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.