Sunday, November 25, 2018

Parrothead Book Review- The Songs of Distant Earth

Way back in the 1980's and earlier, scientists researching the tiniest bits of matter in existence were freaking out over the fact that our sun didn't seem to be producing enough of ghost-like particles called neutrinos as it fused hydrogen into helium. The details are messy and uber-complicated, so trust me it was a huge deal for the guys and gals who study physics. Two important items you have to understand is that neutrinos could literally pass through trillions of miles of lead and very rarely interact with the atoms that make up such an implausible structure. The second, is that we now know that there are more than just one type of neutrinos, so the problem has long since been solved.

For science fiction writers back then the missing neutrinos were something they couldn't let slip through their collective fingers. A minor sub-genre of stories came about explaining why our sun seemed to be abnormal. The best of these works is a novel called The Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur C. Clarke.

In the novel somewhere around our current year, particle and stellar scientists realize that because of the Sun's missing neutrinos it will go nova in a couple of thousand years. To put it simple terms most Americans can understand, in the novel the scientists discover the sun will explode destroying the Earth. At first this news is mostly ignored, people have bills to pay and it's extremely hard to get anyone to think ahead six months in the future, much less two millennia. Still though, with the Earth under an unavoidable death sentence the only question was what would be Humanity's eventual response.

Before we go any further you have to understand how Arthur C. Clarke liked to write his novels. While most sci-fi writers would have just turned to outlandish technology like faster-than-light propulsion or massive multi-generational starships for humans to escape the doomed solar system, Clarke liked to base his works on real science. For him that meant nothing that violated the known laws of physics nor concepts that were implausible because of their massive engineering. Despite countless speculative theories there is very little in the way of real science that suggests our species will ever exceed the speed of light. And while sub-light manned starships are theoretically possible, the extra mass such constructions would require to support humans traveling the distance between stars makes them highly implausible. It boils down to having enough fuel to accelerate to a decent percentage of light speed and then enough to slow down and stop at the destination.

In The Songs of Distant Earth, Clarke get around these problems by having humans send out unmanned robotic starships loaded with frozen embryos who are thawed out and developed in artificial wombs after they reach their target worlds. After being “born” these kids are then raised by robots who go on to create their own civilization. Yeah, for those who don't read a lot of science fiction the idea of robots raising human children might seem unethical or maybe even immoral. But honestly, in reality I've seen some people who were so terrible they never should have been allowed to have children in the first place. With the rate both artificial intelligence and robotics are developing in real life, those technologies could very well mature to such a point that they would do a much better job with kids than their human parents.

So the centuries go by with hundreds, if not thousands, of seed ships being sent out with people back on Earth more or less content to know the human race with carry on even after the planet becomes a deep fried rock. One of those seed ships settles on an ocean world with only scattered islands the human inhabitants come to call Thalassa, and that is where most of the story takes place.

The people of Thalassa go on to develop a Jimmy Buffett dream of an easy going society that doesn't really rush to do much of anything. So when the island where they built the radio telescope to keep in contact with Earth and the other colony worlds is destroyed by a volcano, there's no hurry to rebuild. After a few decades of silence, the other human worlds begin to believe the colony on Thalassa was wiped out as well.

Now back on Earth as the seed ships are leaving, rigid population control has not only massively reduced the number of people living on the planet but they are enjoying an unbelievable lavish lifestyle because there is more of everything to go around. This abundance of resources at least partly translates into massive scientific research, and this is where Clarke comes close to violating his own ban on impossible technologies.

If any one theory of the twentieth century threw reality for a loop it was Quantum Mechanics. QM deals with subatomic particles, such a those missing neutrinos, but that isn't even scratching the surface. Subatomic particles do a lot of wild and crazy stuff that seem to violate macroscopic physics and basic commonsense. Once again, it's messy and uber-complicated so instead of me confusing everyone with my bad explanations about QM, it might be best if you all just look up some educational videos on You Tube.

One of those crazy QM theories that Clarke used in the book involves the idea that the vacuum of space is not peaceful and empty but is a seething cauldron of particles popping in an out of existence. In fact the famous physicist, Richard Feynman, once said that one cubic meter of space at the quantum level has enough energy to boil all the waters of all the oceans on Earth. Once the scientists and engineers on the doomed Earth figured out a practical way to use this information, they could now get around the fuel issue with manned interstellar travel and get to building actual starships-- though still slower than light. The trouble with this discovery though was that it took place a little over a hundred before the sun would go boom.

But the people of Earth did have time to build a few true manned starships. Funny thing, while discovering a way to build ships that could approach the speed of light, the engineers soon realized that another issue would keep them from coming close to that speed. See, interstellar macroscopic space is “filled” with with debris that ranges in size from lone atoms of hydrogen to various rogue planets that were flung out from the star system where they were formed. While these starships could detect the big stuff and slide out of the way, the atoms and other smaller rocks and stuff could literally destroy these fancy vessels. Confused? Look up Newton and his equation on how force equal mass times acceleration.

But the engineers decide to build an ice shield at the nose of the starships, which partially solves the problem. But they still have to limit the speed of these ships to around ten-percent of the speed of light. And as you might be able to figure out, these ice shields wear down after so many years of traveling through deep space.

Enter the starship Magellan and its hundred-thousand or so hibernating humans, who after two-hundred years of travel need to stop and rebuild its now thin ice shield. It just so happens that he ocean world Thalassa is the midpoint on their journey to their eventual destination. Needless to say both the humans from the now dead and roasted Earth and the native Thalassans are quite surprised to see each other.

The actual meat of Clarke's novel comes with how the two groups interact with each other. An important note Clarke hints at several time for the reader is that human history is filled with how stronger cultures overwhelm and destroy weaker ones. So both groups initially tiptoe around each other in an effort to play nice.

Before long several reawakened but weary members of the Magellan's crew become entangled with native Thalassans, for whom emotional and sexual relationships are free of the possessiveness which are normal to us. More importantly, as the crew of the Magellan builds the ice plant on the surface of Thalassa to replace their ship's worn down shield, they discover that a scorpion-like species living underwater that is well on its way to being a sentient species. This scorpion-like species is actually native to the planet opening up uncomfortable questions about how the human Thalassans will learn to live with them. These scorpions have massive underwater villages and farms and like to obtain metal to build things from human constructions that stick out into the ocean. One more thing, the scorpions are only semi-aquatic and can spend a great deal of time on the surface.

What attracted me to this book was the deep time aspect of human development. While only set in the 3800's AD, The Songs of a Distant Earth reminded me that our personal existence, culture, and civilization are temporary creations which will be replaced at some point. That maybe a better objective for Humanity might be working to build something that improves what we have now for the benefit of our descendants.

I give nothing away by writing The Songs of Distant Earth ends on the duel notes of both hope and tragedy. While I obviously loved all the hard science in the book, the strength of the novel is, of course, how the characters deal with each other. After centuries of separation, the Earthers and human Thalassans have much to overcome in the way cultural differentiation. While Arthur C. Clarke didn't get as deep as I would have liked in human tension, it is still a remarkable work.

Monday, November 19, 2018

I'm Back, Hopefully

Realizing uncertainty is one of the few universal constants, I'm taking this moment to write that I should be returning to regular posts by this weekend. Yes, my cardiac adventures have continued with two trips to the emergency room and another ablation procedure, which occurred last Thursday. This last one had the benefit of not seeming like total Hell. The whole story of my last two emergency room visits and the latest cardiac ablation are far to long and complicated to write about in the time I have right now.

Unfortunately, what I can relate is that while the good doctors and nurses did nail down several more trouble spots on my heart, there was one they couldn't zap and destroy. In fact, I was told it would take open heart surgery at another hospital in Chicago. Everyone involved, which naturally includes me most of all, hopes that my medicine can keep that bad boy under control. Yes, there are other options like implantable pacemakers and defibrillators but I really do not want to go there.

If brevity is the soul of wit I'll stop now because it actually looks like I summed up the situation pretty tightly without all the awkward social oversharing. Here's hoping that I am no longer living in medical interesting times to paraphrase what I think is an ancient Chinese curse.         

Sunday, October 28, 2018

This Week Sucked

Just not feeling it this week. My personal health condition is unchanged, at least for right now. Taking my medicines and hope to have my next cardiac ablation scheduled later this week.  Which is a two-edged sword since I have to go off the meds for five days to clean out my system so they can find the problem heart cells and zap the little bastards with electricity. Of course, going off the meds means I might have another incident before I have the procedure.

On an entirely different note, the nation had to live through a conservative republican terrorist sending pipe bombs through the mail this week. Nothing signifies the utter corruption of American politics when all manner of Trump-supporting MAGAts openly believing those crimes were some Democratic-inspired hoax. And just to add another insult to an already injured country, another conservative wacko decided to shoot up a synagogue in Pennsylvania.

What comes close to leaving me in despair is that the Orange Bastard is still out there trying his best to burn the country down. 



Sunday, October 21, 2018

More Cardiac Adventures- An Unexpected Hospital Stay

Just a quick update. Had a cardiac ablation on October 11th to solve issues with things like heart flutter and ventricular tachycardia. Cardiac ablation is a relatively simple outpatient procedure but I took a four day weekend to recover because my groin area was quite sore. You really don't want me to explain that detail, just take my word that it's unpleasant.

After a relaxing weekend, on the afternoon of October 15th had a setback. I was suddenly hit with another bout of ventricular tachycardia which sent me to the emergency room and a hospital stay that lasted until this passed Thursday.

Didn't post anything about this hospital stay because I was both depressed and more than slightly pissed. Depressed because the assurances I was given about the problem being "solved" weren't worth the toilet paper stuck to Trump's shoes as he boarded Air Force One the other day. And pissed because I didn't do my own research into VT and the cardiac ablation procedure. Found out people can have up to four procedures and still end up taking the medicine that controls crazy heart rhythms.

Feeling "better" as compared to the events on October 11th. But I'm still getting use to the new blood pressure meds and the fact I don't really have much of an appetite lately. The appetite thing could be a blessing since I need to lose weight anyway.

Once again, huge shout out to my wife, son and daughter who did their best to take care of me. And a massive thank you to my coworkers who visits made me feel much better. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

A Subtle Decadency

Let me go ahead and write that this post will be even more askew from my usual rants and trite observations. Nothing really surprising although my eventual point will probably be a little too abstract for most people.

Over a week ago, I had to make a Lowes run to once again pick up supplies for yard work. As per my usual habit, I stopped by the place quite early in the morning while on my way home from work. That way I didn't have to deal with both the large crowds that frequent the warehouse-style retail stores and and the locals who I simply do not like. Yes, that latter part is from my longstanding inability to fit in with the stifling atmosphere that engulfs anything to do with modern American suburbia. A physiological deficiency of mine that still drives my wife crazy.

As most already know, the vast majority of American retail stores of all types start laying out Halloween merchandise at the end of August. This is mainly so all manufacturers of Halloween stuff can make as much money as possible off the docile masses. I could mention the Pavlovian nature of bringing out all the cheap and crappy trinkets of the various holidays a little earlier each year, but what would be the point? American consumers are a nicely tamed and trained bunch who eagerly drool the second the proper stimulus appears. Whatever the case, as far as my 50-something mind is concerned, I problem with bringing out all the horror-related junk while everyone is walking around in sweaty t-shirts and shorts. I still associate Halloween with far chiller, autumn-like weather that required people wear long pants and light jackets. Not that my childhood memories matter since these days in the American South, hot and humid summer-like weather stays well into October.

Walking into Lowes that morning I thought I had seen all the possible excesses that could exist when it comes to what I will call meaningless holiday bling. The definition of that term being any item whose cost is inverse to the time it can be displayed. Because just a few steps inside the store was a sixteen-foot inflatable Grim Reaper. Strangely fascinated by this Halloween decoration, I had to know how much that thing cost. The price tag on that item was two-hundred bucks, technically not a huge amount when you consider the surrounding area was overwhelmingly comprised of upper middle class white folks who eat that kind of materialistic crap like Cheerios. Personally, I was hit with a feeling of disgust so strong I could almost taste bile in my mouth.

From my own point of view, I can see the use of new smart phones, new computers or kitchen appliances, and hundreds of other item that could easily be considered “trendy.” Newer items generally use less power and have increased functions that, for me, translates into a justifiable reason to blow away money. But that inflatable Grim Reaper violated some fundamental principle in me that superseded the idea that everyone has a basic right to do what they want with their money.

My nonconforming, anti-community attitude party comes from the fact that I was raised by my grandparents. They were people whose childhood spanned the worst of the Great Depression and the austerity demanded by the Second World War. It's also worth mentioning that for them being born in the American South during those years also meant a general level of poverty, that while was much worse for some, was still around third-world levels for everyone. So they would never for a second entertained the idea of purchasing something even remotely akin to that inflatable Grim Reaper. They were type of people who truly had a credit card for emergencies. Which I know from first hand experience because while a busted water heater was enough of an emergency to pull out the credit card, a broken television was most definitely something that could wait until after payday.

For those reasons I am what could be called strongly anti-bling. I abhor anything flashy or what I would consider blatantly wasteful, which the inflatable Grim Reaper fits perfectly in that category. I've got far better things to do with two-hundred dollars than blow it on a piece of seasonal holiday crap that probably won't last three years before it rips or the blower fails. Truth be told, one of the ongoing issues I have with my wife is her three separate boxes of decorations for the Christmas Tree. Each box contains a different style of decorations ranging from Disney stuff, my favorite, with the other two made up of Victorian era-style stuff and “Three Kings” items, which I frankly don't understand. Growing up, we had one box of standard Christmas decorations that lasted decades.

On a more subtle level, the inflatable Grim Reaper reeks of a societal decadency that bothers me more than it should. I live in an area that when a county referendum was approved calling for a penny increase in sales tax to fund road improvements, those that pushed for the measure literally received various forms of physical threats. Yeah, the county roads where I live are quite bad and while some did eventually get much needed maintenance, the funding came from the state government. Do I even need to mention the county tax referendum was massively defeated? Getting back to my main point, Lowes just didn't throw out boxes of the inflatable Grim Reaper to its stores nationwide for shits and giggles. Such corporations know what products sell and what the local customers ignore.

This all leads back to my hate of suburbia and the people who inhabit it. These are people who piously attend church and spout the approved orthodoxy but have no real idea of the teachings of Christ, at least the parts about social justice. To them, Christ is a Republican who loves capitalism and is highly suspicious of anyone outside their ethnic group. While there are exceptions, these suburbanites reside in narrow universe and react quite harshly to anything outside it that even threatens to disturb their blissful domain. That mindset makes it hard for any possible reforms that would correct injustices or prepare for the future. They have their stuff and to Hell with everyone else.

They more or less live at the top of the social ladder. Yes, I fully understand it's the billionaires and multi-millionaires who truly rule over the nation and world. But from my observations, to suburbanites the ultra rich are even more of an abstract concept than to the working poor who watch the reality television that show off their lavish antics. Working poor people placate their dead end existence by thinking their just one good idea away from having lunch with the Kardashians.

To the average suburbanite, the future is nothing but a continuation of their current lifestyle. They live in comfortable and spacious homes, have unbelievably huge televisions in their living rooms, and have enough “money” to buy inflatable Grim Reapers so they can essentially show off to the neighbors that they play the same bullshit game as everyone else.

The thing that I find darkly humorous in all this is that if some event or circumstance upsets the suburbanite apple cart and shits get really bad, I understand enough about human nature to know that the outwardly pleasant persona of these people display will evaporate in a second. If the Walmart or Kroger shelves go empty and the convenience stores run out of gas they will be eating each other by the end of the week. Then that would be a perfect time for someone set out their sixteen-foot inflatable Grim Reaper.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Eternal Vigilance

As things to continue to spiral out of control with intolerance and fear given free reign by those in power, it's easy to become exhausted and give up hope. God knows there are times I want to puke after listening to the television talking heads microscopically examine the latest political atrocity. And I'm not just talking about the damn right-wing nutcases that daily edge closer to deifying the Orange Bastard.

I've heard a good many Liberal pundits paint a far too rosy picture of the future after he 2018 midterms. As far as they are concerned, after the November election a Democratic-controlled Congress will impeach the monster occupying the White House and restore decency to the government. A really nice idea but when you examine it further and realize that Pence would take over he gives every appearance of being a total nutcase in his own right. For now I'll ignore the possible fact that Pence is as corrupt as his boss because impeaching Trump alone will be a really difficult task even if the Russia Investigation has clear cut, blindingly obvious evidence of traitorous behavior.

Liberals have essentially walked down this deluded primrose path before during the early Obama years. It might be hard for some to remember but after eight years of Bush/Cheney many on my side of the political spectrum thought President Obama would usher in a new Golden Age. Obama was going to fix the economy, cure all social injustices, and reverse global warming all before the midterms. Not six months into his administration, Liberal whining had already started with various factions bemoaning the fact that their special interest had not been addressed. Sorry folks, societal and government problems are not tasks with easy solutions. To think they are suggests a lack of understanding that rivals the delusions of the right-wing Marching Morons. 

This is on top of the proto-fascist "Tea Party" types claiming President Obama was everything from a secret fundamentalist Muslim, radical atheist Marxist, space alien, and even the Antichrist. On a side note, Tea Party types also raised hell about the federal budget deficit that Obama mostly inherited from Bush/Cheney. Funny how with Trump now pushing it back over a trillion a year with his massive corporate tax cut they appear to have gone extinct.

So what happened when the 2010 midterms came up? Liberals largely stayed home allowing the Republicans to take control of Congress. Yes, there was some progress during Obama's years but as we now have seen it is being undone because once again Democrats/Liberals/progressives decided 2016 was a great time for a bullshit civil war about political purity.

Maintaining a healthy democracy is not a winnable war. It is a constant battle with the forces of both those who long for some simpler time when they were in charge and the elements on our own side who are self-destructive. I guess the Republicans have a reversed situation in that back when their party was sane they had to prevent government from going too far and delving into matters best left to the individual, local, or state governments. I would add that they also had to fight against the insane wing of their party that are attracted to authoritarianism, but they clearly lost that war.

So it goes without saying that we're all in some pretty deep shit. We've let a dark chaos take control of the country and unless we elect a Democratic congress next month the following two years will make the nightmare we've lived since 2017 pale in comparison. But that is only the beginning, every rational person has to continue to vote in every election no matter how trivial it might seem. There is no victory that can be achieved, keeping the American experiment alive is a battle that will never end.

 Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few. The manna of popular liberty must be gathered each day or it is rotten. The living sap of today outgrows the dead rind of yesterday. The hand entrusted with power becomes, either from human depravity or esprit de corps, the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continued oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot; only by unintermitted agitation can a people be sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.” 

Wendell Phillips - 1811 to 1884                   

Sunday, September 30, 2018

American Cthulhu Rising

Given the dark times we live in my reading material has correspondingly adapted to the circumstances we unfortunately find ourselves. My usual long times choices of science fiction, various types of suspense thrillers, and literary fiction seem out of place when the very foundations of the nation and the world itself are being undermined by a destructive force bent on unleashing the worst aspects of human behavior.

This present cluster frak probably wouldn't be so bad if this chaotic influence didn't have legions of individuals dedicated to supporting their master and the delusions and lies it works tirelessly to portray to the wider world. With that mindset, I recently started delving into the works of one H.P. Lovecraft and his chief creation, the cosmic entity called “Cthulhu.”

Without delving too deeply into Cthulhu's complicated background, it's an ancient gigantic monster that lies entombed on a sunken island someplace in the Pacific Ocean. While essentially dead in some sense, this being still dreams and communicates telepathically with its worshipers across the planet. What really struck me with this fictional creation is that Cthulhu is utter chaos. Unless I read the book wrong, it doesn't have any benevolent nor malevolent agenda. Cthulhu is beyond morals and order or overthrowing God and taking the throne of Heaven. It wants to be worshiped with its followers being allowed to wreak total havoc on the world.

Anyone with a nanogram of working brain cells knows that here in the United States we have allowed a human form of Cthulhu to take the highest office in the land. All the morals and principles the Republican Party espoused like the “sanctity” of marriage and balancing the federal budget have been totally abandoned to feed the ego of a creature with no human empathy nor dignity. This Orange Cthulhu dances around proclaiming his preeminence in all matters while whining that the entire world treats him unfairly. Even worse are his acolytes that run cover for his idiotic mistakes and blunders, like the entire General Assembly of the United Nations laughing at him for claiming no other president has done more during his time in office.

Truthfully, that bastard's presidential ambitions should have died when he stood on a stage during the primary campaign and mocked a handicapped reporter's disabilities. But something truly bizarre happened, his campaign only grew in power because he fed off the fears and hates of a populace that had been carefully cultivated by the Republican Party since the Nixon Administration. In all honesty, Tricky Dick's Southern Strategy was a stroke of diabolical brilliance. Nixon and his lackeys saw a disgruntled but dependable voting group and steadily stoked their irrational fears. Even with Tricky Dick eventually leaving office in disgrace, the Southern Strategy was too successful to abandon, no matter the corrosion to our national character. At least this strategy allowed one aspect of truth to come forward. That the “better angels” of our nature are no match when they go against longstanding hates and fears.

The Democrats, whether they be mainstream or wacky progressives, hold a nice chunk of blame for letting the Orange Cthulhu loose. That monster didn't lie about his intentions, he openly stated what he would do while in office but yet far too many liberals stayed home on Election Day because their candidate wasn't new and shiny. Yes, Hillary was flawed most definitely, but to say she would have been the equal or worse of that bastard shows a lack of understanding that rivals the uneducated trolls that put the monster in office.

Unlike the creature in the novel, The Call of Cthulhu, the real life human equivalent has been fully set loose upon the world. Its corruption is spreading and we have only one chance this November to curb its ambitions. The really scary thing for me is that this danger is not overblown political rhetoric. Yes, George W. Bush was a bad president who did things it will take the United States decades to recover from. But Georgie never really did anything that actively compromise the democrat foundations of the Republic. The Orange Cthulhu is not the usual corrupt politician, if he was I would actually be relieved. He is an active agent of destruction and chaos who will only be stopped if good people set aside all minor differences and work to end his reign. If we don't stop him, we're only a few shorts steps away from his minions goosestepping down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Hear Seth Meyers offer up a scathing review of that bastard and his recent visit to the United Nations and his bizarre press conference:

For shits and giggles here's a song that fits my mood:

Sunday, September 23, 2018

More Cardiac Adventures- Paying the Bills

Most everyone who reads my verbal offal knows that back in August I spent several days in the hospital because of a heart issue. Of the four days I was being treated, three of them were in cardiac ICU and as anyone can guess that meant I had numerous medical tests, several procedures, and was under constant care by highly trained medical personnel. None of the medical care I got was cheap and as expected the bills started rolling in last week. The good news in all this is that I have above average health insurance coverage so, unlike a lot of other folks, my family and I are not looking at bankruptcy because of my heart issues.

After receiving these bills, I spent about an hour on the phone with the billing department trying to arrange a payment plan which satisfied my creditors without reducing my family to living off bread and water until we fully bought back my soul. Don't freak out, this is not some half-assed attempt at establishing a crowdsource fund to pay off my bills. My purpose here is to describe my conversation with the nice lady in the billing department and how, when you consider the alternatives, I'm one of the lucky ones when it comes to surviving the American healthcare system.

As with nearly all business conversations that occur over the phone, initially it was a ballet of cordiality between the billing lady and myself. She voiced the correct amount of concern over my resent troubles and offered her sympathies and hopes that my situation was corrected. Where things went sideways was when I told her the purpose of my call was to arrange a payment plan on this bill that didn't totally disrupt my family's life as we paid it back.

With the niceties over, the billing lady's initial response was to offer me a discount rate if I immediately paid off the entire bill. As I said earlier, my health insurance is above average and paid off the majority of the costs incurred during my hospital stay. But that still left a nice chunk of out of pocket charges I would have to pay. Without divulging way too much information this discount for immediate payment was a bit of a joke. Long story short, it would still cause a major disruption in the normal monthly financial patterns of family life.

So, the billing lady and I wheeled and dealed until we both came to a payment plan that didn't cripple my household but paid off my bills. As our discussion drew to a close, this is where the thin veneer of the billing lady's civility and concern was rubbed away showing her true nature, which was nothing more than a glorified loan shark. Her final statement to me essentially said, “We're here to serve you but don't for a minute screw with us and miss a payment.” After hanging up, I literally breathed a sigh of relief because my family and I could make those payments. My thoughts quickly went to other folks who can't pay and who will ultimately lose most, if not everything they have worked a lifetime to save or build.

One of the most pathetic things you can see in the United States is a donation jar setup in a store or some other place of business to help some unfortunate person pay their medical bills. You've probably seen these type of appeals for charity, there will be a note attached to the jar which shows a picture of the person in need along with and explanation of the illness they suffering from. Such donation jars are sad when the person in need is an adult, but it gets seriously tragic when they are setup for a child. All other advanced Western countries have healthcare systems that look after their less advantaged citizens. Are these socialized medical systems perfect and without abuse? Hell no, but they are lightyears better than leaving huge segments of the population to go bankrupt or to go without any medical care.

Only here in the glorious United States will elected leaders, and a good part of the population, cheer for the establishment of some bullshit “Space Force” that will cost billions while millions of people do not have adequate healthcare. Of course, the huge irony in all this is the population that cheers on the establishment of another branch of the Armed Forces overwhelmingly turns away in disgust at the idea of government run healthcare. Like I wrote, my family and are good in the long run. We'll have to skip a few trips to Olive Garden and stay off the Amazon website for a couple of months but we'll be okay.

Its just that you do not have to look hard to find examples of people who will not be okay because of medical bills. The most tragic thing in all this is how when you look at the situation on the most basic level a lot of folks simply do not give a damn that fellow Americans suffer greatly at the hands of a callous and inefficient healthcare system. That is until something goes wrong and it is them who face the options of losing everything or letting a loved one die. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Bigger Picture

The boy gently placed his toy sailboat in the water and let the afternoon breeze fill the sails and push it towards the First Landing statue in the center of the lake. It was the boy's one true possession and he watched it with concern hoping it did not capsize or hit any of the other craft moving through the lake waters.

Once the onboard artificial intelligence chip sensed it had reached the proper speed and detected a strong enough updraft, the rigging and sails reconfigured turning it into a glider. As the craft gained altitude, the boy took control of it using the neural interface wired inside his brain. Feeling the interface take hold, the boy stood next the lake with his eyes closed and his arm stretched out letting the glider became an extension of his own body. Only then was the boy able to forget his concerns and feel free and at peace. Still though, in the back of his mind he remembered that he only had a year left before coming of age and being apprenticed to some profession.

Looking through the glider's sensors, all of First Landing Park sprawled out beneath him, with it green grass, trees, monuments, decorative fountains, and people enjoying a peaceful afternoon. Beyond the park was the city with its towers encircled by what looked like graceful ribbons that made up the transportation network that connected the city to itself and the rest of the planet. Occasionally, the boy would catch sight of one of the sleek modules attached to one the ribbons taking people to their destinations.

As the boy turned the glider back towards his location, he caught sight of a strange person standing close to him. The boy felt no fear, peacekeeper 'bots would come to his rescue if they detected a disturbance or he called out. This person though was nothing like he had ever see before. Part of its head and its right arm gleamed in the sunlight. With his curiosity growing, the boy disengaged the link to the glider allowing the AI to bring it back to the lake. As his vision returned, that was when the boy realized there was a Martian standing a couple of meters away from him.

For well over a thousand years after the invention of a practical faster-than-light drive Humankind traveled among the stars exploring and colonizing the habitable planets they found. Early in these journeys, humans discovered that while life was abundant wherever they traveled, it rarely evolved passed simple creatures and analogs to chlorophyll-based plant life. The few times humans found planets with complex ecosystems similar to Earth, they were wise enough to leave them alone except for building space stations in orbit or bases on their moons to study them. Needless to say, with complex life rare, humans never once encountered any other intelligent species.

That all changed when the Wisps came out of the void and started attacking human worlds and the starships that tied their civilization together. By that time in human development, conflicts were rare so at first the Wisps ran roughshod through settled space. Many humans colonies in the early stages of development were easily wiped out, while the more established worlds fought off the attackers for awhile.

But the Wisps were relentless and after several decades were finally able to mount an assault on Earth itself. They obliterated everything in Humanity's home star system from the giant orbital habitats, to the cities scattered about on Luna, Mars, the Jovian moons, and Titan. But their greatest wrath fell on Earth itself. They sterilized the surface of the planet killing all five billion of its human inhabitants and everything else that lived. Then with the few survivors on Mars and Titan expecting the Wisps to return and cleanup what they missed, the aliens disappeared from not only the home system but all of human space.

The damage was done though, the survivors on Mars and Titan spent centuries just trying to rebuild. For the rest of human settled space, the situation was just as bleak. Hundreds of worlds fell headlong into a new dark age once again unleashing the worst aspects of Homo sapien behavior.

“Who are you young man?” The Martian asked.

“My name is Michel Cor,” the boy answered unafraid since the arrival of the Martian starship was the most exciting thing to happen to his world in decades. While the ship remained in orbit, its crew were instant celebrities everywhere they went, despite the sheer alienness of their appearance. Since Michel had never seen a Martian closeup, he openly stared at the man.

Half of his skull had been replaced with a cybernetic interface that only vaguely conformed to what a human face was supposed to look like. Michel studied the seam where the organic skull and the cybernetic addition met, it was abrupt but looked like a perfect meshing of the two. The designers and engineers went as far as to make the artificial side of the Martian's nose a match in shape to the biological. However, the Martian's mouth was not designed as well, the biological portion had full expressive movement, while the artificial side had much less. It was the Martian's cybernetic eye that intrigued Michel, it glowed red and protruded outward providing space for other types of sensors. Michel could only imagine what sights and information it provided for those possessing such technology.

Michel then remembered from school that the Martians were not just enhanced cyborgs, but that their very minds had been merged with a type of artificial intelligent forever removing them from true humanity. Among the different human worlds, it was whispered that these enhanced beings had the ability to predict events by seeing all possible futures. That they had other abilities that transcended normal human comprehension.

Such concepts were a bit too abstract for Michel to truly appreciate, it was the Martian's right arm that fascinated him. Because while the silver appendage looked human enough, it could morph into hundreds of different tools and even weapons. The Martians were not about to let the Wisps get a second chance at driving humanity extinct.

“I was impressed with the control you had over your sail glider. You have a natural talent with the way you anticipated the changes in wind patterns beyond the lake.” The Martian said with the organic half of his face trying to smile.

“Thank you, Citizen...” Michel said beginning to address the Martian in the proper custom of his world before thinking better of it.

“My name is Jonas Harper,” the Martian said enjoying the boy's momentary confusion. “But you can call me Jonas.” He added not wanting to cause the boy any possible discomfort.

“Jonas Harper?” Michel asked more to himself than his new companion. To the boy the name sounded clumsy, weird, even bizarre.

“Yes, it is an ancient name used all the way back to when humans lived just on Earth.” Jonas said. “With the destruction of Earth, we Martians carry the weight of human history so our society works hard to stay connected with the past.”

“Have you ever been to Earth?” Michel asked.

“Once when I was a boy,” Jonas said, “before I accepted the burden of my new consciousness.”

“Is it true you restored life to the surface?”

“Yes, we used much of the same technology there that we used here on Sonora.”

Michel's homeworld was never supposed to be colonized. While the air was breathable, the first explorers to Sonora had determined there was not enough water on the planet to justify any attempt at settlement. So the world was cataloged and promptly forgotten about, that is until the Wisps bombarded several relatively nearby colonies.

A damaged civilian starship entered the Sonoran system looking for any rocky world to land and make repairs. The rediscovery of a semi-habitable planet in such desperate times was looked upon as a blessing by both the crew and passengers. The Wisps had already bombarded their planet and were still attacking any ships they found,so they quickly decided to stay on Sonora permanently. Unfortunately, other starships with better historical records or star charts began arriving a few years later looking for a refuge as well. Within a couple of decades the reason Sonora was never colonized became apparent with the emerging cities often fighting each other over water and usable soil. When a joint Mars/Titan expedition found the planet again three hundred years later the small Sonoran human civilization was on the verge of collapse.

Seeing the situation, the Martian vessel, equipped with planetary engineering equipment, stayed behind and began a twenty-year project to reshape the entire world. Several hundred comets were taken from the outer reaches of the star system to create oceans for Sonora. While that was going on, the Martians built massive land crawling machines that prepped the surface soil for terrestrial-based plant life. The final touches were the planting of rapid growing grasses and trees that turned the Sonora into a virtual copy of Earth.

When the Martian ship finally departed, Sonora had a unified government whose leaders decided their purpose was to make their world a major interstellar power. Part of that plan was to increase the planetary population as quickly as possible, so the human creches were established. Places where humans are grown in breeding pods and raised to adulthood by android caregivers. This allowed Sonora to go from a population of twenty-million at rediscovery to over three-billion in two centuries. To the normal human-raised citizens of Sonora, their world is a paradise but to Michel and all the others born in the creches it was a burden.

“I would love to see the homeworld,” Michel said more to himself than to the visitor. The Sonoran government was officially a democratic meritocracy. A place where the rights of the citizenry superseded the government's interests and prospective leaders had to prove their stability and rationality before being allowed to run for elected office. But to the creche-born, these ideals didn't really apply to them. For those like Michel, the government had their lives planned out until the age they could retire. Most would be assigned to the unsettled regions of the planet while a lucky few might find themselves living in one of the orbital habitats mining the asteroids for metals or building the shipyards where future Sonoran starships would be constructed.

“Such a possibility could be worked out,” Jonas Harper said to the boy. “My ship is returning to Mars and we have empty berths for lower crewmen. The duty would be difficult, but upon reaching Mars you would be accepted to our service academy.”

“Would I have to be augmented like you to join?” Michel asked pointing to his skull.

“No, augmentation is only for those who freely choose. We do not force any individual to go against their will or desires. An individual normally serves ten-standard years before Fleet Command approaches them about the possibility.”

Michel stood there in the park looking at the Martian considering his options. An unplanned life of adventure where he was allowed to make his own choices. Or one where he spent his life running a supply outpost or an agricultural station out in the wilderness.

“I'll go,” Michel told the Martian. “I need to go tell the creche manager. She will consider me a runaway if I'm not back by nightfall.”

“No need young Michel, I have already alerted everyone involved. We can leave now and be on my ship in time for dinner.”

Michel had never been allowed on one of the transport modules other citizens used. As creche-born, past experience had shown there was too big a chance young ones like him would use it to disappear. Sitting next the Martian, he enjoyed the looks all the normal born folks were giving him.

For the Martian, his thoughts were flung in a thousand different directions. While the Sonoran government had dreams of becoming a major power in interstellar affairs, they had absolutely no idea about the bigger galactic picture. In fairness, most human worlds were willfully trying to forget about the Wisps. They were happy to pursue their singular dreams at the expense of their overall futures. Mars remembered what they had done to Earth and the other worlds that only now were beginning to recover.

Above all else though, what took precedence in all other considerations for Mars was that they knew the Wisps would one day return. Young Michel didn't know it but the vast collective consciousness that was the Martian ship and crew saw something in him that could mean the ultimate survival of the species. So Jonas had no real issue taking Michel from one planned life and placing him in another. It wasn't like he would be the only one.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season

 For the obvious selfish and foolish reasons, I had begun to convince myself the South Carolina coast just might avoid any issues this hurricane season. This hurricane season thankfully seemed a bust with few Atlantic storms forming and those that did quickly fizzling out. Well, much to my chagrin, I got up yesterday morning, made a cup of crappy decaf coffee, and turned on the television to learn Hurricane Florence appears to have the South Carolina coast dead in its sights.

For the survivors of Hurricane Maria, my complaints about what may happen in the coming days are most definitely the highest form of whining. But such is human nature when the delicate balance of normal demands and daily concerns of life are threatened by a much worse outside force. What is slightly funny for me on a strictly personal level is whenever I use to voice my trepidation on what may happen, like the possible damage an approaching hurricane might cause, some jackleg douche invariably tries to offer up a “glass half full” scenario. Such people like to offer trite statements at how adversity could pull people together to work for the common good, or some other feel good crap. I would consider such a possibility in more enlightened portions of the country or world, but here in Red State suburbia, I highly doubt it. Personally, I often believe these seemingly civilized suburbanites are just a few missed meals away from eating each other. 

Whatever the case, Dragonwife, my lovely and smart spouse is heading to the local Costco today to pick up a respectable amount of bottled water and canned goods as a precaution. If Florence does decide to smack South Carolina, even indirectly, my work will certainly demand I stay on-site to help maintain continued safe and steady operation. So, I wish everyone within Hurricane Florence's possible path destruction the best of luck. Here's a couple of required Buffett tunes to think about in the coming days. 

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Fast and the Oblivious

Driving home from work a few mornings back, my chief goal was to get cleaned up, eat a quick breakfast, and go straight to bed. The main reason I felt an urgency to get my daily routine done quickly was because it had been steadily raining since midnight and the weather report was giving every indication it would stay that way for several more hours. Nothing helps a weary night-shift worker get to sleep like dark clouds and steady rain in the morning. The only problem was the clever little gas gauge on my car's dashboard was flashing a warning light saying I was getting dangerously low on fuel. The last thing I wanted to do was stop and get gas, but at that very moment I was approaching one of the better convenience stores in the area and decided to get the chore out of the way.

By better convenience store, I mean one that is clean, has well maintained gas pumps, and more importantly is on the opposite side of town from where I live. Few things bother me more in the morning than having to carry on socially-obligated small talk with one of the locals who really doesn't like me but knows my wife or one of my kids. Being that the normal people were heading out to work at that time, past experience has taught me that on my side of town there was a better than average chance of encountering one of those creatures.

So, I turn off the highway and pull under the shelter providing cover for the gas pumps. I go through the motions of navigating the touch screen on the gas pump choosing my method of payment along with declining both to have my car washed at the on-site automated facility and the offer on a new zero-interest credit card. After getting those slightly irritating issues out of the way, I insert the nozzle in the tank and lean against the side of my car waiting for it to fill.

There were four or five other customers under the shelter with me doing the same, all obviously preoccupied with their own morning agendas. Like I wrote, bone-weary people such as myself are not looking for conversations so I was enjoying quiet anonymity and the sound of the rain. At some point though I began hearing a low roar off in the distance, one whose intensity grew so quickly it overwhelmed the sound of the steady rain. It was easy to discern the direction of the noise, it was coming from the western side of the highway.

Frankly, the noise sort of reminded me of a low flying jet fighter. Back during my air defense days in the army, we'd have training sessions where we tracked aircraft flying extremely low to the ground. Those training sessions happened in the deserts of New Mexico, such a thing occurring down a usually well traveled highway in South Carolina was ridiculous. Whatever the case, I began looking in the direction the noise was coming from figuring it would pass my location soon enough.

Except that the noise, only grew louder with no source in sight. As the seconds ticked by my curiosity grew as well, so much I began to feel an illogical trepidation. This noise was now officially weird and on the way to slightly bizarre. Just when I began to believe the source of the noise would never appear that's when it came into view.

It was one of those new Dodge Challenger sports cars and while my days of interest in such vehicles are long past, it was blindingly obvious that the driver had the engine red lined. In fact, it wouldn't have surprised me to see the engine explode in the couple of seconds it was in my view. I'm terrible at guessing the speed of moving cars but that Challenger was easily pushing over one-hundred miles an hour, probably far more. Whatever its true speed, that car was going so fast down the highway it had a long misty tail produced from the rain flowing around the body. Once out of view, while the pitch of the Challenger's engine change as it passed my location, the driver hadn't eased off on pushing the car to its extreme limits.

“An unmarked cop car?” The person at the pump in front of me asked aloud.

“Probably,” I responded, “but I didn't see any flashing lights.”

South Carolina cops love unmarked police cars, so much that once while driving near Charleston, I saw the Highway Patrol had turned a nondescript, certified mom-type Chevrolet minivan into such a cop car. I was traveling west on I-26 and saw these thin, horizontal flashing blue lights on the lower left and right side of the van's back window, which was stopped on the side of the road. The strange part came with the, “My son is an honor student” bumper sticker stuck between the two flashing lights.

Traffic was backed up, so everyone was going slow allowing me to see the gray uniform of a Highway Patrolman exit the vehicle and almost goosestep to the driver side window of the car he pulled over. As I passed the driver's side of the van, it was then that I noticed it lacked all identifying decals. All things considered, if a minivan pulled up behind me flashing blue light from behind its grill, I'm not sure I would believe it was a real cop car.

Whatever the case, given the safe assumption the Dodge Challenger was an unmarked cop car responding silently to some pretty bad shit, I expected to see other law enforcement types follow in its wake. Which was sort of what happened, not thirty seconds after the mysterious speeder burned pass us, a deputy sheriff vehicle lazily pulled into the convenience store parking. The one problem though was this law enforcement vehicle came from the opposite direction the Challenger was traveling. It goes without saying there was simply no way that deputy could have missed seeing, and hearing, the speedster as it continued down the highway.

The deputy sheriff, a guy so young I would have bet money he was only a few years out of high school, casually strolled into the convenience store seemingly oblivious to the world around him. Looking through the store's huge windows, I watched this young Barney Fife walk to the Krispy Kreme donuts display and stare longingly at the offerings. If a cop's future career success can be discerned by his profession's stereotypical worship of donuts, this kid would make county sheriff before his thirtieth birthday. Despite it all, it was a safe assumption that the Dodge Challenger was a law enforcement vehicle on its way to something dangerous. For whatever reason though, the powers that be saw fit not to invite young Barney to the party.

This posed a huge question, on the off chance the driver of the Challenger was just another of the many deluded A-holes of this area pushing his expensive toy to it limits, why hadn't young Barney done his public safety duty and gone after him? It was a question that I wouldn't ever get an answer. With my gas tank finally filled, I drove off for home with my ultimate destination being my warm bed.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

John McCain 1936 - 2018

Putting the bitterness and inherent divisiveness of politics aside for the moment, I have to clearly state that John McCain was a genuine American hero and patriot. I am not saying he was perfect or that I ever really agreed with his political positions. The truth of the matter is that back in 2008 when McCain was the Republican nominee for president I cringed at the thought of him handling the financial meltdown should he win the election. And to be honest, I thought the man had lost his marbles picking Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Despite the fact that I couldn't ever support Senator McCain's positions on most issues, I never for a minute doubted that he always had the best interests of the United States as his ultimate goal. Politics is a dirty game that at times forces good people to say and do things that they would otherwise refuse to take part. The best we can hope for in democracies like ours is that the people elect decent men and women who can come together and forge a compromise that ultimately advances everyone's' interests. I honestly believe John McCain the vast majority of the time was one of those decent people.

Now it's easy to scoff at politicians of all stripes and yes, elected office does seem to attract the lowest common denominator types looking for an easy way to gain power and influence. But in John McCain's case, no one can question his devotion to the United States given what he endured as a prisoner of war. Did he come from a privileged background? Yes, in a way since being the son and grandson of U.S. Navy admirals surely wasn't a hindrance to personal achievement. But the thing no one can deny was that he honorably served his country, whereas many children of powerful people just live off their trust funds or skate by doing as little as possible avoiding danger and commitment at all costs.

No, I didn't agree with John McCain on a lot of things. I personally feel some of his positions were backwards and outright dangerous given the world we live. But the thing is I believe that if a person agrees with any elected official one-hundred percent of the time they very much need to reexamine their way of thinking. John McCain was just a man, prone to mistakes like us all. But he was a good man who truly loved his country and will very much be missed.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

More Cardiac Adventures-The MRI Incident

After recuperating from my cardiac adventures, I went back to work last week, on day shift no less. The temporary reassignment was something my boss wanted. At first I was hesitant, but a couple of hours into my first day back last Monday, I quickly realized it was a good idea. It took me at least to last Wednesday to find my groove again. Upon returning home and after getting cleaned up I pretty much crashed on the couch until it was time to go to bed. So, what that means is that I don't really have anything to write about other than my encounter with the MRI machine during the time I was a patient in the hospital.

Magnetic Resonance Imagining is one of those technologies that would border on magic to anyone from the early Twentieth century and before. Sure, they had X-ray machines back then, which were wonders in their own era. But X-ray images never approached the level of detail and information a MRI can provide. The only problem with MRI's is that they are not as flexible or as easily deployable as the much older X-ray machines.

Essentially, MRI's to me look like a huge, glossy plastic barrel with a narrow center. Throw in a futuristic table, which slides the patient laying on top into that narrow center and that describes nearly all of those machines. Even with the advantages offered by MRI's, problems begin to emerge as soon as anyone comes close to to them.

The first being the overwhelmingly strong magnetic fields an energized unit produces. I've heard horror stories about careless orderlies rolling metal beds or stretchers into the room where the MRI's magnetic field “grabs” them after it is activated and causes some major destruction. The second issue come into play when the patient has some sort of metal implant in their body. Let's just say when that is somehow overlooked and the patient is placed inside the unit, and the magnets are energized, things can get messy really fast.

My encounter with the MRI machine revolved around a completely different type of problem. See, I'm a big guy and the center of the machine where they insert the patient is quite small. Yes, that means claustrophobia, something that for me usually involved the feeling of being overwhelmed in a large and loud crowd.

The cardiologists working on me wanted a detailed map of the problem cells causing my heart to race uncontrollably. Such information would allow them to home in on those nasty buggers and literally kill them with small electric shocks. So, I was wheeled down to the MRI and placed on the table. As that is happening, the technician is telling me I can't move during the procedure and that I would have to hold my breath periodically.

Everything is good to go up until the technician starts telling me how cramped and confining the inside of the machine will be. I'm okay up until the point she starts telling me about how I might react once I am slid into the center of the machine. She pretty much hit every raw point that could trigger my latent claustrophobia in the space of twenty seconds. Of course, never having a MRI scan before all her words were pretty abstract concepts up until I was actually laying inside the machine.

Long story short, I lasted about fifteen seconds before I started squeezing the hell out of the little plastic ball on the end of long a cord which signaled to the technician I was in full panic mode. Even though I knew everything was okay and that just a foot away from the top of my head was the other opening on the back end of the MRI, I felt entombed.

Personally, I think the one aspect that really got to me was that the opening was so confining. My shoulders and arms were pressing tightly against the inside of the opening. What didn't help at all was that my nose was just an inch or two from the top of the opening. Truthfully, thinking about it now still bothers me quite a bit.

Luckily, the technician slide me out quickly and was able to give me medication that more than tamed my claustrophobia. The procedure then went on as planned, which lasted about an hour. Once it was over, the MRI technician did try to put a positive spin on my record breaking panic attack once I was out of the machine. Apparently, other patients panic much later during the procedure, which forces an abort and them having to do it all over again later. Somehow, I found that information small comfort.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

A Transdimensional Day at the Beach

The lesson every sane human being who has the privilege to go on a vacation in these near feudal times should understand is that a bad day at the beach beats the living hell out of a good day at work. As dogmas go, it's far simpler than most, if not all religious or philosophical tenets that force people to jump through complicated hypocritical hoops and twist themselves into self-deceiving pretzels. Life began in the seas and while our amphibian ancestors crawled out of the salty waters and began the conquest of dry land are now calcified fossils, we hairless primates still have some sort of instinctual connection with the ocean.

Now it is true that this connection is stronger in some and weaker in others. One of the most bizarre statements I ever heard spoken was some dude telling me that salt water made him feel dirty. That he preferred swimming in fresh water lakes and ponds. Yeah, I adhere to the idea that we all have to true to our basic nature but I couldn't help but feel a bit of disgust at that individual.

My connection to the ocean first developed on the shores of Pawleys Island, South Carolina back in the late 1960's. While not really able to swim, kids my age would slowly go deeper into the water until it was up to our necks and we bobbed like corks in the gentle swells with our toes only occasionally touching the sandy bottom. Given the fear and paranoia the movie Jaws spawned a few years later, by all rights at least one or two of my fellow kindergarten age adventurers and myself should have ended up as a snack for some shark.

During those strangely backwards and progressive times, our parents didn't have a clue as of our actual whereabouts. They were hanging out on shore drinking themselves into a early afternoon stupor. They were satisfied in the knowledge that their children were somewhere in a half mile radius of their beach chairs and beer laden coolers. This wasn't child abuse or neglect, parents simply didn't feel the need to hover over their kids like overprotective angels. It was a different time, whether such parental behaviors were better or worse is a debate outside this scope of this story. No, there were absolutely no professional lifeguards anywhere to be seen back then, it was strictly swim at your own risk. Somehow over the years though, us kids learned the nature of currents, and waves along with avoiding jelly fish and knowing to get the out of the water if someone started bleeding.

I still retain a fondness for Pawleys Island, even though it lost most of what made it special for me due to the relentless encroachment of real estate developers. The south end of Pawleys Island once had an isolated feel, with the quite nearby mainland devoid of any of the gross McMansions that began popping up in the 1990's. The beaches I get to mostly these days are those off Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. A place that is far more developed and frankly pretentious than the permanent residents of Pawleys could hope to achieve, despite their best efforts. But being true to my central beliefs, it's still a beach and you have to work really hard to not enjoy the sun, sand, and ocean.

Last month I was doing just that, we were staying at Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort with my wife and I spending the day on the beach. It was mid-morning and after both of us had spent some time in the ocean she had gone back to sit under our rented umbrella and read a magazine. I decided to stay in the ocean and continue to float on my back and relax in the calm and cool waters.

Given the public location and that it was summertime, several groups of people were nearby me as I floated idly on the water. One was a large family throwing what looked to be a Nerf football to each other. There was also a relatively young couple with the wife/girlfriend quite pregnant. No expert here, but having already seen her on the beach earlier, I would have guessed she was seven to eight months along. The husband/boyfriend and her were playing quite closely with each other in the water making me uncomfortable given my relative nearness and overactive imagination.

So to solve the possible issue of seeming like I might be intruding on either group, I turned myself around so that I was looking out at the horizon. Quite frankly it was a brilliant move, not only was it now clear that I was not eavesdropping on either group but it promoted a sense of solitude in an otherwise crowded shore. Here's where things start to get sort of weird.

Being that I was further out in the water than anyone else in sight, from my point of view the universe had narrowed down to two distinct infinite planes with the ocean and sky meeting at the horizon. Adding to this psychedelic effect, the sky that day was cloudless and the ocean was so calm the shore resembled more a slightly disturbed pool with no real waves. Now throw in my ability/talent to ignore most of the crap human beings say to each other and I became a bit transdimensional floating in the placid waters leaving the normal space-time continuum.

Relaxing while playing with such a mindset, my imagination tripped out jumping from idea to idea, all pretty weird. During this indeterminate time, I remembered a science fiction short story from the 1980's that involved a crewman on a U.S. bomber. Blown out of his plane by attacking enemy aircraft as intense lightning flashed in nearby clouds, he finds himself falling between two infinite planes. This character, a theoretical physics major in college before the war, figures the intense lightening ripped a hole in local space-time casting him out of the normal universe. While he falls, the main character remembers several lectures he had with his favorite professor on fringe physics.

As science fictions stories went, it was okay. No huge revelations on the human experience or the nature of the universe. The dude eventually “falls” into the other dimensional plane with time then reversing and him rejoining his damage aircraft which comes back together. Once back at his duty station inside the bomber, the main character shrugs off the entire episode as a combat-induced hallucination.

The bomber lands safely back at the airbase with the flight crew heading off to the officers' club to get heavily drunk. The only thing big reveal of the story comes as all the other guys on the bomber crew notice the main character, someone who they have lived and worked closely with for years, is now right-handed. As opposed to the person they always saw using his left hand for everything. Yeah, nothing really earth shattering, unless you have lived and worked with someone for such a long time that they know you intimately and can anticipate most of their actions.

After chuckling at remembering that story, my mind drifted off to other subjects. Funny thing happened after that, since I was staring off at the horizon and relaxing for so long, I either dozed off or entered a semi-hypnotic state where I wasn't really conscious. I liken the semi-hypnotic idea to the story I've heard about cross-continent highways down in Australia. When those highways were built they made them close to absolutely straight given the continuous flat terrain. What I've heard is that you can go for hours without a curve, a dip, or hill to break the monotony. Combine that with the low volume sounds of tires rolling on the highway and it reported drivers can become hypnotized to the point that they can fly off the road if they encounter something that changes the path of the highway.

Whatever the case, something eventually shook me out of my stupor. I didn't look at my watch before turning away from the other people in the water. But my best guess was that I had zoned out from reality for about thirty minutes. That's when I got a bit of a shock when I turned and faced the beach.

The structures in the back ground and the array of people occupying the shoreline with tents and umbrellas were totally different. Looking around in the water near me, the family throwing the Nerf football and the pregnant couple were gone. A completely different group of people were now in the places they once occupied.

For a couple of seconds I was having a full-fledged and certified Keanu Reeves' “WHOA” moment. I simply didn't know where in the hell I was located. Of course, my bizarre mind quickly thought about that science fiction story I remembered earlier while floating and staring off at the horizon stuck between two the ocean and the sky. The question as to whether I had somehow slipped the bounds of normal space-time and entered a different dimensional floated around in my head during that brief time. This left me with an intense eerie feeling of unease that I mostly blame on being out in the sun too long.

After those disorienting few seconds, that small piece that is my rational brain kicked in to reconnect me with reality. Remembering one of the first things I learned about the ocean shore, despite the seemingly placid ocean, there was still enough of a current to take me down a significant stretch of beach. Feeling slightly ashamed, I shook off the majority of the eerie feeling and began walking back to the shore.

Still being morning, the near talcum white beach sand of Hilton Head had not heated up significantly yet. This allowed me to divert to an already open tiki bar located at another resort instead of returning directly to the rented umbrella my wife and I shared. Yes, the tiki bar's philosophy was summed up on the sign mounted on a pole supporting the thatched roof that read: “It's always five o'clock somewhere.” For me though, nothing washes away internal embarrassment and the feeling that you may have slipped into another dimension like that reassuring potion made up of tequila and margarita mix.

“It's awful early for a margarita,” my wife said as I plopped into the chair next her. This bit of spousal semi-disapproval didn't stop her from gesturing that she wanted a sip or two or what really turned out to be a small gulp.

“Don't judge me,” I quipped taking back my expensive, morning alcoholic treat. Just to totally make certain I was in the right dimension though, I had to ask her one thing. “I've been right-handed for the entire time you've known me, right?”

“Since the day we meet at the Jimmy Buffett concert.” She said in a totally incurious manner never taking her eyes off the magazine she was reading. No, she didn't inquire as to why I would ask such a weird question, That's when I realized I was still safely in my home universe.