Friday, November 8, 2019

"Riders of the Sea" Reviewed


I recently attended a performance of The Synge Triptych at The Quintessence Theater. These one act plays provided an intriguing look into the nature of the human experience as envisioned by Irish playwright John Millington Synge.

Of the three, Synge's one-act play "Riders to the Sea" moved me in particular as it examines the human mourning process. Two Irish sisters seek to protect their mother from dire possibility of death after their brother was reported lost at sea. Carrying out that duty shields the sisters from the very suffering their mother finds herself embroiled in. At the play's climax, the family finds that deathly certainty alongside yet another brother drowned in pursuit of wages to support the family. With his body presented in full Irish wake fashion, the process of grief is able to progress. The sisters leave their protectiveness behind and wail at the heavens over the loss, while the mother finally finds peace in the healing breath of knowing the final outcome with certainty.

This play underscores the preciousness of human life and the mind's evolved process in defending itself from danger, not only to oneself but to ones family and tribe. Evolution is an uncaring bastard, as its primary directive is to ensure a genetic bloodline survives. As such, the increase in emotional distress is an internal flag that the current state of affairs may hold danger for the self and others that remain alive.

Personally, I question the usefulness of extended wallowing in misery. Perhaps, such suffering serves a mind clearing purpose in the grieving process. Cultural norms often encourage a "black veil' mourning period, which if ignored might go punished by the group.

Denial, on the other hand, is equally maladaptive. Only by facing reality can we begin to do anything about it. Belief that the soul moves on may seem a healing salve, alas it seems to denigrate the real life of a person now dead.

In the end, loss is inevitable. The human experience of sadness is part of human nature, and varies in intensity from person to person based on their genetic and experiential histories. One of the best things we can do when someone experiences a loss is to support them, and to allow others to support us.

Through these journeys of deep sadness healing can occur apace. And importantly, these trying moments also remind us that spending time with the ones we love by pursuing joyful experiences and effecting positive change in the world with our extended families is what really matters.

To that ends, get out and experience a great performances with a good friend or a family member often! Quintessence Theater in Mt. Airy is one such worthy venue.




Thursday, October 31, 2019

Chocolate Truffles for the (Possession of) the Human Spirit #5



This short story was published as part of Tellables' October 2019 Box of Chocolates Assortment 11 of spooky stories. Box of Chocolates is an Alexa skill you can install to sample monthly short stories narrated by digital, story-telling chocolatiers . 

If you have an Alexa device, I recommend you give the Box of Chocolates skill a try. My story this month is Chocolate #8, The Salted Blood Truffle. 

Alternatively, you can read my slightly extended version of the story here

And if you like the idea of writing delicious, super-short stories (100-400 words) by all means check out the Tellables website for story submission guidelines. 





The Salted Blood Truffle

Happy All Hallows Eve to ye!

May the demons leave ye untouched this night. Sure as death, there was a time when superstition was more than sly whispers and giggles shared in the kitchen. Spirits, in particular, readily spoke to anyone who feared God or heard the wind in the trees.

Listen close and I'll share some secrets with ye. As an apprentice confectioner I was taught many traditions to ward off evil spirits, the least being food spoilage. Salt and smoke were key elements in the preservation of flesh and savory foods, but with sweets the key charm was invoking high temperatures.

In truth, prior to the Great War knowledge of confection was infused with the blackest of arts. Medicinal recipes were at the heart of my craft. Handed down orally over generations, both ingredients and process were key. Witch-hazel gumdrops could stave off the creeping ague and St. John's Wort licorice could suppress minor possessions. Such medicinal wards were my profitable specialties.

At the height of my career my ambitions grew beyond such curatives. To that end I tracked down a master confectioner who specialized in recipes that influenced living spirits. After a bit of pointed coaxing he shared a very special truffle recipe with me, the salted blood truffle. 

Allegedly from the time of Charlemagne, it promised limited immortality. I was dubious, as it required the distillation of blood and tears of a person taking their last breath. To my surprise the master confectioner provided these without too much screaming. I must say the results were quite effective as I speak to ye now more than a hundred years after my death.

If ye doubt my word, then question my great grandson Brandon tomorrow.  He won't recall telling you this tale let alone any tale on the day of Halloween since his father passed. Let's just say I live vicariously through my offspring.  Now, I can't say living one day a year on the eve of Hallows is optimum, but it beats the alternative.

Sharing this tale has been quite satisfying, alas I have other plans for the evening, so I'll bid ye good day.




Thursday, September 26, 2019

Vegan Overload


Niche op-ed, initiated...for Vegans and...our Allies!

Veganism is a growing movement and millions of people everywhere are embracing this movement for a variety of hopeful reasons.

Plant-based health vegans devour gargantuan, nutrition rich, leafy-green salads daily. Abolitionist vegans march for the trillions of sentient animals forgotten. Environmental vegans minimize their carbon footprint with zeal. Rational vegans extol the ethics of compassionate reason. New age vegans glowingly build the collective soul of Gaia. Gustatory vegans celebrate the variety of delicious veggie cuisine. Animal-lover vegans cuddle with creatures big and small. Conservationist vegans reclaim habitat wildlands. Humanist vegans support developing country needs by encouraging plant agriculture.

The list goes on and on, yet so often we vegans in our attempt to live better lives and influence others to choose a better path can often manifest an arrogant righteousness that harms caring human relationships, our inner spirit, the vegan movement, and ultimately the very world we're attempting to improve.

Veganism alone is not the solution to everything, but it can be a major component to creating a sustainable, beautiful planet for humans and all of Earth's living things. Were vegans a tad more tolerant, a tad more eloquent and empathic toward non-vegans, and generally a tad more thick skinned, our efforts could be even more effective.

Most of us have transitioned from the carnist culture, an should contemplate how long it took for each of us to make the change.  Yes, it's human to be impatient when other resist even looking at the harm carnist culture does, but we must work for long term solutions alongside immediate ones. No we don't have to give up our ideals, let's just take a deep breath and work on the path that is both effective and compassionate. Some of our energy will need to be put toward forgiveness of others if only to nurture our own self to permit perseverance as we contribute to changing the world positively.

Figure out a joyful way to plant vegan seeds! Cook a meal weekly for your family, share an apple with a homeless person, make a plant-based contribution to a soup kitchen, volunteer at a nature preserve, share a vegan recipe book with a friend or a stranger, start a blog or youtube channel, just keep the joyful change rolling!

With that I'll simply harken:

"Joyful Vegans Unite!"

"Loving Humans Consider!"

"Living Earthlings Thrive!"

"

Thursday, September 19, 2019

.endpoints.



the Beginning i cannot recall
yet for some reason i accept
a beginning must (?) exist

i (!) breathe in the insubstantial
without full Knowledge i thrive, i suffer
i exhale the substance of experience

the Ending i cannot fathom
and yet (.)


Thursday, September 5, 2019

States of Change: Chapter 22: Yellowhammer (Alabama)


States of Change is an ongoing work of serial fiction.
The speculative story-line seeks to inspire thought on ethics, culture and our planet's future.

The year is 2076, decades after Oosa's defederalization. 
Fifty independent States have forged their societies from revolutionary technology and ideology.
Prominently, The Augment, a real-time, virtual overlay of sensory data 
has become widely available for personal use throughout many of the post-fed nation-states.







"Ready Gina?"

"Let's do this, my love."

On the e-room settee, Leo gives Gina a kiss on her cheek and then taps the Yellowhammer citizen e-patch on his wrist. His wife does the same.

Wireless protocols bind to their VisARs allowing them to navigate spindown menus within their augmented reality interfaces. Each negotiates through the rotating forest of configuration options. Spiraling past State Alerts, Personal Schedules, Information Access, and Database Storage they access Body Security. Drilling down through Enforced Policies and Paired Transactions they open their separate but linked Personal Relationship configuration pages.

Slipping off his stylish Emerald City glasses, Leo smirks.

"Okay, the rest of the process we have to do in Full Real with proximity-sync, since this will be a major relationship protocol change."

Gina shakes her head while chuckling.

"So silly the State doesn't trust its own scorching blockchain security in Aay Arr."

"I think it's more about giving Alabama citizens the confidence that their rights are real and not just a virtual abstraction."

"If you say so. Let's get this over with. Having my VisAR overlays down makes me feel agoraphobic."

"Sure thing, Cinnamon Scroll."

Gina smirks at the use of her pet name, then shifts her golden brown wrist holding Leo's freckled forearm to align the Yellowhammer sensors. Both patches radiate the bright lettering of nanoLED body ink bestowed to each citizen at age twenty-five.

"There. See, our consensual sex protocols are in full sync with the monogamy option invoked in August of seventy-one. Wow has it really been five years?"

"Christ in a crypt Leo, you know that's the minimum time lag before State Conception Permits are approvable."

"Yeah, I know Gee, it just gets me how five years with you has sped by at joyful light-speed."

Gina huffs softly and shakes her head, then with a follow-on sigh she runs her fingers through his long strawberry blonde hair.

"Yes, yes, my sweet Agave Leaf, for me too, but it's also been like walking on Hawaiian brimstone since day one. You know I've wanted to get pregnant since our trial marriage status got upgraded."

"Shen ji, Gee," chuckles Leo self-aware of his wordplay. "I'm looking forward to being a parent too, but you know as well as I do Alabama's procreation policy has been damn effective at preventing unwanted births. I can hardly believe back in Oosa times, abortion was even a thing. Fucking Six Nines contraception tech is the most Christian development since the communion wafer."

"Will you shut up with the politics and religion and sync with me. I want your cock in me...light-speed, doing what God created it to do."

Leo snort-laughs as if he'd taken a hit of nitrous oxide.

"You still catch me off guard every now and again, Gee!"

He holds his e-patch, still glowing the yellow of interim status, up to Gina's. With an archaic beep, emphasizing the conception permit's authorization, both e-patches turn dayglo green and scroll identical outputs.

[Transaction AL6&BT*X2 Registered]

[Consensual Sex Contract AL5Y!UR^R4 for Sexual Procreation Between Regina Alderan Honshu (RAH324) and Leonardo Davinci Johnston (LDJ987) Approved ]

[Permit Active for Ten Months. Two Renewals Remaining]

[Validated in AL State Blockchain Record 30.08.2076]

"Formalities complete, no glitches. Of course, it'll take a week for our implants to ramp down contraceptive hormone levels. I should research whether..."

Before he could get in another word, she spins onto his lap, straddling him, and buries a victorious, silencing smile into his.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Taming the Sadness Within



Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be professional advice. If you are experiencing extreme sadness or other challenging emotions, please reach out to professional psychological or emotional support hotline services. Ever have a deep empty feeling inside dragging you down? You're not alone. I've been there myself many times. How do you even begin to describe the weight of emotional despair. Perhaps you lost someone close to you and are unable to cope. Maybe a relationship just went sour and loneliness and hopelessness are all that you can see. Or maybe something seemingly small has consumed you. Whatever the reasons, dreary sadness now devours every attempt for you to experience joyfulness, to have a satisfying connection, or to just return to a life of normalcy. In my experience, we all have our own natural biorhythms of lows and highs. Since each of us is a unique individual to a fair degree only we can truly assess the feelings at odds within. To that end, the foundational challenge is to have an understanding of ourselves. By knowing our personal cycles of emotion and past responses we've had, we can at least create an expectation of how we will respond to the latest mini-crisis. Then we can apply coping mechanisms that have worked in the past or try new paths to improve past results. For me, I grew up religious, and there used to be a comfort in having a higher power as a fall back support mechanism. This may still be something you can call upon, though I personally have rejected supernatural beliefs in my life. Regardless, you might find temporary solace in your faith, or perhaps like me just recognizing we all are part of a larger whole, a world with numerous communities can be empowering. Yes, some of these communities may at times be unsupportive and dark, yet some can provide light and hope, enabling us to find a place to start recovery from sadness. Being part of caring, joyful communities can be a boon in a moment of sadness. Reaching out to someone in your network of close friends might provide the listening ear you need. A family member you trust with your despair might share similar feelings, allowing you to commiserate. Maybe a colleague or acquaintance in one of your other circles can aid you in how to approach a setback in your life goals. The very act of sharing itself may provide a venting of the icky inner feelings inside and lead to relief. By sound-boarding not only the challenges, but potential solution paths one can actively begin healing and step back on a path toward satisfying, heartfelt accomplishment, even if in small steps. Sometimes, we may feel like there is no one close enough to talk to, or perhaps close friends and family members may be involved at the core of the stressful situation underway. In this case the neutrality of a professional psychologist or a support hotline may be the best action to pursue. Then again, sometimes you may just need some downtime alone, to recharge, and reassess. This is where knowing yourself comes in handy, knowing that a yoga class or outdoor hike is just what you need to replenish your verve. Maybe sensing that your favorite music playlist or adventure novel will give you the temporary escape you require. Or perhaps, cuddling with your pet in a quiet easy chair is what will help you get through the moment. The answer to coping will always be an individual solution involving one or several of the examples I've noted, and certainly others I have not.

Life is sprinkled with challenges, like raindrops that simply cannot be avoided. Sometimes confronting those raindrops head on will lead us to tiny rainbows of hope. Other times we will get wet and muddy along the way. Nevertheless, by invoking patience, a variety of community support mechanisms and our inner power, a positive path forward frequently can be found!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Chocolate Truffles for the Human Spirit #3

This short story was published as part of Tellables' July 2019 Box of Chocolates stories centered on miracles, or as I spin it, questioning miracles. Box of Chocolates is an Alexa skill you can install to sample monthly short stories narrated by digital, story-telling chocolatiers . If you have an Alexa device, I recommend you give the Box of Chocolates skill a try.

And if you like the idea of writing delicious, super-short stories (100-400 words) by all means check out the Tellables website for story submission guidelines. 



One Stroke Wonder

My father was the son of a confectioner trained in Germany. Indeed, I was inspired to pursue my career in chocolate craft by my grandfather in spirit and my mother in practice. Still, it was my father who inspired me to be a joyful human being. He was a hands down sports nut and even though I was a bit more artsy fartsy we would watch occasional Eagles and Phillies games together. He would whoop and roar like no tomorrow at each touchdown and run scored for the home team. Yet it was when we played a round of golf that we really bonded as father and son.

The golf outing I remember most vividly was a Spring morning at a nine hole golf course called Woody's just outside Philadelphia. We were celebrating my dad's seventieth birthday with our typical one dollar per hole bet. My dad and I may have been just a couple of hackers, but we took very seriously that potential nine dollar windfall. I was up three dollars when the miracle shot occurred.

The miracle drive happened on hole number eight. It was a gorgeous two hundred yard hole blending nature and landscaping. A sparkling pond jutted halfway across the fairway and the tee itself was elevated, providing a fine view of the rolling hillside. It was on this hole my dad would hit a hole-in-one. Having lost sight of his drive in the sun, we combed through the rough and sand traps for his ball for what seemed like an hour. Pulling my head from a bush I heard my dad guffawing at having found his ball in the hole itself. I stood mouth gaping as he danced like a medicine man around a campfire exclaiming "hole-in-one" like a true believer. We would toast that "miracle hole-in-one" over post golf beers for years to come.

Today, once again, it's my dad's birthday and I stand at that very same hole, hole number eight. With stealth that I've possessed since youth I had snuck onto the course from the adjacent neighborhood, having lost my desire to actually play the game once Dad had passed. Still, for the past seven years it's been my personal ritual to come out at dawn to the miracle green at Woody's. With a grin and a chuckle, I drop a ball into the hole, and remember my father's joyous dancing. Odds are good that today someone else will have a miracle shot at hole number eight.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Chocolate Truffles for the Human Spirit #4

This short story was published as part of Tellables' August 2019 Box of Chocolates stories centered on celebrating women. Box of Chocolates is an Alexa skill you can install to sample monthly short stories narrated by digital, story-telling chocolatiers . If you have an Alexa device, I recommend you give the Box of Chocolates skill a try.

And if you like the idea of writing delicious, super-short stories (100-400 words) by all means check out the Tellables website for story submission guidelines. 


Slainte' Sis!

I know many people choose role models that are famous like Sally Ride or Harriet Tubman, but my role model is my sister, Molly Jenkins. And she kicks ass!

Frankly, all women who find themselves on the single-mother route need to become real-life superheroes. In comparison, Wonder Woman had it easy being born into Amazonian wealth. Even with her weaponized wardrobe she wouldn't last a day working in a rural diner. Like many single-mothers my sister holds two jobs in addition to child-rearing, which is a career unto itself. Still, she somehow manages to keep up with payments on her small, fabricated home in a trailer park in Fort Myers.

To say she is a superhero in my book is an understatement, but after Hurricane Irma hit in 2017, she became a goddess in my mind.

Hurricane Irma hit Fort Myers on a Sunday morning a couple years back. Sis had her hurricane kit ready and prepared to wait it out with Aurora, her toddler daughter. She considered evacuating, cause everyone knows a trailer park is a bowling alley just waiting for the weather gods to throw their tantrums at.

Then the hurricane was downgraded late in the week.  So at worst Molly was expecting to lose electricity for a couple days. In the end she opted to wait it out mainly so she wouldn't miss her shift at the Waffle House Monday morning.

Alas, Irma strengthened to Category Four Sunday morning, and the trailer park began to flood. The winds whistled outside as Molly kept an eye on Aurora playing with K'nex inside their double-wide. A shattering crash startled them both and Molly rushed to the door.

Six inches of water slid past the front stoop as Molly gingerly stepped down to assess the situation. The flooding threatened to turn her redneck neighborhood into a flotilla of wannabe arks. A flotsam of recyclables swirled everywhere. Then she spotted her grill knocked over sideways beginning to float away. Molly shook her head then leaped onto her AC unit and managed to lasso the black beast with some clothes-line and secure it to her stoop railing. It was then she noticed the shattered fish tank hung up behind her AC unit. Looking down, she saw her neighbor's red-banded pit viper slither around her ankles.

Never mind that my sister is a superhero and animal lover; she is almost as afraid of snakes as much as I am. As the pit viper wound its way around her sandals, Molly could only stand frozen as wind driven rain whipped by. As the venomous creature climbed her leg in a spiral ascent, she realized it was clearly looking for safety as much as anyone else in this hurricane. Molly held her breath, heart paused at mid-beat, and simply unable to move. Then she heard Aurora behind at the open door call out, Mommy is everything okay?

The thought of her daughter's vulnerability sent a breath into her. Molly willed herself to lean sideways, pushing the trailer door shut to safeguard Aurora and causing her body to deliberately fall into the flowing maelstrom below.

In what seemed like slow motion she fell while reaching down to her thigh and grabbed the viper right behind its neck. Before it had a chance to hiss they both splashed headlong into the swirling, muddy rainwater. The chill shocked her system, but also cooled down the snake's temperature rendering it quite harmless.

Today, my kid sister and fully certified goddess, lives with her daughter in a modest home on the east coast of Florida where she runs her up-and-coming pet care service. In a serpentine helix the words "Nature is cruel, but we don't have to be" now spirals around her arm in wode-blue ink.  As for the pit viper, she donated it to the local nature center where it is cared for to this day. They named it Irma, of course.
















Friday, July 19, 2019

Chocolate Truffles for the Human Spirit #2

This short story was published as part of Tellables' June 2019 Box of Chocolates stories centered on summer romance inspired tales. Box of Chocolates is an Alexa skill you can install to sample monthly short stories narrated by digital, story-telling chocolatiers . If you have an Alexa device, I recommend you give the Box of Chocolates skill a try.

And if you like the idea of writing delicious, super-short stories (100-400 words) by all means check out the Tellables website for story submission guidelines. 



Window Shopping

I was arranging chocolate animal minis when I noticed her window shopping. Her graying, curly hair peaked out from beneath a knitted cap. The curiosity of her demeanor bubbled with youth as she inspected my June display of chocolates. When the half moons of her eyes hove into view with a sweet pinch of a smile, I did a double take.

The year was 1990 and I was in London. Jenevieve was her name, though she went by Vivvy. We were friends in the sixth form a year apart and we had one lukewarm date. By total coincidence, we met again at a King's College cricket match just before my graduation. The summer that followed was all that a young romance could be. We hiked in parks, cooked meals together, read poems to each other, and embraced the sexuality of youth with simmering fervor. I for one had fallen in love.

One conversation on the blower in particular returned to me. It concerned cats. Long before Facebook took feline photos viral we discussed in delicious detail their loving and mysterious, yet scheming natures. I think we talked about nothing else for hours.

Sure enough, though, summer’s end came all too soon and Vivvy returned to university to complete her final year. I heard she moved stateside and never heard from her again.

Until now.

Waking from my reverie I saw the display window was now empty. I went to the door and looked around for the woman I was certain was Vivvy. Alas, no one lingered outside the shop anywhere. Then on the window I saw inscribed in violet lipstick the word “Meow” followed by what I assumed was her number.

With an exhale somewhere between a sigh and a chuckle, I wiped the window clean. Memories of youth held little temptation for a happily married man.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Chocolate Truffles for the Human Spirit #1

This short story was published as part of Tellables' May 2019 Box of Chocolates stories centered on Mother's Day recogniton. Box of Chocolates is an Alexa skill you can install to sample monthly short stories narrated by digital, story-telling chocolatiers . If you have an Alexa device, I recommend you give the Box of Chocolates skill a try.

And if you like the idea of writing delicious, super-short stories (100-400 words) by all means check out the Tellables website for story submission guidelines.





The Orange Praline Surprise


The day I remember most fondly about my mom was back in the seventies, long before I pursued a career in chocolates. At the time I must have been ten years old and mom was organizing breakfast for me and my younger brother and sister. I was a devoted student who became anxious anytime I received a B, still I always seemed to be running behind in getting myself out the door to school. The bus stop was only five hundred feet away from the house, but I always seemed to be running to catch it.

Weekday mornings were cereal breakfasts. This morning was typical and raisin bran, cheerios and cocoa pebbles were on the menu. I preferred a mix of all three. Mom was in charge of pouring the milk to ensure we weren’t dawdling. I had my face buried in a puzzle on the back of the cocoa pebbles, so it was quite the surprise when orange juice plunged into my bowl disrupting the perfect mix of sugar-infused, processed grain.

I protested quite animatedly that my mom had visited injustice on my cereal bowl. My brother and sister laughed hysterically. Mom only smirked. In all honesty I don’t recall if I ate the bowl as is or created a new one from scratch. What I do know is for years I poked fun at my mom for making the mix-up, and she consistently groans sarcastically about how ill treated we kids were. It only occurred to me today that maybe the mix-up was intentional, a morning message to her eldest, most serious son to lighten up.

Here’s to hoping I did!

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Emergence of Story



The evidence is overwhelming that complex systems have arisen through natural means from simpler material states over the past 14 billion years. The self-sorting processes that drove this over-arching evolution required only inherent properties of matter and energy and sufficient time to mix and emerge. 

As such, sub-atomic particles formed atoms formed simple molecules formed complex molecules formed star systems within galactic systems with intergalactic webs. At least once the complex molecules formed organic coding chemistry formed biological life formed animal sentience formed human sapiency formed planetary civilization. 

The proliferation of ordered phenomenon gave us the universe as we now know it. To be sure mysteries abound for scientists and philosophers to puzzle over, but the necssary framework of our world is explainable without need of anything supernatural. And yet stories of overlord deities, black and white magic, and ancient a priori ethical principles abound. Why have these irrational ideas flourished in an era of scientific understanding? Perhaps because stories are the ultimate controlled substance, a quintessential opiate of the mind. 

One might say the true indicator of sapiency is our ability to imagine, create and share stories. Whether of memetic through epic levels, by wielding the abstract idea we are able to pass facts, fiction, and concoctions of both out to others and into the future. These stories intrigue, entertain and influence individuals, groups and entire societies with subtle and direct motifs. 

Story exposition is indeed a kind of magic, a magic that encodes truth and lies to imagine improbable and impossible solutions and scenarios that might just shed a glimmer of insight onto reality.  Sometimes, fictional stories can actually motivate better than their factual counterparts: fairy tales that encourage child safety; dreamy afterlives that give promise of reuniting with loved ones; exciting science-fantasy that inspires us to dream of consistent justice, clean energy and a stable global environment.

One might go so far as to say every thought we possess has its own underlying story or a connection to the wider fabric of stories that humans have woven since campfire tales immemorial.

Still, we must strive to separate fiction from fact in the stories we share, if only to keep ourselves sane. For the unchecked tale can lead people astray, putting true believers themselves and the larger population and ecosystem at risk as well. 

Nevertheless, the emergence of story in the human consciousness has surely accelerated if not permitted outright the rise of humanity on Earth. If our species uses the power of story wisely it can help us harness the best possibilities of reality so that we may coexist and thrive alongside nature. If we wield story with hapless abandon, we risk not only downfall of humanity but also of the living ecosystems we inhabit.

Then again, artificial intelligence may be waiting in the wings, ready to emerge and thrive as the next iteration of complexity.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Third Eye Open


Meditation. It is often associated with eastern religions like Buddhism, but in recent years mindfulness meditation has gone mainstream. The basic idea is to set aside a relaxing period of time to turn your attention inward and observe the very essence of being. At the simplest level of mindfulness practice you need only close your eyes and focus on your natural breathing rhythm, usually in the form of the tickle of airflow coming in and out your nostrils. Meditation is not a time for contemplation, in fact, you'll want to allow any palpable thoughts that do arise to pass in and out of focus. In this way your meditation can achieve a kind of mindful steady state of near nothingness. 

Apps and podcasts abound which can provide guided meditations if you're interested in pursuing this further. Such meditation may very well provide benefits (as with other forms of relaxation) from alleviating stress and refreshing your mind so that you can pursue life outside of meditation with greater verve.

You might also find meditative exercise a unique exploration, and adventure within your personal mindscape where you can brush up against the core insubstantiality of existence. In a sense, meditative practice can also be turned toward joyful entertainment.

Separate from my standard meditations, I occasionally enjoy pursuing a internal visual experience using a similar technique. I still find a quiet place and close my eyes, but instead of focusing on breath, I focus on visual sensation. That is to say I pay special attention to whatever my visual cortex generates while eyes are closed to visual stimuli. In practice, this experience usually starts with a grayish black backdrop mottled with slightly brighter swirls, streaks and spots. I then give all my attention to that array as it morphs in real time. I find if I give greatest attention to a bright area it can amplify and move substantially. The resulting visuals can be quite amazing.

In some of my sessions the backdrop has taken on an analog pixelated nature akin to a star cluster. The faux stars might slowly shift then rapidly swarm in ever more complex patterns, like an abstract cloud of locust. Sometimes I attempt to guide the experience toward a particular color that I note and that artifact might swell into a supernova of brightness. Other times, quite randomly, a high definition image will appear for an instant and then disappear into an impressionist's gray-scale rendition of white noise. Rarely, an image can even self-animate, and I watch with as much detachment as possible so as not to end the experience prematurely.

These experiences are accomplished without any drugs or alcohol. Personally, I find these internal visual meditations quite interesting, as they are very different from recalling a picture or event from memory. In those everyday recollections, the visual is generally quite washed out and abstract in nature; at best a translucent visual overlay.  When I recall a friend's face, an exotic location, or an experience, the mental imagery is adequate to discuss it in detail, but still lacks the vividness of present moment observations this meditative technique creates.

In the end, should you find yourself with some downtime, consider trying out this visual exercise or full blown mindfulness meditation for yourself. For me it has provided an intriguing, calming way to shut out the external, and often chaotic world, for a short while. It isn't necessarily easy to push away the rapid fire of thoughts our modern brains are trained for; still, meditation can provide a unique path to start the day fresh or to end the day with a fun exercise.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Mitigating Deep Impacts



As I prepare to head off traveling for pleasure, research has been at the forefront of my effort to ensure timely flights, lodging and activities. Focused on upcoming adventures its rather easy for me to ignore the implicit impact of my trip on the environment. Sadly, the foundational credo of contemporary consumerism is to consume without considering these factors.

Importantly, we live in an age where climate change is in the process of steamrolling our planet. The global effort underway to counteract that planet changing force is minimal at best, and every creature and ecosystem (and future generations thereof) on the planet will suffer the consequences. But what can I do?

The most effective thing one can do is reduce ones environmental footprint where possible, both in everyday life and in on adventures beyond! Minimizing fossil fuel use, biking and walking when possible, eating more sustainably, choosing solar and wind power, and in general consuming less of the industrial world's output is a good place to start. In aggregate, the human population putting this reductions in effect can make a major difference.

Still, we all want to pursue rewarding activities to have a fulfilling life, which at times requires using imperfect resources. Still, we can optimize the ethicality of our choices with a little additional effort and a charitable mindset. To start with one can plan low impact eco-travel like backpacking, or taking trips close to home which require low resource use. Getting away from the ones daily routine need not be a jet-setting itinerary.

If we do choose to fly to exotic places, we can consider financially offsetting the additional impact. To that ends there are many carbon footprint calculators out there. Here is one by Conservation International I found straightforward which I used to estimate my annual impact at about 18 tons of CO2. Surprisingly, my annual flight impact is a significant percentage of that total.

One would hope responsible airlines would be required to include carbon offsets in their ticket price; alas, in the current free market it is voluntary and thus rare. Perhaps, that will change, at least one can take responsibility into ones own hands buy purchasing an offset from a certified program such as these. These programs support projects (with verification) that counter climate changing behavior by preserving oxygen producing forests, reducing developing world fossil fuel use, and the like.

For me, my annual impact can be offset for a couple hundred dollars, about twenty dollars for my flight itineraries. Indeed, this is not a painless action for me or anyone who maintains a lean budget. It can feel like you're burning money when this is entirely voluntary. On the other hand, if you consider your offsets as part of your annual charitable donation toward an under-served cause, these contributions become part of anticipated and responsible travel expenses.

In a better regulated marketplace the cost of maintaining a sustainable global environment would be included in the costs of products and activities in which we participate. Perhaps one day national and international leadership will incorporate those policy changes; in the meantime, making carbon offset purchases on our own in our travel as we are able is one step down the honorable path in environmental conservation.


Monday, March 25, 2019

States of Change: Chapter 21 Prairie (Illinois)


States of Change is an ongoing work of serial fiction.
The speculative story-line seeks to inspire thought on ethics, culture and our planet's future.

The year is 2076, decades after Oosa's defederalization. 
Fifty independent States have forged their societies from revolutionary technology and ideology.
Prominently, The Augment, a real-time, virtual overlay of sensory data 
has become widely available for personal use throughout many of the post-fed nation-states.






Against a windswept cumulus-filled sky the kilometer high anthromorph defies gravity and all the cube square law physics taught in Sci 101. The rippling, naked muscle of the Representative construct steams with infrared sizzle. Obsidian black tattoos of barbed wire spiral around the bipedal beast highlighting all cap razor-wire font spelling INDUSTRY across its bare chest. With quaking footsteps, the Representative lumbers forward through the desiccated, brown fields of hybrid-wheat and soy looking warily about for opposition party Representatives.

"Ok, Helia, tell us what we're looking at as we kick off the Illinois' thirtieth Prairie Open." 

"Well, Raj,  Ever since the Great Divide the people of Illinois have prided themselves in being part of the virtual political process. Today, we here at Digital Freedom are eager to report, retweet and react as the party constructs battle it out for the livelihood of the people. The agricultural backdrop chosen by the populace for this year's Prairie Open is quite unexpected. Yes the landscape is symbolic of the state-wide economic downturn, but a wide open battlefield provides little opportunity for smaller, independent forces to mount effective guerrilla tactics in the political sand-box environment."

"Pixel sharp summary, Helia. Can you detail what measures are in place to quell the insidious rumors that the Prairie Open  simulation engine is rigged?"

"Solid Q, Raj. The current version of Prairie Open simulation engine is orders of magnitude more complex than the Twitter and Fortnite platforms it was evolved from. In the past, PoliGames Limited has cited proprietary security protocols as uncrackable, even though internal and public access validation have been criticized by several third-party security firms.  This year all results will be verified in real-time by the latest block-chain accountability routines. In short, all that happens here today will reflect the real choices of Illinois voters acting through their in-game Representatives."

"Impressive, Helia. Well let's turn back to the simulation to see if any other Reps have shown up to challenge the Industry status quo."

Lens flares dance beneath racing clouds as the in-environment camera POV slides skyward profiling the powerful construct of the Industry Rep. The anthropic behemoth flexes it skyscraper limbs broadcasting confidence it has from years of policy conquest. Suddenly, a circular shock pulse rushes from the horizon through the expanse of vegetation at the Industry  As the wave of force hits, the giant construct stumbles as in-rushing wind pummels it to the point where it is forced to its knees to steady its monstrous mass. In less than a minute, the wind dies down to silence and the Industry Rep roars a great mocking laugh at its invisible attacker. Then, in a flash a rune of fractal patterns thousands of hectares wide appears around the Industry Rep, intensifying from subdued orange to molten silver. The fields as one leap aflame immolating the construct with a fire cyclone three kilometers high. 

"Sweet Mohammed, what in Chicago just happened, Helia?"

"Breathtaking politics, Raj. Simply wow! The block-chain feed confirms the flame sorcery was fueled by several secular labor political action committees. Real-time influence of the working citizenry is also in play. Still, in all  the decades I've been reporting Illinois politainment I've never seen the will of the people surge with such commitment and unity so early on, let alone with such tantalizing eye-crack. In previous political seasons the people have typically divided their real-time attacks across the twenty-four hour engagement period."

"Quite the opening attack, indeed, Helia. Any thoughts on what impact this could have on policy?

"Let's see Raj. Working citizens across the Augment are celebrating cautiously. A contract revolution reducing labor hours is perhaps the most optimistic projection at this point."

"One zero, Helia. After that fiery onslaught, I'm sure everyone plugged in is waiting with bated breath to see if the Industry Rep can emerge to maintain economic policy favoring its supporters. Let's check back in on the sim to find out."

Streaming clouds part around the towering helix of flame. The Industry Rep within the charcoal trimmed blaze extends both massive arms out at right angles to its torso and roars from within the pyre. The thunderous howl shifts up an octave into an eerie latinesque chant. Like streaming video in high-speed reverse the flame and smoke retract into the construct's scarred surface. The Industry Rep, still bent at the knee, and pulls its scorched, waxen arms inward to form the universal gesture for "go fuck yourself."  From a glitter of pixels, a golden halo appears above Industry's head and then glides around it to form a translucent hemispherical defense barrier. A smirk slithers onto Industry's face as its extended arm erupts in metal and flesh transforming into an immense chainsaw. The undulating weapon reverberates across the sim-space daring any remaining party construct to challenge its supremacy further. 

"A jaw dropping response by Industry, don't you agree Helia?"

"Absolutely, Raj. The secular labor junta has obviously failed to fully subdue the Industry Rep. The feeds indicate the spiritual extremist block has allied with Industry to solidify Contract Omega by invoking existing theologic sleeper clauses. If I had to guess, I'd say secular labor has spent its mojo too early on and will now be lucky if it can leverage any concessions with Industry this cycle.  The Industry cabal forums in the Augment are raging with much delight at how the Prairie Open is unfolding."

"Well programmed analysis, Helia. What happens next is anyone's guess!"

The Industry behemoth arches its head high from its kneeling position amidst the incinerated remains of the virtual landscape. Industry's defiant posture invites any additional attack other party's might throw at it. Suddenly the Industry Rep's sneer turns to a grimace as its stance turns unbalanced. Three kelp-like tentacles erupt from the ground, two wrapping and pulling Industry's legs deep below the surface while one entangles itself in the chainsaw arm. With hardened flesh and metal grinding the tentacle pulls the mechanized arm downward with enough force to swing it decisively into Industry's naked, sexless crotch.  An explosion of carnage splatters against Industry's force field coating the inside surface making it opaque. 

"Oh! My! Manhood!"

"That's surely what Industry is thinking at the moment, Raj. By all appearances, the Nature Representative has taken on a subterranean form powered up from Labor's first-strike ashes. My intel from the feeds is preliminary, but it also appears the Justice Representative may have merged with the Nature construct to form a construct of Cthululian proportions. The move has certainly put the Industry Rep position in great jeopardy. If Nature and Justice can maintain their dominance over Industry we may see some major advance in state-wide environmental restoration policy. How this might benefit Secular Labor, given their early sacrifice, has yet to be known."

"Indeed Helia, clearly, this year's Prairie Open has many surprises in store, and we are barely one hour in. Well, stay tuned Illinois as we continue to stream all the action your way."

Friday, March 8, 2019

Inherit the Wind - a film review

Inherit the Wind (1960) Spencer Tracy and Fredric March


As a belated Darwin Day treat to myself I finally got around to watching the lionized film Inherit the Wind, the theatrical adaptation of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. As I watched, it seemed incredible the movie was ever made, let alone in the heart of a conservative era 60 years ago. The atheist versus theist overtones create quite the backdrop for a court case that would argue if evolution should be taught in the public classroom.

And that's where my primary surprise kicked in. The film has very little to do with evolution, instead it accurately represents the basis of The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, in that it represents a state's lawful ability to prevent a teacher's right to teach science. Further, I was expecting significantly more discussion of the merits of evolution by natural selection as opposed to creation stories. Alas, the primary thrust of the film was to make a stand for human agency, and how a state can legislate against a man's right to think for himself and to teach ideas to his students. The subtle implication is a teacher should be able to teach what they wish in their classroom, either science or pseudoscience.

Side note, I researched the actual trial and ironically it turns out the high school teacher probably didn't even teach evolution is his class, as he was primarily a math teacher. So much for representing the true story. I'll concede, the acting in the film is steadfast, even if the courtroom arguments become quite jumbled. The courtroom drama of To Kill a Mockingbird, in comparison, I found to be more compelling overall. 

As an non-theist, you might think I'd celebrate the breakdown of the blowhard evangelist prosecutor in the film, alas it was more of a sad representation of how indoctrination can overwhelm our senses, rather than find a position of integrity that integrates compassion and reason.

In the end, this film is worth watching as it does offer several thoughtful nuggets to contemplate along the way. Sadly, the verdict of the trial results in a victory for the state and a fine of Scopes, who is portrayed as a modest religious believer simply trying to teach his kids the latest science. For me, this verdict serves as vindication for religious overreach and celebration of cognitive dissonance; specifically, that one can heartily believe in a creationist origin of man simultaneous with the evidence-based origin of man. In 60's parlance, that's a bunch of poppycock in my book, to encourage students to dismiss consistency and reason in favor of feel-good mythical indoctrination.

The story ending presents perhaps the most harrowing of the film's symbolism. First of all, the journalist who had championed the court case is shamed in the final scene by the defense lawyer for having stirred up the fervor of religion versus science. To be sure, he had profit and showmanship in mind, but underlying those motives lies the journalistic virtue of seeking out the truth with integrity. To suggest that the reporter would die alone indicated to me that mindful discussion of important topics is anathema if it contradicts tradition.

The second act of symbolism dramatizes the defense lawyer contemplating the bible and Darwin's evolutionary treatise before thoughtfully walking out with both in hand. One could stretch the meaning of the gesture to represent that compassion and reason can make for good partners in the pursuit of truth. Alas, the less subtle point being sold is the idea that religion and science need not conflict, and in fact, might be stronger together. And that is how Hollywood sells tickets by creating a fantastical moment that moves the phantom spirit, more than mind and heart.


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Second Date Spirals (a belated valentine poem)


friendly eyes and lip-gloss allure
across the table her aura I adore
velvety smooth and aglow like lava
the tomato bisque arrives--sans guava
soon to follow comes an errant fly
spiraling about us like Cupid's spy

her smile sharpens, she winks at me
telegraphing a sultry date number three?
focused on flirting she twirls her spoon
glimmering photons from the super moon
from on high the fly descends between lunar beams
plunging deep into rosy puree muffles its screams

a fly in her soup, how trite
a fly now drowning out of sight
and bent on killing our budding romance
so my mind does a mental break-dance
where fear finds me on the spot
inspiring a circle of thought

cycle of life, a fly three days old
having flown its trajectory quite bold
foraged, copulated and explored a-wing
its helix of dna now passed on to offspring
once itself a larva implanted upon poop
Lucilia sericata, now the fly in her soup

frozen across from my date I remain
a maelstrom within wants to exclaim
distract her, swap bowls and wittily quip
yet I watch her spoon fall in an eloquent dip
she gives a sniff, a slurp then, to me, a devilish wink
with a grim crunch the green bottle fly is now extinct

aghast at my thin chivalrous display
an epic failure to warn her away
with a wily nod she motions me close, surely to question
to scold, to spite, to implode any chance of future affection
my internal regret whirls emoting why oh why
as she slyly whispers "that was one delicious fly"