Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Carolina Parrothead Book Review

"A Rotten Person Travels the Caribbean"
by Gary Buslik

Dear God in heaven I have about come to the conclusion that I have fallen through some hole in the space-time continuum and at best landed in an outlying area of Purgatory. I would say I have set down in hell but while the politicians on television hint that is the case only a few actually seem demonic, they rest are just incompetent while possessing enormous egos suggesting reality has become some sort of zany cartoon or bad Twilight Zone episode. Still though, the oppressive summer heat and humidity, being trapped in a soulless suburb filled with pod people hours away from the ocean, and the near constant chore of driving my children around to their activities and social functions has all conspired to suck the life out of me.

Anyone who enjoys the life of a suburbia pod person all I can say, with all due respect, is more power to you. But I view dithering over such asinine things like concern over the proper shade of green for their lawn, whether the new furniture clashes with the old wallpaper, or if the family needs a new SUV because the neighbor next door bought one as a form of hell. Not that I interact with the neighbors, to them at the very least I am an odd alien from another dimension that it is far better ignored. At worst I am budding terrorist out to destroy the pod and corrupt the hive mind. My wife does intermingle with those people and I must admit that I do have some sympathy for the embarrassment she has to suffer putting up with my antisocial ways. That does not stop me from taking a blood sample from her for analysis after she returns from any visit in the neighborhood. Dragonwife has pod person leanings already and I do not need her infecting the children who are both showing strong signs of original thought and behavior but not my disagreeable inclinations.

Stuck for the foreseeable future in such an environment keeping what little bit of sanity I have is a prime concern. I have developed several tactics to alleviate my stress and frustrations, most of which are family friendly and do not involve nakedness. The most extreme, but still being fully clothed, has me dressing up for a beach party complete with loud Hawaiian shirt, baggy cargo shorts, straw hat, sandals, and sunglasses then sticking my feet in my daughters old sandbox while I hold a beer in one hand and conch shell to my ear with the other. With my eyes closed I listen to the ocean through the conch shell while Jimmy Buffett plays in the background and an open bottle of sunscreen provides a needed olfactory angle to the simulation. What would really seal the deal would be the feel of both pieces of a bikini lying in my lap casually tossed there by a now naked nymph who with her come-hither look beckons me to join her for a swim. But for reasons I will not go into such a thing just isn’t possible.

The other method is to immerse myself into some book with a strong Caribbean panache that can transport me away from my mutated American Dream. That brings me to the point of yet another rancid post and the wasting of my reader’s valuable time.

Cruising around Amazon a few months ago Gary Buslik’s “A Rotten Person Travels the Caribbean” popped up in my recommended list and it looked like just the book to help me survive these dreadful summer days. It is a collection of short stories as the hero, the author himself, travels the Caribbean surviving all manner of misadventures and colorful characters one of them being his wife. Along the way he tells us about cockfighting in Grenada; surviving a trip to Castro’s Cuba while sneaking a manuscript out of the country under the nose of a commie informer as a favor to a fearful Cuban author; and smuggling illegal stogies out of St. Martin among many other extremely funny and irreverent adventures. My favorite stories involve him urinating on Idi Amin and the explanation of why chicken rectums are more relevant than you might think.

The most amazing thing for me about this very talented professor from the University of Illinois at Chicago is that he makes it clear he is a political conservative but never once does he beat the reader over the head with it. Pardon my bipartisan spirit here but this is a fellow for whom I could sit down on a sandy beach with and, if endowed with the proper political power, could find compromises that could straighten out the cluster fuck called the United States. All the while getting totally wasted drinking beer and watching the hot babes walk past in skimpy swimsuits.

For anyone suffering through similar suburban induced trials and tribulations or for anyone just wanting a well written and funny book I highly recommend this one.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Shoe On The Other Foot

This might make some people mad but let us face it; in general, Americans are assholes. Whether it was a store in a small German village, a Mexican bar outside the normal tourist areas, or simply sitting next a young Japanese couple in the Atlanta airport, I have talked with people who are nearly unanimous in their agreement that while individual Americans can be very nice, taken as a group we tend to overwhelm everything.

Now the normal reactionary American response is to bring up our saving the world from both fascism and communism, inventing most of what created the modern world we live in, and being the cultural center of the planet. All of that is true and you would be hard pressed to find anyone who would somehow want to take the United States out of that historical equation just to be free of obnoxious Americans. Still though, even a good thing can be overplayed to the point that the cure can grow stale and become its own issue.

We may have defeated Hitler and Brezhnev saving the world for democracy and capitalism only to have both dominated by huge corporations that somehow through a twisting of legal mumbo-jumbo magic are now consider “people” entitled to rights under the First Amendment. This being an idle rant here are two curious side notes to ponder. Since corporate-people are now entitled to First Amendment protections just wait until they start claiming Second Amendment rights, now that’s when the real fun will begin. The other curious note is that while we saved the world from godless communism, does anyone beside me find it hysterically funny that Red China is kicking our ass in free market capitalism?

We truly live in a fantastic age that Americans had a large part in creating, we may not be able to do weekend trips to the moon, which pisses me off to no end, but many other things are incredible. If Ben Franklin was pulled to 2010, I am sure that after chasing scores of hot babes the guy would freak over things like airplanes, high-definition television, and after being explained about the Internet would compare it to magic. Yes, we have uplifted the standard of living for ourselves and for many in the world but for all the good we have done there is a nasty reverse side to it. The Gulf oil spill all by itself, widespread pollution, exhaustion of global resources, destruction of entire ecosystems, exploitation and economic enslavement of native peoples are all the nasty side effects so the American rich and middle-class can sit comfy and warm in their McMansions. Anyone with a sliver of a conscious should be seriously disturbed over the damages we cause pursuing the "American Dream." Although far too many in this country seem to think our material happiness is guaranteed in the Constitution.

As for American culture, lets just say anyone who thinks it has had any redeeming value, beyond the rare exception, for last forty years isn’t paying much attention. From the people I have talked too outside the United States, if anything bugs them more than the America crusade to spread democracy at the point of a gun it is the insidious spread of American culture with Big Macs, pop music, and loud action movies overwhelming everything else. It’s not a question of them hating anything American, its just that we have a habit of smothering everything else to death, just ask the closest Native American you can find.

After stumbling over the video below and remembering the conversations I have had with other people over the years, especially one in that Mexican bar I mentioned, I thought it would be funny for Americans to see the other side of things.

Mexico Builds Border Wall To Keep Out U.S. Assholes

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Choices Fate Allows

Author's note: This poor example of tepid storytelling is the sequel to "What Fate Can Steal From Us".

The very idea seems like the surreal icing on top of the bizarre and gruesome cake my life has become but my new friends say I am lucky. What is the good fortune that the Fates have graciously bestowed upon me? Nothing less than the chance to keep my real name, Todd Briggs, and identity when they all had to abandon theirs after encountering the creatures we hunt. Personally, I would willingly alter any of the events that lead to such good luck but as they say, the past is only memories but living with them is almost impossible at times.

I survived the ambush in Afghanistan that killed all the other members of my Special Forces team, the civilian aid workers we were assisting and hundreds of villagers. The ambush was the result of several intelligence failures by desk bound REMF's and once word got out I left the army behind to begin a new civilian life with my wife, Jillian. A few months later during an extended road trip vacation in south Florida that was suppose to help us settle into normal life Jillian and I were kidnapped then tortured by a coven of vampires. We had unknowingly encountered the group a short time before at a diner with the leader of the coven becoming infatuated with my wife. Through means that I am still uncertain about, my wife was "convinced" to become one of those creatures with her drinking the blood from my dying body her final initiation. Only my military training enabled me to break free and escape leaving the vampires scrambling to escape the fire I started in the house where I was being held.

At best, my good fortune is abstract and relative in its definition but nonetheless as my teammates and I go through the motions of pursuing the only remaining purpose we have in life it's easy to see actual envy in their eyes over something I could not care less about. With everything I had lost, I felt as empty and soulless as the creatures I now hunted.

For eighteen months after my fellow vampires hunters found me near death, washed ashore on a small mangrove island on the edge of the Everglades I lived in the shadows with them learning the nature of the enemy that I had long relegated to the realm of late Saturday night horror movies and comic books. My education in their true characteristics and behavior was quick and dramatic after my recovery. The coven that adopted Jillian had utterly disappeared leaving me to follow the team into the jungles of southern Mexico chasing a different group that was preying on small villages.

All during that time in the hot, steamy jungles I was told by the people that had become the only family left to me that past experience suggested the authorities would ultimately declare my wife and I part of the unfortunate statistics of people who disappear without a trace. But that changed once we returned to the Louisiana compound that served as our home base.

My wife and I had in fact been declared dead, it was speculated by authorities that we had run afoul of some roaming killer who had long since moved on to other targets. That assumption fell apart when the creature that my wife had become was caught on a store video camera leading away a college girl who was now missing and presumed dead due to the blood and DNA found in a nearby abandoned house. The law enforcement bureaucratic machinery jumped back into action, the case file created for my wife, and I was pulled from whatever dusty storage it was consigned. A few news reports later Robbie McBride, the leader of the band of vampire hunters I was with quickly pushed me to contact the police. At first, I thought Robbie had gone totally insane but after he explained how we would present my resurrection, I understood the tactical advantage he wanted us to exploit.

After the arrangement of a very unconventional meeting at a roadside motel I explained to the local, state, and federal police involved that while I was overseas my wife had become part of some death cult and had lead me into an ambush with the ultimate purpose of having me murdered for insurance money. While I was being tortured by the cult members I saw how fanatically enthralled my wife was with the leader of the group and explained only my military training and escape prevented my murder

At the end of my tale, every cop in the motel room looked at me as if I had fallen to earth from some alien spaceship. However, Robbie had engineered a few people to back up my cover story and once the police checked them out their disbelief was suspended. When we all parted ways the police wanted my current address and instructed me to stay in contact. My address, also engineered by Robbie, was a small trailer deep in the Louisiana bayou that was difficult at best to find but nonetheless was something they accepted.

After a couple of days of debriefing, the assorted police raced away from the fleabag motel leaving me in the parking lot alone again. My souvenir for coming forward was the return of my driver's license that I had purposely abandoned at the burned out house where the coven had tortured me and ultimately turned Jillian. Looking at it, I felt both the urge to laugh and puke with what I felt was a huge waste of time. But Robbie was right, my resurrection did provide a new opportunity to hunt Jillian and her coven, but I never thought it would come from my in-laws.


If the same rules and paperwork existed during ancient Roman times after wading through the process to legally bring me back I figured Lazarus would have probably have told Jesus to skip the whole thing as being too much trouble. Several weeks passed dealing with a ton of paperwork and apathetic bureaucrats leaving me in a legal limbo. Even with the hassle Robbie was adamant about my identity being resurrected forcing me to hold up in my trailer while the rest of my team once again left to hunt vampires, but this time somewhere in Washington State. While my reappearance was not released to the press, it made enough of a ripple in official circles that one morning I found an email from my in-laws asking me to come see them about information they had on Jillian's current location.

Jillian's very rich and powerful parents were not happy the day she brought me home and they refused to have much to do with me for the entire time we were married. However, by the end of that day I was on the road driving to their house in Maryland loaded for vampire bear with enough weapons to supply an infantry platoon hidden in my truck.

My in-laws and I skipped the hugs and tears of a heartfelt reunion upon my arrival but my father-in-law did usher me into his study to show me the information about Jillian. The first item was a bank statement on Jillian's saving account showing recent activity in New York City. The withdrawals were all made in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn with times ranging from early morning to late at night. Just as I was about question whether it was actually Jillian making the withdrawals dad-in-law showed me a picture of Jillian taken from the ATM camera. The picture was black and white but I was dazed at seeing how beautiful she stilled looked. The only problem was that while her face was the same one I fell in love with, some human element was missing. While I couldn't care less about my in-laws I let stand the explanation of her becoming entangled with a death cult.

The next morning I left their house for the rest of the drive to New York. For my in-laws I was on a rescue mission but my sole purpose was to kill her and as many of her coven with special attention reserved for the leader of the coven, a creature going by the name Simon and his chief minion named Lewis.


For several hot summer days after arriving in New York I staked out a couple of the ATM's where the most transactions were made going as far as to surreptitiously install my own cameras both inside the booth housing the ATM and one outside using a fish eye lens. I was trying to catch what type of car they may be using or a direction they would take walking away. It was a bad time to be new to the city, days before a young girl was abducted in broad daylight in Central Park. Those nearby remarked the unusual level of terror in her screams and both civilians and police ran toward the source of the shrieks only to find the girl's mother dead. Thousands of flyers with the girl's picture were posted across the city and I could feel the edge on everyone. I was certain that it was no coincidence that at least a few vampires were walking the streets at the same time.

I tried to reach my vampire hunting teammates for support but operational security procedures were still in effect and none of my calls was answered, there was simply too big a chance that someone could be compromised in some way which would spell disaster for the whole team. That left the cameras covering two ATMs and me watching a third from the refuge of an all night coffee house directly in view of the banking machine. The streams of people were never ending both night and day making me wish vampires really were nocturnal creatures. Once becoming a vampire hunter, I learned they could move around quite well during the day, they just could not openly display their horrific behavior, which would draw attention they did not want. With that in mind during the day I settled into a routine at the coffee house acting like I was writing on my laptop and at night I would review the video from my cameras at the other two ATMs.

It was the fourth day of my vigil at the coffee house that fate finally cut me a break. The early lunchtime crowd was beginning to file in when I caught sight of the vampire Lewis at the ATM. Lewis had taken special interest in torturing me while the coven leader, Simon, and his chief wife, Alice, worked on Jillian. With my arms still tied above my head and watching Jillian go through the final stages of the change, I promised Lewis I would return every favor he had given me, at the time the creature thought what I said was very funny.

Much to my surprise and unease Lewis did me the favor of crossing the street and walking into the very coffee house I now sat taking a seat at the counter. Ignoring the monster he was Lewis in appearance was a short and ugly man who even as a vampire seemed destined to garner no respect unless he exposed his array of fangs. Watching from my booth he seemed interested in a particular waitress who did her best to ignore him and letting a male server take his order.

Vampire senses are somewhat better than humans but I wasn't worried about him recognizing me due to the crowd and the fact that I had greatly changed much of appearance since the last time he saw me. After Lewis received his order and left, I took the chance of talking with the waitress instead of following him. While clearing tables I whipped out a fake but realistic looking Homeland Security badge and ID and pulling her out of general view.

"Yeah," she said wiping her hands on a small towel she carried, "the little weirdo has asked me out several times but he made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. What is he, a terrorist or something?

"No miss," I said, "I'd just like to question the guy, he matches the description of someone we have an interest in. Do you know where he lives by chance?"

The waitress was visibly excited now, "You know I actually overheard him say something about that over his cell phone yesterday. Some important item he was waiting for was delivered that day which had him about to jump out of his pants with pleasure. He also said something about the boss lady going to Boston to sightsee and he was tired of being alone. He gave directions to the caller of an old warehouse sitting right on the harbor a few blocks from here. It's one of the things that freaked me out about him, that's not a place anyone should even think about living in." After telling her this was classified and getting the address, I was out the door, a conveniently placed city utilities truck I stole offered a way to cruise the area without being noticed.

The warehouse was not as big as I expected sitting at the very last part of a dead end street but had a small dock extending out into harbor. It was a one-story brick structure with only a few small windows and a heavy security door as a business entrance with an equally imposing garage door beside it. Across the street was a parking lot protected by a rusty and dilapidated chain-link fence offering no easy way to observe the building without having to go through a manned security booth at its entrance. The next street over dead-ended as well with the neighboring lot to the warehouse vacant. It was clear that it would take a fully armed squad to enter from the front door and more than likely the dock entrance but as I drove away, I did see an air conditioning unit on the roof, which meant there had to be a way inside from it.


I quickly ditched the city truck close to where it was parked hoping the poor guy I stole it from wouldn't get into too much trouble. I felt sure my reconnaissance of the warehouse area went unnoticed, but to enter the building I would have to approach it from the water, which added a completely new dimension to the problem. Vampires could walk during the day but were mostly active at night and according to the waitress, Lewis was alone at this moment and if he left the building the next day, I would try to enter from the roof.

That night I entered the water up current from the building and simply drifted down close to the dock. The water while cool, was comfortable as long as I didn't think what pollution what might be mixed in it, I just told myself that while in special operations I must have swam in far worse. My position did offer me a straight-line view of the heavy door and early that morning Lewis walked out heading into the city. Just as soon as he was out of sight, I was on the dock and climbing up a drainage pipe to the roof hoping the archaic tubes could hold my weight and the supplies I carried in the waterproof rucksack on my back.

After plopping on the roof I surveyed the surroundings, I was in serious luck, not only did the building have a stairwell access to the roof but two huge glass skylights that allowed me to look inside. Except for the office, which I could not see, the interior was completely empty aside from an elaborate shipping container about the size and shape of a large briefcase sitting on a table. Removing several panes from one of the skylights then repelling down was child's play, my Heckler and Koch MP-5 in position to fire the instant I saw any movement.

There are only two sure ways to kill vampires, the first is to destroy the head and the second is to burn the entire body down to bones. Anything less and their almost supernatural ability to regenerate will have them running around again within a couple of months after the most extensive injuries. Still though, the small submachine gun I carried firing off the hollow point rounds I had loaded would tear chunks out of their bodies leaving them ineffective allowing me to remove the head with a razor sharp machete I had strapped to my side.

I quickly cleared out the office seeing the mounds of junk food trash Lewis had left behind. Vampires might need human blood but they still ate food very much like we do, after seeing the crap Lewis had left behind the creature grossed me out even more. The container was the next thing I inspected, inside I was surprised to find a glass case holding strange book.

Being the curious sort, after breaking open the case, I looked through the book. Instead of opening like a normal book, the cover flipped up like a note pad. Both the cover and pages were synthetic but even to my untrained eye I could tell it was ancient. Special Forces required the learning of two languages but I knew four and was familiar with many more and the writing in the book was of no language I had ever seen before. What about had me drop the book was seeing a world map with the land features of that during the last ice age. Along those expanded coastlines were small notations that I was sure had to be cities.

Realizing I was losing valuable time I stuffed the book into the cargo pocket of my pants, cleaned up the mess I had created, again sealed the container, and got into position to intercept Lewis. About an hour later I heard the keys jingle at the lock of the door and while the creature was stepping inside blinded by the change from bright sunlight outside to the darkness inside I shot the bastard with a tranquilizer dart full of dead-man blood, the only thing known to incapacitate vampires. They need fresh blood, have them ingest of injected with blood pulled from a dead body and it will knock a vampire out in seconds. .

The dart struck Lewis dead center on his chest, dropping him like a rock and unconscious but not before I had time to reintroduce myself as his eyes closed. After that I got to work, I needed answers and something was screaming at me that my time was running out.

Lewis was soon hanging from the rafters by his arms much the same way he had done me, his feet several inches off the floor. The dead-man blood from the tranquilizer dart had worn off leaving him weak but coherent of his dire situation. After using what the intelligence spooks called enhanced interrogation techniques, Lewis told me the location of the rest of the coven, several safe houses around the country, and when Jillian would return from Boston. As for the strange book, I had the creature begging for mercy and that he had no idea what was even in the shipping container. Despite my deepest desire to continue to inflict more pain, after I was convinced he did not know I had to stop.

Lewis did beg for mercy even more as it became apparent to both of us that his time was ending, he excused the torture he inflicted on me and other humans as just part of his nature like wolves hunting sheep. He started to say something after that but the swing of my machete and the impact of his severed head hitting the floor silenced him forever.


Leaving the body hanging from the rafters I turned off all the building lights, found a chair, and waited for Jillian to return. Earlier, my plan was to catch the entire coven setting off the C-4 charges that were placed all through the building but events didn't play out like I wanted so putting down Jillian would have to do. Instead, Jillian displayed her talent to surprise me even after becoming something inhuman.

She called the office phone about thirty minutes before the heavy garage door started to open from a remote in the car she was driving. That in itself was no issue since I was able to scramble for cover and have the muzzle of my submachine gun aimed close to where I knew her head would be. What did surprise me was the terrified face of the recently abducted child staring at me which Jillian was using as cover. It was then I figured the earlier call was to make sure the coast was clear and with Lewis not answering she must have figured something was amiss.

"Hello," Jillian called out, "come out whoever you are. The child is still unhurt but I can twist its neck in a second so let's not do anything rash shall we."

Stepping out from my cover and hitting a row of light switches, I walked toward the car aiming my weapon at both the child and my former wife. "I know all marriages lose that passion and grow cold but honey but I never thought I would be aiming a weapon at your head." I said feeling uncomfortably excited over the prospect of shooting the woman I once loved.

Without missing a beat Jillian looked at me smiling, her face beautiful but her eyes cold and utterly alien. "Oh Todd, it's so good to see you, we parted under such bad terms down in Florida."

"Well, that is something I intend to fix right now." I was less than three feet away from the car and could have easily fired off a burst debilitating Jillian enough for me to remove her head but the child would die.

"Well now sweetie, here is where you have to make a decision." She said slowly opening the door and getting out of the car but while keeping the little girl in the line of fire. "Do you hate me enough to kill this little girl so you can remove my head? Are you the type of person who can sacrifice an innocent child for the greater good of others?" She asked almost giddy figuring I was trapped in an ethical dilemma. "Let me grab that shipping container and drive away and I will give you the child unharmed."

Just days before I had discounted the importance of my identity and the person I once thought myself to be, I felt empty looking only to feed my desire for revenge for a life and future taken from me. But standing before Jillian I realized that no matter how consumed with hate I might be, I still had my soul and I had a choice.

"I know who I am Jillian, it's a deal. You know how good I am, any funny moved and even with your enhanced reflexes I will drop you and then with great pleasure remove your head."

Jillian had watched me many times while I was in the army at the various training demonstrations open for public viewing, I was the best at urban and close combat and even as a vampire she still possessed a strong self-preservation instinct. We then performed a strange dance with us both edging closer to the case on the table. My weapon aimed at Jillian's head, the silent by terrified she held between us, and her cold eyes locked on my weapon looking for any sign I might squeeze the trigger.

With one hand she reached for the handle on the shipping container and gently lowered the child to the floor. For the briefest of seconds our eyes locked together, during that moment anything could have happened. With one hand still on the child's neck Jillian could easily have twisted killing her and I could have increased the pressure ever so slightly on the trigger of my weapon blowing chunks of Jillian's body all over the building. When that moment passed I had the child in my arms and Jillian was sprinting from the building with the shipping case not knowing I had the book that was inside.

Still wanting to blow up the building I put the child back in Jillian's car and drove away. I blew the building several blocks away and dropped the child off at the nearest homeless shelter knowing she would be returned to her father and hoping she would eventually recover. Weeks later the child did recover enough to say that Jillian had taken her to Boston to sightsee and demanded the child call her mommy. The book that apparently was very important to the vampires did offer another mystery, on the back was a diagram that looked like some type of starburst formation enclosed in a circle, the very same diagram tattooed to the right forearm of Robbie McBride, the leader of my band of vampire hunters. I had accepted the extreme security measures practiced by the group when I joined but when I saw Robbie again questions would have to be answered.

Second author's note: Excuse the typos, with my crazy schedule lately I am sure there are more than usual, I'll correct them when I can.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Pondering the Apocalyptic Lifestyle

For anyone who has never been to an old-fashioned tent revival you have missed the best form of entertainment ever invented. Hands down, it beats any Broadway show, epic movie, or sporting event in both showmanship and energy. Only at a tent revival can you see a middle-aged preacher man dressed in a black suit do back flips like a teenage gymnast, old and very prudish women writhe on the floor and openly swoon at the preacher, and see hard-core grown men cry openly who at any other time see weeping as a weakness and less than masculine. Of course the main event at such outings is the sermon where the preacher will lay out coming events that usually consist of years of near apocalyptic disasters that culminate in the Rapture with Jesus taking his people from Earth.

For that, reason a certain amount Doomsday philosophy-that the human situation is hopeless-has always clung to such people even though the actual extent of that belief was very thin except in rare cases. Over the years though, other non-religious inspired end of the world scenarios have surfaced drawing their own devotees eagerly awaiting the chaos. Some expect a total global economic meltdown, pandemic, societal collapse, nuclear war, or the federal government going tyrannical to name a few.

While the actual numbers of such people digging shelters and gathering supplies and weapons are few their collective mood, aided by certain unnamed media people, does seep out to the greater public leading to a general idea that we are seeing the last days. My problem here is that to a certain extent I agree, powerful people do use their money and influence to the detriment of the general public, elected officials are little better than a group of five-dollar whores standing on a street corner, and the demands of a materialistic society threaten to wreck the planet. I freely admit that at times I find myself questioning the very basic nature of our society and government believing that nothing can be done to save a people mired in banal pursuits and a country hopelessly corrupted. Some do try to fight but any effort at reform is quickly shot down by entrenched elites looking to protect their positions at all costs.

I wonder though, when does this sense of impending disaster and hopelessness become a self-fulfilling prophecy edging us closer to the abyss? And at what point am I neglecting my family by not preparing for the worst?

More and more Americans preparing for social unrest

From the outside, Jerry Erwin's home in the northwestern US state of Oregon is a nondescript house with a manicured front lawn and little to differentiate it from those of his neighbors.

But tucked away out of sight in his backyard are the signs of his preparations for doomsday, a catastrophic societal collapse that Erwin, 45, now believes is likely within his lifetime.

"I've got, under an awning, stacks of firewood, rain catching in barrels, I've got a shed with barbed concertina wire, like the military uses," he told AFP.

He and his wife also have also stockpiled thousands of rounds of ammunition and enough food for about six months.

"Several years ago I worked on paying off the house, replacing all the windows, and just very recently, I'm proud to say, we've replaced all our exterior doors with more energy-efficient ones, with as much built-in security features as I could get," he told AFP.

"Plus I'm going to be adding some more structural improvements to the door frames to make it hopefully virtually impossible to take a battering ram to them."

Erwin and others like him in the United States and elsewhere see political upheaval and natural disasters as clear signs that civilization is doomed.

"We're hitting on all cylinders as far as symptoms that have led other great powers to decline or collapse: resource depletion, damage to the environment, climate change, those are the same things that affected other great societies," he said.

For Erwin, the decline is irreversible and the best approach is to prepare for the inevitable.

His pessimism is shared by a wide range of people, from left-wing environmentalists who believe climate change and capitalist greed will doom human society to Christian fundamentalists who think sin will do the same.

They label themselves "preppers," "doomers," and "survivalists," and take a variety of different approaches to the same question: How best to prepare for the coming apocalypse?

Jim Rawles, who Erwin describes as "the patron saint of survivalism," prefers an isolationist, Christian-influenced approach.

He homeschooled his children, declines to say where he lives, and advises readers of his website to "relocate to a safe area and live there year-round."

"When planning your retreat house, think: medieval castle," he adds, extolling the benefits of using sandbags to protect any new home.

Rawles, like many on the most conservative end of the survivalist spectrum, is also anti-tax, pro-gun rights, and suspicious of anything that smacks of socialism.

But the survivalist movement also includes left-wing community activists, who are devoted to living off the land and have never fired a weapon, and people like Chris Martenson, who quit a job with a six-figure salary that he felt was "an unnecessary diversion from the real tasks at hand."

He began growing his own food and developed a "Crash Course" that urges people to better prepare for societal instability. He also took over management of his investments and boasts of a 166 percent return on his portfolio.

For Martenson, the wake-up call was the September 11, 2001 attacks, when he felt gripped by uncertainty and totally unprepared.

Erwin had always felt that society would eventually disintegrate, but he and many other US survivalists say the dysfunctional response to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina was what spurred them to action.

"I thought, okay, things are not going to get better... maybe this society, our civilization, the American empire, will collapse during my lifetime," Erwin said.

For John Milandred, no single event pushed him to leave his suburban home and set up a farm in Oklahoma.

"We just got fed up of working all the time to pay bills and not accomplishing anything," he said.

A member of the American Preppers Network, Milandred said he and his wife aspired to "grow our own foods and be self sufficient... to live like the pioneers, like our great-grandparents."

It is unclear how many people subscribe to the lifestyle, but there are hundreds of websites devoted to the movement, and Erwin's attracts visitors from around the world.

The global financial crisis has increased interest in survivalism "bigtime," Erwin said, but he feels sorry for latecomers to the movement.

"We'll help them if we can," he said. "But a lot of people are climbing on board at the last minute and its going to be hard for them."

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Southern Fried Fairy Tale

Standing behind Billy inside the convenience store, I knew the minute he started closely eyeing the clear plastic case containing all the colorful scratch-off lottery tickets that nothing truly good would come of it. See my cousin may have had a stellar seven-year high school football career but he peaked during that time and things never went all that well for him after. It all boiled down to the fact that despite his good looks and overabundance of South Carolina charm my cousin just never could understand the overall cause and effect relationship. It really wasn't his fault, most of the time, despite his best intentions the boy just couldn't help that the world was far more complicated than his mind could figure out.

When he finally graduated leaving the football coach in tears, he tried to enlist in the military but the first time the Drill Instructor got in his face his good old boy instincts came into play. His attempt at service to his country amounted to several months spent in the stockade, then coming home sheepishly grinning with a general discharge. Once he settled back down the following fall he enrolled at Watertown community college, which resulted in the automotive shop catching fire and burning to the ground. I found out months after the fact that Billy had lead the class in an experiment in modifying a standard automobile carburetor to use aviation-grade fuel. The resulting explosion and fire destroyed the auto repair shop, cosmetology and real estate agent classrooms. The disaster left the huge majority of the student body at our hometown college unable to pursue their career goals.

Luckily, no one was hurt beyond the automotive instructor taking up drinking again after realizing he should have never left Billy alone in the classroom with the other students and the county council having to shell out a couple hundred-grand to rebuild and replace everything.

With higher education behind him, Billy drifted around to different jobs and many different relationships with women who left my Aunt Sally breathless each time he brought one home. Aunt Sally was smart though; before Billy brought his latest love home, she would call her son and ask how many tattoos the girl had on her body or if she had significant jail time resulting in Aunt Sally making a run to the nearest liquor store before Billy brought the girl over. The size of her purchase was always directly proportional to the number of tattoos on her body and or jail time served. My mama, Aunt Sally's sister, in an attempt to give her as much support as possible had an agreement with the owner of the liquor store to call her if Aunt Sally bought anything greater than one fifth of Jack. With Billy's taste in women being consistent, the poor guy had long since added my mama to his speed dial.

Aunt Sally and my mama being very close and with no other siblings for Billy or me they both had since elementary school drafted me into taking care of my cousin. For both of them I did my best and since Billy was easy to get along with normally, it wasn't hard as long as he didn't do anything out the ordinary. Billy's dad, Uncle Henry, was especially thankful for me looking after his son. Uncle Henry was a true Christian in every sense of the word and over the years had spent many a night on bended knees praying for his son. I love my Uncle Henry but always felt uncomfortable with the fact that he was so sure that his son was destined for greater things because Jesus came to him in a dream one night saying so. I figured the All Mighty has far better judgment than to involve my cousin in much of anything beyond making a phone call to order a pizza so I let the whole subject slide when I was around Uncle Henry.

The night Billy bought the scratch-off lottery ticket that changed everything I had to pick him up from a strip club where he was looking after his latest girlfriend, Trixie. She had developed a rather large local following after being hired at the Watertown strip club. There she was able to show off the gymnastic lessons her parents had paid for until her little brother burned down the double-wide and her daddy had to pay for the surgery to remove the porcupine quills from his favorite, but inbred, deer hunting dog.

A few nights before some out-of-town guy drifted into Watertown and was filling Trixie's head with dreams of stripping in big cities. I learned all this after the fact but the night Billy bought the lottery ticket Trixie was on her third performance with nearly a thousand dollars in her G-string and the crowd giving standing ovations after she displayed her newest maneuvers with the brass pole. Looking out at the crowd going wild, she decided she had finally out grown Watertown, South Carolina and was ready for the big time.

Jumping down from the stage still only wearing her G-string but removing and counting the money as she headed through the standing crowd and toward the exit Trixie was soon greeted by her new love interest and manager but not before Billy caught them.

"Trixie sweetie," Billy said grabbing her sweaty arm, "where are you heading with this guy? I thought we were in love forever Baby. "

"Sweet cakes, you were good for me but I've outgrown you. Thad here has contacts in Columbia and Greenville and promised me that I can be dancing in a couple of days making four times the money I make on the best night here in this crappy little town." Trixie said with a little actual human sympathy but with Thad in his leisure suit standing next her smiling like a fox that had just gain access to the hen house.

It's hard to get my cousin mad but with his fifth or sixth, I've lost count, love of his life about to walk away he reacted by punching Thad in the mouth sending him flying out the door. Trixie screamed and ran after the man who promised to make her a real star and stripping in places like Atlanta, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina before the end of the year.

Thad was barely conscious lying on the gravel parking lot, blood dripping down the coat of his pea green leisure suit. Trixie quickly rushed up and cradled his head into her double D sized breasts. Billy came running up ready to finish the man off but the sight of the him struggling to breathe as the naked Trixie pushed his head deeper into her ample cleavage left my giant cousin laughing on the ground.

Luckily, everyone around the strip club was in a good mood that night, except Thad who was angry over his ruined leisure suit, which he thought would be coming back into style any day allowing him to ride the crest of the next fashion wave. The strip club owner, a big fan of my cousin's high school football career, decided not to press charges as long as Billy didn't come back for a few months. The deputy sheriffs, many who had played on the same football team with Billy agreed that the entire incident was a non-event as long as he did not drive home since he had drank more than a few beers that night.

Billy's phone call to come pick him up did wake me at an ungodly hour but fearful of the joint wrath of my mama and aunt I hustled over to the strip club to pick him up. Figuring that my kids would love to see "Uncle Billy", I told my drowsy wife that I would just bring Billy back here and let him sleep in the guest room.

On the way back to my house we stopped at the Jiffy Mart so Billy could pick up a Coke and a honey bun, worried over Trixie he had not ate anything that night and was now very hungry. While standing behind him in the store with my own snacks I saw Billy eyeing the colorful and glamorous lottery tickets in the plastic case. I do occasionally play the big multi-million lotto drawing just to have some chance to daydream about the good life free of bills and worries but stay away from the scratch-off games because they seem far too addictive.

"What the Hell Jake," my cousin turned to me and said as if he was reading my mind. "My luck can't get any worse and I don't seem to be going any place soon."

I started to speak up but held back for some reason as Billy bought the twenty-dollar scratch-off card promising to pay off five million after taxes. I figured it was a waste of money but Billy is a grown man so I left it alone, plus even a few minutes where he had some hope that things might change for him was worth the price. We talked on the drive home so he didn't get a chance to scratch it off that night but early the next morning I heard both a roar from the other end of the house where Billy had slept along with the cheers of my two kids.

"Jake," Billy said rushing into my bedroom and scaring my wife under the covers, "check this out, daddy was right I am destined for great things."

Sure enough, I inspected the scratch off card to see that my hard luck cousin was now far richer than anyone I knew. My wife who still refused to come out from underneath the covers pulled the card from my hand and just shook her head in disbelief looking at it. As much as I suggested to Billy that we needed to keep the news quiet until the money was in his account once he told Aunt Sally and Uncle Henry the word spread all through the county faster than light.

I was able to protect my cousin up until the time the money was deposited but after that, I was overwhelmed by a whole host of people introduced to him by Aunt Sally and Uncle Henry. Namely, several members of Uncle Henry's church who were also rather high up in the country club set. With Billy's good looks, charm and now ample money they quickly took him under their guiding wings and began molding him into another person. A decent hair cut, new clothes, and more than a few lessons in social customs and graces my cousin became a new man.

Much to my surprise, he easily took to his new image and standing running with the big dogs, which only moved him into higher circles. Before long a stunning lady from Charleston, whose family could trace their roots back to colonial times became his new love and with that, "Billy" became "Robert" with much of his past life officially erased. Somewhere along the way, my cousin earned a college degree from a university in Idaho that I had never heard of but was said to run advertisements in the classified section of various men’s magazines. A short time after that Billy became an officer in the National Guard without benefit of training with a whole bunch of awards already on his records. His drill weekends have him hanging out at the state headquarters making coffee, talking about football, and driving the staff around. Most surprisingly was that Billy became a subject of political gossip in newspapers across the state about a possible career in politics.

The beautiful spring morning Billy married the fine lady from Charleston I drank about as much as Aunt Sally when I heard the governor publicly endorse my cousin for the state senate in the upcoming election. After the ceremony, the men folk privately gathered in a small room to smoke and drink I about choked on my glass of fine bourbon when the governor told my cousin he should prepare for a run for his office in a few years.

Uncle Henry of course took all of this to mean his praying had paid off, but despite Billy's now polished exterior I kept drifting back to the man I have known since we were kids. Some might say I'm jealous but actually I'm more scared than anything else. To say Billy is jinxed would describe my feelings fairly well. I keep thinking about the picture of Billy in the Watertown Times newspaper with his eyebrows burned off and the look of utter shock on his face from the explosion at the community college automotive shop. For that reason, and much to the chagrin of Billy who is now running for governor I am taking my family out of South Carolina. I figure Florida is a safe enough distance to watch how things unfold.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Nation Lost in the Woods and Stupid

Call me strange and suffering from a multitude of character flaws but there are times I find the putrid smell of American politics irresistible. Usually I grovel in the verbal political emissions of my own pomposity at someone else's blog making comments on current events since I increasingly find delving deeply into the meat of some subjects deeply depressing. I offer the routine political activities of elected officials here in South Carolina as my prime example. Digressing just a little here but most sane people would be upset at all the attention the local and state media paid when our Appalachian Trail walking governor and his cougar ex-wife, both attending a political function, hugged and kissed before running away from each other to the farthest corners of the auditorium they happen to be sharing. Given how the media covered it you would have thought their ceremonial appearance culminating in the brotherly and sisterly hug and kiss had some political significance.

However, since the proverbial squirrel that runs the little spinning wheel in my head, which supplies the wattage to my feeble brain, has up and gone on vacation I'm stuck pondering the state of the American economy and the lack of real action to address unemployment. Barring divine intervention, a huge number of Americans will be out of work for a number of years which really is not good for anyone but here is Bob Herberts take on the subject:

"Fifteen million Americans are unemployed, according to the official count, which wildly understates the reality. Assuming no future economic setbacks and job creation at a rate of 200,000 or so a month, it would take more than a decade to get us back to where we were when the Great Recession began in December 2007."

Wow!!! More than decade to replace the jobs lost since the beginning of the Great Recessions, seems like that might be a great time to come up with some sort of national plan to prime the job creation pump. But what could we possibly do that might justify a huge public works project that would ultimately pay huge national benefits down the road justifying the cost? Could we send humans back to the moon for exploration and scientific inquiry? No, it would be really super duper cool as far as I am concerned but realistically its national benefits are rather abstract. Could we go on some international crusade of nation building in some poor third world country bringing the benefits of democracy and consumerism? Never mind, finishing one such project and going back to square one on the other, neither is supplying warm fuzzies and the money spent on both countries would have been better squandered loading it up on Air Force cargo planes and using it to bomb those nations directly into affluence.

Hey here is a radical idea, let us all get together and develop a national project that nation builds this country. But why would we want to do that you might ask? Well I'm damn glad you did sir and or ma'am. Unrecognized by many Americans preoccupied by the importance of who Tiger Woods was screwing, whether the president was born in Kenya and is secretly a Muslim, or if Blago's hair is real and the outrageous comparisons he makes of himself to truly great people makes him insane but our national infrastructure if graded has the GPA of your average college football linebacker. Click on the report to link over to the American Society for Civil Engineers.

Aviation D

Bridges C

Dams D

Drinking Water D-

Energy D+

Hazardous Waste D

Inland Waterways D-

Levees D-

Public Parks and Recreation C-

Rail C-

Roads D-

Schools D

Solid Waste C+

Transit D

Wastewater D-

America's Infrastructure GPA: D

Now we did not get this way overnight and it would be useless and counter-productive to fling partisan mud but honestly that is all American politicians are really good at these days. But I will again let Mr. Bob Herbert address how this situation was an opportunity that was squandered:

"Mr. Obama and the Democrats have wasted the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity handed to them in the 2008 election. They did not focus on jobs, jobs, jobs as their primary mission, and they did not call on Americans to join in a bold national effort (which would have required a great deal of shared sacrifice) to solve a wide range of very serious problems, from our over-reliance on fossil fuels to the sorry state of public education to the need to rebuild the nation's rotting infrastructure.

All of that could have been pulled together under the umbrella of job creation — short-term and long-term. In the immediate aftermath of Mr. Obama's historic victory, and with the trauma of the economic collapse still upon us, it would have been very difficult for Republicans on Capitol Hill to stand in the way of a rebuild-America campaign aimed at putting millions of men and women back to work."

Now I am not here to throw stones at a man that has to endure the extreme hate and the vilest of venom on a daily basis nearly amounting to a racial lynching but yes, he did screw the pooch on this one. Before anyone gets upset, I am in NO WAY saying that senile McCain could have done any better. In fact, a sick part of my mind would have loved to see how McCain would have handled the same issues and the mess he would have made of them. Having VP Palin walking around offering her advice would have been even more uproarious but that would approach a level of sadism uncomfortable to me.

President Obama is a very intelligent man dealing with a whole host of crises that the little shit who occupied the White House before him either created or made far worse. Still President Obama wanted the job and campaigned like a bat out of Hell on "change" and the idea that "yes we can". For that reason I was highly pissed at the guy when he flew down to the Gulf coast, suffering from the worst ecological and societal disaster in American history, walked around for a couple of hours without talking to the locals only to rush back to the White House so Paul McCarthy could serenade Michelle and the kiddies. No, he can't don scuba gear, swim down a mile, and stick his finger into the ruptured well but dammit he can at least seem a little more involved.

The vice president does have a nasty habit of inserting his foot and the better portion of the attached leg down his mouth but a recent statement he made about the jobs the country lost to the Great Recession never coming back is true. A "patriotic business person" is real close to an oxymoron so depending on them to do their duty and help bring back any jobs is like expecting Santa to save the day for us.. Watch any of the cable business news channels and it's all about profit and keeping the stockholders happy, which usually means transferring the good manufacturing job that pays enough to build a family to some country where the workers are paid next to nothing.

There are new green industry jobs and new technologies that hold promise but they are years away from employing meaningful numbers. This is where the short and medium term opportunities involved in rebuilding our infrastructure could have bridge the difference until those new green industries came online. And like Mr. Herbert said, the Republicans would have been slitting their own throats to oppose a plan that would have created so many jobs and at the same time leave huge and lasting benefits to the country. Curse me if you want but given how the "recovery" is showing signs of faltering, I believe there is a real chance the president and his team could force-feed such a plan down Republican throats even now, as oppose to living with the 1000 pound gorilla of continued high unemployment.

Truthfully my biggest fear is not the failure of our elected officials but a people who are deeply divided and apathetic. A recent NPR report I heard suggested that a re-engineering of the Mississippi River that would again allow the river to deposit the sediment it carries to the Louisiana delta building up the marshes and barrier islands both cleaning them out of oil and increase the protection from hurricanes, such a mammoth project would provide jobs to that ravaged area. Apparently, the sediment has long been dredged and flushed straight out to sea to aid shipping resulting in heavy erosion of existing barrier islands and increasing the hurricane risk to inland areas as they islands decay and marshes are destroyed due to development. After making a comment on the website about how cool it would be to kill several birds with one stone benefiting everyone I was surprised at how many Gulf locals later complained on the same website about how such a project would hurt their narrow concerns.

I understand how the project would disrupt existing lives that but it did remind me of something I read many years ago. Please bear with me now because I promise I am coming to a conclusion but as part of a global strategy game I owned back in the 1980's supposedly a retired CIA analyst wrote a report to go along with the game explaining the behavior of nations in seeking power and prestige. The reported essentially stated that a country could have huge supplies of natural resources, advanced technical expertise, and money but it was all nothing compared to national will. If there was no sense of national unity or willingness to sacrifice for the greater good that country, even with all its other advantages, was royally screwed. I'm afraid that is the current condition of the United States, yes our patriotism is a mile wide but only inches deep. We have epic problems and everything we need to face and defeat them but all we seem able to do is sit with our thumbs up our asses and whine.