The Problem with Perpetuity, Paradox, and Paroxysmal Perspicacity

When things are going well for me–when everything is in its right place, and there is that perfect balance of forward motion, productivity, and randomness–there occurs a phenomenon that I’ve never shared with anyone until now. It’s just a little thing, a small quirk, but when I notice myself doing it I can’t help but chuckle, and then, in noticing it I inadvertently give it life.

By this point, if you know me at all whether this cyber-phantom me, or the real life version, you know I tend to live in my own little universe of oddities and eccentricities. I’m an absurdist in some sense, and in practice I suppose I’m an adherent to the tenets of a conglomerate faith, the prophets of which are people like Douglas Adams, J.R. “Bob” Dobbs, Kilgore Trout, Bokonon, Rick Sanchez, Tom Stoppard, Professor Peter Schickele, and the renowned German Baroque composer Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern-schplenden-schlitter-crasscrenbon-fried-digger-dingle-dangle-dongle-dungle-burstein-von-knacker-thrasher-apple-banger-horowitz-ticolensic-grander-knotty-spelltinkle-grandlich-grumble-meyer-spelterwasser-kurstlich-himbleeisen-bahnwagen-gutenabend-bitte-ein-nürnburger-bratwustle-gerspurten-mitzweimache-luber-hundsfut-gumberaber-shönendanker-kalbsfleisch-mittler-aucher von Hautkopft of Ulm. I allow myself to be guided along the surface of reality by strange winds, and like a Velella velella I’m not so much a unique individual as a collective perpetuation of other humans’ collective perpetuations of other human’s collective perpetuations of other humans’ anomalous experiences.

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I experience life as one might expect of a thirty-something male having been born in 1978 whose daily intake of culture includes heavy doses of tokusatsu, Uncle Remus, Marvel Comics, and Raymond Smullyan’s This Book Needs No Title.

Coincidentally, if you don’t know Raymond Smullyan, he died earlier this year, and I’m sad to have just learned this. I found him quite by accident, and it is through his guidance that I have come to accept that bricks can disappear.

I’m something of a quantum absurdist, and that really means nothing more than I believe in science fact only as it allows for the absurd and improbable. (Note to self before I publish this: Don’t forget to mention paradox somehow, but make sure you at least erase this) Multiple parallel universes, infinite improbability, the absence and impossibility of nothing, these are all concepts I believe in, but they are borrowed concepts leached from other people’s brilliance and/or psychoses. I’d be happy to believe that a giraffe runs the universe in a small bunker somewhere underneath Perth, as long as there is a school of thought that insists that this is actually impossible. I can be neckbeardish in my “well, actually” as I scoff at the word impossible itself. I believe in the improbable probability of impossible things being probably just merely improbable.

So back to this thing I do.

I definitely have a tempo that I fall into when I’m in a good mood. It’s not quite your tempo, but it’s steady. Without fail, when I fall into this rhythm, one of two marches begin to play in my head. The first being “The British Grenadiers” complete with internal “tow, row, row, row, row, rows”, and the second being “The Liberty Bell” complete with Bronx cheer. My exposure to the latter is probably obvious to you, and if not I’ll leave it to you to look it up, and the former most assuredly comes from similar exposure to a certain episode of Mr. Bean, a certain series of Black Adder, and the Spielberg film The Empire of the Sun.

When I first watched Empire of the Sun, I had no idea who J.G. Ballard was. It was one of the first adult dramas I watched and felt a deep yet inexplicable connection to. I’m fairly sure the film was running on HBO at the time, so I had several opportunities to rewatch it. It was one of the first VHS tapes that I purchased for myself. You know, it’s funny … as I’m casually dipping in and out of wikipedia for dates and facts I suddenly learn that the screenplay for Empire of the Sun was originally adapted by Tom Stoppard. So there’s that. And Paul McGann, too. And a duck with a brick in its mouth. Physics!

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I spent most of my extra money in the late 90s on VHS tapes, and later DVDs, and I purchased most of all three media types from Suncoast Motion Picture Company at Collin Creek Mall. It’s there that I discovered, for the first time mind you, that there was more than just one Doctor. I had only been exposed to Tom Baker through late night viewings of Doctor Who on PBS. I remember picking up The Web Planet and feeling a sense of awe that carried on until I popped the tape into my VCR and saw the old familiar BBC “ribbon” intro, followed by the original Ron Grainer theme music. That same “ribbon” intro would grace the beginnings of a huge swath of my VHS collection most notably Black Adder, The Young Ones, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Red Dwarf, and of course many, many Doctor Who episodes.

See, things are getting a bit circular.

Eventually, Suncoast closed and I was forced to turn to Barnes and Noble (this is pre-Amazon by the way), and it was there that I spent entirely too much money on fantasy novels. I always present myself as something of a science fiction aficionado, but it’s a fairly new feather in my cap. While I could spend hours in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of any bookstore, it was for a very long time only fantasy that interested me. Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Robert Aspirin, Piers Anthony.  I remember vividly perusing the wire racks at Half Price Books in Dallas (the old 2-story one) and finding the 2nd Edition Silver Jubilee Lord of the Rings paperbacks. These still are my favorite physical copies of any book I have ever owned. I lost my original Two Towers to a flood in North Carolina around 2000, and my Fellowship of the Ring is falling apart, but I have the others. You may have seen them if you ever lurk around the SF/F section of Half Price Books.

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I recently purchased Asimov’s Chronology of the World from the Half Price Books that replaced that old location, and now, being familiar with Asimov, I’m not surprised that this book is exactly what I have been looking for centuries (pun!). From the Big Bang to Big Bird and everything in between, it is simply all of history condensed and explored through all its connecting threads delivered as only Isaac Asimov could. It’s what should be the textbook used in grade school history. I’m using it as a catalytic or sorts to guide my own explorations of the history of the human race, and I must absolutely do it in order.

You see, I have a problem. Some people turn to drink, others to hard drugs. Some people become slaves to their sexual desires, and some run the gamut of all possible vice. I just simply prefer to do things randomly in order. I get little tingles from doing it, and yes, it is an addiction. I have a spreadsheet that I open every day that lists out for me four things that I should attempt to accomplish in that day. Each suggestion is from a different category, and the categories are: Productivity, Culture, Knowledge, and Escapism. You may already know this about me, but many of you don’t. I had stopped doing this for a while and it made every day feel like I was letting the universe slip away from me. For the past two weeks, I’ve been nailing the list daily (almost). Each category is drawing from a list of possible pursuits, and it’s doing so randomly using a formula I borrowed from a more avid coder than myself. If nothing else, it has kept me writing. I’ll give you some examples. Productivity is a list of novels in process, from Ageless to Mike and the Magic Closet, that I’m continuously working to complete. It also includes “general blog” (*salute*) which is what I’m doing today. Culture contains a list of all the television shows I’m currently watching (in order, mind you) from Star Trek: Voyager, to 70s era tokusatsu, to Game of Thrones. Knowledge contains academic pursuits, math, language, history etc. It’s in this category that Asimov’s Chronology of the World comes into play. And finally Escapism is video games. You may ask yourself: Where does that highway go to? No … you may ask yourself, where do I find the time to do all of these things? Honestly, most of the time I don’t, but I try to at least complete one per day and let the others carry over until I complete them. What it’s done is to allow me a way to hold myself accountable while using my obsessive random-but-in-orderliness to complete what I feel are important projects that help me grow to be a more complete human being. Sure, some of these pursuits are pure masturbation of a sort, but in the end, doing these things makes me happy.

Going through life in this way has made me extremely aware of the trope. I see Doctor Who in Len Wein’s Bronze Age Marvel, I connect Malkovich to The Turtles.

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Friends of the ABC – I get that reference!

When things are going well for me–when everything is in its right place, and there is that perfect balance of forward motion, productivity, and randomness–there occurs a phenomenon that I’ve never shared with anyone until now. It’s just a little thing, a small quirk, but when I notice myself doing it I can’t help but chuckle, and then, in noticing it I inadvertently give it life.

I am Ian Malcolm’s drop of water.

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I am your worst nightmare opponent in Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, which, times being what they are, isn’t what it used to be. Thank you IMBD.

Yes … times being what they are … so, what are they?

Indign.

And me being the two sides of me that I am, which am I?

One of us always tells the truth, and the other one always lies.

Rest in Peace, Raymond Smullyan. You made paradox my Kevin Bacon, and Malkovich my Iphigenia in Brooklyn. Running knows …

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Oh, what a lie!!

Day Thirty-Eight – Gehenna

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The impact of the plasma round against the retaining wall sent shrapnel through Cool Monkey Dataskunk’s cloak. His stunt flip off the wall had been effective as a dodge, but at the cost of his high dollar accessory. Upon landing, he dropped the canvas bag he was carrying to the ground and angrily ripped the cloak from his shoulders.

“I paid thirty ambasolls for this!” Cool Monkey Dataskunk screamed to the enforcer squad still firing rounds at him. Spotlights converged on his location, throwing shadows across the broken retaining wall that elongated his already gangling silhouette. As the next salvo of plasma rounds screamed through the night, CMD smirked and sidestepped out of their trajectory.

Casually, the master thief snatched up the canvas bag and sprinted away, a series of small explosions following him. The retaining wall curved for about two hundred yards around the reservoir’s northern edge. Even as he continued along the path, he could see enforcer drones kicking up spray as they skimmed over the water’s surface.

“I count five, Lippy,” CMD panted into his headset. He anticipated the strafing that should have sliced him in half, and, throwing himself into a slide, he cleanly avoided the crackling plasma rounds as they passed harmlessly over him. Kicking his heel into the path as he continued to slide, he propelled himself back into his sprint and continued on. Enforcer drones had big guns, but they reacted slowly. Taking a wide strafing arc like that one had would cost it a few seconds in getting back on target, and CMD used that to his advantage.

“More like twenty,” came the response in his ear. “There’s a squad trying to cut you off at the spillway. I’m headed down.”

Angling toward the retaining wall, CMD leaped and scaled it in two upward strides. The dirt slope that the wall was holding was packed tight and only minimally eroded under his heavy footfall. The sharp slope leveled out to a more gradual incline of dirt with sparse grass and shrubbery and formed a fairly large hill that he decided to ascend.

Below him, the spotlights continued on down the path of his anticipated trajectory, and so wavered momentarily before finding his new path.

CMD took an erratic path up the slope to avoid the shots aimed at his back, and soon it was raining dirt all around him. He couldn’t see the summit of his climb, only black sky devoid of stars or moon.

The Eurobeat intensified in his ear as it responded to the increase in pulse and breathing. He cursed the enforcers for ruining his cloak–it would have given a nice theatrical touch to his ascent, billowing out behind him as he scrambled towards escape. The sawing synth assaulted his senses, and he grated his teeth as another wave of adrenaline coursed through his body.

Another sound, overwhelming even the eardrum-shattering Eurobeat rattling his bones, shook the entire slope as he angled sharply, avoiding another strafe of plasma. Above him, a shockwave rippled the air as Lippy’s mech jumped in.

The mech, one hundred feet tall from foot to helmet, was shaped vaguely like a reptilian humanoid. It’s hands and feet sported titanium claws that served no real purpose other than to look imposing. The mech’s real weapons were the dozen or so plasma cannons arrayed around it’s torso, reaching over its shoulders, under its arms. It hovered briefly in mid-air before Lippy shut off the rockets and dropped to the summit directly above CMD.

“Oh shit,” CMD exclaimed.

The summit above him collapsed under the weight of the massive mech and a wave of dirt and rock cascaded down the slope toward his position.

There was nowhere for him to run, up or down, left or right. The slide was going to hit him full force.

“God dammit, Lippy!” he screamed into his headset. “I had this one!”

Lippy did not respond. His cannons were already firing, tearing the enforcer drones to shreds across the reservoir.

As CMD hesitated, the spotlights found him. The plasma rounds ripped through his body and impacted on the slope in front of him. The canvas bag slipped from his fingers and rolled down the slope even as the landslide rolled over him. Its contents, dozens of small blue crystals, poured out of holes the shrapnel had cut.

For Cool Monkey Dataskunk, everything faded to white …

*

… which didn’t exactly make sense. Normally, things faded to black. Gerald Hanes, career criminal and murderer of three, reached for the release switch that would disconnect him from his VR suite, only this time, there was no switch. There was no reality to greet him. It had been a few weeks since he had exited the suite, and disorientation was common, but this was different.

His vision was filled with nothing but white, and he couldn’t blink or shut his eyes to make it go away. It was as if he didn’t have eyes at all.

He couldn’t see his hands, his body. He couldn’t feel himself breathing. He had no sensation of touch, smell, taste. No spatial awareness, just white.

And it stayed white for a very long time before Gerald Hanes, the convict who existed as Cool Monkey Dataskunk in his virtual reality prison, began to panic.

*

When the disorientation did come, it was instantaneous. One second there was nothing but white, and in the next he was sitting in one of the therapy rooms. It had been a while since he had been in one, but he recognized the two-way mirror, the yellow tinted flourescents overhead, the camera in the corner. You could tell it had been an interrogation room in some other life and they hadn’t changed the decor.

Gerald was handcuffed, wrists and ankles, to a metal chair, and across the metal table from him was the warden of his prison.

Gerald probably would have said hello to the man if his brain had not kept screaming at him that the white nothing had lasted for centuries. He couldn’t get the thought out of his mind that, though he was obviously alive and well now, he had existed in that white hell of nothing for eternity.

“Mr. Hanes,” the Warden began. “I have some bad news for you.”

“What happened to me?” Gerald asked. He half expected it to be difficult to talk, as if his extended time outside of reality would have atrophied his vocal cords or facial muscles, but everything felt normal.

“There will be time for questions in a moment,” the Warden assured him. “First I have some formalities to get out of the way.”

There was a piece of paper on the table that the Warden then picked up and turned over.

“As a certified and elected Warden of the Criminal Justice Sector of the Global Federation, North American Division C,” the Warden began to read from the piece of paper, “I must inform you that the Criminal Rehabilitation and Alternative Social Contribution Act that has given you the opportunity to serve your sentence with access to the virtual and therapeutic reality known as the Yard has been repealed.”

The Warden looked up briefly at Gerald who made no indication that he intended to react to anything said so far.

“Effectively immediately, your sentence will be served in an alternate virtual imprisonment without the possibility of parole or termination, until such time as the energy benefit of your human body is no longer viable. Due to the violent nature of the crime you have committed and have been sentenced for, no appeals will be allowed, and you will end your existence within the virtual reality in which your sentence will be served.”

Gerald had listened, but the revelation was still forthcoming.

“Do you have any questions, Mr. Hanes?” the Warden asked politely. He was very business-like, but Gerald could detect something different in him. It was pity, of a sort, perhaps even guilt. He had done this before. He was going to have to do this again.

“So, I have to keep playing my game, basically,” Gerald replied. “And I can’t come out of it anymore?”

“For the most part, the routine stays the same, at least on this side of things,” the Warden explained. “You will be plugged in. Your body will generate energy that will be stored for future use by society. Your body will have its organ systems commandeered as needed to produce enzymes, proteins, antibodies, etc. to be used by medical science to perpetuate the lives of the populace. Your organs will be cloned as needed for transplants. A portion of your brain’s computational and storage capacity will be used to supplement the larger Global Federation Corebase.”

“But I can’t come back?” Gerald surmised. “I’ll be in this other place, forever, until I die.”

“You’ll likely live on past what your lifespan would have been on the outside world, but yes. Your life functions will eventually terminate and you will die in the suite, and you won’t even realize that you’ve died. Things will simply go–”

“White?” Gerald asked. “I felt like I was already dead. What was that?”

The Warden nodded knowingly. “We had to take you offline for a time while the system was switched over. I hope it wasn’t too unsettling.”

“I didn’t feel anything,” Gerald said, taking a deep breath. “Just … just nothing. How long was I like that?”

The Warden, not answering the question, folded up the paper and slipped it into an inside suit jacket pocket. “It won’t be long now. The system is booting up and you’ll be ready to begin the rest of your sentence.” Without further explanation, the Warden stood and pushed his chair back from him.

“Wait!” Gerald demanded. “I have more questions! You said I could ask questions. I should be able to ask questions if I’m going to die in there. I want to know.” He struggled briefly in his seat, but the handcuffs were tight against the chair’s arms and legs.

The Warden looked impatient and sighed before taking a seat again. “It’s your right, yes. But, I should warn you that you’d be better off just beginning your sentence now.”

“How long was I in the white?” Gerald asked immediately.

“Twenty-eight days,” the Warden responded flatly.

Gerald thought that it had been longer. He had spent well more than twenty-eight days in the suite without exiting before. “That’s all?”

“You were placed in a coma for a time,” the Warden explained. “We implanted new therapeutic systems in your body and integrated them with your nervous system. As a result, you’re going to notice the simulation is going feel quite realistic. In fact, you’ll be slightly hyper-sensitive. Consider it an upgrade.”

“Can I communicate with my family while I’m in there?” Gerald asked after a moment.

“I’m afraid not, Mr. Hanes,” the Warden explained. “You’ll never directly communicate with another human being again.”

In truth, that was alright with Gerald. He hated his family and society even more. Gerald began to think this wasn’t so bad.

“I won’t feel anything when I die? I’ll just … go?”

“You will simply cease to live.”

Gerald nodded slowly. “That’s not so bad.” The big questions were out of the way, and Gerald started thinking about the little things.

“Do I get to keep Cool Monkey Dataskunk?” he asked, grinning with slight embarrassment.

“I’m sorry,” the Warden said, his face crumpling with confusion. “Cool monkey what?”

“My character in the suite,” Gerald explained. “I had chosen an action/adventure simulation. It’s all I ever really did in there. I could never get used to the straight social lobbies, or the sex stuff, you know. I just wanted the thrill. I didn’t mind the therapy sessions though. I had chosen a very foxy therapist, made some good progress with myself, I’d say. I get to keep all that, right?”

The Warden didn’t answer right away. His lips pressed tight slightly, and he looked away before reluctantly answering the question.

“That particular genre of simulation has been eliminated from the system,” the Warden stated flatly. “The mandatory therapy sessions are also no longer a part of your sentencing, so I’m afraid you won’t be returning to anything familiar. Any stored states of the simulation that you may have generated have already been deleted. All future therapy will be directly applied via the implants that have just been installed in you.”

“So…what kind of simulations do I have to choose from?” Gerald asked.

Again, the Warden appeared uncomfortable, guilty, ashamed.

“Mr. Hanes,” he answered with a pained look on his face. “I’ll have to give you a bit of a history lesson, since you’ve not elected to be kept up to date with what has occurred outside your simulations. Here on the outside, the world has changed. Certain sentiments have come back into play that once were almost eradicated centuries ago.”

Gerald’s heart began to beat a little faster.

The Warden continued. “In the last twenty years or so, the catastrophic environmental changes occurring on the planet have turned a large section of the populace back to religion. When science has been unable to undo what greed has wrought, the people looked away from science for answers, and those answers came from the old texts: the Bible, the Quran.”

The Warden paused.

“It’s a different world, Mr. Hanes. A better world for those in it, but it’s a stricter world. Crime must be deterred for order to reign, and the best deterrence, in the opinion of the newly elected leaders of our now increasingly religious society, is the promise of punishment.”

“What’s in there?” Gerald Hanes asked, his knuckles white as his hands uncontrollably clamped down on the arms of his chair.

“They call it Gehenna. I understand it has some connection to the Bible, or some other text, but it’s really just a name,” the Warden explained. Again, the Warden stood and pushed his chair back.

“What is it?” Gerald asked desperately.

“Whatever real Hell there might be out there in the afterlife, Mr. Hanes,” the Warden explained, “the people can’t be sure of what they can’t see. They’ve created a Hell for criminals that they know is worthy punishment, and a powerful deterrent. While our number of intakes has dropped dramatically, the Global Federation, after unanimous consent by the populace, has decreed that all criminal detainees in the system prior to the creation of Gehenna will now serve out their sentences there.”

“Wait! No!” Gerald yelled. He pulled desperately at his binding, jerking  with his whole body to try and free himself. “I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go!”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Hanes,” the Warden said. “You’re already here.”

With that, the simulation of the Warden and the interrogation room ended.

Gerald Hanes was no longer seated handcuffed to a chair. He was standing in a wasteland of black rock and lakes of fire. The heat pressed on him from all angles, and as the Warden promised, he was hyper-sensitive to his surroundings.

It felt real as the burning air was pulled into his lungs. He felt the sharp rock knife into his flesh as he collapsed to his knees.

In the distance, a creature standing over three hundred feet tall began to stride over the black hills and lakes of fire toward him.

Gerald Hanes screamed in primal terror and pain as the simulated demon reached down to claim his soul.

Snippets

It’s been over ten years since I was fortunate enough to have been a composition editor for a small Texas daily.  I have a thousand stories I could tell you about my adventures in Central Texas. I’d prefer not to, as many strange and terrible things befell me in that dark place. I could tell you about the good things I took away from it, but where would be the fun in that. So, while the stories I have to tell you about my time as a composition editor for a small Texas daily aren’t exactly strange and terrible, they aren’t exactly good memories either.

First, let me explain what a composition editor (or at least my version of it) does for the periodical he serves. I worked for a small daily newspaper – though I am unable to find record of it, I believe we were the smallest daily in circulation in Texas at the time – and for six days out of the week, one other composition editor and myself built the contents of the daily. My specific duty was to fluff the middle, meaning that front page and the sports section were off-limits, leaving in my sole control the opinion, lifestyle, local and world news sections. At least, I think we had those sections. It was a long time ago. It was left up to me to peruse the Associated Press wire and obtain wholesome stories that would befit a small Texas daily. Starting at the end of 2002 I was privileged to be the man that brought quality news to the loyal readership of the area in question.

The wire, at that time, was a treasure trove of spectacular happenings that today’s news makes look like a Sunday School Southern Maid Donut Jamboree.

One of the first stories I remember pulling over covered the formation of the Department of Homeland Security. It started a daily ritual of finding the most left-leaning yet right-apologetic pieces I could find. Lots of moderate bullshit that left a bad taste in my mouth – but not near what foulness you’d find in other locals. I thought Bush was a gold mine, but Jesus … if it had been Trump back then. The Editor-in-Chief usually had final say in most big news stories, and especially if he decided to pull them onto the front page. However, since that genuinely nice old man was more concerned with his own stories looking good on the front page, he usually gave anything beyond it a pass. And that’s where I had the opportunity to push just a little of my own agenda.

Not long after the start of 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas. My superior told me that morning that he had driven all over Central Texas looking for debris to photograph for the paper, but at press time, I was left with stealing pics from another local paper, with due credit given, of course. I remember the story I was tasked to run was more about the debris and the people scrambling to claim some than the lives lost. It was a brief but chilly lesson.

Months later, the Iraq War began. The Human Genome was completed to 99.99% accuracy. Mars made its closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years. NO SERIOUSLY, this is when that actually happened, look it up. I remember running that story because I had a telescope at my disposal and actually saw Mars for the first time, icecaps and all. Gregory Peck, Bob Hope, Johnny and June Carter Cash, Katharine Hepburn, Barry White, Gregory Hines, Charles Bronson, and Art Carney and many, many others died that year – which is pretty interesting because when you look at all the people that died in 2003 compared to say 2016, it’s not as if the deceased were of any less caliber or any less noticeable frequency – but 2016 was the year that social media declared that everyone was dying and cursed the year for it.

And there’s the big difference between being a composition editor in 2005 and being something similar in 2017 – news, true or fake, is a virus. It spreads from page to page. We share it, spread it around, leave traces of it on all our devices. Like modern medical science gone horribly wrong, what was once something that a skilled hand would take from secure and trusted sources and administer to the public in controlled and safe snippets is suddenly obtainable either over-the-counter or on the street corner, depending on which type of news you prefer.

I admit, I do get a bit of a buzz from the hyped-up, conspiracy theory, I-just-cooked-this-shit-up-in-a-bathtub-in-my-granddaddy’s-abandoned-hoarder-house brand of news that comes from the orifices of people like Alex Jones, but I prefer the brand name stuff in the end. Reddit.

Which brings me to my first aside: Reddit. I’ve only been visiting Reddit for about a year. I don’t want you to see my subscriptions, but I’ll tell you I have two logins, and each have very different content. I don’t have time to explain Reddit to you if you don’t know of it. Look it up.

I used to be a straight subscription browser. I never deviated from the hottest posts from my chosen subs. And then there was r/all, and things escalated quickly. Now, my Reddit day begins with r/all, moves to r/worldnews, then to r/news, then usually to … well, modesty forbids me.

I can’t stand Twitter. I scroll quickly through Facebook to see what people are pulling from Reddit.  I can lurk on Reddit, but Facebook and Twitter feel like I’m either stalking or being assaulted.

Anyway, try some r/popping sometime.

Back to 2005. The first six-party talks occur to discuss how to deal with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. I remember being really disappointed and terrified by the thought of a country like North Korea having nuclear weapons. I also remember my editor laughing about it. I remember lots of people saying it would never happen. I remember convincing myself that there is no way we’d allow something so stupid to happen.

And here we are, one Kim falls, another takes his place and they now have nuclear weapons. Yay Earth! Good job!

Aside #2: Have you ever read The United States Strategic Bombing Survey’s The Effects of Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki from 1946? I have. I have read a physical copy of it that I obtained from sources close to myself. You won’t have this source, but you can just read it here. Maps aren’t in the PDF, but here’s a shot of the copy I have access to, plus one of the maps.

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In 1946, they didn’t have all the information on the long term effects of these bombings, but even so, this is the conclusion from the report:

Our national policy has consistently had as one of its basic principles the maintenance of peace. Based on our ideals of justice and of peaceful development of our resources, this disinterested policy has been reinforced by our clear lack of anything to gain from war–even in victory. No more forceful arguments for peace than the sight of the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have ever been devised. As the developer and exploiter of this ominous weapon, our nation has a responsibility, which no American should shirk, to lead in establishing and implementing the international guarantees and controls which will prevent its future use.

Why do we find it so easy to dismiss the fact that the dropping of Atomic Bombs on these two cities in Japan is one of the most heinous acts of war in history? It’s easily dismissed, I suppose, when those two acts helped end one of the worst wars of our brief existence. It should have ended all wars. It should have woken us up to the fact that our idiocy and ego had gained us the trigger to our own destruction.

And look where we were in 2005. Twelve years later, and we haven’t learned much or accomplished anything. North Korea has nukes. We’re still effectively at war. Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

We don’t learn.

It reminds me of a tale I once read. I feel nervous about telling you where I read it, times being what they are.

Let me explain.

You might or might not be familiar with a controversial film released by Disney called Song of the South. It’s based on stories by Joel Chandler Harris, derived from classic African and Native American folktales. You know, Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, Uncle Remus and the like. I saw the last theatrical release of this film in 1986, and I couldn’t tell you why it was considered racist then, but I do understand the controversy now. Back then, it was just a Disney movie with anthropomorphic rabbits, foxes, bears, etc. It was a Disney movie, I was a kid.

Some time after I left that newspaper and turned my life around, I took a little trip to Archer City and visited Larry McMurtry’s Booked Up – a massive collection of used books taking up several buildings off the town square.

After hours in sweltering heat, I came away with one single book:

The Complete Tales of Uncle Remus

Why did I grab it? I don’t know. It seemed like something I might not find again. I’m a completionist, and here was the COMPLETE Uncle Remus.

I felt guilty about it, and for the socially prescribed reasons. It sat in my book queue for a decade before it finally came up in my random draw that I do.

It’s morbid.

Forget the stereotypical dialogue, which you can’t really say isn’t a good attempt by Harris to capture the feel of the spoken word as it was relayed to him–the tales gathered therein are folklore, akin to Aesop’s Fables, that instructed and entertained, and that share similarities across many cultures from the American South, to Native American Tribes, to Africa, to ancient India. The tales focus on the hero-prankster Br’er Rabbit, who lies, cheats, tricks, and outright murders just as many peaceful woodland creatures as you can imagine.

There’s the familiar tarbaby tale, which was part of the Disney film. There’s a version of the tortoise and the hare race that many of us know from Bugs Bunny and the like.

Then there’s the one about how Br’er Rabbit trapped Br’er Wolf in a box and poured boiling water on him until he died. Fair play, right? I mean ole Wolfie would have eaten Br’er Rabbit eventually.

What about the time Br’er Rabbit tricked and then trapped Br’er Wolf in a hollow tree and burned him alive.

Like I said earlier, We Don’t Learn. Just like the woodland creatures that continue to associate with Br’er Rabbit after he steals their food, sets them against each other, AND MURDERS THEM. We don’t learn. It reminds me of a story.

Once upon a time, Br’er Rabbit tricked and killed Br’er Fox, cut off his head, and then tried to feed it to Br’er Fox’s wife and children.

I shit you not.

It’s morbid AF.

Sweet dreams children.