Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Greenland Delusion

The idea that our reality is nothing but an elaborate computer simulation is something I have mentioned many times over the years. In fact I will freely admit that I have probably overused the notion in my political commentary. But events and circumstances have gotten increasingly surreal since November 2016, to the point I find myself leaning on the concept as an explanation as to why the country is going to the authoritarian crapper.

Yes, societies, empires, and nations do unravel and fall apart, hopefully without some master programmer playing with the source code of the universe. But this time far too many people and situations appear to have boarded the crazy train to Bonkersville.

I fully expected the Orange Bastard's (I'll just write “OB” from now on.) occupation of the Oval Office to be a nightmare roller coaster ride. The Pussy Grabber-in-Chief never left any doubts about what he would do if he got into office. Which is the main reason I still despise anyone who voted third-party or just stayed home on election day because they didn't like Hillary. When one of two choices openly tells everyone it is a ravenous monster, common sense and self-preservation should make you vote for the other person, even if she isn't bright and shiny enough for your tastes. But as they say, all that is water under a corrupt bridge since we are inching ever closer to the 2020 election cycle.

Unbelievably, things found a way to become even more surreal last week with the news that the OB was seriously considering the idea of buying the island of Greenland from Denmark. My first surprise in all this was that OB even knew of the island's existence. Despite claims to being a “Stable Genius” the individual in question clearly doesn't have any intellectual curiosity beyond porking his favorite daughter and playing silly sidekick to every sleazy, murderous dictator that will stand next him. For someone who stated he believes windmills cause cancer, I just don't see OB being big in world geography.

Another thought that occurred has to do with Greenland's population. We know of OB's disdain for Puerto Rico and its people, so I would bet money that he believes Greenland is a vast bastion of Northern European white folks. It wouldn't surprise me that he has seen a few episodes of the History Channel's drama about Vikings and that bringing them into the United States would dilute the growing number of people with a darker shade of skin tone. Remember, OB openly stated once that more people emigrating from Norway would be a good thing for the United States.

Yes, I honestly believe OB is that stupid and racist.

Alas, this fault in right-wing logic is commonplace. Somehow right-wingers did not have any idea that Western European countries are what they would consider “socialist.” Right-wingers will bitch and moan about increased premiums and decreased benefits from their employer provided health insurance, but go into a rabid panic at the barest mention of the United States implementing anything similar. The same holds true for them whining about no vacation time when employees are often forced to use it for sick days for themselves and family members.

In fact right-wingers absolutely love to point out the flaws and failures of socialism, such as the disaster that is Venezuela. But they curiously overlook the fact that some of the happiest, most prosperous, and well educated countries are the social democracies of Western Europe like Norway, Sweden, and Denmark which Greenland belongs. No, they're not utopias, but you would be a fool not realize how much better off living in those countries would mean for the average American. But we're talking about people who love their guns and being pissed on by corporations and other rich elites.

But the most likely reason OB became interested in Greenland is that he wants a grand gesture to mark his occupation of the White House. He recently gave NASA marching orders to return humans to the surface of the moon by 2024. A cool goal worthy of a real president but the time frame is next to impossible. Mainly because NASA's new super rocket hasn't even begun unmanned test flights. It's currently billions over budget with its first flight several years overdue.

Throw in the “minor” (that's sarcasm) problem that the only lunar landers we currently possess exist only as pretty artistic concepts. Could there be a crash program to get humans back to the moon by the 2024 deadline? Yeah sure, but NASA's budget would have to be raised to astronomical levels, but OB has actually cut the space agency's budget since he came into office. For the sake of brevity, I'll ignore the fact that if OB forced NASA to slap together its super rocket along with an untested lunar lander that the most likely result would be dead astronauts stuck on the moon or forever flying through space.

I believe someone has told OB his 2024 moon landing just ain't going to happen, so he went shopping for another grand gesture with Greenland looking like low-hanging fruit. What would really be cool, and sure to piss on OB's image of himself would be to have the Greenlanders vote on joining the United States. I would bet money I do not have that after Greenlanders overwhelmingly voted to stay with Denmark and keep their awesome social safety net they would then go to the nearest bar and have a huge belly laugh at the expense of OB and his delusions.

For those reasons I'd almost like to think the real issue with our reality is some bored master programmer having some sick fun on his version of a Playstation or Xbox. But realistically the problems with our reality lay in the fact that humans are just plain stupid and too lazy to prevent the wrong people from gaining power.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

For the Sake of the Living

(Author's note: This is a sequel to "The Bigger Picture" and reading it first will make this one more understandable.)

The war never became an unifying factor for the vast majority of humanity. The twenty-five hundred worlds of humanity were content to form regional alliances with a few of the stronger planetary-states willing to fight the enemy alone. Only the governments of Earth, Mars, and Titan could be heard over the usual egotistical posturing of the regional alliances and single-planet powers calling for a greater human alliance. Their respective fleets worked the hardest to protect weaker colony worlds and in many ways, this commitment to these small, far-flung settlements brought about the fall of the Sol System.

For eighty-five standard years the three fleets of the Sol system worked to both push the Wisps out of human space, and to locate the main part of their civilization. The Wisps were seemingly rocked dozens of times with massive defeats leaving their warships nothing but shattered wreckage. But the Wisps always regrouped and came back gnawing away at the commercial and passenger starships that tied human civilization together.

The beginning of the end came with the attack on the Alpha Centauri systems. Two full Wisps fleets, heavy with battleships suddenly dropped out of hyperspace on the edge of the Alpha Centauri B system of planets. The Centauri, an arrogant branch of humanity, looked at the arrival of the enemy on their territory as a chance to show off their navy's combat abilities to the Sol system powers. The Wisps first moved on New Canaan, the colony world orbiting Alpha Centauri B. With a population of only thirty-million, its defenses could not hope the withstand the size of the Wisp onslaught.

The Centauri Federal Navy quickly mobilized, moving the mass of their fleet from the Alpha Centauri A system to the space near New Canaan in hopes of engaging the Wisps in a divisive battle. Just as the Centauri Second and Third fleets jumped the short distance to New Canaan, word was received that the Wolf 359 system had been invaded. The Centauri controlled the Wolf 359 and its vast, resource rich asteroid belt.

The Centauri Federal Republic was forced to split its fleet to meet both the attack on New Canaan and defend its interests at Wolf 359, namely the dozens of asteroid colonies containing millions of residents. The Battle of New Canaan lasted four standard days and while a win for the Centauri Navy, it came at the cost of most of the Second Fleet. The Third Fleet, redirected to Wolf 359 was utterly annihilated as was the shipyards and asteroid colonies they were sent to defend.

The Centauri immediately feared the Wisp forces would now move towards Alpha Centauri A to attack the planet Centaurus Prime and its six-billion inhabitants. In a move that showed their desperation, the Centauri called on the Sol System powers to come to their aid. Earth, Mars, and Titan immediately dispatched their local fleets to Alpha Centauri while ordering other forces farther away to return as quickly as possible.

The Battle of Alpha Centauri A was immense, it tied up all available human ships for ten lightyears. Wisp warships punched so deep into the system they came into range of the orbiting planetary defense stations of Centaurus Prime. Despite the size of the enemy forces committed to the battle, it was just a feint for the true target, Earth.

Excerpt from Admiral Jason Hogan's memoirs
Written May 20, 67 AS (after siege)
Luna Archives, Aldrin City

While the flight from Mars to Earth was routine, it nonetheless was a sobering trip for the people aboard the shuttle now entering the homeworld's atmosphere. There was no joy in coming to see the birthplace of humanity and all terrestrial life which had been seeded to many thousand worlds across the galaxy. It wasn't that the planet still bore the scars of countless centuries of abuse and negligent by its sentient children. Earth had returned to a near pristine condition with its human now devoted to it preservation and protection. For humans, trips to Earth now were more to pay respects to those that died during the Siege than to celebrate their birthplace.

The passengers on the shuttle were official emissaries to an interstellar conference being held on Mars, now the true center of human civilization. Some came from colony worlds on the far end of known space and were reestablishing contact with the rest of humanity for the first time in over a thousand years. The leading human worlds, namely Mars and Titan, were trying to combat the always contentious and fractured nature of human politics. The ultimate goal to form a lasting alliance to stand against the one other intelligent species humans had ever encountered, the mysterious creatures known as the Wisps.

For the pilot of the shuttle, Midshipman Michel Cor, the trip to Earth held a particular kind of excitement he tried hard to conceal. One of the shuttle passengers was the daughter of the Castean ambassador, a young woman he had meet at several formal functions thrown by the Martian government.

Michel's group of senior cadets had been drafted to be escorts for any single person part of the diplomatic entourages. For Michel, the unwanted duty prevented him from keeping a close watch on the group of first year cadets he had been assigned. If any of the newbies violated regulations or failed in their studies, it would reflect badly on him before his career even began. So it was with considerable trepidation that Michel waited with the other cadets to meet the visitors who they all had been ordered to impress.

The grand ballroom in the Martian Capitol building was decked out in decorations celebrating the new Renaissance. Hundreds of flags hung from the curved walls of the room representing the participating human worlds. Dozens of holograms of great historical figures floated in the air demonstrating that courageous and determined people can change the course of history. More importantly, for Michel, the tables in the cavernous room overflowed with food from all known human colony worlds. Having spent the last several days prepping for exams meant little time for meals, Michel eyed all the food ravenously.

Michel slipped away from the other senior cadets and walked over to the table containing food from his birth world of Sonora. He immediately tore into the plate of crispy Gawker bird paying no attention to time nor his surroundings. When someone finally spoken to him several minutes later, he almost choked from surprise.

“Hello cadet,” the young brown-haired woman close to his own age said. She was wearing a formal gown whose design looked like something the elite women of his home wore. “My father told me to mingle with the others in my group but I have always felt uncomfortable in these situations.” The young woman said further, clearly nervous about how Michel would react.

Michel recovered his wits quickly enough to look around and realize all the other cadets had already paired off with the other unaccompanied visitors. The best he could do at first was just smile as he tried to swallow his food and brush crumbs off his dress uniform.

“I know the feeling,” he finally responded. “The circumstances on my planet never prepared me for anything like this, frankly I'll be happy if I just don't make an ass of myself.”

For reasons he didn't understand, the young woman began laughing at his words. “I would have figured diplomatic small talk was a required course at the great Martian Fleet Academy.”

“It is,” Michel confessed, “one that I had to take three times before barely passing. Even then I believe my instructor just wanted to free herself from my bumbling.”

That made the attractive young lady laugh even more. “Well, we'll just have to mumble through together. Hi, my name is Aliane Jadin, my father is the lead ambassador from Castea.”

“I'm Senior Cadet Michel Cor from Sonora.” He responded shaking her hand in the diplomatically accepted manner while accessing the neural interface in his brain to get basic information on the planet Castea.

The trip to Earth would finally allow Michel some privacy with the beautiful young Aliane, something that was impossible on Mars. Being a midshipman in his final year at the Fleet Academy meant he had appreciable leeway in how he spent is time and with whom.

As instructed, he landed the shuttle at a Fleet base in a section of Western Europe once called Brittany. Base personnel quickly emerged from a nearby building and hustled the dignitaries off the shuttle and into ground cars for a tour of the region. Aliane Jadin, was the last off the shuttle and waited beside Michel as the procession of vehicles drove off.

Base personnel, emerging from a nearby building, ignored the young couple as they began servicing the shuttle for its eventual flight back to Mars. Michel stepped over and spoke to the young ensign in charge of the ground crew, who pulled out a small communicator and began issuing orders to some unknown person or AI on the other end.

It was early spring in the northern hemisphere and Aliane was wearing a colorful but simple tunic and skirt that unbeknownst to either had a strong resemblance to what peasant girls wore in that region for hundreds of years back in ancient times. Michel of course was wearing his Fleet midshipman's uniform which was a one piece, utilitarian suit designed for functionality and nothing else. It was often joked on the other more cultured human worlds that the one certainty in the universe was that Martians had nether style nor any idea about fashion.

“Where are we going, Michel? My father will be worried if he receives word that I did not attend the tour.” Aliane said to the midshipman.

“There is a beautiful meadow just outside the base perimeter where couples and groups like to picnic. Since this is our first chance to be truly alone, I thought it would be a good idea for us to spend some time there.” Michel said grabbing the woman's hand.

“Picnic?” Aliane nervously repeated, uncertain of its meaning. .

“Ah yes,” Michel grinned while feeling a little embarrassed. Almost three thousand Earth years separated Castean speech with the common tongue used by those serving in the Martian Fleet. “The word comes from an ancient Earth language called English or Anglo. It means an outing or occasion that involves a packed meal eaten outdoors.” Michel quickly explained not wanting to offend the young woman.

While the universal translators both Aliane and Michel had embedded in their neural interfaces were highly effective, it couldn't catch everything. Michel couldn't even begin to guess what might be going through Aliane's mind. He didn't know what would be worse, ruining his chances with Aliane or causing a diplomatic incident endangering the fragile Human alliance just now taking shape. Michel had read the file on Castea, while it was an advanced and sophisticated world recognizing universal human rights, their moral standards involving unmarried relations were quite primitive.

Aliane chuckled after he explained the meaning. “Oh, you mean a social,” she said. “I would really enjoy such an activity with you Michel.” Aliane was around twenty earth years old although on her own planet with its longer orbit she was still considered a minor in some regards.

“When our transportation and food arrives,” Michel said, “we'll head over to that meadow. The tour group won't be back until nightfall and we'll be waiting on the shuttle for them.”

“Excellent,” Aliane exclaimed while grabbing his hands with hers, “I'm not sure what you've heard about Castea but many my age group are determined to shake off our stifling rules.”

Their transportation turned out to be a sky cycle. A two-person craft that used anti-gravity repulsors for lift and motion. A container mounted on the rear held an assortment of food and supplies for the excursion. Michel and Aliane took to the air right after the ground crew explained the workings and felt comfortable that the two wouldn't immediately kill themselves after taking off. Cruising five hundred meters above the ground, the young couple had a spectacular view of the countryside. Rivers, forests, and meadows seemed to go on forever, but the one missing item was evidence of an active civilization.

In a few places, the couple spotted dark, jagged structures on the surface signifying ruins dating back to the time the Wisps bombarded the planet. Centuries after the bombardment when the people of Mars and Titan restored life to the surface of Earth, all surviving remnants of civilization were treated as sacred.

Michel landed the sky cycle close to a centuries-old tree growing atop a hill next the meadow. The two pulled a blanket and food from the container on the cycle and prepared a spot that would have been recognizable to most humans all through history.

The awkwardness of youth and innocent attraction was replaced by the ritual of eating and engaging in small talk. Michel asked about Aliane's childhood and what it was like growing up on a planet that had been isolated from the rest of humanity for several millennia.

“Our isolation went beyond time and space,” Aliane said in a curious tone. “My people and I are the children of one of the thousands of seedships Earth callously dispatched out into the void before the invention of hyper-light travel.” She finished obviously harboring some sort of hurt and resentment.

To Michel the seedships were the stuff of ancient history bordering on legend and myth. The story of the seedships begin so far back in time humans had had only stepped foot on Luna for the first time just a little over two-hundred years before. By the late twenty-second century, according to the ancient Christian calendar, humans had colonized much of the Sol system. Great cities existed on Luna, Mars, and the moons of the gas giants. Hundreds of asteroids had been hollowed out, filled with soil, water, and air then spun to create gravity and now were homes for millions of people.

There were still troubles, incompetent governments, corrupt corporations, new forms of sickness that refused easy treatment, poverty, crime, and even wars among the various political entities. But the one thing that united humanity was its desire to escape the confines of the Sol system. Humans lived all the way out to the wandering and silent comets of the Kuiper Belt, but except for several manned missions to the three stars making up the Alpha Centauri system, the rest of the galaxy was simply was too distant for humans to reach.

The roadblock to the galaxy was simple engineering. Manned interstellar flight required a massive infrastructure to house, feed, and protect fragile human beings for trips that would take a century or more. Such trips would then require not only enormous amounts of fuel to accelerate the ship to a decent percentage of light speed, but to bring the vessel to a stop at its destination. None of the numbers could be made to work using the existing technology of the time.

What humans could do was send out unmanned probes, exponentially reducing the mass and fuel requirements for the trips. So, by the late 2180's the first probes left the Sol system bound for various nearby stars. While telescopic observation had long since confirmed terrestrial exoplanets were common, with some clearly harboring some form of life, the probes found nearly every star system had a world humans could live with little to no terraforming.

This drove the various political entities in the Sol system crazy. Each wanted the glory to be the first to establish another human interstellar colony other than the one living on the planet that would eventually be called Centaurus Prime.

The scientists and engineers eventually stumbled upon a concept first conceived back during the prehistory of Twentieth Century Earth. Sub-light starships would be built that contained the DNA of tens of thousands of individuals encoded into computer memory, sidestepping the need to house, feed, and protect them during the flight. Upon arrival to their destination these ships would land and through the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotic equipment prepare a site for humans to live. These computerized genomes would then be biologically recreated, grown in artificial wombs, and raised to adulthood by robot caregivers.

There was some debate on whether tossing humans into the interstellar void to be raised by robots was morally and ethically sound. But not enough to deter the first seedship leaving the Sol system in 2274. While there were tragic and horrible failures, the seedship project only picked up in pace and sophistication. By the twenty-fifth century, the target destinations for seedships had moved out beyond the two-hundred lightyear range with their speed approaching seventy-five percent of lightspeed.

Around 2690 the seedship that held the DNA of Aliane's ancestors left Sol system bound for a star system close to three-hundred lightyears away. Forty-two years into the flight of that seedship it stopped broadcasting status updates and was declared a loss by the AI system on Luna that tracked the progress of outbound vessels. During that era seedships were leaving Sol system at the rate of one or two an Earth year so its failure was well within what was thought allowable. The project continued well into the thirtieth century until the invention of a practical faster-than-light drive which made the sub-light ships obsolete.

What actually happened to the seedship carrying Aliane's ancestors though was that it had encountered a phenomenon that would later be named a spacial quantum rift and was instantly transported five-thousand lightyears off course. The AI systems onboard the vessel were smart enough to access the situation and then locate a suitable target planet in range so the mission could continue. Aliane's ancestors would go on to build their own civilization cut off from the rest of humanity and its growing interstellar radio network.

“For centuries,” Aliane said, “our separation from the rest of humanity was a cause of great pain for my people. We had no idea where we were in relation to the rest of settled human space. As the colony grew, factions arose trying to explain how we got to Castea. Some believed something had happened to Earth and the rest of the Sol system. That we were the last gasp of a species on the verge of going extinct.”

“But that couldn't explain the massive and instantaneous jump your seedship made,” Michel said. “If this was just a case of a lost seedship the onboard mission log would have shown a flight time lasting thousands of years instead of centuries.”

“True,” Aliane said, “but others came to believe aliens had taken control of the seedship, and brought it close enough to Castea for the AI's to recognize it as a near perfect copy of Earth. That before releasing the seedship they had modified the human DNA encoded into the computers as part of some type of experiment. Up until the day the starship from Tenia found us, we had no idea if we were truly human. This confusion, fear, and doubt made our society unstable. That was why we eventually reactivated the seedship's AI's and incorporated them into our government.”

Michel understood that Castea's isolation had ended less than a century ago when that exploration starship accidentally stumbled upon the system. The Tenian vessel discovered Castea had a population well over a billion people and numerous settlements on the other worlds of the system. Even now with the formation of the Human alliance about to happen, Castea was still so far beyond the normal boundaries of human space the number of ships to have visited that system was no more than a few dozen. In fact, the Castean starship now in orbit around Mars was the first time they had voyaged to any other human world.

There was a long silence as Michel and Aliane seemed to run out of words. The two found themselves moving closer to each other and holding hands. In Michel's mind he felt himself falling in love with the young woman. As Michel held Aliane in his arms, he was overwhelmed with the idea at how natural they felt together. As if they were two separate pieces made whole by being together.

But for for Alaine, something completely different was happening. A small part of her mind was feeling emotions quite similar to Michel's. But subconsciously other parts of her brain were calculating, planning, and making ready to satisfy the needs of the Masters. Per instructions that had laid dormant until it sensed the right time, Aliane's neural interface began preparing to bring Michel in the Fold.

Unbeknownst to Michel's conscious self, his own neural interface had sensed the change in Aliane and began mobilizing. Michel, still caught up in his nascent love of Aliane felt himself jerk away and place his right hand on the base of the woman's neck. Microseconds later several nanotubes shot out from the palm of his hand both linking up with Alaine's neural interface and injecting her body with hundreds of thousands of nanoprobes all programmed to shut down all operations in her body.

The resulting pitched battle of opposing technologies was over long before Michel or Aliane could register that it had even happened. While Aliane's body just slumped onto the covering the two had spread over the grass, Michel found himself scrambling away after his conscious mind reengaged with his body. Mere seconds later, the program that had been installed into Michel's own neural interface was fully flushed away dissolving any residual emotions he was felt towards the creature now laying on the ground. He looked at Aliane with a combination of curiosity and disgust much like a scientist might do to a new form of mold. Memories of the months of preparation and training flooded back causing him to look at Aliane as the alien being she had apparently been all along.

The triggering of the covert program running in Michel's neural interface had alerted all manner of personnel. The high pitched whine of anti-gravity replusors caused Michel to look up into the sky and see three sleek shuttles in the sky approaching his location. Within seconds after they landed, both Michel and the still prostrate Aliane were brought aboard and taken away.


Admiral Hogan stood at the window of the isolation chamber looking in at the unconscious young woman strapped down on the exam table. Upon her arrival technicians and medical robots had removed the woman's clothes and dressed her in loose fitting pajamas. At that moment doctors were supervising a surgical 'bot in the removal of the top portion of her skull. Once the skull was gently removed and placed in stasis, it became clear to everyone watching that while the young woman could act human she was nothing of the sort.

Neural Interface devices were ubiquitous tools that all humans on civilized worlds used to link into the local network grid for things like information and communication. Installed during childhood, they consisted of a web of fine optical wires that piggybacked throughout a brain. If brain surgery was ever required on a sick or injured person, standard interfaces were barely visible among normal brain tissue. What doctors and technicians would see would be pulses of light racing along almost microscopic threads.

What the technicians and Hogan saw inside Aliane's skull was a conglomeration of jagged inorganic shapes on the surface of her brain. Linking these structures together were filaments that looked organic in nature but were not based on any human technology. While Aliane looked and could act human, Hogan had no doubt that her intellect, personality, and experience were completely alien. If Aliane wasn't a Wisp, she was nothing but a tool for those mysterious creatures.

Hogan understood him calling the young woman from Castea an alien was ironic. He had lost most of his original human body during the siege of Earth over three-thousand years ago. As the centuries ticked by, it was decided by those in power that he was too valuable to lose. So his remaining organic parts were slowly replaced with cybernetic implants until he was just a brain housed in a vaguely humanoid body made of polymers and metal. Hogan couldn't even say his brain was still alive since being encased in a preserving fluid to prevent neurological decay. .

Hogan's contemplation of his own delayed mortality was interrupted when Michel Cor entered the room. The young man now wearing the uniform of the newly formed Human Federation Fleet seemed especially distant.

“Hello Ensign Cor,” Admiral Hogan said in a voice that sounded remarkably like the one his original body produced. “I trust you are recovering from the covert program ran during the operation. The artificial emotions it produces can linger in the minds to those unfamiliar with the effects.”

“I am fine, sir.” Michel said coldly while staring through the window at Aliane. “How did Fleet Intelligence come to believe the Wisps had infiltrated human societies?”

Hogan thought for several seconding weighing whether or not to tell the young man anything. But the Collective had a high regard for Michel and his future, which tipped the balance.

“The Tenians had suspicions from the moment they made first contact. Automated bio-scanners detected abnormalities in several members of the Castean delegation that visited their ship. Enough for the medical AI to trigger an alert saying it would be best if the two groups did not have direct exposure.”

“I read the reports,” Michel said. “That still doesn't explain to me how you and the rest of the Fleet Intelligence Collective knew to set this trap. Long range scans show Castea to be a normal human world with no bizarre or unusual societal traits except for the use of the seedship AI's in their government.”

“Once the Mars Intelligence Collective became aware of the Castean abnormalities several stealth probes were placed inside the star system. They have detected numerous subspace signals being directed out towards an uncharted star cluster. These signals are encoded and have Wisp characteristics.” Admiral Hogan told the newly minted ensign, deciding that a more detailed explanation was beyond the scope of his understanding.

“Then what Aliane said must be true in some sense,” Michel said more to himself than the admiral.

“What is that, Ensign?”

“Aliane told me her people understand their seedship's mysterious jump doesn't make any sense. Being thrown over five-thousand lightyears by a spacial rift only to end up in range of a very Earth-like planet defies logical thinking. She said a segment of the Castean population believes aliens are responsible and could have even modified them.”

“That's why you will be joining the crew of the starship Ranger and heading to Castea,” Hogan said. “Every member of our new Federation understands the Wisps will eventually return, and that this time they will not just sterilize one world. They will wipe humanity out all across the galaxy. As far as the Castean delegation is concerned, young Aliane died suddenly due to infection and the new Human Federation must pay its respects to the people of that world.”

“Does that mean Aliane will be terminated?” Michel said pointing at the figure on the exam table.

“No ensign, my own connection to humanity may be tenuous but I still cherish life. Even now a none sentient clone mimic of Aliane is being grown. That will be the body the Ranger returns to Castea. Thew real Aliane may spend the rest of her life here on Earth in a stupor being studied, but neither the Intelligence Collective nor I will end her life.”

A technician arrived presenting the admiral with a data pad allowing Michel to have some time with his thoughts. While it was now a dying echo, Michel still felt the emotional connection he was developing with Aliane. It didn't feel like an aftereffect of the personality program the Intelligence Collective installed in him and the other cadets to draw out Wisp infiltrators. Michel stood at the window watching the medical 'bot connecting optical fibers to the Wisp devices embedded in Aliane's brain. It physically hurt Michel to see her unconscious body twitch each time the 'bot's probes made a successful link. From the first briefing the Intelligence Collective gave on possible infiltrators Michel felt the tang of disgust that anyone would betray their fellow humans to the murderous Wisps. Now looking at Aliane, he felt she and whomever else had been similarly modified were just as much victims as the billions murdered on Earth during the Siege.

With the admiral still engrossed with the technician, Michel silently turned and left the room. The Ranger would be leaving soon and it had a mission to perform. This mission wasn't just about humans wanting revenge for the billions killed by the Wisps, it was also for the sake of the living.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Brain Freeze Incident

Don't get me wrong, I supremely enjoyed my recent vacation down at Disney World. It had been almost five full years since the last family trip down there and the long break had fine-tuned my appreciation for Mickey, Donald, and my own personal god, Goofy. The only real problem was that the reports we had read for months about nearly overwhelming crowds sizes at the parks were turning out to be true.

Yes, to many people Disney has always seemed overcrowded, but you can chalk that up to how varying individuals have different tolerances to the pleasantly ravaging masses of humanity. All whom are desperate to get every bang for their bucks on vacations that are too short and infrequent. But it seems different now since the management gods running Walt's creations have spent years building new resort hotels without a corresponding addition to the four existing theme parks. Compounding the issue, those same management gods have expanded existing theme parks drawing in even more people straining Disney staff and facilities.

For me and my family the increased park attendance were issues we largely worked around. First, we're Disney Vacation Club members which means we just jump on a Disney-supplied bus that picks us up at our resort and drops us off at whatever theme park we want to visit. Secondly, these buses allow people to hit the parks just as soon as they open, and if you plan ahead allowing visitors to hit the popular rides first before wait times get really long. The idea being once the crowds start getting too stifling you make a retreat back to the resort pool to actually rest and relax.

That was the plan the day we were going to hit Animal Kingdom Park and finally have our turn on the two Avatar-related attractions: “Flight of Passage” and the “Na'vi River Journey.”

We hit Flight of Passage first and even with a nearly two-hour wait in the queue, I had a great time. Imagine you're walking up a mountain on an alien planet with native vegetation all around the path. With my science-oriented mind these alien fake plants were fascinating with me wondering what hypothetical evolutionary pressures could produce such lifeforms.

The ride itself was as close to virtual reality as you can get without closing the actual line. Flight of Passage starts with the person mounting something that looks akin to a frame for a motorcycle. Various panels then move to secure the rider who is staring very closely at a huge, curved screen. The scenario for the attraction has you being linked to one of several avatars on the planet Pandora who are about to ride one of the flying banshees.

Once all the storeline hocus pocus is finished, you're on a banshee which takeoffs from the side of one of Pandora's flying mountains. Scenery flashes on and off the screen, which looks fully immersive since the person is so close to the images. Of course the frame you're riding adds to the visual effects because it tilts in all directions, but never enough that a person could fall off. After the ride is finished, cast members quickly usher everyone out the opposite door so the next group can enter.

Once my wife and I stepped back out into the bright Florida sun, a reward was in order for having successfully navigated the aerial wonders of Pandora. Which turned out to be a Avatar-themed frozen drink of two different flavors. I forgot the actual flavors, but they were colored purple and green with candy pearls mixed in as well.

That day in Florida was blistering hot and with its partner, stifling humidity teaming up to make every action as difficult as possible. (Yeah, First-world problems are the worst.) Luckily, my wife and I were able to snag a table under an awning to enjoy our pricey, frozen concoctions. Just as we sat down to enjoy our drinks my wife had to run off to the restroom. Not seeing any reason to wait for her, I began slurping down on my drink to get some relief from the heat. This is when the crowd began to reassert itself.

The one thing about crowds is that conversations naturally become harder. In the past, people tended to lower their voices when a sensitive subject had to be discussed in public. Not anymore, I've come to the idea that with “reality television” as thing now certain people seem to enjoy making outlandish statements in public.

Just one table over from me a forty-something mom was in a rather heated discussion with her twenty-something daughters about their activities the night before. Yes, I was listening because of the circumstances just mentioned. Not actively listening like someone attending a reality show, but when people are separated by just a few feet and speaking louder than usual certain details will get exposed.

While the mother/daughter conversation next me was steadily becoming louder my consumption of frozen fruity drink had reached a tipping point. The result was a massive brain freeze that felt like a megaton nuclear blast going off inside my head. At the same time apparently one or both of the daughters had said something so horrendous it shocked the mother along with silencing several other nearby tables. At that moment my brain was reeling from the cold with me nearly in spasms, so I missed the actual statement.

“You seem to have forgotten, I'm your mother not your friend.” The mother said as my ears reengaged with my recovering brain. Per my usual luck, the cold-related contortions cleared in time to hear the people at yet another table apparently snickering at the mom/daughter discussion. Truthfully, these other people could have been laughing at my brain freeze but the mother/daughter trio were giving them nasty looks and not me. I played innocent and went back to slurping on my drink as the mom stalked off with the two daughters soon following behind.

My wife soon reappeared with me working hard to push the envelope on another brain freeze. When it hit, I had enough time to think of the quote that says only the mad repeat the same process over hoping for a different result. All things considered, I really wish I had heard what had upset the mom.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Return to Disney World- June 22 to 29: Part Three

Initially, I didn't plan on going to the Magic Kingdom on this trip. But I was still feeling okay after hitting EPCOT the day before and with the wife, daughter, and niece all going my hesitancy disappeared. As expected, the crowd at the Magic Kingdom was nearly overwhelming with stand-by wait times on many of the attractions moving into the two-hour realm. Just a few years ago getting a picture at the Walt and Mickey statue was fairly easy. Now it becomes both a battle in figuring out where the line really begins and then waiting your turn. Disney management has spent years building resorts and hotels for their customers and the strain on the four parks is starting to show. They need to build a fifth park to help with the crowds.      

We did hit a few attractions by using the "fast-pass" system. You either use the Disney parks app or go to a computer kiosk and look up what attractions have open seats and during what times. After reserving a fast pass you then wait till the assigned time and then report to the ride. You don't immediately get on, but fast passes do cut a huge chunk of time out of standing in line. 

One of the resorts that opened with the Magic Kingdom back in the 1970's was the Polynesian Hotel. Never once set foot into the place until this visit. It was just a recon with us checking everything out. It was nice but I like other resorts better. This is a statue/fountain in the lobby. 

Later that night back at Animal Kingdom Lodge wife and I hit the pool to cool off.

Animal Kingdom Park built another section devoted to the movie Avatar. These are the "flying mountains" the human visitors to the planet Pandora has in the movie. Not an exact match to the movie but since anti-gravity isn't real, they did a really good job.  

A much better flying mountain with the waterfall adding even more realism.

A "plant" native to Pandora. The picture doesn't do justice to the actual bright colors. But my camera isn't the best and the sun was incredibly bright that day. 

This gets back to what I wrote about the parks being overwhelmed. The Avatar section has two big rides that have very long wait times. The "Flight of Passage" ride has the flying mountains and alien plants which make it interesting. While the "Na'vi River Journey" has this hellish, old-style line. Flight of Passage was a long wait but it went quick with all the things you can look at. Na'vi River Journey wait time was over two hours and once we were on the ride my wife and I soon discovered it was a big disappointment. Think "It's a Small World" but set on Pandora. 

A bad picture of the Na'vi River Journey.

Something from the movie, a fighting walker. No, it doesn't move.

Me with Donald. Last post about the trip. Was nailed by some sort of virus last weekend and I will now go collapse back on the couch.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Return to Disney World-June 22 to 29: Part Two

My daughter and niece at Disney Springs.

The EPCOT park is made of different pavilions and the world showcase of nations. The original intent of the pavilions was to show human progress and sciences. The picture above is from "The Land" pavilion which mostly tells the story of agriculture through the centuries. These pictures highlight a different area, one where plants are grown using various methods like hydroponics and aquaculture. This highlights the science aspects as well as supplying a good deal of the fish, fruits, and vegetables used at the restaurants located at Disney World. This enclosure is largely cutoff from the outside and is  climate controlled.        

Here is a couple of coffee trees growing inside the building. Yes, they're using sand as a rooting medium.
The "boats" that take visitors through the historical part and the growing enclosure.

At the center of the enclosure is a pretty big date palm tree.
Back outside on the World Showcase and this is the main building of the Italian Pavilion. Each nation on the World Showcase as numerous restaurants, places of interest showing off that country, and is generally staffed by people from that nation. 

Spaceship Earth seen through a structure at the Chinese Pavilion. I'm sorry, I have no idea what that structure is called.

The Mexican pavilion.
Me with Goofy. Got to admit, my affinity for this Disney god pretty much typifies my own personality.  

Monday, July 8, 2019

Return to Disney World-- June 22 to 29

Early morning pool side at Animal Kingdom Lodge's Jambo House. On the first night of the recent vacation we had a studio room which we switched out to a one-bedroom with a kitchen at Kidani Village for the rest of the trip. 

The lobby at Jambo House.
A beautiful and massive headdress made by the Igbo people of Nigeria.

Morning view on the balcony of the one-bedroom at Animal Kingdom Lodge's Kidani Village. The building catering more to the Disney Vacation Club members.

Me with Pixar characters Sadness and Joy at EPCOT

Thursday, July 4, 2019

American Karma

Bryant hated his brother-in-law from the day his wife first introduced him. A successful real estate developer, Richard Carter was the ugly epitome of arrogance and overindulgence. Just minutes after sitting down with Richard in the lobby of the Miami hotel where he was staying, Bryant desperately wanted to escape the man's presence. He oozed a sickly sweet and condescending confidence that would rivaled medieval kings or Roman emperors.

“So Elaine says you teach high school history.” Richard said after the two sat down across from each other in the available overstuffed chairs. “Got to admire a man attempting to teach those animals the finer points of the liberal arts.” He continued with a thinly veiled snide smile.

Bryant's stomach turned instantly sour trying to decide if Richard's remark was aimed at the poor, mostly black and Hispanic kids he taught or at his profession. Commonsense suggested that Richard was probably aiming at both given how the man had expressed his disdain of anything involving government on the Fox News business shows he periodically appeared. Richard was one of the standard issue talking heads Fox News pulled out whenever they wanted to decry the abuses of wasteful spending and how the poor middle class taxpayers were being taken advantage of by the evil liberals.

Richard's main qualification for his television appearances, beside his good looks and expensive wardrobe to show off his wealth, was his ability to propagandize free-market capitalism. His rants about how America was great because of hard working but often abused businessmen almost always sent Fox's assortment of blonde bimbo female hosts into orgasm. Richard always finished his appearances by claiming anyone could be a success in America if they only worked hard.

Something Bryant knew from his students was unfortunately not the case. He understood systemic poverty was like oily tar, if you were born into it or through misfortune found yourself engulfed by the condition, escaping was damn near impossible.

It was a testament to the ignorance of Fox viewers that they could ever believe people like Richard gave a damn about their well being. Richard's primary concern was his own advancement in both money and prestige. This meant cost cutting measures like hiring as many illegal immigrants he could get away with on his construction worksites. Such violations also meant that if anyone got hurt they either left on their own accord or were run out of town by one of his security guards.

While there were rich men and women who cared about their workers and community, those like Richard existed just to taken advantage of the system to their benefit. That they occasionally had to work the ignorant masses from time to time was just par for the course.

“Yeah, all the way from the birth of civilization to the fall of Rome. The whole range of assholes from deluded god-kings to decadent, inbred aristocrats who didn't know their ass from a hole in the ground.” Bryant responded while looking Richard straight in the eyes.

Richard slightly laughed at the remark while he lifted the sparkling glass containing two shots of expensive bourbon to his mouth. After consuming the golden brown liquid he sighed deeply as if he was dealing with an impaired child. “Yet those god-kings and aristocrats pushed mankind forward.” He said obviously satisfied with his cleverness.

It was only the arrival of Elaine and Richard's wife, Maria, that stopped Bryant from answering. The trip to Miami was part of Bryant and Elaine's honeymoon. The fact that Richard was paying for a shopping spree for the two women was the only reason Bryant was giving the egotistical ass the time of day. Richard's one human trait was his love of his wife and sister, for that reason alone he was willing to attempt to be civil. Bryant sat in the chair listening to the two women talk about their adventures while hoping he would have little to do with Richard in the years to come.

On one wall of the lobby was a huge television screen showing another real estate bastard descending an escalator with the caption saying he was going to run for president. Richard noticed the broadcast as well and broke into a huge grin. To Bryant, his wife's brother looked like he had just seen Jesus.

“Son of a bitch,” Bryant whispered to himself before waving down a waiter and ordering a stiff drink.

Several Years Later...

The bus caravan had finally reached the southern border. Bryant, squeezed in the middle of a too small seat situated on the left side of the bus held his wife and daughter tightly watching the activities outside. Several of the militia guards had dismounted from their former U.S. Army humvees running ahead of the convoy. It was early morning with the sun just beginning to rise in the east but to Bryant the night was just beginning.

The years following his first meeting with Richard while personally satisfying had been on long series of disasters for the country. The election of Donald Trump quickly eroded the already decayed structure of American political life. Trump and his minions systematically cut away the checks and balances of the Constitution leaving chaos and an extremely weaken United States government.

Matters were made worse by the incompetence of the Democratic Party, namely several of its 2020 presidential candidates who ran independently or on third party ballots once they failed to secure the nomination. They drew enough votes away to secure another electoral college victory for Trump.

The years of Trump's second term were even worse than the first. His erratic behavior damaged everything from the economy, to the judicial system, along with the functioning of agencies like FEMA. By this time political gerrymandering and voter suppression supported by rigged courts had all but removed any effective opposition. Trump's successor, a former governor of South Carolina and United Nations ambassador rode into office promising to continue his policies. That's when the hammer finally fell.

After eight years toying with tariffs and altering the Federal Reserve system the economy finally collapsed a year into the new president's term. Bryant, who by this time had changed occupations since the education system was pulled apart, watched the small protests around the country evolve into riots, then scattered uprisings. With already starved local governments cut to the bone, the militias that had grown under Trump began to take up positions to enforce their versions of the law.

Abused inner cities residents rebelled eventually forcing the federal government to send in the army in an attempt to restore order. That was when the West Coast was hit with a massive earthquake which ravaged everything from San Diego to San Francisco. Throw in an ongoing drought in the farm belt and two category five hurricanes making landfall on the southeast coast the fabric of society disintegrated. By 2026 the government of the United States had been replaced with a scattering of already failed states governed by various warlords. But Richard Carter somehow stayed above the chaos.

With the country dissolving, Bryant and Elaine sought refuge at Richard's compound in Texas, a relatively peaceful area. But Richard and other members of the rich and powerful knew the violence would soon overwhelm their location so he made plans to get his family, including Bryant, Elaine, and their daughter out of the country.

The caravan was an assortment of travel buses whose main advantage was that they had running engines and fuel. Richard and his friends paid heavily for militia protection with their destination being the border where Mexican guards had taken positions on Trump's now completed wall preventing scared Americans from sneaking out of the former country. A few bribes here and there would assure the Americans entry into the safety of Mexico.

The only problem was that wasn't what happened. After arriving at the checkpoint, Mexican Army soldiers escorted the bus passengers into the very camps that U.S. Immigration and Customs Agents once held Mexicans and Central Americans fleeing the poverty and chaos of their countries.

“Wait a goddamn minute,” Richard screamed as a Mexican soldier pushed him back into the line leading into the camp filled with rows and columns of dilapidated tents. “I'm Richard Carter, you can't treat me like this. I'm a human being seeking refuge from violence and militias.”

A Mexican Army colonel heard the commotion and came over. “Yes, I know of you Mr. Carter,” he said in flawless English suggesting he spent some time in the former United States.

“Finally,” Richard exclaimed, “someone with a little bearing and intelligence.” Richard was giving his usual smile and in the few seconds he had instantly regained the imperial bearing he displayed on the now defunct Fox News.

Richard's recovery was short lived. The Mexican colonel grabbed the soldier's rifle and used the butt of the weapon to slam Richard's head. The stunned real estate developer fell to the ground, barely conscious.

“Now get into the fine concentration camp your former president built for my people.” The colonel said with his voice oozing with revenge. It took several more impacts with the rifle before Richard finally got the message and crawled into the camp on his hands and knees.

Bryant couldn't help but laugh at the karmic justice that had befallen his brother-in-law and his once great nation.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Passing Hotel California

With a budget running into the tens of billions, at least, you would think the army would spring for comfortable travel buses to move soldiers from one fort to another. But no, there were about sixty of us crammed into a glorified school bus traveling from Fort Irwin, California to Fort Carson, Colorado. The best that can be said was that my tired comrades and I were on the very last leg of what had been a month and a half long field training exercise (FTX) at Fort Irwin involving the OPFOR (Opposing Forces) unit stationed at that god forsaking desert outpost.

See, this was the late 1980's when the United States and NATO still worried the Soviet Union and the satellite nations of the Warsaw Pack would invade Western Europe in an effort to bring down the free world. So several years before the big shiny star wearing boys inhabiting the Five Sided Funny Farm (Pentagon) decided to make the 177th Armored Brigade stand in for the commie bastards by having them go against other army units using Soviet tactics and vehicles modified to look like the enemy. And the best place to pursue these war games was a dusty, semi-forgotten post out in the Mojave Desert, Fort Irwin. The best way to describe the Fort Irwin National Training Center (generally called NTC) is that its isolation and open spaces would allow a degree of realism that would difficult to get anywhere else.

So for years poor suckers like me would be loaded on buses and planes, if they were far enough away, and sent to NTC to have their asses thoroughly waxed by the OPFOR in the hopes that if the balloon ever went up we make the Soviets regret being born. Truth be told, while I shudder at the idea of having to go through that bullshit again, for the twenty-something version of myself back then playing combat soldier was fun. Another part of these deployments I did enjoy was being able to see the brilliance of the Milky Way at night since we were so far away from any major city lights.

So after what felt like an eternity living in sand, eating MRE's, and trying to avoid the irate wildlife like coyotes and snakes my unit was on the road again heading home. One particular trip had us leaving NTC late in the evening taking a route that would have us drive partially through Nevada. As the hours passed, we left all signs of civilization behind us and hit a stretch of road that would have been perfect for an X-Files episode or any other show involving UFO's and those little gray aliens.

Being glorified school buses there were no reading lights nor televisions so once the sun went down we all pretty much passed out. Except me, I was dealing with a minor knee injury that made sleeping difficult so I just zoned in and out enjoying the quiet. I don't remember the scenery outside the bus but given that we were in southern California the one thing I can say for certain was that desolate and dark would be the best description.

It was after midnight when we moved into an area with hills and we began shifting in our seats as the bus driver made his adjustments to stay on the road. While the swaying was minor it was really bothering my knee, so I was fully awake when we suddenly came upon something we didn't expect to see. One minute we're on an empty road in near pitch-black darkness and the next there is a blinding light ahead of us. This of course woke everyone up and after our eyes adjusted we were able to see what was a casino resort just across the Nevada state line.

After weeks living in the desert like monks this outpost of obvious gambling decadence and carnal sin about drove my fellow twenty-somethings and myself crazy. The parking lot was full of high class sports cars and as we passed the main building there were dozens of hot women outside dressed in tight, skimpy attire. Thinking about it now, it's a testament to our discipline and dedication as soldiers that we didn't mutiny, take control of the bus, and head straight to the casino's front door. Frankly, I'm surprised no one simply opened the two emergency doors on the bus and jumped out.

As the casino receded behind us we all calmed down and dozed back off to sleep. The lights of the casino stayed visible for far longer than seemed reasonable but steadily dwindled as our distance increased. Still nursing my knee, I watched it until it was no more than a bright star on the horizon.

The next morning my fellow soldiers and I all talked as if the casino was a mutual dream. As if our pent up desires all mashed together and created a place where our fantasies became real. That was decades ago with me now a totally different person. I have absolutely no desire to visit any casino, and being married and in my fifties makes any fantasies of young gorgeous women in tight, skimpy attire utterly ridiculous. But I've got to admit every time I hear the song Hotel California by the Eagles I feel a little of that ancient energy of a younger man.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Living On A Dangerous Edge

Maybe it was just a Southern thing, but when I was growing up most adults I knew held a certain awe for The Andy Griffith Show. For those who don't know, The Andy Griffith Show was a sitcom situated in the fictional North Carolina town of Mayberry that ran from 1960 to 1968. The central character was the county sheriff, named Andy Taylor, who each episode shared down home, commonsense wisdom as he managed the collection of harmless oddballs who were his friends and neighbors.

It was one of those shows that now would be called “family friendly” since there wasn't any foul language said, nothing in the way of sex was ever hinted, and had no scenes involving car chases or gun fights. In fact, the episodes usually contained a strong moral point about honesty, humility, compassion, patience, diligence, fidelity, and charity. The type of content that good, salt of the earth country life-loving folk use to eat up before they started worshiping the Orange Human Slug. You know, the slug who has had several marriages and multiple adulterous affairs, with one involving a porn star while his current wife was pregnant or had just given birth. To detail the slug's other character failings and abnormal behaviors is beyond the scope of this post.

Salt of the earth country life-loving folks still regularly watch the Andy Griffith reruns that persist down here in South Carolina almost tenuously as kudzu. The trouble though is that while these folks still admire the show, the principles Sheriff Taylor lived and shared on the show have been largely forgotten. Case in point was Sheriff Taylor's views on why he didn't carry a gun.

While a fictional character, Sheriff Taylor felt that if he carried a weapon the respect he received from other people most likely originated in the fear of what he could do with that weapon. A sentiment that once did have a basis in real life. Back in the 1980's I had a full-fledged gun-nut period where carrying a weapon for protection seemed like a good idea. No, I didn't live in a dangerous neighborhood nor did I carry around lots of money.

By that time popular culture had become flush with movies and television shows where the heroes regularly used weapons of many types to save the day. I admit comparing the action movie heroes of the 1980's with a sitcom sheriff from the 1960's is an apples and oranges situation, but the contrast between the two is important. All the big action movies characters solve their problems with the heavy use of firearms and lots of ammunition. If any of the other movie characters dare to mention diplomacy or even talking with the “enemy” they are portrayed as either evil sympathizers or hopelessly naive.Yes, the scenarios most action movies played with involved foreign armies or terrorist groups which logically required the use of military style weapons. The end result though was still the cultural acceptance of all problems can be resolved by the unlimited use of heavy weapons and unlimited ammunition.

The remarkable thing is that during the 1980's, I remember numerous people telling me I had a serious mental problem for wanting to buy one of those “Rambo guns.” I was repeatably told by hunters such assault weapons had no use outside of the military. The comparison one person used was that hunting with an assault weapon was like taking a sledgehammer to a fly. That if I absolutely had to have a something to shoot it was best just to purchase a simple bolt action deer rifle. But no, I had become hypnotized to the glamour of how assault weapons were presented in those movies. I wanted to save democracy from those damn commie bastards and to accomplish that task it was commonsense to purchase something designed for such extreme times.

Adding a touch of nuance to my gun-nut delusion, during those years I was serving in the active duty army as opposed to most of those wackos who somehow never found the local recruiter. Luckily, not long later I stumbled into scuba diving and got my certification and equipment paid for by selling my assault rifle and the semi-automatic pistol I had bought as well. It's funny now, but in the space of eighteen months I went from a delusional Rambo to a wannabe Jacque Cousteau. Hindsight being what it is in my book, I'm calling that one a win.

In my opinion a type of movie that is far worse than improbable action heroes saving democracy from nasty low-IQ commies are the revenge orientated vigilante motion pictures. The standard scenario for these films first had some normal, usually middle-class guy losing his family to a gang of thugs. The next act in the movie had the police unable or unwilling to go after the bad guys for lack of evidence or because of legal maneuvering by the defense lawyer. This then forces the main character to buy a gun and then seek revenge, which in the movie is portrayed as a form of justice. The final act of the movie has all the bad guys gruesomely killed by the main character who usually then disappears into background noise of society.

In my opinion such vigilante movies helped breed a misplaced idea that civilians should carry a weapon to protect themselves from the human sharks lurking in the shadows waiting for a chance to attack those they love. Yes, it's a long, clumsy jump from watching a crappy revenge movie to believing society is falling apart. But I've seen people make just that conclusion every time a shooting is hyped up on the nightly news.  Their immediate reaction is to say a "good guy" with a gun could have ended the tragedy before it happened. Their thinking based on the simplistic idea that proper training and years of experience, such as what police go through is overblown. And since the 1970's we've gone from a single gunman on a subway making the news to military-style assaults on elementary and high schools becoming almost commonplace. While "good guys" with guns have appeared on rare occasion, their success is more a factor luck. Sooner or later some armed idiot with good intentions is going to get more people killed trying to bring down the wacko shooting up a department store or school.

As you can probably guess for me the common factor in all this is not just the normalization of civilians owning the type of weapons that once didn't go beyond the police and military. It's the bizarre attitude that some people truly believe their safety in a supermarket or walking down a street can only be assured by them carrying a firearm. Such people do not just relish the idea of pulling out their high caliber toy and blowing away another human being, its become a status symbol. The weapon they carry signifies their place in society, not their education, accomplishments, or even money.  

Yes, there are plenty of dangerous places in this country. But the extent to which this sickness permeates the country has long since crossed the line of rationality and now firmly resides in the psychotic. For these people respect now come only from their ability to inflect carnage on other human beings.

It boggled the mind to see how far we've fallen from sanity when it comes to guns. No, I am not saying civilian ownership of pistols and non-military weapons should be banned. Such a proposal isn't workable and would just further polarize this country, maybe to the point the wackos would start their long promised “Second Amendment Remedies” for us liberals. On the other hand, a free and healthy society cannot function when it is based on fear. Sooner or later the lowbrow masses will want to use their weapons to correct what they perceive as the unfairness of society. 

With television and movies a hodgepodge of remakes and reboots, I cannot imagine anyone seriously attempting bringing back The Andy Griffith Show. The commonsense wisdom the fictional Sheriff Taylor displayed with his refusal to carry a weapon is like something from ancient times. Now we are left with this as our reality: 

We can only hope this sick era passes quickly.