The Meeting

In one of the Pentagon’s most secure conference rooms, several floors below ground level, the newly elected US President has arrived for his first top-level security briefing with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During a long and less-than gentile campaign, the competency of the US military was besmirched and battered by the man sitting in the center chair now. On many occasions he’d made statements, widely seen to be disparaging, about the effectiveness of the people in charge of America’s fighting forces. As his victory appeared to be a realistic possibility, he did roll-back some of the more overt insults, but never actually apologized for anything he’d said. 

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, all career military men and women at the highest ranks of their respective branches, are tasked with bringing the new Commander in Chief up to speed on the global situations that involve US interests. General Martin Maher, Commandant of the Marines, is currently the Chairman of this distinguished group, and personally assigned to be the President’s military advisor. This was the first time in history that this initial meeting was taking place in the Pentagon, until now it had always been held at the White House and included the Secretary of Defense and many of the president’s other top advisors. 

This President Elect was someone they saw as a special case, requiring a different, and new type of briefing. He had never been a governor, congressman, or Senator. He had made his career as a businessman in the world of finance and real estate development, and he was elected riding atop wave of political dissatisfaction. The American people who voted for him tended to be very conservative and somewhat isolationist. His typical supporter was viewed as a less-educated, political neophyte, dissatisfied with the politics-as-usual liberals who had been in office for the past eight years. This was now the Great American Political Experiment, as they called it, a non-politician running the country like a business, ensuring that everyone would prosper. (Or, so went his campaign promises)

President elect David Summons was not happy about having to come to the Pentagon for this briefing, but since it was his first one, he went along with the unusual request by the Joint Chiefs. He was an impatient man, and not one to easily relinquish total control of a situation. Controlling things was how he’d gotten to the top of the business world, and he was determined to maintain that control as he ran the country now. His team had advised him to acquiesce this one time, if only to get a feel for how the generals were going to deal with him as their Commander in Chief. He remained uneasy, even as the President, when he thought about some of the more outrageous charges he’d made during his campaign. Not the least of which was some blistering attacks on the military leadership during the past administration. 

Now he found himself walking into a subterranean conference room, without any of his closest staff along, to face the very men he’d so thoroughly criticized. He wasn’t sure what to expect, but he planned on letting them know that he was the one calling the shots now – there was a new sheriff in town, and things were going to be different.

“Good morning Mr. President, there’s coffee on the table already, please have a seat, we have a lot to go over in a short amount of time Sir.” General Maher began. “We intend this to be a frank and factual briefing, sans the usual formalities one might engage in at the White House. It’s actually why we requested to do this here, on our turf, so to speak. We wanted the highest level of confidentiality we could possibly have, also the most leeway to speak plainly, Sir.

We do have an outline of the main topics slated for this discussion, but whenever you have questions, please feel free to ask once I am finished speaking. We are going to begin in a somewhat unorthodox fashion, not with the current ‘hottest spots’ but rather with some of the countries you spoke of during your campaign speeches. We felt that some of these were important enough to merit us addressing first, Sir.”

“General, before you launch into a long and rambling history lesson about the evil that we’re fighting around the world, let me tell you that I’m already familiar with our current relationships with the biggest players around the globe. I don’t want to completely short-cut your little demonstration of military powers here, but I also don’t want to rehash a whole bunch of tired facts about keeping good relations with NATO either. I already know from some statements you’ve made, that you’re not happy with my views on relations with Russia, but let me tell you that it’s high time we rethought our old ways of thinking. I mean, wouldn’t it be great if we actually had better relations with the Russians? If we could do more business with them and open up new frontiers of trade? Those are just a couple of the new ideas I am going to be pushing in the next few months, so I don’t want to sit through a ‘Russia is a bad place’ lecture. If that’s what you have in mind, lets skip to the end, and discuss my ideas.” He said, with his typical impatience. 

Russia:

“Well, since you brought it up first, let’s begin with Russia then, shall we? General Maher began.

“Sir, your ideas about Russia are complete stereotypes, and are not even remotely based on anything resembling facts. We know you’ve done some business with them in the past, but this isn’t the world of finance or property development here, we’re talking about strategic global politics. So, I suggest you can the childish know-it-all attitude, close your mouth and open your ears for once. Did you know that they spend nearly half of their GDP on their military budget, R&D and covert ops in just about every strategic country around the globe? Sure, you can have a nice little financial arrangement with them, as long as they know they’re getting the best of you, but once they stop thinking that… you’re done. Let me simplify this for you, they will always want the upper hand, in everything they do, with everyone they do it with. Even you, Sir. Period.” General Maher said. 

“Who do you think you’re talking to, General? I don’t like your tone one bit, but since we’re being ‘frank’ as you said, I’ll let it go this time. I may not be a military man, but I do know a lot about Russia, and I disagree with your negative assessment of their political and business culture. 

No, I think you’re totally wrong there General, I’ve made a significant amount of money from the Russians over the past ten years, and I don’t think they were trying to out-do me. The deals I made with them were mutually beneficial, and lucrative. As long as you’ve got something they need, you’re in charge of the deal, period.”

“Really? Like the Moscow Event Center you helped them build? The one near the US embassy there? Well, maybe you’ll see things differently when I tell you that we swept our side of that place weekly, and pulled out no less than forty different bugging devices! Your involvement in the project was the perfect cover for their intelligence spooks to masquerade as carpenters and plant a nest of bug that I’m still not convinced we found all of. Did you have any US contractors on site to represent your interests? No, you didn’t, and they knew it. All you saw was the dollar signs, and all they saw was your ignorance! I bet they all had a good laugh at your expense, and probably thought it was worth the few million they spent to let you put your name on the place too.” Maher said, smiling. 

“I wasn’t informed about them bugging the building, and I did have people on site there who would have told me.”

“What people? The ones you hired there? The undercover KGB guys you thought were architects and contractors? They weren’t going to tell you shit about what was going on there, and neither were we. Maybe you forgot that you weren’t the president then, and didn’t have access to top level security briefings yet? Well, you’re hearing about it now, and this is just one part of our job, trying to get you up to speed with how things really are in the world. Did you really think that everything you saw on Fox News was the end-all of what’s really going on in the world? Shit, even the best news agencies in the world only know what we feed to them… you must know that at least. What sane country on the planet would tell their news people what they’re really up to?”

“I’ve seen some pretty top level exposés on Fox, things I’m sure you didn’t want the people to know about, so don’t tell me that they only know what you want them to.” The President said.

“Jesus, really? Well, I am telling you that, and it’s 100% true. Our operations, whether military, intelligence or diplomatic, are locked up tighter than a tick’s asshole. Let me repeat, the only things the press report on are the things we allow them to know about. Those ‘leaks’ you went on about so much lately? It’s all carefully crafted channels we use to get out what we need to be known. Do you seriously think that we’d telegraph our moves to the rest of the world? You really think we’d let ISIS know that we’re about to start an invigorated air campaign tomorrow? Well, Mr. President, rest assured that when we let that leak, we’ve started the air campaign at least a week before then.”

“Well, I still don’t see how this affects my wanting to improve our relationship with Russia. If they’re bugging our embassy there, then it means they don’t trust us, and want to know what we’re up to. It sounds like they might not be wrong about us either, you can’t tell me that we’re not bugging them too.”

“You goddamned idiot, you simpleton fucking shit head! Jesus Christ, you’d better take over for a minute Bill, I’ve got to step back before I smash-in his puckered-up face.” General Maher said, pointing to Admiral Bill Wilkerson, Commander of the Navy.

“Did you all hear that? Did you all hear that? He just threatened to hit me! I’m the president of the United States, I should fire you right now! Everyone here just heard you threaten to punch me in the face!” President Summons shouted, now red faced and sweating.

“Sit back down Sir, things will go a lot more smoothly if you’d do that, and also try to keep from saying anything more, if you can possibly do so.” Admiral Wilkerson said.

“What? Are you crazy too? You heard him threaten me, I want something done about it, now!”

“No one heard anything of the sort, Sir. In fact, I’m pretty sure we all think you imagined that, possibly after dozing off during a very important security briefing. So, if you’ve nothing further to contribute, I think you should sit down, and shut up before Martin decks you, Sir.” Wilkerson said, with an appreciable tone of disrespect. 

The president elect was an arrogant man, but not a completely stupid one. He saw what was happening now, and decided that he would play along until he could safely get out of there. Then these self-important bastards would all be replaced, by men he could trust. Perhaps he’d even explore the possibility that there didn’t actually need to be military people in these positions. He’d look into that as soon as he could, but for now he was going to have to listen to more of this world history lesson.

“Let’s move on to the destabilized middle east.” Admiral Wilkerson continued. “Countries that were former dictatorships, have now destabilized into clusterfucks of tribal rivalries that will take decades to normalize. You mentioned Syria, do you even understand what’s going on there? Who all the players are? You asked about dropping a missile on the leader there, without even thinking about that being an obvious war crime!  Let alone the fact that they’re backed by Russia, and us engaging fully with them would be the beginning of a new world war. Is that what you’d like your legacy to be? I know I sure as hell don’t want it to be mine!” Admiral Wilkerson said.

“Well, what the hell are we doing there then? Don’t give me that ‘fighting ISIS’ story either, I know it was always more than that.” The president said.

“What we’re doing there is trying our best to keep the lids on several boiling pots all at once. It’s a strategic area, and one that has been shaky from the beginning. Now it’s even more unstable, and we’re walking a fine line between support and interference. Look, we can’t just pretend that we haven’t been screwing with the Middle East for decades, and our allies have been doing so for centuries. The goddamned Brits have redrawn the maps there for a few hundred years, and then just stood by and watched while we tried to clean it up. Between them, the Russians, and ourselves, we’ve pumped in enough military hardware for a damn farmer to take over a country. You may not think much of ISIS, but let me tell you they’re a force to be reckoned with now that they’re organized and mobile. We’re helping the Iraqis take back towns that we’d liberated just 5 years ago! And we’re getting shot at with some of our own weapons.”

“So, what happens if we just pull out of the whole area?  If we get everyone out of there, and as much of our hardware as we possibly can, what’s the worst-case scenario then?” He asked.

“Right now, it’d be about a 50-50 chance that Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Pakistan would all eventually fall to ISIS and the Taliban. After those go, it’s just a matter of time until Turkey, Egypt and Jordan go the same way. We’d end up on the ground protecting Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and India. Essentially World War Three. Add to that, Israel suddenly feeling vulnerable and maybe launching a nuke or two, which would lead Pakistan and Iran to do the same thing, and we’ve just played a part in the single biggest annihilation of human beings in history. We’d be hated by about half the globe, the price of oil would quadruple in a day; and then, just after that, the price of everything would take off like a ruptured duck. So, if you think it’s a clusterfuck over there now, well it’s nothing compared to what it could be like.” Admiral Wilkerson said.

European allies:

“Perhaps we need to lean on our NATO allies to pitch in a whole lot more, to help keep those countries under control. They do so little now, it’s always been almost entirely up to us to manage those areas. Half of NATO doesn’t pay their share of the costs, and some are probably making their own deals behind out backs. I don’t really trust any of them.” President Summons said.

“Well, another string of pearls has dropped out of the baby’s ass. Christ, what you know about NATO could fit in a thimble, and to doubt the commitment of our allies? You couldn’t have made a more illustrative statement exposing how much of international political failure you are. Did you take any history courses in those gilded schools you allegedly attended? I’ll tell you what, I’ll play nice for a minute here; there may be one member of NATO that isn’t fully committed to what it stands for, but that’s about it. To bring into question long-time allies like Britain, France or Germany is just unbelievably ignorant. Do you even know how long France has been an ally to us? And Great Britain? It’s been two centuries since we’ve had any real issues with those two, and sure, Germany had a couple of bad decades a while back, but they’re one hundred percent ally now!” Wilkerson said.

“What they’re committed to is our money General. They’ve been at our nipple since World War Two, and they’re still there. Every time we make moves to cut back on the aid we dole out, they bring up the Russian boogie-man as a way to keep us in the deal. Well, I’m tired of that excuse, they can’t justify it anymore, Russia is a friend now.”

“Damn, you really do believe that, don’t you? I guess I must have been giving you the benefit of the doubt these past few weeks since I first heard that. I assumed you were pulling some kind of chess-move to get something from the Russians… but, you really believe that they’re an ally now! Holy shit Maher, you were right about him. Sir, NATO intercepts, almost daily, classified communications inside Russia that contain covert operations information. The Russians have operatives in nearly every single westernized country, and even more in the middle east. They look for every opportunity to exploit our allies and our enemies to their advantage. But, sticking to Western Europe for a moment, those allies of our are always receiving data on Russian troop movements, their naval assets, and even their spy satellites looking down on all of us. They’re our first line of defense if Russia ever decides to make a bold move somewhere in that part of the world. If you don’t think the Russians have long range plans to regain some of the territory they lost when the Soviet Union collapsed… well, think again. When and if that starts, NATO will be the first responders to come to the aid of possible weak targets like the Ukraine or Finland. Believe you me, we’ll be there too, we’re not going to let that power hungry narcissist take over any more territory than he’s already got. We’ve made commitments to those countries, as they have to us, and I’ll be damned if we’re going to let them down. They’re on the front lines of a potential world war three, and it’s up to us to keep those lines well defined and safe for them.”

China: 

“China’s a whole different story, in the sense that they’re always portrayed as the inscrutable bad guys, and that’s a stereotype you can lay at our own feet. Why we can all thank the world of big business for our current national feelings about China, because it was they who mainly spread the notions we have about that nation. I mean, here’s a people who actually helped build industrial America, and in less than one hundred years later, they’re seen at the consummate evil nation.” General Maher said.

“Now, here’s where you’re wrong Admiral, I know quite a bit about China, more than most people do, and I can tell you that they truly are a nation that’s never satisfied with any arrangement. I’ve made plenty of business deals with China, and in nearly every case, in less than a year, they’re trying to renegotiate for either more money, cheaper supplies, or a lower production quota. Almost every time, and It’s annoying to say the least General. They are a particularly difficult to satisfy people, and it’s only through good contracts that we’re able to keep their nit-picking to a minimum. So, don’t give me some story about how great they are, I imagine that there’s some good folks over there, but there’s also some selfish little dictators there too.”

“Spoken like a true capitalist Sir, I can see this is going to be an enlightening discussion for you. Now, before you go getting yourself all wound up, let me explain why we’re bringing up China in the light of economics, and not militarily. It’s simply because almost every conflict we’ve had with them in the past half century had its beginnings in economics. Even their involvement in Vietnam started with them coming to the aid of their ally who was getting a royal screwing by the French. We jump in to help our long-time ally, and they jump in to help theirs, and boom, we’ve got a little war.” Admiral Wilkerson said.

“A little war? I guess at your level, a war that costs thousands of American lives was a ‘little war’ to you? I don’t think the American people remember Vietnam as a little war Admiral, I think they still see it as a terrible time in our history. It’s still seen as one of the only conflicts that we didn’t win, and that’s what sits hard in the minds of our people. Americans don’t like not winning General, I’m sure you’ve heard that before.” Summons said.

“Winning, you say? Please tell me what the ‘win’ would have looked like in Vietnam, Mr. President. Why, please enlighten all of us, so we might carry forward this new information to our respective branches. I’m sure all of our people will be eternally grateful for such wisdom.” General Maher interjected.

“I don’t appreciate your sarcastic tone General, not one bit. That said, I will tell you what winning looks like; we should have kept carpet bombing them into submission, that’s what! We should have never backed out of there like a fighter who threw in the white towel. I think we should have doubled our military efforts, and kept hammering them until they were the ones who threw in the towel first. You can’t tell me that we didn’t have the capabilities to do just that. We didn’t even put nukes on the table back then, and we had more of them than any nation in the world. You don’t think that one, well-placed nuke, could have turned the tide of that conflict?” Summons shouted.

“Goddamn, you really are as much of an idiot as everyone says you are. A “well placed nuke”? What the fuck is that?” General Maher asked loudly. “Perhaps you mean a well-placed nuclear marker to commemorate exactly where World War III began? I swear, it sure seems like everything you think you know about the world has come straight from some television show. You live in your golden tower, high above the rest of us, so I guess it’s no wonder that you can’t see the real world. By 1970, the Chinese were tired of spending millions on a conflict that wasn’t going to get them anything but a few more decades of a small allies sucking at their teat, as they nursed them into global adolescence. They let us know that they were prepared to escalate to whatever level we were willing to raise it to, and then raise us a bit more. You seem to forget that they were the local guys there, they didn’t have to ship their tanks half way around the globe to put them on the battlefield. Hell, they knew that even if they just kept the conflict at a virtual draw for long enough, we’d go bankrupt in another five years. But, unlike us, they also wanted to bring the casualty rate down, or stop it all together if they could. We were bombing the shit out of everything we saw as a threat, and we saw everything there as a threat. Do you even know why we don’t ‘carpet bomb anyone into submission’ anymore Sir? That’s because we saw what it did back then, and found it pretty damn hard to live with in the long run. And even as we were doing that bombing you speak so highly of, not one person in the White House ever thought to ask the big question; What was this all really about? The answer was business and economics, plain and simple. That war could have been stopped in the mid 60’s if the Secretary of State would have just asked the Chinese how we could stop the fighting, and we’d of all come out of it looking good. Instead, we went ahead and beat the drum of fighting communism, until we’d lost tens of thousands of lives. I personally think it’s a little ironic that we pulled out when we did mostly for economic reasons too. It makes me sad to think about all of those lives lost, on both sides, simply because Western powers wanted cheap products made by what almost anyone would have called slave-labor.” General Maher said, pushing his chair back from the table.

“Oh my God, you’re a liberal! A liberal General? I can’t believe that the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is a bleeding-heart liberal, and no one has any idea. This is good General, very good, for me at least. Now I’m starting to understand what’s going on here, and what’s been going on for the past eight years. No wonder we’re not winning any wars lately, we’ve got military leaders who are afraid to get their hands dirty. Well, that’s going to change very soon, believe me, very soon!” The President said.

“Sir, I will remind you again to mind your manners, and sit tight until we’re done here. Another thing I’ll caution you about is the labeling, there’s absolutely no need for it in here. Throwing around labels like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ just allow us to entrench ourselves behind safe walls so we can lob grenades at each other. They’re just generalizations anyway, and they mean very little in the real world other than to pigeon-hole someone so you don’t actually have to try and understand their point of view. What say we just talk and listen? Now, where was I? Oh, right, China. Those ungrateful contract re-negotiators, as you called them. I can imagine that you really don’t like it when they come to the realization that they’re getting screwed and they try to fix that. In fact, I bet that really pisses you off, doesn’t it? Your people work so hard to craft a contract for the manufacture of some product, with the lowest labor costs you can possibly manage, and flexible, yet unrealistic production goals that can never be met… am I close here? So, when the workers at some anonymous plant, out in the middle of nowhere, who are getting wages about a tenth of what an American makes, all begin to complain – you see it as an egregious contract violation. When the managers of said-plant start to tell the owners that their workers are either walking off the job, or worse, jumping off the top of the building, you still see it as a violation of your deal.” Admiral Wilkerson said.

“Well, in the strictest sense, it is breaking from a legal contract. I see that you think it’s my fault if their workers are unhappy with the conditions over there. Well, it’s not. Most of those workers didn’t even have a job before we opened a factory in their little towns. Many were farmers, or scavengers living off the land. Suddenly, they get to learn a trade, and perform a job for money, money like they’ve never seen before. And, of course they’re not making what a worker here would make, but that’s not even close to a fair comparison. The cost of living there is vastly different than here, so their compensations is usually commensurate with that. No one is making slaves out of them, no one is forcing them to jump off buildings. Like with any business contract, we do deal for a certain level of production, you’d be crazy not to; and, there’s built-in disincentives if those goals aren’t met by the contracted plant. Again, none of this is either new, or made up by me, or my people. It’s all been going on for decades.”

President Summons didn’t like how he sounded just then, a little too defensive for his intended purposes. General Maher pointed at General Alexander Coop, Commander of the US Army, who then spoke quietly into a phone in front of him. Moments later the door to the room opened, and a woman who looked familiar to President Summons, entered the conference room.

“Sir, I’m sure you must recognize former Labor Secretary Lisa Schiff. She’s agreed to help us out here, to explain the intimate relationship between global economics and national defense issues.” General Maher said.

President Summons nodded at Ms. Schiff, but truthfully didn’t actually recognize her. His mood darkened as he realized that this was going to be another lecture about global politics.

“Good morning Mr. President. I was brought up to speed by General Maher’s assistant while I was waiting outside, so I’ll just jump right in to where I think this was heading. Let me pose a question to you; tell me what you think is wrong with the concept of all workers being paid a fair wage for their labors, no matter what country they’re in?” She asked.

“What’s wrong with it? I think that depends on what perspective you’re seeing it from, Ms. Schiff. This seems a little like a trick question, but I’ll answer it anyway, because I know plenty about this particular issue. What’s wrong with that is it will cause tremendous inflation all around the globe. If it cost the same amount of money to make a shirt in Fiji, as it does to make one here in America, then shirts all over the world are going to quadruple in price. Then, sales of shirts will plummet, and stores and manufacturers will both go out of business, causing massive unemployment. It just isn’t practical, it’s not good business, it’s not smart.”

“Sir, I didn’t say that workers would all be paid what the ones in the US get paid, I said a fair wage for their labor. That ‘fairness’ would be based on their country’s overall economic standing, GDP and cost of living. There’s actually some fairly brilliant people at the State Department who have been publishing just such a document annually. The report shows the fair labor wage for each country in the world, based on a very impressive and extensive yearly census.” She countered.

“That’s all fine, but you still can’t honestly tell me that prices for the good those countries manufacture wouldn’t instantly rise. Of course they would, and we’d all be paying a lot more for everything we buy. People wouldn’t stand for that, they’re too used to paying what they do now for a shirt, they’re not going to want that to double.”

“With all due respect Sir, I disagree completely. I was just on vacation in Hawaii, and in a very tourist-trap area we walked through, there were merchants selling souvenir T-shirts for $1 each. If you bought $20 wort of them, they’d even throw in two more for you. As I understand it, that was fairly typical for the area, shirts for one dollar, or less. But, it’s also ridiculous. No shirts should actually cost that little, so perhaps they’re what they call loss-leaders? I don’t know, but what I do know is that those shirts were made in Sri Lanka, by actual workers who probably make less than one dollar a day. So, I ask you, do you really think the souvenir T-shirt business would tank if those shirts cost two dollars?”

“That’s a pretty specific example Ms. Schiff, and not very representative of the products I was thinking of. T-shirts are junk products, no one would care if they were $5 each, but people don’t really need those, do they? Apply your same thinking to the manufacture of something more desirable, like TVs or cell phones, and you’d see a public revolt over those doubling in price, believe me.” President Summons said.

“Really? You think so? As I recall, the first flat screen TVs cost thousands of dollars when they first went on sale. Same thing with those first cell phones too. Then the prices gradually came down as the competition grew, and the amount of them on the market rose. But even before the process fell, the TVs and the phones were selling quite well. So well, in fact, that it’s what inspired the makers to invest in more and larger factories to turn out more product. But, I think we’ve strayed off point a bit here, and I’d like to get back to how this all relates to national, and even international security. Your earlier statements about China always wanting to renegotiate contracts, that’s a good place to go back to. Because I think you know full and well why they do that, and it’s not because they’re duplicitous.”

“Look, a contract is a contract, you don’t try to renegotiate it until it expires. If we have specific service level agreements in it, we expect those to be honored, or there will be penalties. That’s fairly standard business practice, nothing out of the ordinary about it.”  

“Except, maybe that you, and the other business doers overseas, all tend to do these contracts with companies that have little foreign experience. You dazzle the owners with big fancy dinners out on the town, and then manipulate them into signing a contract that they haven’t had time to actually read. When they realize that they can’t keep up with the production levels you’ve set, they attempt to get a hold of you to see if they can be lowered to a more realistic level. But, no, you won’t let that happen – and just about then those penalties you mentioned kick in, and they get about half the money they thought they were going to. Since the company gets less, the workers also get less, even though they’re working 16 hour days trying to meet the quotas. Under conditions like that, most workers would go on strike until something got worked out, oh, but that’s right, you already knew that their government doesn’t allow that. It looks bad, and they have a culture that abhors looking bad in front of others.”

President Summons begins slow-clapping.

“Very nice Ms. Schiff, very nice indeed. You’ve come a long way to explain to me how foreign manufacturing deal work, even though I already know all about them. Was there a point in there somewhere?”

“The point, Sir, is that had businesses like your own decided to exercise even an ounce of morality, our relationships with about twenty countries would be completely different. The demonstrations in those countries, the ones you work so hard to spin as just anti-American unrest, are actually more about them demanding their human rights – from us. Word gets around, doesn’t it? And, I bet that makes you mad too, having to pull up stakes in one impoverished country, to move to another one that doesn’t know the game yet. When all that time, all you had to do was pay a standard living wage to those people, and make contracts that aren’t trap-laden and slanted in your favor. You could have used data that was readily available to you, and come up with a plan that would have led to a long lasting and trusting relationship. Myself, and about one hundred other experts all agree that our relationship with China would be completely different right now, had that been done. The good news is that it’s not too late to change things, as President you have a unique platform from which you can influence others to start doing the right thing.” She said.

“And I would do that because what? Because you say I should? Because these generals say I should? I guess I should also just ignore that I would be the laughing stock of the corporate world by the end of the week? I can tell you right now, Ms. Schiff, and you too Generals, that’s not going to happen. I’m not going to be the catalyst that starts a domino effect of failure in American business. Inflation would rise, stocks would tumble, and billions of dollars would be lost in a matter of days. And for what? So we can be the feel good nation of the world?” Summons asked.

“You’ll do it because we want to avoid an all-out trade war with the Pacific Rim, that’s why! Haven’t you even thought about what benefits might come from better relations with China, and the rest of the countries you’re exploiting? What’s wrong with the idea of people, no matter where they live, getting a fair wage for their work? We have economists at the State Department who have worked out the numbers and they favor this line of reasoning by a huge margin. Greed breeds contempt and rebellion, history has proven that out hundreds of times, and you need to learn from that.” Ms Schiff answered.

Admiral Wilkerson motioned for Ms. Schiff to disengage with the President. He was worried that things might degrade into a personal argument, and the opportunity to get through to this man would be lost.

“Let’s move on to other areas shall we?” Admiral Wilkerson said.

Japan & Korea et al: 

“Japan is our closest ally in the pacific rim, and as quiet as they seem, there’s much more going on there than you have any idea about. Between them, and the South Koreans, they’re the ones who are really keeping the lid on North Korea, and the nut that’s their leader. Did you know that Kim Jong-Dim launched an actual live warhead at Japan last year? Well, of course you didn’t. We might be one of a very small number of countries that even saw it. It could have been their best missile they ever launched too, but we all watched as it suddenly disintegrated about one mile above its launch site. Our clearest satellite pictures, looked at frame by frame, show the missile launch just fine, no issues detected. The engine, although not nearly as good as even our smallest ones, was still providing the thrust it needed to get to its programmed altitude, but then suddenly it looks like the picture goes out of focus. The missile gets blurry, and then within about five seconds, it’s gone, nothing there but one more second of thruster fire and smoke. Like it just dissolved from tip to tail right before our eyes, so to speak. Now, we haven’t ever gotten official confirmation on this, but reliable sources in South Korea told us that it was Japan’s doing. We can only speculate that they’ve developed some type of nanotechnology that was dispersed somewhere just above the launch site, like an invisible cloud. When the missile was detected, that cloud of micro-robots disassembled and digested that rocket on a molecular level.”

“You’re not kidding about this, are you? What the hell? How is that even possible? Do we have that technology?” The president asked.

“Hell no, we don’t have that. And, officially at least, we don’t positively know they have it either. As for how it’s possible; Japan has spent the past seventy-five years in R&D, without having to spend a fraction of what most countries do on their military budgets. Back in the late 60’s when they began to dominate the electronics field, they saw exponential advances in tech areas that we were still using rocks and sticks in. I’d say that since the 90’s they’ve had some fantastic advancements in their defensive research. Now, I don’t know if the same thing would have happened, had North Korea launched several missiles at once, but what we believe we saw was the end-game where launched ordinance is concerned. The good news here is that Japan is a very close ally, and we’re already negotiating for more technology exchanges. Furthermore; as for our own defenses, we’re lucky that Kim Ding-Dong is so preoccupied with his little missiles, that he hasn’t really looked up in a while. We have five of our Far-Reach satellites in a geosynchronous orbit above his launch sites, so if the Japanese don’t get it done, we will. As things stand right now, if we see as much as flicker of rocket fire, we’re dropping those bunker busters before his birds even leave their silos.” Admiral Wilkerson said.

The President asks about aliens and spaceships:

(he actually believes the Govt has alien bodies in storage somewhere)

“Sir, I believe you’re basing your um, beliefs, on some science fiction movies you’ve seen in the past. There’s no alien bodies being preserved in an underground facility somewhere. Not anywhere on this entire planet, as far as we know.” General Coop said.

“You’re really going to stick with that story, General? I’ve already heard that you folks think that the president doesn’t need to know some things, and I’m guessing this is number one on your list. Let me just say that I am not going to give up so easily as the last guy. I’m going to have people looking in to this, really good people who know how to find things.” The president said.

“Mr. President, I assure you that we are not keeping something like that a secret from you. Furthermore, do you really think that we could have kept something like that a secret for over half a century? Even the Chinese couldn’t pull off something like that, and they’re experts at secret keeping. There’s almost nothing that any one country could possibly keep a secret past a ten year mark. There’s no possible way in the world that it could go on for decades, not a chance in hell. I’m sorry Sir, but there’s simply no truth to that whatsoever.” Said General Ann Steele, commander of the US Air Force.

“Really? What about Roswell? That was all fake too? Even though there were witnesses who said they saw a spacecraft and bodies with their own eyes? I suppose all of those people were lying?” Summons asked.

“Yes Sir, they all were at least exaggerating to an extreme. Sometimes a really good alien story turns out to actually be an errant weather balloon Sir, just like the Air Force investigation said it was back then. I know it’s not as intriguing as a huge government cover-up, but often the truth is quite plain.” General Steele said.

“Okay, just for the sake of this conversation, then what’s going on at that Area 51 if it’s not what I thought it was?”

“Sir, every modern country in the developed world has at least one secret base where they do their research and development of new military assets. What you know as Area 51, used to be one of our research bases, that was up until it became famous from sci-fi books and conspiracy movies. It is still a heavily secured base of operations, but not for our highest-level projects anymore. It’s a bit too visible now for that kind of thing.”

                                                                 To Be Continued…

Birthright


“Joel, I can’t stress this enough, you need to reconsider this decision before it’s too late.” Richard Collins said.

“Dad, it’s what I want to do. It’s not like I just woke up this morning and suddenly decided to change everything. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and nothing else makes sense to me. It’s the life I want, it’s who I want to be.” Joel said.

“To be a cook, you’re giving up on college to become a cook? What kind of life is that Joel? It’s certainly not the kind of life that a Collins is destined for. Jesus Christ, your great grandfather was on the Supreme Court! Your grandfather was on the Supreme Court of the State of New York. And, although I chose a slightly different path, I still went to the same law school they did. I doubt I’d be where I am today with Goldman, if I hadn’t chosen to follow in their footsteps.”

“I get all that Dad, but it’s just not what interests me. I have no desire to be a lawyer, or a judge, or a politician like Uncle Robert. Going to a top-notch culinary school isn’t like I’m some kind of university dropout who’s heading off to vocational school. I’ve been to three interviews, and a pretty tough skills evaluation – all of which I passed with flying colors. That means they see something in me that they want to have at their school.” Joel said.

“Sure they do Joel, they see the Collins name and know there’s a cash-cow to milk. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that to sound as harsh as it did, I know you have a lot of terrific qualities son, and maybe that’s why this is such a difficult discussion for me. I don’t want to see you waste those talents making dinner for a room full of strangers.” Richard said, calming his tone.

“I’m pretty sure it’s not a money thing Dad, they’ve got dozens of students who come from wealthy families. The people I’ve already met there seem to have a lot of integrity, and I doubt they would be just winking me in because they’re after another tuition.”

“I’m trying to think of a way to put this that you understand; that you’ll possibly see from my point of view. You’re in a very privileged group of people Joel, and I don’t just mean our family or friends. I mean you’re in the upper half of a percent of American wealthy families. We’re the people who helped build this country into what it is today. As I was getting to earlier, we’re the lawyers, the judges, and the lawmakers that help keep America in good shape. In a way, we’re the backbone of the American system, whether it’s in business, politics or finance. We set the course, we influence the political system, and we discourage the usurpers who want to change that.

Life in this country is pretty damn good Joel, and that didn’t happen by accident. It takes committed men and woman who know what parts they need to play. You’re part of a very special group of people, but it’s also a group who has a set of responsibilities laid out before them Joel. I’m not saying that you’re predestined to one single occupation, you still have plenty of great choices son. They’re simply choices that better fit our station and responsibility. They’re the kinds of professions that contribute to the betterment of this country of ours.”

“Wow, that’s pretty dramatic Dad. Are you going to tell me all about the secret society I’m going to be inducted into? Do I get to learn the special handshake so I can gain entry into their lair? I’m sorry Dad, I’m not trying to make a joke out of this, but I really doubt that one Collins son heading off to culinary school, instead of an Ivy League law school, isn’t going to radically shift the course of the country. Look, you and Mom have always told me that I should make the choices that make me happy. I’m just following that advice now, so it’s not some rebellion or acting out, it’s me doing what I truly want to.” Joel said.

“Back when your mother and I said that, we were talking about what little league sport you wanted to join, not your life’s work. Joel, you are destined to be an influencer of other men, the kind of man who others look to for their own direction. I’m not disparaging the culinary profession Joel, but it certainly isn’t what we tried to set you up for. You went to the best schools, you had the best mentors and guidance we could get for you, and that wasn’t so you could become a chef. It was because your mother and I both believed that someday you’d become the kind of man that we both knew you could be.” His father told him.

“Wow, you’re really serious about this, aren’t you? I mean, I get that it’s not what you and Mom pictured for me, but it’s exactly what I want to do. I’ll just be right up front about it, I have zero desire to be a lawyer, zero desire to be a judge or politician. Let the people who want to be those things pursue those paths, but don’t expect me to. I’m not going to spend the next four years of my life trying to be something that I already know I will hate. What kind of life is that?” Joel said.

“Now who’s being dramatic? You already know you’ll hate it, huh? Where are you hiding that crystal ball, in your back pocket? You can see into the future so well, but yet you can’t see the writing on the wall right in front of you. The gloves come off now Joel, I thought I could encourage you to reconsider, but I see that’s a lost cause now. So, I’ll get to the bottom line then, law school will be fully financed with a stipend to boot – anything else will have to be done on your own. I’m truly sorry that it has to be this way son, but take some small solace in that you’re not the first one to face this choice. My own father had to do the same thing with me, back when I couldn’t find my own ass with both hands. I chose the right path, in hindsight, I really did. I still think you have a good shot at doing the same thing, but you need to stop getting in your own way. Those high ideals about ‘doing what you feel is your true calling’ are just misleading you son. Sometime in this life we all have to do things that, at first, aren’t what we want to do. It’s that illusion of free choice, versus predestination that fools us. We all have parts to play, and this is yours, Joel – if you take it. If you don’t, well… I don’t want to have to imagine that.”

“Are you freaking serious right now? You’re just going to cut me off for having the audacity to pursue my own dreams? For not towing the family-line? And, Mom, she’s cool with this too? Wow, this really blows apart so much of what I was sure you guys had taught me while I was growing up. Well, I’ll tell you what, I don’t want to be in the ruling class Dad. I don’t want to be ‘special’ or a person others look to for guidance. Not unless it’s in a Michelin Star kitchen! If I have to work a job all day long, I’ll still take my classes at night. Sorry, but your threatening to cut me off isn’t going to stop me from doing what I know is right for me.” Joel said defiantly.

“I’m really sorry it’s come to this Joel, I truly am. I can only hope that someday you will reconsider this conversation, and realize that it wasn’t some evil plot to force you into a life you’d be unhappy in. We don’t always get our way son, and that’s okay – we adjust to what life brings us. I hope you’ll see that one day.”

“Whatever you want to think Dad, it’s cool. Although, I am really curious what it was that you gave up on to ‘do the right thing’ like your dad wanted. What did you want to do with your life, before granddad talked you out of it? What was it?” Joel asked.

“Not that it changes anything now, but I wanted to go into the sciences, physics specifically. I was fascinated by Einstein’s theories, and Planck’s writings, and I also had a head for numbers. I’m only telling you this because I want to add that I don’t regret my choices Joel, not one bit. The world is full of great physicists, but it’s not many that get the opportunities that I’ve had since those days.” Richard said.

“Really? You really believe that investing other people’s money in the stock market has been more satisfying than possibly discovering something in physics? I just can’t see the comparison Dad, I really can’t.”

“I know you think I just massage people’s money to create more wealth for them, but it’s so much more than that Joel. We make decisions almost weekly that affect different events all over the globe. Choosing to fund, or not to fund, the different projects, governments, or individuals we deal with, changes the global landscape and balances of power. Goddamnit Joel, we’ve stopped coups, funded rebellions, and made or broke world leaders during my time at Goldman. You have no idea what we’re capable of influencing, or directly affecting. It’s not all pretty, but it’s part of what we see as our responsibility to maintaining this way of life we all enjoy. The American dream is a reality because of a system that was put in place over two hundred years ago, and it’s up to real people to keep that dream alive and well.”

“So there it is, finally laid out in its full glory. Keeping the American Dream alive! That’s a pretty lofty purpose Dad, I wish you all the best with it. Me, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with it. I guess it’s a surprise to you that I don’t actually want to keep everything just as it is. There’s so many underprivileged people in this country, marginalized and cast aside to suffer their fates, as you see them anyway. I don’t want any part of that unless it’s about helping them all get more of what they deserve. Because, I don’t think those people really are predestined to a life of poverty Dad, I think they’re in the situations they’re in because of people like you. To you, the status quo means the rich staying rich, and the poor staying poor. Let the middle class do all the work, and sprinkle them with a few toys to make them feel good, and all is well. Isn’t that the idea Dad? And when anyone, like some ambitious politician, puts his hand into the pockets of the rich, you cut that fucker off, right? No one takes from this ‘upper half of one percent’ if you can help it, I’m positive that’s a fact.

But, before you shit yourself and call me a communist, let me say one more thing; I’m not some naïve social justice warrior Dad, and I’m not a closet Socialist either. I’m just a guy who thinks that the deck has been stacked against the little-guy for far too long. All those other ‘privileged families’ you were talking about… they should take a look back at history, and learn from it. When the rich deprive everyone else for too long, bad things happen to them. Reference the French revolution if you don’t believe me. When the scales tip way too far in your direction, and for too long, people will do something to regain some balance. I know where I want to be, when and if that happens, and it’s not holed-up in my mansion on the hill somewhere.” Joel said.

Time Skipping


We were simply ‘there’ without any commotion or a light show, or any sensation that I could detect… just suddenly there at what looked like a food truck in the middle of nowhere. There was a young woman inside, elbows propped on the service window’s counter, staring at Jake blandly.

“You’re back, and with a friend I see.” The woman said.

“Yeah. When were we here before… or was it after this?” Jake asked. “Doesn’t matter I suppose. Let me have a hot tea please, it helps me focus.”

“That’s what you had tomorrow.” The woman said.

Time travel was so unbelievably weird, it made people say things like that and not blink an eye over what sounded to any regular person like she’d misspoken. I knew she hadn’t, and I’d only been at this for a short… time.

Time, it was a word I’d probably need to stop using eventually. Used how I had always said it, well, it didn’t make sense in that context anymore. Now it was more like using the word ‘coordinates’ or ‘longitude’ – more of a mark on some insane map that would be impossible to navigate without it. I mean, place and time were always thought of together here, inseparable as a concept. Yet, just a few weeks ago I’d have never said it that way. You didn’t need to know the time of downtown Cleveland, it was just a place… it had a latitude and longitude on a map, and directions to get there by several means of transportation. Now, all that’s changed for me. If I asked Jake to take us to Cleveland, he’d definitely ask about the time.

Birthright

“Joel, I can’t stress this enough, you need to reconsider this decision before it’s too late.” Richard Collins said.

“Dad, it’s what I want to do. It’s not like I just woke up this morning and suddenly decided to change everything. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and nothing else makes sense to me. It’s the life I want, it’s who I truly want to be.” Joel said.

“To be a cook, you’re giving up on college to become a cook? What kind of life is that Joel? It’s certainly not the kind of life that a Collins is destined for. Jesus Christ, your great grandfather was on the Supreme Court! Your grandfather was on the Supreme Court of the State of New York. And, although I chose a slightly different path, I still went to the same law school they did. I doubt I’d be where I am today with Goldman, if I hadn’t chosen to follow in their footsteps.”

“I get all that Dad, but it’s just not what interests me. I have no desire to be a lawyer, or a judge, or a politician like Uncle Robert. Going to a top notch culinary school isn’t like I’m some kind of university dropout who’s heading off to vocational school. I’ve been to three interviews, and a pretty tough skills evaluation – all of which I passed with flying colors. That means they see something in me that they want to have at their school.” Joel said.

“Sure they do Joel, they see the Collins name and know there’s a cash-cow to milk. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that to sound as harsh as it did, I know you have a lot of terrific qualities son, and maybe that’s why this is such a difficult discussion for me. I don’t want to see you waste those talents making dinner for a room full of strangers.” Richard said, calming his tone.

“I’m pretty sure it’s not a money thing Dad, they’ve got dozens of students who come from wealthy families. The people I’ve already met there seem to have a lot of integrity, and I doubt they would be just winking me in because they’re after another tuition.”

“I’m trying to think of a way to put this that you understand; that you’ll possibly see from my point of view. You’re in a very privileged group of people Joel, and I don’t just mean our family or friends. I mean you’re in the upper half of a percent of American wealthy families. We’re the people who helped build this country into what it is today. As I was getting to earlier, we’re the lawyers, the judges, and the lawmakers that help keep America in good shape. In a way, we’re the backbone of the American system, whether it’s in business, politics or finance. We set the course, we influence the political system, and we discourage the usurpers who want to change that.

Life in this country is pretty damn good Joel, and that didn’t happen by accident. It takes committed men and woman who know what parts they need to play. You’re part of a very special group of people, but it’s also a group who has a set of responsibilities laid out before them Joel. I’m not saying that you’re predestined to one single occupation, you still have plenty of great choices son. They’re simply choices that better fit our station and responsibility. They’re the kinds of professions that contribute to the betterment of this country of ours.”

“Wow, that’s pretty dramatic Dad. Are you about to tell me about the secret society I’m going to be inducted into? Do I get to learn the special handshake so I can gain entry into their lair? I’m sorry Dad, I’m not trying to make a joke out of this, but I really doubt that one Collins son heading off to culinary school, instead of an Ivy League law school, isn’t going to radically shift the course of the country. Look, you and Mom have always told me that I should make the choices that make me happy. I’m just following that advice now, so it’s not some rebellion or acting out, it’s me doing what I truly want to.” Joel said.

“Back when your mother and I said that, we were talking about what little league sport you wanted to join, not your life’s work. Joel, you are destined to be an influencer of other men, the kind of man who others look to for their own direction. I’m not disparaging the culinary profession Joel, but it certainly isn’t what we tried to set you up for. You went to the best schools, you had the best mentors and guidance we could get for you, and that wasn’t so you could become a chef. It was because your mother and I both believed that someday you’d become the kind of man that we both knew you could be.” His father told him.

“Wow, you’re really serious about this, aren’t you? I mean, I get that it’s not what you and Mom pictured for me, but it’s exactly what I want to do. I’ll just be right up front about it, I have zero desire to be a lawyer, zero desire to be a judge or politician. Let the people who want to be those things pursue those paths, but don’t expect me to. I’m not going to spend the next four years of my life trying to be something that I already know I will hate. What kind of life is that?” Joel said.

“Now who’s being dramatic? You already know you’ll hate it, huh? Where are you hiding that crystal ball, in your back pocket? You can see into the future so well, but yet you can’t see the writing on the wall right in front of you. The gloves come off now Joel, I thought I could encourage you to reconsider, but I see that’s a lost cause now. So, I’ll get to the bottom line then, law school will be fully financed with a stipend to boot – anything else will have to be done on your own. I’m truly sorry that it has to be this way son, but take some small solace in that you’re not the first one to face this choice. My own father had to do the same thing with me, back when I couldn’t find my own ass with both hands. I chose the right path, in hindsight, I really did. I still think you have a good shot at doing the same thing, but you need to stop getting in your own way. Those high ideals about ‘doing what you feel is your true calling’ are just misleading you son. Sometime in this life we all have to do things that, at first, aren’t what we want to do. It’s that illusion of free choice, versus predestination that fools us. We all have parts to play, and this is yours, Joel – if you take it. If you don’t, well… I don’t want to have to imagine that.”

“Are you freaking serious right now? You’re just going to cut me off for having the audacity to pursue my own dreams? For not towing the family-line? And, Mom, she’s cool with this too? Wow, this really blows apart so much of what I was sure you guys had taught me while I was growing up. Well, I’ll tell you what, I don’t want to be in the ruling class Dad. I don’t want to be ‘special’ or a person others look to for guidance. Not unless it’s in a Michelin Star kitchen! If I have to work a job all day long, I’ll still take my classes at night. Sorry, but your threatening to cut me off isn’t going to stop me from doing what I know is right for me.” Joel said defiantly.

“I’m really sorry it’s come to this Joel, I truly am. I can only hope that someday you will reconsider this conversation, and realize that it wasn’t some evil plot to force you into a life you’d be unhappy in. We don’t always get our way son, and that’s okay – we adjust to what life brings us. I hope you’ll see that one day.”

“Whatever you want to think Dad, it’s cool. Although, I am really curious what it was that you gave up on to ‘do the right thing’ like your dad wanted. What did you want to do with your life, before grandpop talked you out of it? What was it?” Joel asked.

“Not that it changes anything now, but I wanted to go into the sciences, physics specifically. I was fascinated by Einstein’s theories, and Planck’s writings, and I also had a head for numbers. I’m only telling you this because I want to add that I don’t regret my choices Joel, not one bit. The world is full of great physicists, but it’s not many that get the opportunities that I’ve had since those days.” Richard said.

“Really? You really believe that investing other people’s money in the stock market has been more satisfying than possibly discovering something in physics? I just can’t see the comparison Dad, I really can’t.”

“I know you think I just massage people’s money to create more wealth for them, but it’s so much more than that Joel. We make decisions almost weekly that affect different events all over the globe. Choosing to fund, or not to fund, the different projects, governments, or individuals we deal with, changes the global landscape and balances of power. Goddamnit Joel, we’ve stopped coups, funded rebellions, and made or broke world leaders during my time at Goldman. You have no idea what we’re capable of influencing, or directly affecting. It’s not all pretty, but it’s part of what we see as our responsibility to maintaining this way of life we all enjoy. The American dream is a reality because of a system that was put in place over two hundred years ago, and it’s up to real people to keep that dream alive and well.”

“So there it is, finally laid out in its full glory. Keeping the American Dream alive! That’s a pretty lofty purpose Dad, I wish you all the best with it. Me, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with it. I guess it’s a surprise to you that I don’t actually want to keep everything just as it is. There’s so many underprivileged people in this country, marginalized and cast aside to suffer their fates, as you see them anyway. I don’t want any part of that unless it’s about helping them all get more of what they deserve. Because, I don’t think those people really are predestined to a life of poverty Dad, I think they’re in the situations they’re in because of people like you. To you, the status quo means the rich staying rich, and the poor staying poor. Let the middle class do all the work, and sprinkle them with a few toys to make them feel good, and all is well. Isn’t that the idea Dad? And when anyone, like some ambitious politician, puts his hand into the pockets of the rich, you cut that fucker off, right? No one takes from this ‘upper half of one percent’ if you can help it, I’m positive that’s a fact.

But, before you shit yourself and call me a communist, let me say one more thing; I’m not some naïve social justice warrior Dad, and I’m not a closet Socialist either. I’m just a guy who thinks that the deck has been stacked against the little-guy for far too long. All those other ‘privileged families’ you were talking about… they should take a look back at history, and learn from it. When the rich deprive everyone else for too long, bad things happen to them. Reference the French revolution if you don’t believe me. When the scales tip way too far in your direction, and for too long, people will do something to regain some balance. I know where I want to be, when and if that happens, and it’s not holed-up in my mansion on the hill somewhere.” Joel said.

Excerpts

“Adam, you were the one who thought I should get LO tattooed on my right knee, and VE on the left one. Just so you could make jokes about ‘spreading the love’. You’ve never actually grown up Adam, and I’m tired of waiting for that to happen.” Janet said.

“Oh, come on now! You used to laugh a lot at my ideas, and it was all for fun anyways Hon. How come, all of the sudden, you’re Mary Poppins?” He asked.

“Jesus Adam, even that question is juvenile. Look, I’m 28 years old, and you’re 31 for God’s sake. It just seems like it’s time we behaved more like adults, and you started acting like someone who actually loves and respects me.”

“Damn, you’re insatiable. I just loved you last night, and you already want more?”

“Fuck off Adam, that might be the last ‘loving’ you get from me if you don’t take this seriously!” Janet shouted.

“What the fuck? What’s up your ass now? Are we back to you not liking my jokes, or the way I dress, or how much pot I smoke? What is it now Miss High and Mighty? Because I’ll tell you something, I’m getting kind of tired of this same old argument. Are you on the rag again? Fuck, I should go camping once a month while you’re on the cotton-pony.”

“Have you lost your fucking mind? Are you such a moron that you think saying that kind of shit is going to do anything but piss me off even more? I don’t have to be hormonal to see that you’re a misogynistic asshole, and one that’s probably never going to change either. I don’t know why I’ve been kidding myself for these past couple of years Adam, you’re not worth the stress. All you’re ever going to be interested in about a woman is her body, and I just can’t subject myself to that Neanderthal thinking anymore.”

Adam stood up and moved aggressively towards Janet, raising his right fist. She quickly dropped to her knees and leveled an uppercut to his groin. As he folded forward in pain, she stood and raised a knee into his face. Adam collapsed onto the floor, bleeding hard from the nose.

“Stay there Adam, it’ll only take me about two minutes to pack my bag and get the hell out of here. Oh, I have an idea, why don’t you call the cops on me? Tell them your girlfriend kicked your ass and walked out, I bet they’d get a kick out of that.” Janet said. Then she turned on a heel and headed to the bedroom to gather her things. There was something calling her out there, and it was far from where she was now.

A Close Call

#1. The Rider

It was one of the closest calls he’d been involved with in his many years of riding, quite nearly a very tragic day. Rounding the sweeping curve at the end of 29th street, just where the freeway off-ramp intersects, a car just missed him as it exited at full speed. He’d seen this before, and was always cautious at that curve since it seemed that the cars getting off of the highway were determined to keep going 65 mph. The posted limit on the frontage road was actually 35, but at 6:00 am, few drivers seemed worried about getting stopped for speeding. Most would not only take the exit at full speed, but would often cross over the three lanes to make the first right turn, about two blocks up. James watched for all of this as he rounded the city street that paralleled the freeway. He knew very well the cost of getting hit by a car when you’re on a motorcycle. There’s just no ‘fender-benders’ between cars and bikes. The rider is almost always who suffers the brunt of the injuries and damages.

This morning, as James leaned into the sweeping right turn, he glanced over his left shoulder to check for merging cars, but couldn’t see the one with no headlights. Had they turned them off too early? Or, just forget to have them on at all? James heard the screech of tires before he saw the car, he squeezed his brake lever and leaned as hard as he could. After a wobble or two, he recovered just in time to see the car’s driver give him the one-finger salute. He gave a brief thought to chasing the idiot, but decided he needed to pull over and take a few deep breaths instead. Close calls have a way of releasing every ounce of adrenaline in your body, all at once. It’s a dizzying feeling that needs a few minutes of calm to make go away. He did remember hearing another car honk it’s horn just as he hit his brakes – James hoped they were honking at the careless driver, and not him.

It’s a sobering feeling to know you’d just missed either dying, or at least being horribly injured in such an unnecessary situation. James removed his helmet and took long drags of the crisp morning air. He felt very lucky to be rolling in to work all in one piece today, as if someone was watching out for him.

 

#2. The Witness

Christy’s exit was approaching  quickly, and she was still in the wrong lane to make the off-ramp. One of those aggressive types was blocking her merge into the right lane, even though she’d been signaling for over a half mile now. She pumped her brakes enough to be able to slip in behind Mr. In-A–Hurry, just in time to make the exit at the last second. She slowed her Jetta quickly on the downhill ramp, because at the bottom it intersected with 29th street and its slower residential speed limit. She noticed that the aggressive guy was still moving at a high speed, which was unsurprising, but still super dangerous she thought. The drivers on the street she was going to merge with were coming around a long curve, and most at about 35 mph. The Mercedes in front of her got to the merge point and started moving over two lanes to his right, seemingly without even looking for other traffic. That’s when it happened. He smashed into a guy on a motorcycle who was rounding the curve, just as the Benz crossed lanes at full speed. Christy could hear the impact immediately, and saw the rider fly up over the Mercedes’ hood. The red motorcycle slid and spun on the asphalt until it hit a curb, then it flipped and landed on the lawn of home next to the street. She pulled over as soon as she could, got out and ran back to see if the rider needed help. In her 15 plus years in the Mid-Town ER, Christy had seen many motorcycle accident victims brought into her trauma center. Very few of the cases turned out well for the cyclists. As she approached the helmeted figure in the street, she could already see that his legs were in positions that nature had never intended. The driver of the Mercedes had pulled over as well, and she was surprised to see him looking straight at her.

“I didn’t see him! He just came outta nowhere!” He said quietly, almost as much to himself as to her.

She knelt down next to the fallen rider, as other drivers attempted to slow and divert traffic around them. Christy felt for a pulse at the neck, but couldn’t find one. She slid her fingers along the back of his hairline, and there she felt the protruding vertebrae of a broken neck. He was gone.

 

 

#3. The Observers

“This is going to be a very precise interplay of events, you’d better focus as clearly as you possibly can. The moment of separation will be very brief.” The mentor said.

“I shall, I won’t let you down.” Hecta said.

“It’s not letting me, or anyone else down that I am concerned with. I’m concerned with having this transition be successful for all parties involved. The young rider has many more life lessons to go on to, we cannot have him end here prematurely.”

“Yes Gian, I will concentrate and catch him just at the precise moment of contact. He will not know more than a brush with death in his timeline.”

“Very well. The death timeline is for the other souls involved here, most importantly the driver. He has had a long time to make adjustments to his temperament, but has yet to make a single change. I am sorry it’s come to this, but some need a direct and drastic event to bring about self-change.” Gian said.

“I am curious about one thing, Gian… the rider, does he not have fault in this as well?”

“Observe him in his new timeline Hecta, I think you will see that he is a cautious man who does not express his ego through his vehicle. I also sense a strong likelihood that he soon will choose to stop riding such vehicles. He has a very realistic view of mortality, I’ve seen to that over his lifetime.” Gian said.

“It’s beginning, I must focus now.” Hecta said.

The two observers saw the scene begin to play out. The rider leans into the sweeping right turn, just as the Mercedes exits the freeway at high speed. At the moment the car body begins to make contact with the rider, a flash of light, and now there are two scenes. The first one sees the rider lean harder and brake to a stop at the curb, as the car speeds on. In the second scene, the car makes contact with the rider, and sends him airborne to his death.

“Very good Hecta, that was quite perfect. Please monitor your driver to ensure that he has started down a proper path of self-discovery. I shall continue on with James in his new timeline.”

They’ve Been Here

Thoughts on Alien visitations to this humble planet

I suppose I take a somewhat scientific approach when asked if I believe in aliens having been here; either directly/physically here, or just passing by for a look. The question makes me think about how, ideally, we humans might approach a planet that we’d detected intelligent life on. (generously assuming that our alien friends deem us intelligent)

I believe that we would have a multi-stage plan of study, well before we ever got to the actual contact part of things. It seems wise to gather as much scientific information as we possibly can before we ever would make the decision to reveal our own presence to that newly discovered populace. Starting with basic chemistry and biology, learning about their planet, their physiology, the natural environment they live in, their foods, rituals, religions, and everything else cultural that we could study.

So many questions would have to be answered before we could even consider making contact with them. What if we found out that they believed they were the only beings in the universe, and that tenet was a strong part of their shared religious belief system? Simply by revealing ourselves we would send their populace into a state of panic with such a dramatic paradigm shift from what was once a concrete belief. Further, what if, at the very beginning of our studies, we discover their atmosphere is toxic to us? Or, the biology of the flora & fauna of their planet is intolerable to human philology? Would we call-off the study? No, I think we wouldn’t go that far, but it might weigh heavily on our decision to ever make contact with them.

Even culturally, if their social mores and folkways were quite different than ours, it could take a great deal of study to understand them enough to even design an approach strategy. I think back to stories I’d read of the first Western Europeans trying to deal with the Native American tribes back in the 1500’s. The newcomers were so used to a hierarchical system of leaders, they could not deal with the natives always sending different representatives to negotiate. The settlers were always looking to speak to the person ‘in charge’ – the Chief (some still debate that we Westerners invented that moniker for whomever was deemed to be the leader of a tribe, but many groups were quite consensus-based, and led by a large group of experienced elders – any of whom were able to speak for the entire tribe)

We certainly wouldn’t want to repeat those same mistakes, so many centuries gone by, would we? Yet, even after long periods of careful study, I think there would still be heated and rightful debates on whether to make actual contact with another alien race. So much to consider before a good rational decision could be reached, it might take decades to come to a proper conclusion.

Now, applying all of that to the considerations of aliens making contact with us, I’d be comfortable in saying that they’re not just going to land in your front yard, step out of their ship and greet you with a warm handshake. It seems far more likely that they would do much as I’ve outlined above…  long and careful studies of this very odd and complicated species of beings. How long would it take them to realize that we didn’t even all speak a common language? Have you ever read a science-fiction novel where the aliens of a planet speak several different languages among themselves? Or, have well defined racial, cultural and political divisions all over their planet?

Even if our alien observers were twice our intelligence, I think it would take a very long time for them to even begin to say that they understood humans well enough to approach them in-person. In fact, I think the better they understood us, the less likely they would be to choose to reveal themselves to us, at this stage of our global evolution anyway. They would presumably already understand what a cultural shock wave they would be unleashing on all of us were they to do so. Add to that, the political maneuverings, greed-based power seeking, and otherwise darker side of man coming out… well, you get my drift. The smarter they are, the more they would know about how the planet Earth would react to their presence. Sadly, even now, we’re all just about two steps outside that cave our ancestors first lived in.

I’m Listening…

“For years we’ve tried the direct approach, mailings, census’ and surveys, but always with limited overall success. Sure, you can  ask someone what they think about a specific topic, but if they sense you’re connected to whatever, or whomever is asking, they change their answers to please you. It’s some psychological bullshit we humans just do unconsciously, we’re generally not even aware of it. Answers like that are useless to what we’re really after Sam, we need the unvarnished truth in order to keep a finger on the pulse of this country.

You’ve got to make the people want to give up their privacy Sam. I knew it as soon as I saw that Faces website. I mean, damn it, here was a place where people were not only voluntarily registering their basic personal information, but then, of their own volition they were opening up their entire lives. I know most still think it was only open to their little circle of friends, or family, but that’s actually the best part. They really and truly believe that, to this very day despite what the press tells them. It’s like they’re imagining some little privacy dome that surrounds their daily rantings so no one else sees it but the people they’re friends with.
I couldn’t have dreamed up a better idea myself, and I’ve had some damned sneaky ones too. An international website where people post their innermost thoughts and opinions every goddamned day. Sure, we have to do some sorting through their inane photos of every fucking food item they guzzle down at mealtime, but it’s a small price to pay to get a sideline seat to everything else. Every affair, whether real or imagined; every purchase they make, every opinion they have about almost everything, and so much more.

It’s like being the priest in a confessional of the entire global population! Confession is good for the soul, and it’s also damned good for your government too!
And the money to be made, don’t even get me started about that. We can compile custom data reports to satisfy almost any need. Television advertisers chomp at the bit for our latest data. They comb through our reports like they’re panning for gold, and in some ways they really are. Why they can adjust their spending by only buying ad time at the most desirable moments. Haven’t you noticed that no one is buying ad time during the nightly news anymore? That’s because of us, and the data we provide. Some other examples are; you’ll always see reruns during any holiday period, or when there’s some other programming that is a known dominant – such as the basketball finals, or big bowl games. Networks don’t want to ‘waste’ their new product, and the higher ad money they bring in, running against something that will beat them in the ratings.
We can offer them statistical proof of exactly when they will get the most for their money. From the big networks to the upcoming cable channels, we can give them the value-added for their advertising dollar.
Another great feature we discovered is that we have an easy way to test new ideas now. We simply float a ‘news leak’ about whatever it is we’re looking to test, and within hours we’ve got useful data! I figure as long as we keep the NSA as the primary boogey-men for folks to worry about, we’ll stay nearly invisible to everyone.”

Herstory 

“I don’t feel safe anywhere Jack, and I haven’t for over 12 years. Christ, it took me over six months to trust that you weren’t just some guy trying to take something from me.” She said.
“Look, I’m not going to say anything even close to ‘I understand’ – because I don’t, yet. I really want you to help me understand it though, if it’s not too hard to go into.” Jack said, carefully.

She sensed the absolute sincerity in his voice as he said it.

“No, I guess you wouldn’t really understand it, would you? Not in the same way a woman does anyway.” She says, voice trailing off into thought.
“I’m sure a few men might, but I’m not one of them. I really want to though, I want to know what you went through, and are still going through now too.” Jack Says.

“Something was taken away from me twelve years ago.” Janet begins. “Something that feels like I’ll never get back, ever. Even just a decade ago, there were people who would say things like ‘he didn’t take away the important part of you’ or ‘don’t let this change who you are inside’ – and those were people who knew me, and were trying to comfort me. People who cared about me didn’t even know what it was like Jack, and I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t in the mood to try and tell them either. Not then anyway, not so soon after. Shit, it probably took me two years to really come to terms with all of the changes brought on by that one single night.  Two years of therapy, of self-analysis and internal inventorying before I could admit to all of the changes. Can you imagine that?” She asked him.

“Well, imagine it is about all I can do. That’s why I want to hear it from you, I don’t want to have to keep guessing at it. I don’t really like feeling wrong all the time, and that’s how this feels.” He says.

“Yeah, that’s my fault to a degree. I want to stay up in my protected fort and hurl snowballs down at you for not being able to get in. It’s so automatic to me now, I’m not always aware of when I’m doing that. But that’s just part of it Jack, just part of what gets changed in you after being raped – there’s so much more to it. Trust, the loss if it, is just the most obvious one, and maybe the longest lasting too.”

“Let me start back then, just before everything happened. I was like any other nineteen-year-old college student, away at a new school, in a new town. I got involved in campus activities, I worked at the bookstore, and had a new group of friends who were totally cool. I was exploring my new adult life like it was an attraction at an amusement park. Everything was fun, or cool, or sophisticated, and I wanted to be part of it all. I was so happy, so filled with enthusiasm, and so painfully naïve too. I quite literally trusted everyone around me, and why wouldn’t I? It wasn’t like the school published a list of creepy predators in the campus paper. They wanted us to all believe that we were in a special and highly insulated environment there, and I bought into it.”

Jack could see this was getting painful for her, so he chose to remain quiet, foregoing even the usual noises of acknowledgement one uses in a conversation.

“My roommates had told me about the part that night, not far off campus at a frat-house. The guys there were cool, they said. Other parties they’d been to were supposedly great, so ‘why not?’ I thought, let’s go. In all honesty the three of us had a couple of drinks while we got ready, so I was about half-buzzed by the time we headed over there. I’d guess there were about 75 to 100 people there, but it wasn’t over crowded because it was kind of a huge place. We found some other girls we knew by the kitchen area, and I knew I needed to eat something before I drank anymore. But, just like most parties thrown by guys, their idea of food was chips and gross dips. By the time I decided which chips were the least disgusting, someone had already put a drink in my hand. We were talking, snacking and bouncing to the music that was way too loud. Pretty much a normal party, at least to me anyway.”

“After a couple of hours, the guys there had figured out that all the women were inside, and they started picking us off one by one to go out and dance. One guy had come up and asked me to dance a couple of times, but I was happy where I was and declined politely. By the time it was just Circe and me, he was back for a third try and I gave in. I hadn’t realized how buzzed I was until I had to walk out back to where everyone was dancing. He had to catch me twice before we even got to an open spot to dance. I thought that the physical activity of dancing would clear away the buzz I had, but it really didn’t. After two songs, he suggested we go back in and get some water, and I thought that was kind of sweet. We circled around the other dancers, and went into a different door of the house, then down some stairs. He told me this was just a different way in, and it’d be more quiet there. It was his room, and once inside he spun me around a couple of times, and flung me onto his bed. I was doing my best not to barf on his bed, wishing I was a lot closer to a bathroom, when I realized that he was pulling off my skirt and underwear. I told him to stop, I didn’t even know him and I wasn’t in the habit of sleeping with a guy I didn’t know. I remember him telling me that he couldn’t understand a thing I was saying. I have no idea if that was true, or just a clever disclaimer he used to keep doing what he wanted to. I know I passed out for some amount of time, because when I woke up, I was upstairs on the couch. I could hear Circe’s voice near me, and I tried to call out to her, but I was still in bad shape. When I woke up again, I was still on that couch, but I was a lot more sober, and a lot more aware of what had happened. I sat up and instantly felt the soreness in my crotch, I yelped and that woke Circe who asked what was up. When I told her that I thought that guy raped me, she asked me if I was sure! Then she told me about how drunk I was, and asked me again if I was ‘really sure it was rape?’. I know she didn’t really deserve it, but I started screaming at the top of my lungs at her. I know I woke up everyone in the place because they mostly all started to appear in doorways or stairwells. I got embarrassed when I saw them all, and just grabbed my things and ran back to my dorm room. I had no idea what to do, and I was pissed off at myself for having felt embarrassed and running away from where it had happened. I needed time to think, and because I felt gross, I decided that I could clear my head in the shower. Mistake number one.” She said.

“In the shower I had decided to call the campus police and report what had happened. About thirty minutes after I called, an officer was at my door to take a report. She was kind of cool at first, just listening and making short notes as I talked. Yes, I had been drinking; No, I didn’t know his full name; Yes, I knew where he lived; and then ‘You haven’t bathed since the incident have you?’ Fuck. I guess I hadn’t watched enough cop shows as a kid to know any better. I washed away just about all the proof I had that I was raped. The cop just shook her head and told me that we should go to the hospital anyway for a rape kit. That was humiliation number one.”

“To bring this part to a close, I’ll just say that the only saving grace was that he must have been drunk too, and forgot to wear a condom – they were able to get DNA from what he left in me. He was arrested, a magistrate listened to both sides, and offered him a plea deal of simple assault. He served no time, and didn’t even have to register as a sex offender. That’s the end of the story if it were one you were watching on TV, but since this is real life, it was only chapter one in an ever evolving novel.”

“That one night, I lost so much of what had been my normal life, I couldn’t have even imagined it then. I lost my trust Jack, that simple human quality we have to just trust other people initially. That was all gone, poof! Janet would never just up-front trust anyone ever again, not even other women. How fucked up is that huh? Something that most people take for granted, I bet most barely even think about it. But I do, every single day. You’ve probably imagined meeting a women, maybe in a bar, having a couple of drinks with her, hopping she likes you enough for it to turn into something. Well, that’s never going to be me, ever. Now, every man that shows interest in me, is an instant suspect. Having your trust taken away from you is like being on-guard all the time, and it’s exhausting Jack. My mind is on alert 24/7 and sometimes I forget to relax for days at a time. I’m like a tensed muscle just waiting to spring into action, and 99% of the time it’s all for naught.”

“Well, definitely in the couple of years just after it happened, I was absolutely sure that I needed to be hyper-vigilant just to protect myself from harm. Everyone was a potential attacker, either physically or mentally, but all were suspects. Even with an excellent therapist it was going to take me about five years to own, accept and forgive all of the things I was blaming myself for. See, Jack, that’s another thing that happens when a person has all of their sense of control stripped away – we blame ourselves for it. We bludgeon ourselves with ‘whys’ – why did I go there? Why did I drink so much? Why did I agree to dance with the fucker? So many demanding questions put to myself over and over, hell a hardline prosecutor couldn’t have done any better. All because my own personal control was ripped away from me, violently.”

“You were blaming yourself for being raped?” Jack asked cautiously.

“Absolutely. Think about it, don’t you have an internal sense of being able to control things in your life? Don’t you have a plan in your mind if someone were to try and rob you, or steal your wallet? We all have that Jack, I don’t think a person could function in daily life if they didn’t have some feeling of control. But it’s an illusion for the most part, because so many things can happen to us that we have zero control over. Zero. That’s a pretty tough thing to try and come to terms with, a scary thing if you think about it too much. Even after all of that therapy, I still couldn’t give up on it. I needed, hell, I still need – to believe that I have some control over a few things in my life. Sadly, one of the ways I exercise that control is by keeping people out of my inner space. My mind, my heart, my emotional space were all things I could control without a doubt. It wasn’t until I met you Jack, that I started to realize just how isolated I was.” She said.

“Well, I’m not sure what I did, but I’m glad I did it.” Jack said with a gentle smile.

“You were, well, you are just being you. You’re one of those rare people who’s just comfortable in their own skin. You don’t analyze people, or judge them for superficial crap either. You just seem to let each person you know write their own biography in your mind. To you, everyone is just who they appear to be until they show you something different. That’s a pretty great quality Jack, I hope you never lose it. But, even when we first met, I was guarded and distrusting. I can’t promise you that I’ll ever get past being like that Jack.” She says, tears coming now.

“Do you mean overall, with everyone? Then, no, you probably won’t. But, with selected people that you’ve come to know pretty well, I think you already have. Don’t sell yourself short like that, you’ve come a long way. Sure, it took me a long time to get to know you, but I sensed that you were worth it. If you were 100% guarded, I don’t think I could have sensed anything, except hostility maybe. All I’m saying is that you’ve found a way to reveal little glimpses of yourself to people that you want to trust, and we see it. I saw it, and I liked it, and I knew I was going to be in it for the long run. Even if we just ended up being friends, I knew it’d be worth it.”

 

Race Riot

The city I currently live in announced that our new police chief “has already made history, because he’s Asian!” (The exclamation was actually in the voice of the news reader) As I heard that I couldn’t help but recalling a moment just under 8 years ago, when we were told the same thing about our new President. He was making history as the first black President of the US. History… wow. History making because they’re not white. 

I felt something like a mild depression overcome me just about then. The fact that it’s historical that a person of a non-white race was elected, promoted, nominated, etc… As the kids say, WTF?? In just my lifetime I have been witness to the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, the sexual revolution, and all of the LBGT triumphs & tragedies.  This is all great news for social progress, but it’s also an indicator of just how backward we’ve been; and in many cases still are. 

Our new President-Elect has been labeled as a racist (true, or untrue is still yet to be seen), or at least appealing to the groups in this country who admittiedly are. It just amazes me that even a portion of the civilized, educated, modern human beings of this time in history, are still racists. They don’t like people who aren’t white people. Un-fucking-believable! It really is, to me at least. I just can’t wrap my mind around the concept that people still hate others because of the color of their skin. It’s asinine, in my opinion. Asinine, ignorant and backwards; all in one. I doubt that those who do embrace racism realize how it reflects on them, that is instantly displays their unbelievable ignorance. 

Would it change them if they did realize that? I doubt it. If you can get comfortable with being a racist, then I imagine you think the rest of us are ‘commie sympathizers’ or something along those lines. Perhaps they think we’re all ignorant too, that we just can’t see the evils of those other races? Maybe they feel sorry for us, and believe that they’re eventually going to protect us from our own bleeding hearts? I cannot say with any conviction, because I don’t actually know any real, openly racist people. In an oddly scientific way, I think it might be interesting to meet one, have a dialogue with them… were that a possibility. 

Somehow I don’t see that dialogue remaining calm and civil for any extended period of time. Race discussions are like politics or religion as a topic, just not a good idea unless the conditions are nearly perfect. That means two rational people who can put their emotional passions in-check for the duration. That’s not an easy thing for most people, not even for me. Yet, I still think I’d like that to happen someday. I have a notion that it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to poke a whole bunch of holes into their theories. Beliefs based on stereotypes and lies are not very hard to debate into submission, assuming that both sides can remain good natured. 

Judging other people based upon how they look, where they’re from, or who they worship, is so backwards, we might as well be living in caves still. We don’t deserve all of this technology, or creature comforts – not until we shed those ugly social maladies.