Monday, June 30, 2014

Because No Good Deed goes Unpunished





The old high school football stadium, while not exactly abandoned, had fallen into considerable disrepair since the construction of its replacement actually situated on the school grounds a couple of miles away. The bleachers where the home crowd had sat and cheered on its local heroes for years were slowly rotting away from the assault of both rain and sun. Directly across the football field, which hadn't been cut in ages and the weeds and grass were fighting a war for dominance, the bleachers constructed for those supporting the visiting team were in a worse condition. Rust was spreading like a contagion along the bleachers steel supports and if someone listened carefully when the wind blew you could actually hear the structure groaning from the strain. But the old facility still had its uses even as time and weather were in the middle of breaking it back down to its basic elements.

Running the outer edge of the football field was a quarter mile circular track that many people in the area had begun using after the stadium was decommissioned and county and school officials no longer locked the gates to the chain link fence surrounding the property. This allowed people from the early hours of the morning to well after sunset to casually walk or run the track for their personal health.

There was a bad side to this continued use though, because the school and county no longer emptied the trash receptacles on a regular basis most were literally overflowing. Things were made worse by the fact that a few careless people didn't even bother to throw their trash in one of the few cans that still had space but just discarded their plastic bottles, soda cans, and assorted food containers wherever they saw fit making the area look even worse. This is where the erstwhile hero of the story enters the scene.

The hero of this story started walking the track several months ago after his trusty and nearby gym was suddenly closed for the stated reason that the eighty-four year old owner of the franchise decided to shed himself of burdensome and time consuming investments. In truth, the hero believes that since the property the gym was built on is equal in size to a lower middle-class subdivision right next it that the building will eventually be torn down and replaced with an identical set of those cheap houses.

Whatever the case, since the hero does not like and in turn is not liked by the soulless, pod people he lives around he eventually got the bright idea to walk the track to get exercise he so missed after his gym closed. The hero quickly found that walking the track was the best idea he had in a long times. Not only was the circular track exactly a quarter mile after doing one lap, since he walked in the early morning he sound the relative solitude refreshing.

The one problem the hero had with the track was the trash scattered all about. During the times he would walk the track, usually on the weekends, he would think how sorry it was that people could not at least take their trash back home and properly dispose of it. He also would occasionally condemn the school and county officials for not coming by to empty the overflowing trash containers and pick up the various bottles, cans, and other garbage people had left on the ground.

Like all good ideas the hero had, they came rarely and slowly but eventually he realized that if there was going to be any improvement in the appearance of the track he so enjoyed walking he was going to have to pick up some of the garbage as he walked. During each lap he would pick up three items and then dump then in one of the trash cans that still had space. His intentions were to do just a little but being a little compulsive he spotted some more trash after each lap.

Several times the hero got frustrated with himself when he said, “No more, I'm not the garbage man for these stupid, littering rednecks.” But still he continued to pick up items while listening to the music blasting from his ear buds that was connected to his small media player.

The hero did admit to himself he was getting some internal satisfaction by doing picking up the trash. He did make sure to occasionally check his surroundings, since he didn't want anyone to see him doing the self-appointed civic cleanup. See, such civic mindedness might just be confused with nasty socialism.

After about forty-five minutes or so, the area adjacent to the track was looking a lot better. In fact the hero had gotten so into the impromptu trash pickup that he had long since abandoned the idea of stopping. That was when the universe decided to pay him back for his good deed.

The hero was rounding one end of the track when he spotted two round objects in the grass on the outside edge. The overgrown grass was making it difficult to identify the items but with the music blasting in his ears, and his mind on really on other subjects he casually swooped down and grabbed the first object with intentions of picking up the other one on the next lap.

Once the object was in the hero's hand, the texture of the material that made it up immediately identified it for him. “Oh damn, a used baby diaper!” He exclaimed to an uncaring universe. In fact with his mind preoccupied the hero had used just a wee too much hand pressure on the diaper with the result being a brown, semi-liquid substance oozing out of the roughly spherical item. Talk about ruining a peaceful state of mind.

Whether this was the universe punishing the hero for his self-appointed good deed is unknown and really doesn't matter. The hero was able to find a few discarded socks and water bottles to wash his soiled hand. It did end the hero's walk and will almost certainly curb his enthusiasm for picking up trash.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Psychotic Barefoot Children in the Rain





The news channels here in the United States more often than it seems necessary love to occasionally spotlight some poll showing how blatantly stupid Americans are when it comes to the most basic of historical knowledge. The most recent one I heard was last night on NBC Nightly News with the ever perky and wise Brian Williams. Without showing any real emotion over the stomach turning results, Brian reported that only forty percent of the American public can correct identify which party controls congress.



This information can be parsed several ways, namely that Republicans will be overjoyed that it means the average American is too stupid to blame them for being incompetence douchebags for the last six years. Before someone bust a partisan gut, I'm not touching their thinly concealed racism towards President Obama nor their Ayn Rand level of utter indifference to the poor but how they nearly destroyed our already crippled economy by wanting to allow the United States government to default on its debts. That is all another subject for a day I feel especially cynical and dejected by our national suicide attempts.



No, what I want to touch on is history and the fact that one-hundred years ago tomorrow Gavrilo Princip walked up to the car carrying Archduke Ferdinand and his wife and busted a couple of caps into the heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne and his wife, killing them both. With the geo-political situation at the time being a complicated series of alliances sitting atop a mountain of exaggerated nationalism mixed with the gigantic-sized egos of various heads of state, events spiraled out of control plunging the entire world into war. Now, we can't stop there, once World War One petered out by 1918, the resulting peace was so screwed up by the same issues and people that helped bring it about that the human race couldn't help but have another global conflict roughly twenty years later.



Am I being a little too flippant over the death of millions? Yeah, but for all the gnashing of teeth over how terrible war is by the noble politicians, religious types, and even the poor putz that ends up doing most of the dying there is hardly a time when humans don't rush into war when their feelings get hurt. True, there are times when evil men bring on war forcing the honorable to defend themselves, such was the Second World War, but had European leaders back in 1914 kept their heads instead of acting like school yard punks maybe that whole bloody episode in human history could have been prevented in the first place.



Well you might be saying to yourself, at least we didn't let the missiles fly cooking Mama Earth in a radioactive haze along with every other living organism. That is correct! There were good men and women after World War Two all across the planet who dedicated their lives to prevent the idiots among us from starting another war. I guess that comes from the fact that many of these good people saw the horrors of war firsthand and knew that if atomic weapons ever used that would pretty much mean the end of civilization if not human extinction.



Here's where the smelly poop is going to hit the spinning air recirculation device. On the eve of the hundredth anniversary of the event that started us down the path to a collective suicide the geo-political situation is even more screwed up now.



Iraq, a Frankenstein monster of a country pieced together out of the remains of the ancient Ottoman Empire is coming apart. While the Sunni and Shiites fight out centuries old conflicts the Kurds are busy grabbing as much land they can in preparation to declaring themselves an independent nation. Of course the Shiites, which dominate the Iraqi national government absolutely do not want to see the Kurds break away nor allow them to keep control of all that new oil rich territory they recently grabbed.



Now throw in Shiite dominated Iran which is coming to the rescue of their Iraqi brethren and the mixture gets even more volatile. There are two elements to worry about here, the first being that Saudi Arabia is a Sunni dominated country which incidentally doesn't have anything good to say about Iran. Particularly, since Iran is sort of, kind of, trying to develop their own nuclear bombs, and that is the second element to this potential global disaster.



The idea of Iraq having the “bomb” frankly scares the living shit not only out of the Saudis but the Israelis as well who sort of, kind of, already have their own stockpile of nuclear weapons. But, don't tell anyone about the Israeli weapons, see it's one of those open secrets, like the one people in South Carolina ignore about Senator Lindsey Graham.



So what has all this to do with the good old United States of America? Well, I'm damn glad you asked because I have a beer, several of them in fact, and plenty of time to rant away this afternoon. It all revolves around the ungodly amount of oil in that region, Western Civilizations addiction to it, and the special interest groups in the United States that will roast in the lowest and hottest level of Hell before they allow a concerted effort to break our dependency on it. Just for fun, lets bring in a resurgent People's Republic of China and its own growing addiction to oil along with Russia just because they're still pissed off they lost the Cold War and desperately want to make the United States look weak and we have all the players for another round of global conflict.



No, I've haven't forgotten the warmongering elements in the United States. Since this latest crisis in Iraq all the old players that lied and scammed us stupid Americans into invading in the first play have all crawled out from under their rocks to beat the drums of war again. It's truly surreal to see that dried up shell of a man, Dick Cheney, get on television and say the black guy in the White House totally FUBARed his and George W. Bush's awesome victory. Really Dickster? Just out of morbid curiosity where the hell are all of those weapons of mass destruction you and your buddies said we find once we went into Iraq? And just for further giggles you again screwed up the estimate on how much that war would cost, didn't you say just eighty billion? Wow, you missed that one by a couple of light-years!



Now if I wanted to get weird and crack a couple of history books to refresh my memory Western Civilization's addiction to the Middle East's cheap oil began just after World War One. Which came about because some idiot Serb wanted his dear homeland free from domination. But, there is no real use in rehashing all these dusty old fact any further. Namely because few give a furry rat's butt, so I'm going to sit back and watch the new 2014 global players juggle the same old ancient hatred, sour nationalism, and as always, overstuffed egos just like they had in 1914 and see what happens. It could very well be a blast.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

An American on Rhea---Part One



 (Author's note: Drawing a big blank, so here is something I've been playing with for quite a while. Not sure if there will be a part two.)


It was my fourth wife, Anna, who was into guided hypnotic memory regression that said the first thing a baby feels when he or she is born is pain. About half-way through our standard five-year marriage contract she joined a pseudo-scientific cult that said it could regress a person all the way to birth and make them understand all the troubles and issues they faced growing up. I knew Anna was the impressionable type when I married her but she willingly signed my rock solid prenup and her talent at entertaining my business associates more than paid for itself so I ignored her strange but harmless spiritualism.

Anna’s first session took her all the way back to her birth. In tearful words she described to me the memory of her birth as a shocking, all encompassing pain that seemed to last an eternity. Her description made it sound like some damned soul being condemned to old fashioned Hell but Anna quickly corrected me saying my comparison was based on ancient superstition and modern ignorance. 

Anna said her life councilor explained that the pain had two main purposes, the first to wash away the memories of her previous life, and the second, to signify that her soul had rejoined the greater universe. The councilor also explained that all her suffering afterwards was to force her to become a better person. The way I understood it was that her spiritual group believed life was nothing but a cosmic catch-22, that to ascend to the next level of existence a being had deal with the pain associated with living without succumbing to all the usual human sins and weaknesses. It was all tired mumbo jumbo for me, but for the cool and hip crowd it was all the rage in the late 2020’s.

For the rest of our marriage Anna tried to get me to join saying it would allow us to enter a true union of souls. I’ll give her credit, she was a devout follower until our marriage contract expired and we went our separate ways. I must admit I did get a laugh when I learned my cosmically-inclined ex-wife who took pride in being in tune with the universe moved back to boring old Texas to be close to her folks. Even funnier was when I learned she had married an ultra-fundamentalist Christian leader who became one of the two United States senators from the newly created state of Panhandle after Texas broke up into four different states.

I didn’t dwell for long on Anna’s new found lifestyle, I was diagnosed with cancer that same year. It wasn’t the easily treated variety either; I had full blown Type Two Susskind’s cancer born out of all the neat toxic chemicals and genetically modified foods that civilization had come to believe it could not live without. I was lucky though, being a billionaire I could afford to buy my way into the one of the new biological suspension centers for the terminally ill.

Once my cancer was confirmed instead of dying a very painful death just two months later like the average and much poorer citizen my body was forced into an artificial coma, pumped full of high-tech preservatives, and then dropped into a vat containing a substance that looked like amber. It cost me nearly all my money but it was a proven technology, sort of anyway. And if everything had gone as planned once the research boys and girls found a cure for my mutant cancer, they said about seventy-years, I would be re-animated and reunited with my remaining wealth which had been placed in a carefully managed trust fund waiting for me.

So on a hot and humid November morning I walked into the building housing the Portland, Oregon branch of Forever Care, signed the final papers, was hooked up to an IV and closed my eyes for what I thought would be a relatively short disconnect from the world of the living.

That is where long lost ex-wife’s description of birth came into play. As the Forever Care people said there would be no dreams while I rested in their expensive goo waiting for my cancer to be defeated. My first recollection on returning to the living was just as Anna described. A searing pain that I could feel down to the atoms that made up my body. What she didn’t explain was how weird things would get once the pain subsided and I was forced to deal with living in the future.

****

The shuttle touched down on the landing pad with a noticeable thud. A second later the nearly empty cabin I was sitting in became pitch black. I tried to keep still and quiet but I guess I was fidgeting a little too much, which betrayed my nervousness.

From behind me, I heard the nearest passage say something in what passes as the lingua franca. “It’s just the crew taking the fusion reactor offline and switching over to land-based power.” Standard procedure really,” was what I heard after the tiny translator in my ear converted it into what was now essentially a dead language. 

I quickly remembered the guy, named Sarga Marsh, was from one of the asteroid colonies, hollowed out chunks of floating rock sometimes tens of kilometers long, filled with an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere and spun to create artificial gravity. A tube of spun diamond running down the central axis filled with glowing ionized plasma of hydrogen to provide sunlight for plants and animals. My twenty-first century mind was still in awe of the concept but for everyone else living a little over thirty-three hundred years from the time I was placed in suspension, it’s ancient technology. In fact, what are to me marvels of engineering are to the people of this age third world countries if not banana republics.

The sudden return of cabin lighting was the cue for me and the few other passengers to gather up their belongings and make our way to the shuttle’s platform. I tried not to think at how similar it looked to people disembarking off some passenger plane from my century. “Are you really from the old calendar twenty-first century?” I heard Sarga ask from behind as I carefully thought out my every move trying to deal with Rhea’s much lower gravity.

“Yeah,” I said and waited for the translator hanging around my neck like a pendant to respond back. “Early twenty-first, before the Corporate War, I was in suspension for a little over ten Earth years before that started.”

“That’s fascinating,” he said back as we both followed the others out. “I’m from the Republic of Ida, my people can trace their ancestry back to refugees who fled Earth after the Corporate Powers were defeated.”

I said nothing, I’m sure the Mr. Marsh would love to hear that I sat in on the very first presentation by Davis Mining and Deep Ventures Aerospace as they recruited investors for the initial unmanned attempts at harvesting vital strategic minerals from asteroids. Since my resurrection, I had learned that the new consortium formed by Davis and Deep Ventures went on to be one of the most tyrannical corporations involved in the Corporate Wars. Despite that war being long in the past, certain technological advances since then have kept it in what amounted to living memory.

Which sort of made me a war criminal, or at the very minimum, guilty by association since many of the men and women I personally knew or had business relationships with back then were now held up alongside people like Hitler and Stalin. In fact, it was one of the reasons I was about to set foot on the moon of Rhea. There were simply few places in the solar system where I would be welcome for even the short time it would take for me to catch a starship to one of the interstellar colonies where I could blend in with all the others struggling to survive on a new planet. Even on Rhea, I was only welcome because of the information I could provide them.

Sarga continued to follow behind and kept quiet until we stepped out of the shuttle’s door and into the extended passageway that connected it to the main arrival terminal. I actually walked a couple of meters before casually glancing overhead to catch a glimpse of Saturn through the clear material that made up the connecting walkway. “Oh my God,” I whispered struck by the majesty of seeing the ringed planet. My amazement was not without consequence, the sudden stop of my slow, careful steps in the one-quarter gravity of the moon did not cancel my inertia and I found myself colliding with the person in front of me sending us both skidding to the ground. Only the friction of the floor surface eventually stopped us. Sarga then made a production out of helping me stand up again, as for the person who I hit, she collected her belonging while saying a few words the translator refused to convert to English.

“This your first time off Earth?” Sarga asked in what amounted to puzzled astonishment. From the time the Earth government booted me off the planet to our short stop at Ida and now to Rhea, I rarely ventured out of my cabin which was nestled in the outer spinning ring of the interplanetary ship that brought me to my temporary refuge in orbit around Saturn. It was during one of my brief visits to the passenger lounge that I met Sarga and some of my other fellow travelers.   

“Not sure what you know about ancient Earth history,” I said feeling strange uttering those words, "but space flight was still a pretty novel way of traveling in my time. I could have easily done a suborbital flight or even afforded a ticket to one of the space station hotels but I never got into that type of adventurism. For civilians like me, that was pretty much it, even the national governments didn’t venture much beyond lunar orbit. So the idea of walking, or at least stumbling and fall down, on one of the moons of Saturn is overwhelming. ”

“Incredible,” he said, “I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be restricted to such a small section of the solar system. Even Belters families like mine regularly do an Earth fly-by cruise for vacation. I’ve even been to the Pluto habitat twice on business.” 

From what little I understood of typical human behavior in this age, Sarga was a normal enough person. Compared to the rich and beautiful people from the twenty-first century I use to hang out with, Sarga was rather stout with the hair on his head cut into an elaborate pattern. From observing the other male Belters during the voyage to Rhea his appearance seemed typical. On the other hand, Belter females seemed to go to great pains to look like some ghost or ghoul. Not only were they a great deal taller than their male counterparts, but along with painting their bodies white apparently prided themselves on removing every single follicle of hair from their head and face. As far as clothes went, both genders dressed in similar elaborate outfits that reminded me of something a seventieth-century French king might wear to a state dinner. I on the other hand, was wearing what looked to be a sweatshirt and sweatpants, far from my usual, very formal business attire.

At least everyone I took time to talk with remained a recognizable human being to me. However, Sarga was starting to be a little overly clingy, almost to the point of being annoying. Back in my time with a couple of billion dollars easily at my disposal, my bodyguard detail would have long since tossed the guy into the nearest body of water. However, I was literally lost in time, considered a war criminal by most, so that meant I needed any friend I could get. “Excuse my terrible manners,” I sort of interrupted, “but I should have asked what brings you to this far flung part of the solar system?”

This question clearly delighted Sarga, “I’m here to meet my business companion. We sell and trade cultural products with the Rheans.”

“Cultural products,” I asked thinking strictly along twenty-first century ideas for some stupid reason.

“We mainly deal in sub-sentient recorded human personalities. We have a vast collection of early Belter and Mars colonists but over the years, I have acquired a few prized examples such as the crew of the Odyssey entering the Alpha Centauri B system and discovering the world that came to be known as Terra Nova. The first planet outside the solar system to be heavily terraformed and then colonized.”

I had an involuntary shutter at the mention of recorded personalities. It was the fully sentient type, all kids during the Corporate War that lead the charge to have me unceremoniously exiled off the planet to me cast out among the stars. As Sarga and I strolled into the main terminal, I let him carry on about the other recorded minds he had to sell. For me I still couldn’t wrap my mind about the very basis of personhood that now existed on Earth.

After the Corporate War the world government that was established quickly set out to document the atrocities done by the tyrants that overthrew the various weak and ineffective national governments. One method was the new process at that time of interfacing the human mind with a computer connected to a fifty-petabyte recording crystal. It didn’t take long before someone realized that such a process actually captured the consciousness of that person. Since the Earth Unity Collective was all about the rights of the common individual these disembodied personalities were eventually recognized as sentient and give full rights.

Since then, whenever the Collective feels the need to resurrect one of the thousands of people in suspended animation, as I was, the non-corporeal bloc starts to scream blood murder to make sure they are not some war criminal. To be fair, if the history I read was correct, a few of the middle managements types who didn’t rate a seat on the shuttles headed to the brand new asteroid settlements after the war did finagle a way into suspension under assumed identities. It was all quite convoluted for me but I didn’t have time to think about it.

As Sarga and I stood in line to be formally processed for admittance to Rhea, three people approached, clearly natives since their skin carried a noticeable yellow tint and the pupils of their eyes were a bright blue.

“Citizen Thomas Blake, I presume,” the Rhean man wearing what appeared to be a uniform said, “I am chief of spaceport security Trin Drock. Let me introduce Prone Cullton, First Prime of Rhea and Professor Anni Missor, Lead Professor of Ancient History at Ambat University. We are here to take you into custody for crimes against humanity.”

Being from the Belt, which still carried a taint from the long ago Corporate War, my new friend Sarga quickly quite suddenly forgot who I was and did his best to ignore me. It didn't matter, I let Drock place the thing restriction collar around my neck and begin to lead me away. I was far more interested in the stunning beauty of Professor Anni Missor, and the smile she kept sending my way.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

When the Iraqi Poop Hits the Sectarian Fan




Given the deteriorating situation in that post-colonial Frankenstein monster of a country called Iraq I would bet a pile of money I do not have that Dick Cheney is one happy bastard right now. Not only did he and the Weaker Bush get away with pushing the United States into a war based on lies, get hundreds of thousands of people killed, and spend close to a TRILLION bucks in the process, the whole sorry mess begins imploding on the current president. In a dark and sinister way it's an incredible joke of cosmic proportions, especially since his Dickness with the transplanted heart has done everything but use the the “N word” to let it be known he considers President Obama on par with household mold or some common fungus.

Possibly the only thing worse than a happy, old, rich monster perched in his easy chair eating the fresh of little babies is the abject joy from the millions of right-wingers dealing with the self-righteous indignation and thinly disguised delight that Obama might have “lost” Iraq during his administration. The only trouble with such assumptions is that this impending disaster was constructed by both the obscenely shortsighted Shiite dominated Iraqi government and by none other than Weaker Bush himself.

For those who may not know the Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, a Shiite, has done everything possible to alienate the Sunni minority, who along with the Kurds are the third faction that makes up that country. It's all part of a vicious cycle of payback that goes back centuries but can more directly be traced to when the now very dead Saddam, a Sunni and confirmed monster, spent decades running roughshod over the other two groups. Iraq is the ultimate example of how payback is not only a bitch but a surreal merry-go-round in which one group spends a period oppressing others only to spend a time being persecuted all the while seeking ways to return to power.

Now enter Weaker Bush struggling to crawl out from daddy's more successful shadow and you have a recipe for a epic disaster. The years have flown by but I remember all the moaning and groaning when Stronger Bush decided not to go after Saddam after leading the Desert Storm coalition of nations that kicked that particular bastard out of Kuwait. No illusions here folks, yes Saddam did make a blatant power grab by invading a smaller nation and he did have aspirations of playing in the international big leagues armed with some serious chemical weapons. Before anyone gets all confused as to how Saddam amassed such weapons they should look up a very inconvenient photograph showing he had once been BFF's with none other than Donald Rumsfeld. Essentially, it boils down to the old maxim, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. At least until this friend of strict convenience screws around with the business partners of some serious Washington DC insiders.

The logic behind Stronger Bush's decision not to remove Saddam had to deal with something called realpolitik. The powers that be felt keeping the Sunni following Saddam in power with a still reasonably intact military was just the ticket to prevent Shiite dominated Iran from messing with the region's other oil producing nations, and more importantly Israel. Yeah I'll say it again Saddam was a pretentious monster, but when Weaker Bush invaded Iraq, first to find non-existent weapons of mass destruction, then to spread the seeds of glorious democracy he removed the one thing holding that country together and that was the dictator.

After all that spilled American blood and treasure the Mailiki government has so alienated the Sunni minority that they are siding with a terrorist organization that scares the hell out of al Qaeda. Republicans here in the United States can't wave their fingers in disgust fast enough saying we shouldn't have removed our troops from Iraq. Well, on that one it looks like I have to agree in a strictly tongue-in-cheek way, the only problem is that damn few of the nauseous combination of chickenhawks, armchair generals, and dementia-tainted old fucks were offering up their own kids to relieve the pressure on troops that had already served three, four, and even five tours in that hellish sandbox. You want an empire in such an unstable area where we are often considered invading infidels trying to restart the Crusades? Well you damn well better be willing to sacrifice your kids on the alter of national glory and a hell of a lot of more money than just the trillion we already spent.

Iraq was created after World War One when Britain and France craved up the remains of the defeated Ottoman Empire. From what I have read there was little concern given to the lumping of the Kurds, Sunni, and Shiites together with the result being the stitched-together Frankenstein monster. As I have explained the only thing that held them together was abject fear.

As of this writing, Iran--with its Shiite majority—will be sending several hundred of its Revolutionary Guards to fight alongside what remains of the Shiite dominated Iraqi army along with long established local militias. The Kurds, who for years have waited of an excuse to declare independence, appear to be grabbing as much oil rich territory in northern Iraq as they can.

Why are those two issues important? While there is little chance Saudi Arabia will get directly involved it has a Sunni majority population and boys and girls the question for the day is what was the country of origin for most if not all the 9/11 attackers back in 2001? As for the Kurds, well there is a complex relationship between them, Turkey, and Iran, which have sizable Kurdish minorities living in their territories all dreaming of a greater Kurdistan. No country likes to even consider it might lose territory. Long story short, we could be looking at a regional war with the major powers nervously standing on the sidelines calculating the advantages and liabilities of becoming involved.

So boys and girls, if you like the excitement provided by this collective unraveling of recent and nearly century old screwed up decision making fasten your seat belts, because it looks like we're in for a bumpy ride. The one certainty in all this is that I would bet even more money I don't have Weaker Bush will be at home calmly painting his cute little pictures. 

BFF's
Shithead

Monday, June 9, 2014

Wonder Why We Ever Go Home

 (Author's note: Just a story I've been playing with, no one will be surprised that I hit on my usual themes.)



A part of me would like to say I was listening to something provocative like the Eagles', “Life in the Fast Lane” as I drove into metropolitan Atlanta when my left, front tire slammed into the canyon-like crack in the concrete of the highway. Something that would have suggested the universe was giving me a warning that the daze I had been living in for decades was about to end. But no, I had the usual mindless banter of the local morning radio talk show tuned in at that moment.

After so many years taking the same route to work the drive had become instinctive, so much that there were days I would park in my usual space and suddenly realize I had no memory of the intervening forty-minute trip. I was in a similar condition when I hit that pothole, so much that for a couple of seconds I was in danger of losing control. At least traffic at that given moment wasn't bad, if it had I definitely would have either killed myself or someone else. I still had several other commuters honk their horns at me with a couple waving their middle finger as they hurriedly passed by. Just when I thought the episode was over, I felt and heard the left front tire pop like a cheap balloon.

I spent the better part of thirty minutes installing the spare tire on my little mid-sized sedan. When I finally arrived at the offices of Smith and Bradley Accounting, I was greeted with the disapproving glare of Brenda Phillips. She was a Human resources office manager extraordinaire, a woman who through accident of birth missed her chance at working for the secret police of some totalitarian country. Then again, she was a totally dedicated company person who ate, drank, and shit the corporate line.

Hello Mr. Morgan,” she said walking towards me in the corridor while lightly tapping something on her computer tablet. “Glad you could join us today, the Friday staff meeting is already in progress, the senior partners have some exciting announcements about the upcoming corporate retreat. But I guess you'll have to read about them in the handout since they frown on anyone coming in after the meeting has started.”

Truthfully, I felt bad for Brenda. She was a petite, almost fragile looking lady who could be irritatingly intelligent, both drawbacks in an office environment that up until a few years ago was dominated by a good-old-boy male culture. Back when she started working at Smith and Bradley, I remember hearing some of the guys make jokes about her stature, which was quickly replaced with whining about how much of a bitch she was for making them look bad in some fashion. Making matters worse, she was a single mom whose ex-husband had skipped town and refused to make child support payments.

To adapt and survive, she was forced to become the person she now was but the price was the utter contempt of just about everyone she worked around both male and female.

Good morning to you Brenda,” I said through clenched teeth, “if you check the messages you will find one from me saying I had a flat tire on the way to work and that I would be late.”

My response sent Brenda's fingers flying over her tablet then using her right hand to press the Bluetooth device she was wearing further into her ear. “Well now, that is an entirely different matter,” she said after listening to my message. “Steven,” she almost whispered conspiratorially, “I suppose you have this flat tire still in your trunk?”

Yes I do Brenda, and I can drop it your desk if you need proof.” I said sarcastically trying to hide my growing anger.

From the look on her face it was easy to tell I had failed in that matter. “No need,” she said before quickly turning and rushing off, probably hoping to find another employee coming in late that she could report. Watching her walk off I couldn't help but laugh, fifty years of hard struggle by women to be accepted in a male dominated world and the result is often people like Brenda. When my small dose of dark humor had passed I had a small bout with the inherit hopelessness of the human condition. With her gone and not being encumbered by having to attend the Friday staff meeting I finished making my way to my cubicle and quickly settled into the relative comfort of the numbers appearing on my computer screen.

As strange as it may seem, there was actually a time I loved my job. Back before the original partners of the firm sold out and caught the first plane they could to someplace tropical there was a camaraderie no other firm could touch. Like the rest of the American business world, while the name “Smith and Bradley” was kept the new owners wanted production and we became a glorified sweat shop pressured to crunch numbers like some factory in Asia with quasi-slave labor.

If I thought about it too much the worst thing about this new way of doing business was not the increasingly rare pay raises, the cuts in health benefits, or the people like Brenda who are seemingly tasked with finding something bad on any employee who makes a mistake, it was the corporate retreat she mentioned. The senior partners rent some cheap auditorium at a second-rate hotel then create an atmosphere where everyone sure as hell better look like they are having the time of their lives listening to them give exciting speeches about how they are going to screw us over while they get huge bonuses. Those assemblies had all the charm of some strict religious cult gathering or Nazi rally. The worst part was seeing many of those about to get screwed strangely happy at being part of such an amazing organization. There was some small relief that the corporate retreat was a problem for another day so I submerged myself into my work and passed the rest of my time trying not to think about person missing from the cubicle across from me.

The one saving grace that protected me from those like Brenda was that I said little at work, kept my head down, and hardly ever left my cubicle. Seventeen years had passed by with me going largely unscathed while others, all younger and convinced they could out game the firm, were now stocking shelves at Walmart. Then there were exceptions like my boss, David Wright.

Hey Steven,” he yelled from across the room as I was trying to hurry out at the end of the day. 

“Heard you had a flat tire this morning,” he said walking over to me.

David wasn't a bad guy, he was in his early thirties and had enough of a talent at the subtle art of office politics that he was able to jump ahead of those with more seniority and experience and become head of my accounting section. His one problem was that he had reached a point where to advance any further he would need to rid himself of his human soul. I have to admit, despite my blasé and tired attitude part of me hated the bastard because I was fifty-five and considered over the hill by the management overlords.

Yeah, hit a damn pothole.” I said putting on my best smile as David walked closer. “At least traffic wasn't bad this morning.”

No problem,” he said with his voice taking on just the smallest hint of authority. “You did get through the monthly reports for Davis Mining today?”

I also threw in the first monthly report on the new exterminating company account, and both have been emailed to your computer to review.” I said knowing how to play this game. Always add something unexpected when your boss wants to know what you have done.

You're the best Steve,” he said clearly happy, “have a great weekend.” He quickly begins to walk away then suddenly stops, “Oh yeah, here's the monthly news letter we passed out at the meeting this morning.”

The firm newsletter is an obscenely glossy and over done mini-magazine that contains nothing but fluffy feel good pieces about how Smith and Bradley employees are making some kind of difference in the world. I again smile silently wishing David would suddenly lose all his hair, stuff the newsletter in my briefcase, and haul ass. Only when I walk out the employee entrance and breathe the fresh afternoon air do I again begin to feel like a partially free man.

Of course, being the weekend I knew as soon as I got home I would find a neatly typed and organized list of chores involving yard work or some form of inside home improvement. The comfortable suburban existence I was suppose to enjoy came at a price. In my mind it often meant working harder out in the yard than at my job so my wife, Elaine, could keep a lawn that was not only the envy of the neighborhood but consistently won awards from the homeowners association. With the summer months coming up Elaine was sure to have enough to keep me going all Saturday. The worst thing about it was that nearly everyone in the neighborhood appeared to enjoy being tied to their yards like medieval serfs. And like a good fellow serf, I figured I had no other place to go and nothing else I could do so I continued on to my car and began the drive home.

***

There was something paradoxically comforting about the usual afternoon traffic jam. With all five lanes of outbound interstate traffic clogged as far as the eye could see at least I didn’t have to worry about hitting another pothole and blowing the feeble excuse of a spare tire like the one that I had inadvertently slammed into that morning. Since leaving the Atlanta city limits behind, I had barely gotten above twenty miles per hour before having to hit the brakes.

In fact, traffic had been at a standstill for over ten minutes with the Barbara, the intrepid radio roadway reporter using every bit of her soft and sensual voice talent to make us believe that the various obstacles causing the problems would be cleared any second. Having seen the young lady on television there was no question as to why she had that particular job, her voice was a total match to her curvy and athletic body compete with blond hair and a smile that always had a come hither look. Just carrying a mental image of her body with that voice was the perfect remedy to placate most of the male and a good number of the female commuters stuck in traffic.

As I waited, I looked to my right and saw a man about my own age in the next car hanging onto the steering wheel with a death grip. His face was approaching the same color of red as an ambulance siren. It didn’t take a medical degree in cardiology to know he was a massive heart attack just waiting for a bit more of an excuse to happen. In the car to my left was a career-looking mom with two small children running loose inside. I tried not to stare after catching sight of her pulling the top off a medicine bottle, then flinging several of the pills into her mouth. Just the act of going choking down a few of those pharmacological wonders instantly brought a look of contentment on her tired face.

While the sight of Mr. Heart Attack and Ms. Heavily Medicated did bother me what concerned me most of all was my own total indifference to the entire situation. Deep down I felt no real difference between the number crunching sweatshop where I worked, being stuck in traffic, or reaching home where I was more a hired hand to my wife than an actual person. In stunned me to think that I could be just as happy in any of the three crappy positions. Sitting in the middle of all that traffic I couldn't avoid the question that had been hovering on the edge of my consciousness since I hit the pothole that morning. Just how many years had I wasted as my life passed me by?

I wasn't given much time to ponder my sudden realization, for reasons unknown traffic began flowing freely and while I had begun questioning the very basis of my life I did not want to impend any of the drivers around me because it would have been suicide. The funny thing was that my day of self discovery was not quite over.

Being that my spare tire was designed to last just long enough to get the car to a repair shop, I detoured from my drive home to get the blown one fixed. Sitting in the waiting area I had a choice of watching what was on the television, a late afternoon talk show on celebrity relationships, or reading over some of the work in my briefcase. Instead, I pulled out the glossy company magazine and began leafing through the pages.

It was all the usual mindless crap about Smith and Bradley employees volunteering their personal time for charitable causes. The authors of the articles always found a way to emphasized the people were doing their good works while off in the evenings or weekends, wouldn't want the help to think the company would do anything for free. But it was on the back page that I received the final blow of the day to the house of cards I called my life.

The back page was dedicated to wedding announcements complete with pictures, the first one was of a young couple with the groom a worker out of the Dallas office. The second picture was a middle-aged couple who worked out of Savannah, Georgia. I didn't know the guy at all, but the future bride had once worked in the cubicle across from mine. In time, we became best friends and then after many months of being teamed on company projects and learning much about each other, we became lovers.

It had been a little over ten years since I last saw Sarah Boone, since that moment we finally parted ways she had cut her dark raven hair much shorter. Maybe it was just the over done nature of the magazine, or my latent feelings, but her green eyes still gleamed with the same energy that had first attracted me to her.

The years had been kind to the face I had memorized during our all too few moments alone. Those encounters had all the aspects of a tasteless and tawdry affair from a novel or second-rate movie. The trouble was that both of us were going through extreme rough patches in our respective marriages. 


 Her husband at the time was a callous jerk more interested in reliving his college football glory days. While, my wife, Elaine, had just started her job as a real estate agent during one of the big boom cycles in area home building. Elaine had not just discovered her true calling but her reason to live and was making money hand over fist. It should go without saying that neither Sarah's husband nor my wife had the slightest bit of interest in including us in their lives. For those who have never have experienced the feeling of excessive loneliness it is a bitterly cold and corrosive form of torture that can wear away the strongest bonds.

What Sarah and I first found in each other was someone who just gave a damn. She was easy to talk to and I guess, she felt the same way about me. In hindsight it's easy to say the physical part of our relationship was just something we fell into, a recognition that we were not alone. To this day I don't know why we didn't take that final step and leave our spouses, like similar extramarital relationships it probably had something to do with the children. She had two boys while Elaine and I had a teenage daughter named Amanda.

During our rendezvouses we made plans for leaving and actually hovered on the edge a couple of times but never pulled the trigger. Barely a year after our affair started, Sarah's husband accepted a job in Savannah and as my bad luck would have it Smith and Bradley had a branch office there. In what had to be record time, management approved Sarah's reluctant transfer request and had her moved to Savannah even before her husband started his new job.
 

We stayed in contact through email and phone calls for several months, I even arranged a visit to Savannah once when my wife took our daughter with her to Miami for a realtor convention. But something had changed between Sarah and I, whatever magic we there once was had slipped away and I drove back home almost distraught.

It had been a shitty day all around, but nothing really different from most other days in my life. But finding out that Sarah had moved on to find some happiness was just too much for me to handle. The cold loneliness that was always nearby for me overwhelmed my defenses. I paid for the tire repair and drove the rest of the way home almost comatose.

The house was empty when I arrived home, Elaine had left an excessively neat handwritten post-it-note attached to the typed weekend list of mandatory projects saying she was attending a meeting with a new developer and would be home very late. Still working more on some subconscious autopilot I aimlessly strolled through the house that in truth had been deathly quiet since Amanda had left for college six years before. Both Elaine and I were insanely proud of her but she took after her mother was was now totally absorbed in her career.

It had been a day of revelations and as I walked around my suburban tomb I realized the house I was standing in was less a home and more an interior decorator's showcase desperately waiting for a photographer. Even better, the furniture, curtains, and paintings that hung on the walls were in such a pristine condition the only thing missing from making it a museum dedicated to some famous dead person were the velvet ropes used in such places to prevent tourists entering restricted areas. Standing there, I couldn't help but wonder that with all the mind numbing crap I had to put up with why I would come home to this life-sized doll house.

***

My old duffel bag was packed before I really had a plan. Minutes then ticked by as I dared to sit down in the living room and make a few critical decisions. When Elaine became a real estate broker we separated our retirement accounts leaving me a nice amount that I could use after paying a hefty fee for diving into way too early.

Amazingly while sitting there I felt the inertia of all the years I had already spent trying to convince me to stay. This little voice whispered the hard truth that while you thought yourself alone now just wait till you break your routine. That voice almost won, but I kept going back to that picture of Sarah in the company magazine. She had found something, whether it was happiness or just some convenient illusion I have no idea. What pushed me over the edge was a text message from Elaine saying we needed to meet at a nearby Italian restaurant to have dinner with this new developer and his wife.

I just couldn't face them feeling the way I did, so I tossed the duffel into my car and began driving west. Where I ultimately settle I have no idea, and will I pay a price for abandoning a stable but boring life? Yes, but I just could not suffer through another day of just existing, of playing a game that had become meaningless. Most of all, I just didn't want to think about Sarah and what I lost with her. To know you had a real chance at love and happiness but let it slip away is in many ways even worse than being alone.

 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Extended Family





All through my childhood the scene played itself out countless times. The location was the small Nazarene church in Georgetown, South Carolina my grandparents belonged. Up on the pulpit was more than likely a middle aged man or someone slightly older, although there were occasions when it was a young and up and coming minister, giving an impassioned sermon filled with hellfire and brimstone. Such sermons always hit on eternal damnation for sinners and how only in accepting Jesus could any person win salvation. The other subjects usually hit upon was the imminent Rapture, who was the Antichrist, and just how bad was the seven years of tribulation going to be for those left behind.

The congregation, would be a collection of properly dressed ladies waving fans to keep cool with the printed image of a caring, white Jesus on the cheap paper. From my observations over those long ago years, these ladies of the highest virtue would look at the various ministers with a combination of fear, respect, and believe it or not, outright lust.

The menfolk, well there were three options when it came to them. The first being the tired, Georgetown was a mill town with many of the men in attendance either just coming off shift or about to go on. The second were the bored, these guys would spend most of the service dreaming of being in a deer stand or on Winyah Bay fishing. The final segment were the true believers who hung on every word the minister spoke and often quietly looked down on the the other two groups since they figured their attitudes made them God's favorite.

Depending on the type of sermon being preached science in general was always a handy issue to get the good folks worked up about. But what could really inflame the religious masses was the subject of evolution. There was just something, dare I say genetic, in the outright rejection that humans, God's most special creation, could ever have descended from the ignorant apes. For those not raised in the American South, there is another aspect of this rejection of evolution and it had to do with the dark skinned nature of gorillas and chimpanzees, but that is not something I will touch on here.

To the congregation, the idea that humans came from what they often mistakenly called “monkeys” was something akin to an adult believing in the Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. I have to be fair here, this belief was not limited to my hometown and as anyone with current knowledge of the religious situation in this country this idea is very much alive even now.

So you can imagine the utter surprise when a visiting minister ascended to the pulpit one Sunday to tell the surprised people before him that scientists were now claiming that humans not only came from apes but lizards and fish. Yeah, the concept of evolution was so alien and misunderstood that they somehow limited it to just what effected them and the animals they closely resembled. Of course, whenever these types of sermons were preached so was the bogus idea that as Charles Darwin lay on his deathbed he either recanted his theory of evolution while praying to God for forgiveness, or went into spasms proclaiming the devil had already begun torturing him before he even expelled his last breath.

Numerous people have wondered about how some can utterly reject the theory of evolution despite a constantly growing fossil record along with DNA research that literally links humanity with every other living creature on the planet. For many this rejection has to do with what they perceive as their place in the universe, if they are not in some fashion God's special creation then life itself has lost all meaning. I can somewhat understand and excuse this idea for all those uncounted souls who suffered and toiled all through history and before for some king, emperor, tribal chief, or some other asshole with delusions of grandeur and the weapons and muscle to back it up.

Back when vast majority of people spent their entire lives scrapping by a meager existence the belief that all the crap they have to put up with in this life would be rewarded in the next was the only thing that allowed them to continue. To paraphrase a line I once heard in a time travel movie, the only thing worse than dying during a Dark Age was having to live through one. So they penned all their hopes on whatever paradise was suppose to lay beyond the Pearly Gates.

Another aspect of this rejection was the obscure passage in the Bible about how God created us in his image. Somehow this was taken to mean that the creator of the entire universe actually had a need for a human body with arms, legs, fingers, and toes. Even as a kid I could never understand how people took this to have a literal meaning. One word of advice to give to any overly curious kid whose grandparents send them to Sunday school, tell them never to suggest that maybe God looks like a gorilla.

Now I was always a bit of a problem child when it came to religious dogma, but it wasn't until I was much older and learned how all life on this planet is related genetically. That you can trace the ancestry of life all the way back to some mysterious age when the oceans of the early Earth was a caldron of mixing primitive proteins. Yes, how that unaided chemistry experiment eventually crossed the line to life is still unknown but I'm going hazard a guess that we will one day find a scientific answer.

Understand I'm agnostic, but I find nothing more spiritual than the FACT that I, along with the rest of the human race is tried to everything other living thing down to the bacteria living thousands of meters in the dark and cold bottom of the ocean. If anything does suggests a universal creator, it is that undeniable concept.

Of course, in my mind this cancels out the other strange passage in the Bible that God gave us dominion over the Earth. Since we are a part of the whole instead of something that stands outside it this means we have to care for and protect what is in essence, our extended family. It will surprise some but there is a trend in some Christian churches to view humanity's relationship with the rest of the planet in just that manner. If one there one thing that will save our misbegotten species it is my hope that attitude will spread.