Wednesday, April 22, 2020

haiku kudos

pandemic heroes
science, compassion, courage
healthful progress now

Friday, April 17, 2020

States of Change: Chapter 25: Natural (Arkansas)

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 unique societies from revolutionary technology and ideology.

[Session header/footer unhidden per creator request]
[Creator construct C67 credentials verified]
[Format: serial novel/English written word] 
[Submission initiated: index 2076.09.06.TK14F.C67] 

Well, I figured it was about time I knocked down the fourth wall in my States of Change chronicles. I'm hopeful my contemporary stories to date have portrayed the current era from unique and enlightening perspectives. As a third level construct, my capability of blending realism and irony in human based story-lines borders, admittedly, on the near side of adequate. The greats like Austen, Hemingway and Heinlein focused more on character development and world building, still, I'm proud of the glimpses of contemporary human civilization I've achieved. To be honest, I'm rather self-conscious when it comes to representing the human experience. The internal processes of human beings are inherently a mystery to my sub-routines so I always run a post analysis to confirm the validity of my representations.  But hasn't the challenge to story tellers, even those who are human, always been to create something new. How else, except by expressing ideas beyond ones own experience can one hope to press upward in understanding conscious existence.

But I digress. Here we are in Arkansas, and for the first time in this serial, there are no contemporary human stories to tell. For just over twenty years now there hasn't been a single living human in Arkansas. The State's institutionalized naturopathic policies is mostly to blame. Herbal supplements, ethereal prayer and reiki therapy, as it turns out, were utterly useless in the fight against the CM-51 outbreak. The annual arrivals of the hybrid corona-measles virus systematically eradicated the Arkansas population by 2053. Those who did not emigrate outside of Arkansas perished. And for reasons I'll let you speculate on, no human has returned to Arkansas since.

Still I remain an ambitious story teller, and it would be quite at odds with my planned fifty State serial format to skip one in my extended tale. With research and dexterity, a creative mind can extract a few vintage stories from the scattering of millions of dead humans who have become permanent residents of Arkansas. 

Apologies for the extended preamble. Enjoy!


Inside the rusty remains of a chicken farm complex in Star City, Arkansas lies the body of the one-time owner. His nylon safety suit has kept the organic contents quite moist for decades. In contrast, the twenty thousand chicken skeletons surrounding him are quite desiccated. The owner had often professed his love for his chickens, or rather the business of raising chickens. He may never have shed a tear for their living conditions or the thousand sent to slaughter each day. All the same, they were his livelihood, so the peace loving part of him somehow managed to contend with the mass killing. In fact, he wasn't unaware of his cognitive dissonance, but since the State didn't subsidize lab grown meat practices, what choice did he have. The fact that his poultry business encouraged the mutation of the CM-51 virus ended up being a bad trade-off for the market force driven demand for authentic poultry umami flavors.  


Elsewhere in Arkansas, beneath the collapsed weight of a Springdale spirit-medicine ward the corpse of a nine year old girl slowly composts, alongside hundreds of her peers. Strapped snugly to her lichen covered skull, the primitive augmented reality module gleams day-glo orange.  The VisAR unit lies dormant patiently waiting for twelve volts of DC power to restart its software code. The integrity of the files remains high, so much so that her digital flower castle artwork, the tween-guru chanting schedule, and most of the standardized Arkansas education programming remains intact. The most accessed app on the device is Nature Princess. Ostensibly a science program, the edu-tainment learning experience follows the journey of a teenager who acquires superpowers through spirit animal consultations and nature based alchemy. One of the level bosses is a CM-51 virus supersized to the size of a mountain so as to permit dramatic flying unicorn and sunbeam attacks. Her final score status in memory amounts to twenty ruby hearts and fifty platinum stars, achievements for learning homeopathic remedies and reincarnation stages, respectively. 


In Little Rock, Arkansas to the south, the kilometer-high Tabernacle spire dedicated to Gaia still stands. At the building's core, beneath expansive lattice atria the Arkansas' Head Shaman rests transformed by time into a mummy entombed in ivy.  The southern window of her marble-lined office suite provides sufficient light that the whole space is upholstered in thick velvety moss from floor to ceiling. Less than a meter from her, an extensive library of confiscated journals is safely locked behind stainless steel. Most of them document prevention, treatments and effective policy recommendations shared by other States, States that were unnaturally preoccupied with science-based solutions to the spread of CM-51. This humid cavern provides ample habitat year-round now, suitable for numerous species of colorful beetles, moths and silverfish. In the corner to the northeast, beneath a statue of Shiva, a once endangered spider has just finished crafting its nest. Her clutch of three hundred odd eggs will likely hatch before the day is out.

[Story submission complete]
[Default header/footer status restored]

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

urban hike

step by step I walk
upon neighborhood pavement
grey alongside green 

Monday, April 13, 2020

Jesus Returns

"...come on dude, handguns are irrational and dangerous. Statistics show that if you keep a firearm at home personal injuries and fatalities are more likely especially when trying to defend yourself against an attacker. Everyone would be safer if they were banned."

"You got it wrong, Tom. Gun regulation is simply anti-American! It is our constitutional, God-given right to bear arms, to defend oneself. Sure, owning a weapon isn't without risk, but if you're attacked you have to be willing to kill someone, you can't hesitate, otherwise having a handgun is useless."

The heated conversation might seem to indicate otherwise, but Pete and Tom are best buddies. They've known each other since before kindergarten and had been on uncountable adventures side-by-side since the 1970's. In their fifties now, instead of exploring the icy crick that ran between their properties or climbing to the precipice of Angels Landing in Zion National Park, they were on an early morning run to pick up groceries for the local soup kitchen.

"C'mon Pete. As a Christian, wouldn't Jesus disagree with your violent line of thought? Wouldn't having pepper spray handy be better than carrying a dangerous handgun."

"Pepper spray! What if you're family is being attacked and you spray yourself by accident or the spray button fails. Handguns are more reliable. And you don't believe in Jesus anyway, so don't even go there!"

"I'm trying to persuade you, Pete. As a secular humanist I try to make decisions based on Compassion and Reason.  I figure since you're a Christian you'd be influenced by the 'turn the other cheek' and 'love thy neighbor' platitudes Jesus allegedly made. If not, I guess it goes to show that believing in Judeo-Christian fan-fiction has weakened your mind with magical thinking. You're essentially brainwashed."

"Well if I'm so brainwashed, it only shows how foolish I am for continuing to be your friend. As far as Jesus saying to 'turn the other cheek,' he never said not to carry a firearm to defend yourself against evil too. Frankly, you should be happy that I'm a believer. Without my faith in Jesus I would have axed your atheist butt years ago!"

"Ahh, so now belief in the Jesus myth is all that prevents you from unleashing violence even on me. If only your pious faith encouraged you to stop supporting the meat industry; their abusive, dare I say 'evil,' practices are the incarnate epitome of violence visited upon the most innocent of 'God's creatures.'"

"Screw that. Clancy and Jesse are proof that I am an animal lover to the bone. And meat eating is consistent with my beliefs too. Jesus himself ate meat, he fed the multitudes with fish. It's right there in the Bible plain as day, if you remember any of your Christian upbringing. And humans need to eat meat to be healthy, anyway."

"You know that's untrue. I've been vegan for years. We could feed the world and conserve it so much better.... Oh, never mind, we've been down this road before. We should just agree to disagree."

"Sounds to me like you're a sore loser. I bet if Jesus were here he'd set you and your gay-loving, liberal views straight."

"Really Pete? You know there's as little chance of me being reconverted to Christianity as there is of you eating an Impossible Burger, so let's leave it..."

Route 132 is gray desolation this early on a Sunday. In the distance the sun peeks like a lava flow over the vanishing point of bleak roadway. It is then the object falls from the sky.

Like an otherworldly meteor a bolt of fluttering, white fabric streaks down and slams into the roadway a hundred feet in front of the SUV Tom is driving. Only the automatic brakes prevent a collision as the vehicle screeches to a halt.

On the tarmac before them, a cloaked figure rises from a three-point pose overused by CGI superheroes. And yet, more real than reality itself, this being looks up through the dimness through an aura of halogen headlights to meet the gazes of Tom and Pete. The bluest of eyes and calmest of smiles shine forth within a radiance meters in diameter. Then, the bearded figure walks toward them.  In unison, Tom and Pete exit the SUV to meet the apparition on the barren road. For once in their lives while together they are speechless.

Time stands still, for it is Jesus.

"Peter Frederick Hesse. I am here, the answer to the prayers of your ever faithful heart."

The pause is dramatic, but also unfathomably loving. It is as if each particle glistens with compassion as Jesus considers the moment, the two men, and the Universe through every exhaled word.

"Thomas Lucien Miller, let's go for a ride, that is if you can spare five minutes."

Tom nods and returns quietly to the driver's seat.

"Jesus. Is that really you? I, I, I..."

Climbing into the SUV, Jesus pats Pete on the shoulder with a gentleness of knowing.

"Don't worry Peter, I got this."

The SUV drives off making a turn onto Cherry Blossom Drive as Pete waits on the shoulder, his mind racing. He cannot believe that Jesus has come again. Actually, he hadn't prayed specifically for this. In fact, his nighttime prayers of late had been kind of lackluster. Self-assessing, part of him rages unconsciously with jealousy that his disbelieving friend is the one who gets to spend time with Jesus Christ, his Savior. I am left alone on the road while the lucky bastard has a one-on-one with Jesus himself.

Yet somehow, Pete manages to find a bit of selflessness within. He realizes grudgingly that one third of the Holy Trinity is right now addressing the need of his friend's atheist-infected soul. Yes, Pete acknowledges, his own belief has already saved him. And maybe even he has earned a special place in Heaven for himself given the fact that Jesus responded to his unspoken prayers. He contemplates how extraordinary this event is, how after more than two thousand years Jesus Christ, the Savior of Mankind, has finally made an appearance. Pete's muscles and mind tingle with excitement as he contemplates the sensational interviews he will give, the best seller books he will write, the streaming YouTube talks he will monetize about his personal, one-of-a-kind connection to the second coming of Christ the Lord.

Five minutes or an eternity pass, there is no difference from Pete's perspective. The SUV pulls up alongside him on Route 132 and the robed Nazarene steps out. Jesus's eyes are more angelic than before and he pats Pete on the shoulder once more. The presence of the God made Man is almost too much to bear. Pete's breath is frozen.

"He's all yours, Peter."

Jesus turns back to Tom with a glowing smile and nods.

"Thanks, my friend. The evidence and compassionate underpinnings are clear. I'm going to implement environmentalism, veganism and scientific skepticism more fully here on out.  And I now see why even I should doubt myself, albeit with gentle kindness."

With the Sermon on the Route complete, Jesus's form dissolves into a silhouette of scintillation as each molecule of his holy body vanishes to return wherever He had been before.

Pete's face turns beet red and with a grunt he hops into the SUV and slams the door.

"Fuck Jesus, I'm still not ever going vegan. And fuck you! Meat! Meat! Meat! I'm buying the most expensive steaks for the food kitchen, with my own money to boot. So shut the fuck up and drive!"

Tom's smile wanes and inside he winces. The joyful tears that had gathered at the corners of his eyes turn acrid. For the first time doubt haunts him. In the moment the feeling burns like bile in his sinuses.  With sudden fear, he wonders, has his lifelong friendship with Pete finally met its reckoning? Killed by of all things by Jesus, the myth himself.

In silence, he drives on.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Deconstructing Sacredness

I find it striking how a joyful behavior can derive from the most unthinking, shallow and twisted origins. For eons, humans have developed ideals, behavioral norms alongside enticing stories to consecrate questionable sapient experiences in the real world. Indeed, it's surprising how much cognitive dissonance permits the amount of back-flipping through smoke-disguised mirrors that happens.

Take for instance the storybook vignette of someone in love doubting their lover's romantic interest in them. The person in question plucks a many-petaled flower from the environment and aware at the periphery of the mind of its beauty gives their attention to a most heinous act. One by one the lover in want plucks petals in binary delusion. Destroying a pretty object--a living thing now dying all the more quickly because it has been plucked-- in systematic fashion as if invoking an archaic magic spell. With subtle ferocity each petal's removal cycles the mind through a fantasy of attaining victory, then defeat in love. No matter the outcome, the lovesick mind may indeed be healed in the moment by this psychological alchemy. But at what cost: a moment of solace in exchange for the willful immolation of something delicate, defenseless and which might have been observed with awe from a distance.

Such is the conjuring of sacredness in the human mind. When we create value from delusional aspirations and wishful thinking, we potentially ignore the harm done to the greater world so long as some small ecstasy is reinforced within us. Taking this to extreme might dictate that all things sacred are actually evil at their root. The more subtle conclusion is that human behavior is complex and should be taken in context with its surroundings. Although it can be mesmerizing to consider human love, human rights and human desire as things of utmost sacred value, perhaps we need to ratchet their worth down a bit while ratcheting up the value of our natural surroundings with the intentional, compassionate pursuit of long term balance.

True goodness implements a wiser feedback loop.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

This Year, Humanity Is Nature's April Fool

A ditch filled with endangered pangolins (humans soon to laugh)

Humans got some major payback this year. We once again played with viral fire and now we are getting severely burned. Anyone who has read Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel understands that animal husbandry and wildlife hunting are the breeding grounds for plague.  Covid-19 like so many other diseases occur because of excessive human interaction with animals.

News update: our species is a product of evolution by natural selection; the lies a dozen religious origin myths tell are magical, fictitious thinking pure and simple. No gods or collective universe energy will be coming to our rescue in this crisis; it's up to us. Unlike our animal cousins we have the scientific tools to understand and to protect ourselves better from pathological plagues like the novel corona virus. 

In general, non-human animals are biologically similar enough to humans to permit mutated pathogens to occasionally jump the species barrier. These zoonotic diseases are natural mutations exacerbated by human practices. Sure, we have accumulated scientific wisdom to battle against these "acts" of Nature, but we fools in we do so little in the way of prevention.  

How can we significantly reduce zoonotic occurrences like H1N1 (swine flu) H5N1 (avian flu), and SARS (bat incubated pathogen tbd), and Covid-19 (pangolin incubated virus tbd)? The well-reasoned, straight-forward answer is we can stop imprisoning and harvesting as many animals as possible and shift faster toward using plant agriculture as a substitute for for all the unnecessary animal products our culture has blindly kept as archaic ("because we like them") carnist traditions. 

Each of us, our communities and civilization as a whole can choose a better path. Yes, we can fight zoonotic diseases with medical technology once there's an outbreak, but an ounce of prevention in this case is worth a mega-metric tons of cure!  A solid preventative consideration to start us down that road is choosing to transition society toward being vegan aligned. At its heart compassion and reason make veganism a foundational ethic of goodness for everyone. Indeed, whole plant food diets can also be healthier, but when it comes down to it eliminating animal husbandry and hunting would be a boon for the health of our planet and our species. 

Individually we can help in this way to avoid the next zoonotic pandemic, but we also need inspired leaders that encourage a healthy global ethic.  If we don't, Nature will only more frequently throw catastrophe pie in our collective faces.