article appeared to a legitimate essay on military history, which I found fascinating. Then it took a turn towards the religious:

Many Christian knights, soldiers, and sailors have died defending Christendom against the onslaughts of Islam down through the centuries. Today, the borders of many European countries, Canada, and the United States are practically wide open, and the old enemy is invited to come in and make himself at home. And many 'Christians' in the West are just too busy enjoying their material prosperity to be bothered with unpleasant history. But the enemy has not forgotten history. He remembers it all too well, and he is still deadly serious about his religion. His goal over the years has not changed in the slightest, and he is very patient. The enemy within is now smiling, just biding his time. And long dead Christian knights, our ancestors in the Faith, are probably turning over in their graves right about now, trying desperately to shout out a warning. The final chapter, it seems, has yet to be written...

If there is one thing that will quickly turn my stomach sour is for someone, anyone really, to add religion to some conflict as if the battle still rages today. More to the point this article written by Robert McCullen turns conspiratorial by saying the “enemy has not forgotten history.” My first thought was of some comical secret society composed of neo-Ottomans who do nothing but plot evil plans for reviving their empire. On a side note, the fact that there are true comical neo-Confederates here in America dreaming of resurrecting the Confederate States of America does not escape me in the least.

Of course, Mr. McCullen is probably talking about Islam in general and I have to admit there are some evil groups running around today proclaiming themselves to be the guardians of that faith. But, and it's a big one, it is ridiculously easy to find Christian groups who would be doing similar terrorist actions if the forces of secular Western civilization would not hold them to account.

Truthfully this article is just another reason I find religion, all of them, less about following the tenets of some god and more about the timeless pursuit by immoral men seeking to secure power, wealth, and control. Ancient history maybe a little too far for me to go back but I do feel comfortable in suggesting the Emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity had less to do with his miraculous vision and more with securing his power and what remained of the failing Roman Empire.

I would be wrong to write that religious types holds an monopoly on being manipulative a-holes but over the centuries they have honed its implementation down to an art. McCullen's article does its best to suggest that Christianity is the only true religion and that everyone else, specifically the Muslims, are infidels and a danger to all true God-fearing people. Personally, while officially agnostic I generally hold the view of the fictional Amy Farrah Fowler in that I don't object to the idea of a supreme deity but am baffled by the notion he would take attendance or give a damn about arcane human rituals.

Despite being agnostic and more concerned with seeking a decent Mexican restaurant in my area than worrying about the Rapture or who is God's favorite ethnic group on Earth I do have a spiritual side. Call me a neo-hippie, but my spiritual side is blown away by the incredible fact that every lifeform on this planet is related and can be traced back to a single ancestor. For anyone not raised in an area where the Bible is taken literally you cannot imagine the load of shit I have caught over the years for holding that view.

I guess this insane tendency for humans to try and guess the mind of God all boils down to fear of the unknown or outsider. This dread isn't restricted to religion but crosses other lines like ethnic origin and skin color. Way back in 2008 many Americans were caught up in the novelty of Barrack Obama, an African-American, being the Democratic nominee for the president of the United States. Truthfully, I was part of that group but what bothered me was the general idea floating around that the United States had turned a corner on its prejudice past and become a “post-racial society.” Never was really sure what that term meant but it seemed to imply that we had left racism behind, such sentiment it turned out was down right idiotic.

A few weeks before the November election I was driving home and listening to National Public Radio. A panel of “typical Americans” had been assembled to discuss the implications if in fact Obama won the election, which at that point seemed a near certainty. The spectrum of opinion mostly ranged from the absolutely positive at one end to the “whatever” at the other. But there was one woman, Caucasian, who expressed a dire fear that Obama's election would cause what amounted to a national riot by African-Americans seeking violent retribution from centuries of slavery and discrimination.

In my opinion I believe that ignorant woman's belief is at the core of most of the viscous hate aimed at the president since then. In fact it has manifested itself in hundreds of sickly creative ways since then.


I guess the original intent of this post, which long ago lost any real coherency and was reduced to a flatulent stream of consciousness is that it will be very difficult for the human race to push forward when we have some many people living in the past. It doesn't matter whether it is fanatical adherence to Iron Age religions in a time of genetic engineering and computers or the irrational belief that the level of melanin in an individual's skin makes them a better or worse person. What hope I have is with the young kids, my one regret is that I won't live to see what I believe will be a real turning point where all this ancient crap is finally let go. Okay, no one needs to be a buzz kill and write that in all likelihood humans will just create new and novel ways to mistreat each other.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Part Three--When Johnny Comes Marching Home






  (Author's Note: This is fan fiction, crappy and full of typos but my effort to find closure in a nightmare scenario created by the supremely talented S.M. Stirling. I truly meant to end my take on his creation with this segment but just couldn't find a way. You can find part one here and part two here.)   




From the recovered journal of Captain Richard Douglas
United States Aerospace Force
Original timeline

Two weeks had slipped by since that awful day when my fighter had a massive and fatal engine malfunction forcing me to eject only to hit the ground and immediately have to kill a genetically engineered ghoul so I would not become its lunch. Adding insult to injury, before the damn hybrid abomination of baboon and dog was even cold, its post-human Homo drakensis owner appears and beats the living shit out of me. It was only the arrival of the pararescue troopers who blew a huge hole in the chest of the drakensis that saved me from death, or something far worse.

The days that slipped by once I was dropped off at the base infirmary in a semiconscious state were jumbled nightmares from hearing half understood conversations between the hospital staff of how bad things were going. The information gaps were inadvertently filled in by my wife who would stop by for visits when her duties allowed. I would often wake up just enough to see her sitting by my bed in an uncomfortable chair starring off into space. Her haggard facial expressions were silent testaments of the fear and despair she was battling.

Despite my extensive injuries the blessing of stolen Drakan medical technology allowed me to recover enough during those two weeks that I was almost completely healed when two Aerospace Force security police wheeled me into an unused office. The base commander. General Thomas Howard, was standing at the window looking out towards the flight line. It was a crowded nightmare of various aircraft, some damaged and being stripped for parts while others were in obvious preparation for a mission. Further off in the distance I caught sight of one of the air defense lasers firing up into the sky telling me that the Draka were edging ever closer. The most unsettling thing though was General Howard, a prim and dapper man who loved the more formal class-A uniform, wearing Aerospace camouflage fatigues.

Sitting at the desk through was a four-star army general I didn't recognize. He was African-American and displayed a cool and detached demeanor that I instantly found completely alien given our present dire global and national circumstances.

Hello Captain Douglas,” the army general said, “I hope you don't mind being brought to this office but with our continuing deteriorating situation I'm afraid certain unusual security measures are required.”

What General Powell is saying Douglas,” General Howard interrupted, “is that we're losing the war and might have traitors in our midst, willing to trade information for more lenient treatment from the Draka.”

Powell briefly turned and glanced over at Howard showing more than a little irritation. “I'm afraid General Howard is correct, there have been several incidents in the last couple of months that have hurt us badly. Truth be told captain, we have already lost the war, when the Draka hit us with their biological weapon killing or incapacitating the vast majority of the Alliance and American leadership they gained enough time to spring back from both the computer plague we hit them with and the nuclear attacks.”

Sitting there in the wheelchair I was frankly puzzled, why were these two generals talking with me, especially if the war was already a lost cause. “Excuse me sirs,” I said, “with all due respect what does this have to do with me. I'm just an average fighter jock.”

What it has to do with you Douglas,” Howard said turning towards me, “is that Powell here is part off Black Project Command and he has an insane plan that could save all our sorry asses.”

Black Project Command was the one agency of the American government that everyone knew about but never mentioned. Since the beginning of what the Draka liked to call the “Protracted Conflict” with the Alliance for Democracy billions of dollars and numerous scientists had disappeared into the shadows attempting to develop some radical type of technology that would change the balance of power. Occasionally, a bit of news about some crazy project would somehow leak out to the public resulting in politicians whining about taxpayer money going to waste. But in truth, only those in the organization itself knew which of those stories were real and what just disinformation meant to confuse the Draka.

What my friend General Howard has said is true,” Powell said looking quite forlorn. “We have lost the war and there is nothing conventional we can do to change that fact. Our best calculations say all organized resistance to the Draka invasion of the United States will be defeated in a little over two months.” Powell reached across the desk and grabbed a computer keyboard and brought up a tactical map of the entire United States on the wall mounted screen. From Alaska in the northwest to the state of Panama in the south the areas occupied by the Draka had grown considerably since the day I crashed. I stared at the map for several minutes lost in a world of despair.

The situation in the other Alliance member states are even worse,” Powell said watching my reaction. “We haven't heard shit from Great Britain, Grand Colombia, or the Indochina Federation in weeks. The Empire of Brazil is still in the game but the Draka captured the imperial Crown Prince while you were recovering and reports from Australia have become undependable.”

This is bullshit Carter,” Thomas Howard said disdainfully to other general, “we haven't lost yet.”

General Powell closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Thomas, I outrank you in this circumstance, if you cannot keep your mouth shut please leave now.” General Howard turned back around to stare out the window, I didn't have to read minds to know his silence meant that he knew the war was indeed lost.

What do you have in mind sir?” I say to General Powell.

Good, I'll call for you in a couple a days, we're still ironing out the details,” he says.

****

Two days later I am outside and walking around on my own feet after receiving several more doses of bootleg Draka stem cell treatments. I wonder what all the anti-genetic engineering Luddites in the occupied areas of the Alliance are thinking now that their passionate desire to keep the moral and religious high ground has earned them nothing but the Draka lash and slavery for their children. From the moment the Eurasian War ended Alliance and American scientists screamed as loud as possible saying that if the Draka had one ace up their sleeve it was the biological sciences. Even after the Draka proudly presented both their dog-baboon hybrids and later, the post-human Homo drakensis abominations the Luddites refused to read the handwriting on the wall. The result was the biological attack that devastated our leadership. It's all I can do to stifle my rage at basic human stupidity.

Everyone on the base is in overdrive getting ready for the big bug out. General Howard has given the order to abandon the facility and fall back to the redoubts in the Rocky Mountains. This is in part to cover General Powell's plan but it's also a realization by Howard that war is truly lost. Still though, the whole idea of the redoubts bug the hell out of me but who am I to second guess decades old decisions.

Sometime in the 1970's some bright boy or girl in the Alliance command structure came up with the idea that if the world went to total shit with the Draka winning it all, the freedom loving peoples could carry on the fight guerrilla style. Secret bases inside mountains and down in deep caverns were built all over the Alliance, big enough to house significant populations for a struggle that would last generations. General Howard was taking everyone on the base, including all the civilian refuges that would leave to these scattered outposts. A good number of civilians wanted to stay behind and fight with those military personnel that would cover our retreat. I didn't know which of the groups were the smarter, those that wished to die quickly or the ones who wanted hide in some rat hole and prolong the ordeal.

I reach the annex where Powell and his team are essentially hiding. An Army trooper carefully examines my face and even finds time to pull out a portable retina scanner. Paranoia was always a job requirement even in the best of times for those working with Black Projects.

Inside, I am escorted to a large window-less room where I see General Powell and another man dressed in an absurdly bright Hawaiian shirt, old-style army pants, and sandals. As I come closer, I see this strange man is also wearing yellow tinted sunglasses and smoking a cigarette affixed to a thin extension. Powell is listening intently as he gestures at several old fashioned blackboards filled with complex mathematical equations.

Carter,” the strange mans says after noticing me, “this must be our savior, or pointless human sacrifice depending on how you look at this project.”

Ah yes,” General Powell said, “Captain Douglas come down here and meet Doctor Bernard Randal Lewis.”

A few moments later I am seated and listening to Powell introduce Doctor Lewis to me. I didn't say anything but even with Western Civilization on the verge of falling I didn't interrupt to tell Powell that I had heard about Lewis several years before. He was a theoretical physicist working at one of the universities in the Canadian states when one of his students, the daughter of an United States Senator, accused him of rape. I was stationed at an aerospace force fighter base in Alberta when the television news began reporting that the good professor had assaulted the deputy sheriff taking him to jail, stole a car, and then disappeared. News reports went on forever with people saying the guy was a certified flake and that they were surprised he hadn't done something similar far sooner. A massive snowstorm slams the search area a few nights later forcing the police to call off the hunt. A week later Lewis is declared dead and is soon forgotten.

I stifle a laugh realizing that Black Projects Command must have thought a lot of his research to go to such lengths to make the Draka think he was both a nut and dead. After hearing about their plan, I had to reconsider the possibility that not only was Lewis insane after all, but that General Powell was himself unbalanced.

What we're going to do,” Doctor Lewis explained in his supremely quirky manner often referring to his equations on the blackboards, “is create a point of extreme dislocation in both time and space.” He paused for several seconds hoping to see my eyes brighten with both understanding and appreciation of his genius.

A point of extreme dislocation?” I respond wondering more and more if I should just walk out.

Doctor Lewis throws up his hands and walks away disgusted with what he considers my incompetence. It is General Powell who takes over to explain.

What we're going to do Douglas is create what in theoretical physics is called a molehole at our research station. A shortcut through both time and space with the other end located at a different place and time.”

Where will the other end of this tunnel be located?” I asked totally out of my league to the point I was wondering if this was all just a bad dream.

Let me put it to you this way Douglas,” Powell said, “what was your major in college before you joined the aerospace force?”

Early American history from the founding of the colonies to the enactment of the United States Constitution.” I say starting to get some idea what was going on.

That includes the decision by American loyalists at the end of the Revolution to leave North America and settle in southern Africa?”

Yeah,” I say not really believing what Powell was implying.

So captain,” Powell said, “you understand that what we intend to do is send you back to the year 1783 to kill the leaders of the American loyalists faction that talked their people into going to southern Africa and establish what came o be called the Draka Crown Colony which evolved to become the Domination.”

Doctor Lewis then comes to back to continue explain that the original idea was to send teams back in time to hamper the development of the Draka in such a way to make them less powerful without completely destroying our own timeline. But, according to Lewis, the Alliance leadership got scared and decided to pursue the computer plague as a way to eventually destroy the Draka. With the start of the war, and the clear defeat of the Alliance, there was only one option, wipe the Draka from existence and just hope something of what we call the United States of America survives.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Almost Flash Fiction: Two For The Zoo

  (Author note: Ran across a website called "Story Butter.com" and liked one of their prompts which was to write a story taking place in a zoo. Didn't actually submit this one because of the slightly mature theme and a few words I used, that's why its almost flash fiction. They want to keep things family friendly.)  


Michael pulled into the zoo parking lot twenty minutes before the place actually opened. Largely empty, he slowly cruised around a couple of times making sure none of the few cars that were already parked looked familiar or had anyone just hanging out inside. It only took a few minutes for Michael to determine, with a high level of certainty, that there were no nasty surprises waiting for him.

All things considered, it took longer to figure out where to park his own car. If he parked close to the main entrance there was a good chance that someone he might know might recognize his car. If he parked far away, that in itself would draw attention as visitors arrived. Feeling a little foolish for over thinking the situation Michael picked a spot sort of between the extremes figuring that if there was no risk there could be no reward.

With the car parked silence overwhelmed Michael for a moment, he could feel the anticipation coursing through his body like electricity. What was about to happen had taken many months of tedious planning. First, of course, was just finding a lady, named Sara, in the cheaters online chat room. After several casual online conversations they then proceeded to a series of flirtatious emails. This culminated in an exchange of pictures, nothing weird, just normal snapshots of them generally doing mundane things at work. Sara picked a picture of her at the dental practice she worked. Michael sent one of him throwing a football at a company picnic.

The next step took both them closer to doing something wrong, but by this time the two were feeling like teenagers. In a way it was innocent enough, the two agreed to casually meet while walking through a nearby J. C. Penney. The plan was to exchange a few words in the section of the store that sold washing machines, then go their separate ways.

Michael arrived first and began reading the operator's manual on a new front loading washing machine. Immediately he was accosted by three of the salespeople sure his rapped attention to the manual meant he was serious about purchasing one. Only after assuring them he was just doing research for a possible purchase in the near future did they leave him alone.

“This sure is a nice model,” he heard someone say behind him. For about a second Michael figured it was another salesperson but turned and was happily surprised to see Sara.

“Yeah,” he said grinning like a fool but realizing he needed to control himself so not to make a scene, “the factories sure make they with all the bells and whistles these days.”

As if on cue, Sara giggled like a small girl then walked off without saying another word to disappear into the crowd. That night the two, more dedicated than ever to the affair, spent an hour instant messaging each other planning their next move. The respective spouses of Michael and Sara, consumed in their in own interests, paid no attention to what they were doing.

The two potential lovebirds went headlong into planning on how they would consummate their relationship. It was decided they needed a longer meeting to talk things out, preferably someplace offering a little privacy but not enough to draw attention to themselves. The city zoo on a weekday offered the perfect conditions with both acknowledging that a nearby travel motel would be the place they would go if they decided to take things to the next level. It took a couple of more weeks to carefully alter their respective schedules without drawing any attention from their spouses or coworkers.

Sitting in his car Michael watched the minutes tick down on his watch waiting for the zoo to open. It was during these quiet, closing minutes that he began blaming his wife for him pursuing someone outside of their marriage. She had become engrossed in various community services and charity work, and in a fit of self-righteousness, Michael felt uncomfortable with what he consider was a deep infatuation she was showing towards the director of the meals-on-wheels charity. Truth be told, while Michael did feel gravely under appreciated in his marriage, deep down part of his mind was playing the same game he saw his father and uncle do their wives.

For Sara, her husband, never the deeply physical type to begin with, had become a certified workaholic. Sex with him was now both extremely rare and mechanical when he did feel in the mood. Adding insult to injury he had become an avid fisherman and was now spending most of his time on the lake when not in the office.

The second the zoo opened Michael rushes to the ticket counter. He even beats a group of daycare age children being carefully lead inside by five already weary adult watchers.

“Taking a day off from work and going to the zoo I see,” the middle aged woman at the ticket counter says to Michael with a smile that could mean anything. “We don't see many single guys on a Tuesday.” she finishes still sporting an almost knowing smile.

“Yeah,” Michael says unsure how to handle her statement, “some days you just have to get away from the daily routine.” The ticket lady just nods as Michael rushes inside.

Being early in the workweek once the zoo opened the few people waiting to enter soon scattered all over making the place seem deserted of visitors. The only people visible were the occasional animal keeper and maintenance type taking care of their normal duties.

The plan was for Sara to arrive about thirty minutes after opening with them meeting in the newly constructed gorilla observation building. The inside featured a huge picture window looking out over the gorilla outside habitat and a small window on the far wall showing their living area. The best part about the building was the comfortable seats and the fact Michael and Sara could stay there for a considerable time and talk without drawing any undo interest. Another factor was because the observation building was on the far end of the zoo almost hidden by tropical-style vegetation. Michael felt it was certain Sara and he would have a long time to talk before heading over to the motel.

Feeling slightly nervous though, Michael decided to stroll around for a few minutes to clear his head before heading over in that direction. At the alligator exhibit he stopped for a moment figuring everything was finally coming together, the zoo was nearly empty, Sara and him were clearly a perfect match, and both of their spouses were totally oblivious to what was going on. Figuring it was time to go, he quickly began walking towards the building.

The zoo had gone all out on the observation building and had installed glass doors that were heavily tinted making it impossible to see through. So much that to Michael's surprise when he stepped inside he saw several other people hanging around giving every appearance they too were waiting for someone to arrive. What Michael clearly realized after only a minute of standing around was that the four men and three women were all by themselves and trying their level best to not only seem invisible but ignore all the other people.

Making matters worse, it was also clear everyone was looking at their watches or cell phones taking careful note of the time. The guilt hanging in the air was so think it was almost visible like a London fog. A lady suddenly rushes inside and stops dead in her tracks upon seeing everyone else, “Son of a bitch,” she exclaims before making eye contact with the man she was apparently hoping to meet. They quickly rush out together huddled close looking as if the paparazzi might descend on them any second.

It was then that Michael realized one of the gorillas was sitting just on the other side of the main window looking at them all. Michael could not believe his eyes, but the gorilla clearly seemed to have an expression of quiet mirth on his face. As if this was just some silly human game put on for his enjoyment.

Michael made a quick look at his watch and saw that he still had ten minutes before Sara was supposed to arrive. During that time a few more people arrived, found the person they were there to meet, and immediately left. For one guy and lady it was clear the people they were waiting for had changed their mind. Both walked out of the observation building looking obviously dejected.

With two minutes to spare the observation room was empty except for Michael. He silently rejoiced in this turn of events figuring everything would work out after all. Just then both of the tinted glass doors flew open from a flood of small children entering. It was total chaos with the children running around and screaming at the top of their small lungs as three adults tried to keep them under control. Much to Michael's horror he realized that the adults were wearing t-shirts identifying themselves as workers for one of the very charities his wife helped out with several times a month.

When Sara arrived a few moments later she immediately panicked after seeing all the children and ran back out without seeing Michael. He attempted to follow but was grabbed by one of the ladies watching the wild children. “Well Michael Harris,” she said, “what are you doing here this time of the day?”

Michael was an intelligent adult and had an answer to that question that didn't make him look completely guilty of something, but it took a full twenty minutes before he could reasonably break away from one of his wife's charity coworkers. During that time he caught glimpses of the gorilla looking straight at him seemingly about to laugh his ass off.

(Final note: The origins of this story are slightly complicated. A while back my wife and daughter decided to go shopping one Saturday afternoon. Not something I would usually volunteer to join except that my wife said that if I drove lunch would be at our favorite Italian restaurant. While they were inside the Kohls department store I sat in the car listening to NPR. Now this particular Kohls is in the Harbison section of Columbia and has a rather strangely placed parking lot that essentially hides it from view of anyone driving the main road.

While innocently sitting in my car another pulled up almost perpendicular to mine. In this other car was a couple who spent several minutes doing some seriously old fashioned making out before the lady jumped out and got in her own car. The guy had driven off the second the lady closed the door to his car but as the she backed out to leave herself she finally noticed me. She gave me a strange look of what I could only call acknowledgement then left herself. Okay, I'm an adult and have seen things and know how the world works but since I was totally minding my own business it took me several seconds to realize what I had just saw.)       

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tiny Garden Experiment -- The Final Report


Way back in March I began a tiny garden experiment after watching a documentary called Food Inc. I was literally horrified to see the state of industrial food production here in the United States and took the advice of the producers when they suggested we should all begin to break away from monster that apathy, corporate greed, and consumer convenience created. Hey, I know it's tiny but the title of this post should explain everything.

 As the picture clearly shows it consisted of a small prefabricated raised bed, and garden soil bought at the local mega-hardware. Not shown is the thick plastic tarp separating the clean garden soil from the possibly contaminated soil in my yard. The reason I did that is because if the previous occupants of the house I live are anything like the other soulless pod people of the neighborhood, my backyard is probably awash in artificial lawn fertilizers and pesticides. Again the whole point is to try and eat a little healthier and if my garden plants soaked up all the crap in the soil because the former occupant loved his living green carpet I might as well just continue buying the stuff from the local grocery store.

Initially I planted lettuce seeds directly into the soil, some broccoli plants and one cherry tomato plant bought from the hardware store. The lettuce was a huge success, to the point I began growing fur and developing longer ears. The broccoli plants went straight to seed and had to be pulled. The biggest, and strangest failure, was the cherry tomato plant that while never actually dying refused to grow. A few months later, I bought another tomato plant, this time the Roma variety, and while it grew it has been a partial failure since I have only been able to harvest about three tomatoes from it. I'm not exactly sure what happened or what I did that might have screwed up something as simple as tomato plants when the lettuce and other items did so well.

Another huge success are my pepper plants, they are even now still producing. They have been used in things like homemade salads, omelets, and fajitas. These too were store bought plants and yes, it is safe to say they have more than paid for themselves. A few months after the garden was started my wife planted some basil and parsley which did great for a while, until one of our dogs decided to dig them up.

   
A surprising success is my one okra plant that I bought on a whim.We never exactly had enough to fry up a "mess of okra" as my grandmother would say but we did add it to the omelets and fajitas for a rather curious taste.



The biggest and utter failure of this experiment was the seed starter kit. My wife and I bought the kit off Amazon and while the instructions seemed idiot-proof, out of the fifty small sections where a seed was supposed to be planted none of them germinated. I don't blame the kit or the soil, I probably screwed up with the amount of water I used or the location I kept the seed bed. I have this half-assed idea of trying hydroponics during the fall and winter months since I already had a grow light--from one of my wife's projects a few years back--along with plans on my computer.

What is certain is that we are going to buy another raised bed for the coming spring. We're going to move the location of the garden over next the shed since it will provide a great deal more light during the day except for the late afternoon. All things considered, I'd have call the garden an overall success even though the tomatoes and the seed starter kit were total crash and burn failures. While I didn't make a dent in the fight against agribusiness monsters I had fun.              

Monday, September 22, 2014

Send in the Zombies


 Too late, they're already here.

A few days ago one of my buddies, a guy named Marty, asked me if I was eager to see the new season of “The Walking Dead” zombie apocalypse series. For the first couple of seasons of The Walking Dead both Marty and I would examine in detail every episode of that show as the characters struggled to survive both the zombies and the surviving humans who were often far more dangerous. After the conclusion of the third season though, I realized that I had nearly all interest in the show. Marty and I did continue to talk during and after the third season but, quite frankly, I was just trying to be sociable.

Part of the problem was the show itself, while the whole point was to explore how the characters would react and adapt to the end of the world, to me the episodes seemed to just be rewrites of the same nightmarish situation. Generally speaking every episode would have the main characters fleeing a zombie horde while dealing with treachery from within their group or an external threat from another. Yeah, there lots of room to maneuver in such a fictional environment but, speaking strictly for myself, I need something that suggests the characters will do more than just narrowly survive each episode. If I invest time and emotion in fictional characters I need to see some chance that they will eventually reach an endgame in their struggles, whether that be tragic or happy.

The other reason I stopped watching “The Walking Dead” had to do with the general situation of the world. While I can deal with the idea that zombies symbolize mindless American consumers who will literally trample each other in an insane rush to save a few bucks on mass produced crap I have difficult time when the level of anarchy in the real world begins to rival that of the show.

Honestly, I don't know which is more terrifying and dangerous. Hordes of undead zombies looking to eat the flesh of the living or religious fanatics who believe their path to eternal paradise requires the death of anyone who believes something different. Officially I'm agnostic and find most religious matters incredibly tiresome since most of the people running around claiming a direct link to the Almighty have a horrible track record when it comes showing compassion and love to their fellow humans. In other words, if all faiths preach peace and understanding why aren't religious extremists the most peaceful? Yes, I am generally talking about the insanity of the ISIS movement. But I would be hypocritical if I did not mention American Christians screaming at buses loaded with children from Central American fleeing poverty and murderous gangs. The propaganda coming from American religious conservatives about how these children are invaders intent on talking over the United States defies even the most basic tenets of commonsense and reason.

Another aspect of modern life that seems like a bit of The Walking Dead spilling over into real life is seeing adults walking around American cities and towns with assault rifles. It would actually be a little funny if those people weren't deadly serious in their belief that they only feel safe in the United States carrying a weapons specifically designed for a high rate of fire and to more shred human tissue than kill.

The final thing that killed all my interest in zombies and most other end of the world scenarios is the Ebola plague ravaging west Africa even now. The last thing I want to do is seem like Chicken Little running around screaming about the sky falling but that is one nasty virus. I've read some decent news reports that scientists have determined the Ebola virus is evolving almost in real time. These reports suggest that this rapid evolution could mean the virus becomes less lethal, which would be a good thing, or easier to pass around like catching the common cold from someone's sneezing in a crowded room.

So I will happily be skipping The Walking Dead this season. Through religious inspired stupidity and civilians harboring a deluded dependence on military weapons fearful of an evil boogeyman lurking in the shadows, many seem to be wishing for some apocalypse. I have better things to do, plus we real-life humans don't seem to be much better than television zombies hungering for the flesh of the living.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

In Praise of the Eco-Pirate

"I think the problem is that we don't really understand what we are. In essence we're just a conceited, naked ape. But in our minds we're some sort of "divine legend", and we see ourselves as some sort of god. That we can walk around the earth deciding who will live and who will die and what will be destroyed and what will be saved. But the fact is we're just a bunch of primates out of control."
Paul Watson


For reasons that are difficult to define at best, I have lacked just about all motivation to write anything whether it be my usual crappy and derivative fiction or some barely coherent political rant. This all consuming lethargy extends even to getting stuff done around the house or yard. Okay, that is nothing unusual for me, I find neither activity existentially redeeming. Nonetheless, I seem to be pushing the envelope on suburban slackerism with the domestic chores I am purposely and contemptuously ignoring .

There are a few plausible reasons for my condition. The first being the time of the year. The entire month of August and most of September in South Carolina are ungodly in their combination of excessive humidity and high temperatures. You spend anytime outdoors and you can feel those twin leeches sucking the life out of you. At least from the latter half of September cooler weather will begin to be the general rule. The second reason is that work is kicking my ass, I come home and pretty much collapse on the couch after eating breakfast. Not a pretty existence, but some have it far worse. The third possible reason is that when I watch the news, in an effort to be an informed citizen, it is a smorgasbord of potential and building global disasters.

Unfortunately unlike the first two there is no easy way come to grips with depressing nature of global affairs. I could ignore the news, but that would be push me closer to the, and I know this is a cruel opinion, the mindless masses who wander around these days and do stupid things like vote Republican. As a bit of backhanded olive branch to these people caught up in a semi-Orwellian bliss I will say that the major news outlets make it hard to stay informed. The world is on extremely shaky ground these days and they spend considerable time on stories best left to the likes of Entertainment Tonight, the National Enquirer or even worse, National Review magazine.

With my ubiquitous cultural and political insult out of the way I will say that during my morning downtime after I get off work and before I go to bed I have been indulging in an old habit of watching documentaries on Netflix. This is how I got a chance to see “Eco-Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson.”

I first heard of Paul Watson when the Animal Planet cable network aired the show “Whale Wars.” Captain Watson and the group he founded, Sea Shepard Conversation Society, have played hell with whaling ships, both illegal and those flying national flags for decades. When I first ran across the Whale Wars series I was instantly sympathetic to their cause even though Captain Watson didn't seem to have all the screws in his head properly tightened. In fact, and pardon another abused reference, but he often seemed like some alternate reality version of the insane Captain Ahab, just this time out to save the whales instead in killing them.

Before anyone explodes let me come out and say that after seeing Eco-Pirate I realize I had grossly misjudged Captain Watson. Eco-Pirate is both a biography of Captain Watson and a detailed explanation of the reasons why conservation groups like Greenpeace are woefully inadequate in facing the monstrous destruction of the oceans and the animals, including humans, that depend on it.

What really struck me hard was the story Captain Watson related during a failed attempt to prevent a Soviet whaling ship from harpooning a sperm whale back in the 1970's. Paraphrasing, Watson related how he was able to bring his small rubber boat right next the dying mammal. With the water turned red with blood, Watson looked into the cetacean's eye and somehow knew the creature understood that his group was trying to save it. Watson then went to relate how he realized that the Soviets were killing these remarkable and beautiful creatures for their oil that would be used as lubrication in nuclear missiles, which of course, would allow human to sterilize the planet. He said then that it was at the moment he knew humans were insane. Before anyone accuses me of overt favoritism, Eco-Pirate does let you know that Captain Watson is human with all the failings associated with that condition.

Despite his all to normal warts, Watson is just the shock to the dominate global system --capitalism-- of unrestrained exploitation of the oceans. Over the years I have seen how “Free Market Capitalism” can excuse all manner of crimes and destruction. For just a couple of quick examples, I clearly remember a blowhard on one of the American business news channel lamenting how polluting water could be justified as long as there were jobs and money involved. Everyone should also remember how back in 2007-2008 insane banking practices nearly sent the country and the world into another great depression. Now did these irresponsible bankers and investment types ever go to jail? The only time I can recall a capitalist ever going to prison was Bernie Madoff who made the mistake cheating far too many of his own kind. On a side note, throw in ever present excuse of nationalism and religious beliefs and you pretty much have set the human race on a course to extinction.

Getting back on topic, can Captain Paul Watson be an egotistical blowhard with hints of a latent messianic complex? Yeah, but being completely honest in the face of lying politicians and business types who I find far more similar to Nazi or religious cult types I would say we need at least a thousand more people just like Paul Watson who clearly care more about the planet than power or making a buck. In fact ten-thousand would be a far more ideal number. If you have the chance try and watch, Eco-Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson. 

 "We're now in the midst of a 3rd World War, but this time the enemy is ourselves, and the objective is to save the planet FROM ourselves. There's no hope for masses of humanity to do anything — they never have, they never will. All social change comes from the passion and intervention of individuals or small groups of individuals. Slavery wasn't ended by any government or any institution. Women got the right to vote not because of any government. The civil rights movement, the same thing. India with Mahatma Gandhi, South Africa with Nelson Mandela. Again, it's always individuals. You need those individuals with the passion and the energy to get involved. In fact, I don't know of any government or any institutions that are doing anything to solve any of these problems. All over the world, all I am seeing is individuals and non-government organizations that are passionately involved in protecting ecosystems and species, and that's where I see some optimism. That's where I see results are happening."
Paul Watson