Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Little Good News

Going on the glass is half full idea here.

Anyone with a basic understanding about our planet knows that it is being wracked with ever increasing natural calamities brought on by changing climates. Shifting weather patterns, increasing ocean temperatures and acidity levels, rapid sea level rise, famine, and drought are but a few of the consequences we face with the poor of the world taking the brunt of these environmental uncertainties.

The overwhelming consensus by climate scientists is that the human burning of hydrocarbons such as coal, oil, and natural gas is responsible for these rapid and dangerous changes in overall global environment. Add to that unchecked deforestation and loss of animal habitats, pollution from other sources, and runaway human population growth you have a near perfect storm not only threatening the ability of the planet to maintain viable ecosystems but eventually the sustainability of human civilization itself.     

To those wallowing in willful ignorance and certain special interest groups that want to protect their money and power all the evidence that the planet is in trouble is to them either overblown or part of some evil socialistic conspiracy. Even more worrisome, to the religiously deranged apocalyptic climate degradation is something to be welcomed since it is one of the signs that the Rapture is close at hand. Humanity’s others sins such as greed, war, and apathy only aid in painting an even darker picture of the future.

The last thing I want to do is seem childishly optimistic in the face of some gigantic problems but I did learn about a project that restored a little bit of my faith that humans can overcome their barbaric tendencies. A great deal of evolution works on the concept of competition and survival of the fittest and humans have shown themselves adept at cutthroat behavior. But another facet of evolution involves cooperation and the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership is one of the best examples of people from around the world working together to save as much of the Earth’s plants as possible.

From Wikipedia:

In collaboration with other biodiversity projects around the world expeditions are sent to collect seeds from dryland plants.Where possible, collections are kept in the country of origin with duplicates being sent to the Millennium Seed Bank Project for storage. Major partnerships exist on all the continents, enabling the countries involved to meet international objectives such as the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation and the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations Environment Programme.

In April 2007, it banked its billionth seed, the Oxytenanthera abyssinica, a type of African bamboo. In October 2009, it reached its 10% goal of banking all the world's wild plant species by adding Musa itinerans, a wild banana, to its seed vault. As estimates for the number of seed bearing plant species have increased however, the current 31,880 species that have been banked represent 9.22% of the global total.

It would nice to hope that this type of endeavor could lead to even more international cooperation in other areas where it is desperately needed. Unfortunately, for all of us, that is way too much to hope for right now. But times change and circumstances have a way of forcing species to adapt quickly or go extinct. I just hope we realize what we need to do in time.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Cold Blooded

During my active duty years in the army I heard about all sort of cold blooded breakups between couples. Being honest here the vast majority of them were dudes callously ending medium to long term relationships with what I also have to admit were more often than not naïve young girls who somehow came to believe their Prince Charming had arrived. These very situations explain why decent guys often ask the question as to why women can be so merciless in their later relationships with other men. Yeah, it’s a vicious circle that only exacerbates emotional aguish and mistrust, which is good for no one.

That being said there have been times I have heard about women playing the cold blooded vixen and ending a relationship the way a serial killer often sadistically plays with its victim. I left the army behind many years ago but just yesterday I happen to overhear about a breakup that I believe takes the cake in being mean and vindictive.

My daughter, Darth Wiggles, had gone over to her best friend’s house yesterday morning allowing me a chance to get out of the house. I did not have enough time to see a movie so instead I headed over to the nearest Barnes and Noble bookstore to browse the aisles and generally decompress with a drink at their in-house coffee stand. It is a fairly small place and as it can be expected, easy to overhear some conversations.

After buying both a coffee and a magazine I took a seat at one of the nearby tables and settled in to relax and read. Just minutes later two guys took seats at the table to my left joining two other guys who were already there. All four looked to be early twenties, if not a little younger but what was obvious from the start, even for me, was that one of them was very upset on the verge of tears. The following dialog while not direct quotations follows fairly closely what was actually said.

“Michael,” one of the guys said who was already at the table when the other two arrived, “what’s wrong man? You look like someone has died.” Michael remained silent and in fact laid his head to the table and wrapped his arms around himself as if he wanted to go to sleep.

“Leave him alone Tom,” said the guy who had arrived with Michael, “Jenny just broke up with him.”

That information alone was apparently enough to illicit some respectful silence from the distraught Michael’s buddies for about a minute. That is until the third fellow decided to chime in.

“Come on dude,” he said “it can’t be that bad.” Apparently it was because Michael started crying like a baby. Like I said, the coffee area at this Barnes and Noble is rather small so it is easy to overhear conversations even if they are spoken at a normal volume. Have someone start to cry loudly and it will naturally draw the attention of anyone nearby.

“Yeah it was that bad,” the guy who had arrived with Michael said. “Jenny asked Mike here to go with her to buy some lingerie at Victoria’s Secret. She made a point of trying on the sexiest items and giving every indication that someone was going to have their wildest dreams realized later that night.”

There was a pause for a few seconds because the three coherent guys at that table became aware that Michael’s crying had drawn the attention of nearly everyone else. Eventually the individual telling the story kind of shrugged and finished explaining what happened.

“Once Jenny was done trying things on she took the stuff to the check out to pay for it. Mike told me the line was rather long and while Jenny and he were waiting he decided to grab her from behind to give her a hug and a kiss on the head to show his appreciation. That was when Jenny turned around and told him in front of everyone the lingerie was not for him and that they were breaking up. Top it all off the minute Jenny and Mike stepped out of the store her new boyfriend was there and they walked out together.”

I did not know any of those four guys and, naturally, have no knowledge of the type and depth of the relationship Michael and this Jenny must have established but the stunned silence coming from the two who were hearing the story for the first time was telling. Hell, I was blown away, like I said I have heard about some merciless breakups, and been on the wrong end of a few myself, but this one took the cake.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Why I Have Grey Hair

Unfortunately for me a dumbass vaccine to protect myself from my all too regular bouts of stupidity is something that will never be available. I have long since resigned myself to the fact that what few active wits and viable IQ points I have will more than likely always be utilized in getting me out of trouble and generally uncomfortable situations that I seem to have developed an all too encompassing talent in finding. I did have high hopes that my son, Darth Spoilboy, had inherited the bulk of his brain cells from my wife saving him from my often funny but ignominious fate. A very recent event suggests that might not be the case.

This all started a couple of Saturdays ago when my very socially active son actually came and sat down in the living room with my wife, Dragonwife, and I as we were play acting at being American couch potatoes watching some documentary on Netflix. While the idea of our son willingly spending any amount of time with us seems simple his social obligations to his buddies and the two different girls he currently dates in actuality makes it a rare event on par with the proverbial blue moon.

“Hey mom and dad,” he said while typing some text message, “just wanted to tell you that my car is getting hard to start.”

It took me a few seconds to sort out his statement since when he does grace us with his presence it is often just to request that we purchase some item for him at the grocery store. Even though Spoilboy has a part-time job at a local deli my wife and he have an agreement in which he does not have to purchase certain items with his money. When I did sort out the meaning of his statement and asked him what he meant, I was rewarded with a nonsensical description of how his car acted when it gave him trouble starting.

“Alright dude, “I said, “next time you head out stop by Big Franks Auto Parts Palace and have them do one of their free series of tests. They can give us an idea of what might be going wrong and then we can plan some sort of response.” While I am not quoting myself exactly that was pretty much the jest of what I said. Even in hindsight it seems concise and to the point, at least enough that my son should have been able to follow my instructions.

“Sure dad,” he said while still texting someone on the other end of his real conversation. With that apparently settled he informed us that he was going to pick up girlfriend number two, the one he just hangs out with and who likes to play video games as much as him. While it has never been stated to me girlfriend number one I guess is the serious one since he actually cleans up and dresses nicely for her when they go out.

Fast forward to early yesterday afternoon, around twelve-thirty, and Spoilboy storms into my bedroom desperate for me to give him my car keys so he can get to work. For those who may not know I work nights, which makes getting the required sleep during daytime difficult at best, add the fact that this is currently summer break with both my son and daughter home and that makes the issue even harder.

“Why do you need my car?” I groggily asked since, like I said at the beginning I am a dumbass.

“Mine won’t start.” Spoilboy sheepishly said.

It took several more seconds for the worn and rusty wheels in my head to begin to turn. Sadly the hamster whose duty it is to power everything has long since died but I have worked around that issue in some respect.

“Please tell me you stopped by Big Franks and had the car checked?”

If this was a screenplay I would have to insert a prolonged silence here punctuated by a high degree of awkwardness on the part of my son.

“Well Spoilboy,” I said “no, you are not going to drive my car to work for the simple fact that you will not be home by the time I have to leave for work myself. In truth, I should make you walk.”

With that Spoilboy walked away and I plopped my head back on the very comfortable pillow figuring that I would have to play the decent but tired dad and go outside and try to figure out why my son’s car would not start.

Long story short, we pulled out the jumper cables and tried to start his car that way just on the off chance he had once again left his lights on and ran down the battery we had installed just four months ago. No such luck, in fact the symptoms suggested his starter had gone bad. This was confirmed today by the garage Big Frank runs right next his parts palace after we had a tow truck come pick up his car.

This begs the question that keeps running through my mind. Am I a bad parent for starting to dream about the day my son goes off to college? On a side but ultimately related note, I literally tremble in fear with the idea that my daughter has a little over five years before she starts to drive and demand a car of her own.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cosmic Questions of Alien Mice and Men

One of the joys I had growing up in Georgetown, South Carolina that extended well into the 1980’s was the ability to go outside and see the stars of the Milky Way scattered across the sky at night. Of course these very impromptu observations were before both urban sprawl forced a huge jump in nighttime illumination for safety reasons and damn suburbanites developed the narcissistic need to show off their carefully tended lawns with landscape lighting. Such is the nature of childhood I guess that something so simple and pure can literally be lost in the glare of what some call progress. Truthfully, I cannot blame progress all that much, while my hometown was a very pleasant place to live it would have only been a matter of time before one of the newer neighbors called the sheriff on my ass accusing me of being a peeping tom.

It would be a supreme understatement of criminal proportions to say those quiet nights watching the stars were awe inspiring. In truth I actually felt privileged to be able to see the majesty of creation wheel before me. Couple that with Carl Sagan’s show “Cosmos” that aired about the same time and there were times I could stand outside looking at the stars and almost hear his words describing the birth of the universe.

One of the problems of being overly curious is that you cannot stand outside looking at night sky for any length of time and being to wonder if their might be sentient creatures like us living on alien planets circling those distant stars. The next natural step, fueled by science fiction both good and bad, is wonder if maybe these other intelligent species might be advanced enough to travel the almost unimaginable distance and come visit our small but hospitable world.

Saying that such journeys would be difficult is a monumental understatement and to be fair there are a number of respected scientists that say manned interstellar travel is simply impossible given the energy requirements needed to accelerate even a relatively small mass object close to the speed of light. For them any possible interstellar community would be restricted to a galactic internet with various species broadcasting radio messages to each other, then waiting the centuries, if not millenniums, for a reply.

Of course this stay-at-home attitude ignores such possible propulsion technologies as nuclear pulse, fusion engines, antimatter drive, and the really wild ideas for surfing space-time itself which, some say, would allow us to break Einstein’s law about not traveling faster than light. Except for nuclear pulse, which was actually tested on a very small scale in the 1960’s, all of those possibilities are for the foreseeable future just theoretical curiosities. Yeah, it bugs the living shit out of me.

Not surprisingly there is intense debate among the stay-at-home crowd and those like me who would jump at the chance to “explore strange new worlds.” The former likes to bring up Fermi’s Paradox which says that given the high probability that there are at least a few other intelligent species in the galaxy if interstellar travel was possible even a relatively slow starship, say going just ten percent the speed of light, should have visited already. In other words, even at an interstellar snail’s pace it is possible for an adventurous species to explore the entire galaxy in just a few million years. Yes, the rocket scientist boys and girls have checked the numbers on that one.  

The obnoxious stay-at-homes also like to point out that Earth was prime carbon-based lifeform real estate for billions of years and should have been snapped up by at least one colonizing species. Furthermore, given that complex life has existed on this planet for millions of years if any alien Jim Kirks had stopped by they should have left examples of their visit in case intelligent life ever evolved. Now the stay-at-home get vague here, and never really state what type of evidence any possible aliens might leave. Just off the top of my head some of the junk they might have left behind could be a few burned out warp drives, mounds of alien trash including poo, and just maybe the occasional crewmember left marooned on an airless moon because it would not stop farting on the bridge.

Frankly I am in the Star Trek camp who believes all the stay-at-home are unimaginative poopoo heads. Interstellar propulsion technology is not even in its infancy and while it will obviously be too expensive for nation-states to pursue alone there is simply just too much promise to abandoned research when the human race could end up with the chance to explore the galaxy. Unfortunately, even if we get the chance to “seek out new civilizations” the basic principles of evolution preclude the possibility of someone playing James T. Kirk and bagging some smoking hot green-skinned Orion babe. Yeah, you can probably begin to imagine what my childhood was like but don’t go there.

Now there is sort of a bridge between the Star Trek types like me and the aforementioned unimaginative poopoo heads. The idea is that even if manned interstellar travel is impractical bordering on impossible an adventurous species could send self-replicating probes on the long and very slow journey. Once these robotic emissaries arrive at a promising star they radio back what it has found and then go about building copies of itself which in turn begin the journey all over again.

From Phy.org, posted July 19, 2013:

Now even this compromise opens up its own can of alien face hugging worms. If alien robotic probes are hanging around our solar system wanting to make contact with us hairless primates what are they waiting for? The disturbing idea I cannot shake is that they do not consider us an intelligent species, and who in this great big wide cosmos would blame them? Even hamsters know not to make a mess of where they live and do not get me started on humanity’s other sins.

Secondly, it only takes one Nazi-like alien species suffering from paranoid delusions to send out fleets of self-replicating destroyers whose only purpose is to listen for other intelligent lifeforms leaking out television broadcasts of their versions of The Tonight Show or I Love Lucy then drop by their home planet and nuke the living daylights out of them. Think I am crazy? First, my mother had me tested and second even Stephen Hawking has said pursuing alien contact might be a very bad idea.

In my opinion humanity making first contact with another intelligent species might be the best thing that ever happened to us. It might just be what is needed to make the bulk of our species realize there is more to existence than just our civilization’s perpetual idiotic games of empire building, destroying the environment for a buck, and some nation making an attempt at global domination.

The incident that sticks in my mind though happened to me on was on one of those star gazing nights back in my hometown. It was during one summer night after a particularly bad thunderstorm had knocked out power to the neighborhood. The storm cleared out quickly leaving my backyard almost pitch black and the stars an unimpeded stage. Looking through my granddad’s old army binoculars I had gone into serious geek mode after catching the sight of Jupiter and at least three of its Galilean moons.

My reverie was destroyed when out of nowhere I heard someone shout, “What the Hell are you doing boy?”  Out of the darkness emerged a man I called “Uncle Boo”, he had heard someone talking to themselves and came over to see what sort of fool was outside after a thunderstorm. Uncle Boo literally scared the Hell out of me, it was like he came out of nowhere. Once I explained he went back home and got his own telescope and we spent about an hour looking up at clear night sky before the lights came back on. While these days nighttime illumination prevents me from seeing the stars like I use to but I still look up and like Enrico Fermi, who was one of the smartest men of the twentieth century, wonder where in the Hell everyone is, or if  they are lurking somewhere out in the darkness watching us, or if maybe they are all hiding from something. 

This is for those damn Stay-at-Home shitheads.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Helium.com Flash Fiction ---Playing The Game

 (Author's note: Another Helium.com flash fiction with the prompt being "skull and bones." Same as last time, they strictly enforce a four-hundred word limit and I wanted to expand my idea. "Joining the Established Order" is the shorter version at the Helium website.) 

 Michael Garcia leaned back into the comfortable leather chair enjoying the culmination of all the years of discipline and grim determination he had spent working towards his goal of making a real mark on the world. The realization that everything had finally fell into place was as if the proverbial impossibly heavy weight had been lifted from his chest.  

Dressed in his only decent suit he watched the procession of important men wearing elaborate robes and masks solemnly file out of the ceremonial chamber of Yale University’s Skull and Bones Society. The lighting in the chamber had been kept low during the ceremony but along the walls Michael saw elaborate portraits of long dead members that had already reached the pinnacles of power and influence in the United States, an eclectic bunch given their outward beliefs but all ultimately dedicated to the advancement of the Skull and Bones Society above all else. This brought an unwanted and needless realization of the fact that the faces behind the hideous masks that had just welcomed him into their group belonged to several United States senators and congressmen, various fortune five-hundred CEO’s, and assorted other members of established high society. 

The burning incense used in the ritual still hung in the air along with the memory of the strange chants those wearing the robes and masks performed. Michael and the two other individuals seated on either side of him, who were also joining, knew the ceremony was overdone theatrics and each person viewed the activities differently.

The man to the left of Michael viewed the ceremony with a practiced boredom. Coming from a family who could trace their lineage to colonial America his membership was always a foregone conclusion. The man to the right of Michael, while coming from a family with a far more humble history, was the son of a billionaire banker and observed the proceedings with a mild disinterest. Not Michael, he reveled in the fact that the grandson of an illegal immigrant was not only about to graduate Yale University but had become a “Bonesman” and would now join the elite of American society.

The three stayed seated after everyone else had vacated the chamber. A strange silence hung in the air as if each believed to speak first would bring a bloody curse down on them all.

“Greetings gentlemen,” a voice boomed from a hidden loudspeaker, “and congratulations on being accepted to the Skull and Bones. Before we conclude there is one matter that needs to be cleared up. Each of you knows this particular ceremony is well outside the usual procedures of our society. During the normal evaluation of candidates someone in the Society’s inner circle noticed each of your potentials and sponsored your appearance here today. What this means is membership in the most powerful secret organization that exists in the country. Without exaggeration those who belong to the inner circle control this country in a way the commoners cannot fathom and we are offering each of you the chance to sit among us. However only one can go on to realize that prospect.”

Michael was quick to notice that his compatriots began to take an interest in the proceedings the second the gaining of national power and influence was mentioned. Given their backgrounds it was almost a foregone conclusion that the inner circle would chose them if he did not act quickly but he was lost as to what action he should take.

“The inner circle does not offer these privileges lightly,” the mysterious voice said after a momentary pause. “While the Society’s collective wealth is massive all power is ultimately an illusion if it is abused. Before we committee our resources to your individual advancement each of you must explain how you will seize power and hold on to it.”   

For a moment nothing happened, but Michael could feel the two men seated beside him collecting their thoughts getting ready to present their cases to the hidden inner circle members. Acting strictly on instinct Michael jumped up and leveled carefully aimed punches to the throats of the other men which left them on the floor gagging for air.

 “Well now,” the voice said as a door across the room opened,” that settles the issue. Mr. Garcia, please come join us.”


Three days later Michael Garcia takes a seat at and open air café. After ordering a cup of coffee he leans back and seems to do nothing but relax and watch the people strolling by. A few minutes later a blonde lady wearing jeans and casual sweater takes the seat at the table behind him. Their back are facing each other and neither makes any movement that suggests the know each other.

“So, you’ve been accepted into the inner circle?” The blonde lady asks as she fishes an item out of her purse.

“Yeah,” Michael says staring off into space, “after graduation they plan on having me spend a year working for some corporation then run me for the Congress. Their plans go as far as the presidency in twelve years. They say my origins are a unique advantage and that they were especially pleased I proved myself at the induction ceremony.”

“Excellent,” the woman whispered, “I’ll tell the council. Stay cautious though, out of all our other attempts to penetrate the Society’s inner circle you are our first.” With that the blonde lady’s cell phones rings and immediately she jumps up and runs off begging forgiveness for leaving her friend waiting. Michael smiled as he caught a glimpse of the ring emblazed with the pyramid topped by an all seeing eye the blonde woman was wearing. It was poor spy craft he thought to himself.

Despite the assumptions of both Michael and the blonde lady their encounter was noticed. The waiter that served Michael his coffee approached an apparent coworker sitting inside the café.” It appears the cabal wars might be restarting after so many years of peace.” The waiter said after exchanging a special handshake with the customer.

The coworker took a deep and unsettled breath after hearing the news. “The last time the secret orders came into conflict with each other it resulted in the country almost destroying itself in the Civil War. We must inform the others immediately."

Friday, July 12, 2013

Helium.com Flash Fiction---Ghosts That Force Us Home

(Author's note: This the first attempt at flash fiction in a very long time. Found a great website called Helium.com that offers a multitude of avenues for wannabe writers like yours truly to express themselves. The one problem is that their flash fiction prompts strictly limit stories to only 400 words. I was able to accomplish that nearly impossible task but I wanted to flesh out my characters explaining the reasons behind their behaviors. Not happy with the results but what the heck? The prompt was "The Lost Love Letter and here is the link to the 400 word version.)   

My wife, Sarah, and I had spent nearly week cleaning out the home of her recently deceased parents when I found the old steamer trunk inside the closet of an unused bedroom. Made of cardboard it must have spent years forgotten in that musty closet because it fell apart the second I tried to pick it up. That is when I found the letter scattered amongst the collection of knickknacks that fell out the bottom to scatter on the floor. Given the nature of the items it was easy to assume they had belonged to my mother-in-law, Lisa Cunningham.

My belief was confirmed when I picked up the letter and saw it was addressed to her in what was obviously a man’s handwriting. At first I just presumed the sender was my father-in-law since the year on the postmark was 1969 but instead of the letter originating from West Germany, where he was stationed at the time, it listed Atlanta, Georgia. With my curiosity piqued, I looked closer at the handwriting, and while I could not say for certain it did not look my father-in-law’s.

That was the moment when I should have dumped everything into the trashcan I had been dragging around tossing the other refuse my late in-laws had left us to clean up. But something just didn’t add up about the letter and before I really thought about it I grabbed a nearby chair and began reading. In four short handwriting pages I learned more about my deceased in-laws than I ever wanted to know.

Written by a man named Frank, I learned that both he and my mother-in-law had been lovers long before she had ever married her husband, Ben. He lamented the fact that bad decisions on both their parts condemned any chance they had to spend their lives together. Frank also freely acknowledged the fact that he was the real father of all Lisa’s children. However, he summed everything up by explaining that while Lisa was the love of his life and that he dreamed of running off with her, his duty to his own wife came first.

Dumbfounded by the revelations, I slumped back into the chair with my mind churning over what I had just learned. I realized if my wife found this letter it would destroy her. Not only was Sarah dealing with the loss of her parents who she idealized but her health had gone downhill since the birth of our child the year before. That night during the drive home, I realized what I had to do.

After pulling into the driveway we both stumbled into our house and collapsed on opposite ends of the couch. “Daniel,” Sarah began, “you think your parents would mind if we let the baby stay with them until the morning?”

I looked over at my wife and for the first time in a long while realized the load she was carrying. Sarah’s two siblings had moved away years ago leaving her the sole duty of caring for their mom and dad. The demands Lisa and Ben put on Sarah created a great deal of friction in our marriage. Both had suffered from various physical and mental ailments requiring almost constant care for five years which Sarah had gladly provided. With the demands Lisa and Ben put on her and my job on me, our time as husband and wife was few and far between during those years but somehow, after long since giving up, she became pregnant with our child.

Sarah’s siblings actually offered to take over the care of their parents when they found out she was pregnant but she was adamantly against the idea since it would have required they be moved across the country and put in a rest home. Only when her water broke did Sarah finally let a hired nurse take care of her parents. This was almost more than I could stand, I still deeply cared for my wife but I greatly resented the burdens she so willingly accepted to the point it endangered her and the baby.  

“Yeah,” I said looking at the exhausted woman across from me,” mom and dad will be perfectly fine keeping the baby tonight. Why don’t you head upstairs and go to bed, I’ll be here for a little while, I want to finish reading the last couple of chapters in my book.”

Without another word Sarah dutifully marched up the stairs, about a minute later I heard her in our bathroom brushing her teeth, after that it was utter silence. I pulled the old letter out of my back pocket and reread it over and over again feeling Frank’s ghostly presence stoically staring at me from across the room.

When I was sure Sarah was fast asleep I went out the back door but not before grabbing my cell phone. The night was moonless letting the stars above shine brightly but somehow the usual comfort they provided was totally absent. Combine that with the lack of any breeze and it created an oppressive mood weighing me down almost like Frank was again standing close by making sure I did my duty.

The cell phone seemed alien in my hand as I looked at it, I chalked that up to the part of me that screamed I had played the part of the understanding husband for long enough and that I now deserved my life back.  But yet I dialed the number and cringed when Donna answered it only after the second ring.

“Daniel,” she said eagerly, “I was getting worried. Will we see each other tomorrow night?”

I knew the words I had to say but they were still difficult.”No,” I said while my other hand held up the letter Frank had long ago sent my mother-in-law. “In fact we can’t see each other anymore.”

Thursday, July 4, 2013

George Orwell and Ben Franklin walk into a bar...

 ...What would they talk about?

War is a way of shattering to pieces... materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable and... too intelligent.

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

My grandfather was very wise man. Now he was ornery and such a curmudgeon that if there was a hall of fame for such people his likeness would be craved in the finest marble and set atop an equally ornate pedestal but as wisdom goes I base my distrust on established hierarchies and beliefs on his teachings. While a white Southerner who had grown up in its dominate culture and ideas during the absolute worst part of the Great Depression he nonetheless had a progressive side that would often shine through his admittedly rough and inherently conservative exterior.

“Americans sure do love to live on the edge of the slippery slope.” He said to me once in the early 1980’s as we watched the evening news. I forget the exact point in time but I believe Ronny Reagan had gone and invaded the Caribbean island nation of Grenada with numerous politicians and pundits warning anyone who would listen that the United States had no business trying to play policeman of the world again. The disaster that was Vietnam was still fresh in the memory of most Americans and very few had the stomach, at that time, for half-assed crusades.

Contrary to the naysayers and the worriers the invasion of Grenada did turn out to be a “minor” military campaign that did liberate a small country with really nice beaches. However only an idiot would disagree that its primary purpose was to tweak the nose hairs of the old and nearly senile Soviet leadership and give Fidel a heart attack as he sat in his Oceanside villa dreaming of his lost baseball career.

“Watch my words boy,” my grandfather said to me as we sat in the living room watching his huge and now incredibly old fashioned cabinet television, “a few years from now American soldiers will be going all over the world fighting wars again.” He said this during some of the most anxious years of the Cold War when most pundits thought any major deployment of American troops overseas would be just a short prelude to letting the missiles fly resulting in a deep fried planet and Homo sapiens learning to walk like the dinosaurs.

What I do clearly remember is just nodding my head in a semi-condescending manor since I was just a few short years from starting my military career. Never the swiftest in mental operations and with my head filled with scores of Ramboesque movies where super soldier saves western civilization and then sails off into the sunset with some hot babe. I had dreams of “being all that I could be”, which like the steroids using film twits generally involved defeating godless communism then having some attractive young lady fawned over my war wounds.

Who would have thought, besides all those with foresight and a little knowledge of how power corrupts, that First Bush would launch the United States down the road to nice little wars in both Panama and Kuwait. Curiously enough our antagonist in both conflicts were individuals formerly on the payroll in some fashion of the American government but that little fact was both largely sweep under the media rug and ignored by a population hyped on Ronny Reagan patriotism. No one could screw with the United States, we had cut the balls off the Russian bear then watched it crawl off to cower in some corner allowing Americans to bask in the glow of their own awesome awesomeness.

Of course Clinton followed First Bush by deploying troops into the former Yugoslavia and then conducting an aerial campaign against Serbia but it was Second Bush, a longtime trust fund loving slacker, who came after him with the single goal of rising above the shadow of his famous father.

Being in a semi-good mood I will not throw around volatile accusations of possible foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks or how once informed of the situation his staff let him continue with his appearance at an elementary school classroom surrounded by children. My point being that Second Bush’s visit had been long scheduled and while he later had fighter escort after Air Force One was in the air they did nothing to pull him out and get him to a safer location right then. DISCLAIMER: I am not suggesting anything. That is just one of several curious points that have never been answered to my satisfaction. Unlike many, I realize life very rarely ties all situations into nice little bows with the gift card having all the “T”’s crossed and little “I”’s dotted.

Nevertheless, the nation was primed for war and even more importantly, vigilant for any manner of behavior that might suggest possible terrorism both foreign and domestic. This new threat called for increased measures to secure our corporations and other economic interests from attack. Scratch that, I mean homes, hospitals, schools, and other crumbling infrastructure.

This insidious danger called for the technological might of the United States government to be brought to bear. No, we did not gear up to rationally take on the causes of the insanity that breed terrorism. All available government intelligence resources were mobilized along with the call going out to the patriotic private sector to help out in the “War on Terror.” The private sector, seeing this as a great way to make a profit jumped onboard and began helping out the government listen in on billions of phone calls along with overseeing the internet as people played Angry Birds and surfed around for decent porn.   

This now brings to center stage Edward Snowden, who worked for a private intelligence gathering contractor, and decided to play Don Quixote and start attacking the windmills of the monolithic National Security Agency by letting all the spying cats out of the bag. Since Snowden skipped the country the United States government has tried its best not to look completely incompetent but despite stamping its feet in a full-fledged tantrum and threatening to hold its breath like a spoiled toddler all demands for his immediate return have gone unanswered.

Various polls of the American people seem to suggest the country is relatively split on the merits of Snowden’s actions. For me he is a hero as well as a well meaning idiot who will more than likely spend the rest of his life in jail when the United States government gets its dirty hands on him. You simply do not embarrass the current military and economic superpower of the world without paying a heavy price.   

As far as my feelings on Snowden are concerned I believe what he did was right. I do not trust the government to listen in on phone calls and watch what people do on the internet without a warrant. I do not give a rip if a Democrat or Republican is in the White House, power corrupts and the one thing all elected officials crave is more power. That being said where I start having Orwellian fits of nervous anxiety is over the establishment of a corporate Espionage/Intelligence gathering complex (Yes, a trademark is pending on that phrase). The Military/Industrial complex is long established and has considerable interest in making sure our glorious and wise elected leaders not only always feel there is a need for their current weapons but that huge amounts of taxpayer dollars are always being pumped into their corporate weapons research coffers.

This corporate Espionage/Intelligence gathering complex has similar DNA and is certain to look after its own interests by making sure our stalwart elected leaders and the more malleable segment of the American population always believe some evil boogeyman is lurking in the shadows. I guess depending on your point of view it could be said both of these corporate industrial power blocs are one Hydra-like creature. Whatever the case even now they essentially own a significant timeshare in the United States government along with the oil industry and the bankers.

The military/Industrial complex and its minions in the media have already whipped up enough patriotic froth amongst the intellectually compliant that the very idea of war is peachy keen cool for every international issue that even remotely plagues the United States. Hell, Senator John McCain, his very, very good buddy Sweet Lindsey, and others in their entourage have never heard an idea for war they did not like. Once the Espionage/Intelligence gathering complex comes up to full steam I can only imagine the Big Brother-like policies they will say the United States has to buy from them or fire will rain from the sky, chaos will rule, and the nasty enemy de jour will soil your sons and daughters.

On the other hand, it may already be too late and we are sliding down that slippery slope of authoritarian oppression my grandfather worried about.  Here are a couple of videos that might prove interesting. The first is a more in depth and coherent examination of Orwell's vision. And the second shows a man being arrested for simply recording the actions of the local police who then arrest him and kill his dog.