In honor of the new CIA Directory, Gina Haspel, who was very much involved with the CIA torture program during the last time we had a republican president who surrounded himself with vile, cruel and downright terrible people, pigeon weather productions presents the immortal words of Barack Obama: We tortured some folks.
Sometimes a story has momentum, sometimes that only goes so far. We’ll see how far this one goes. It’s already gone through several title changes, from “IBU” to “IBU: a white whole situation”, to “September and the Situation” to, finally, “The White Hole Situation“. It’s kind of a fun story to write. One could riff all day on the implications of technology and the benign attitude towards it as reflected in the original star trek series and in “white male sixties moon shot sci fi” in general.
Sci Fi is one of many (most?) fields long dominated by the white western male human. The realm has been opening up more and more to women and people from other regions and groups in general, and that’s got to be a good thing. As a white male science fiction writer, it doesn’t bother me at all. I use the analogy of a shower. If you want a nice warm shower, you can’t just have the hot water turned up all the way and the cold water off. No, you need to adjust the mix until you get it just right. So to let more non-white non-male writers into all of these fields, you’ve got to turn down one knob and turn up the other. There’s an expected backlash, as with affirmative action and desegregation and any other program attempting to redress imbalance, but I’m sorry if you were born at the wrong time for your turn. Everybody else who’s not like you has been born at the wrong time for centuries.
Anyway, I digress.
Back in those days, technology was going to solve every problem, ease every load, make the impossible not only possible but easy. Warp speed? Sure. Teleportation? Why not. Handheld devices that not only diagnose but cure every ailment? You got it. All you have to do is talk to the thing.
“Computer,” you say, followed by your heart’s desire.
Everybody on board is assigned a rank and some color uniform. There’s hierarchy and patriarchy in full force, for no good reason, really, since the machine does everything. And the machine is only for good. Now and then they dabbled with some danger coming from that side of things, but in the end, pure reason saves the day and men are rational creatures who might be a bit hot-headed but damned handsome and charming as fuck.
So what’s it like to live in such a world? What could be wrong? What could you complain about? What if the technology continued on that trend for another two hundred years. By that time, it gets so good that it has pretty much figured it all out. Smooth as clockwork, smooth as silk, smooth as the whole space-time continuum. The universe is a hologram, says Stephen Hawking.
There’s no Matrix in this one, no Twelve Monkeys, no horrible future, no dystopia, just a bunch of randos minding their own business and living their lives in a world that’s been made perfect just for them. Of course, something is bound to go horribly wrong. Otherwise where’s the plot? But what if a tree falls in a forest and the computer doesn’t let anybody see it? Was there a tree? Was there a forest? Who is the dreamer and what is the dream? (ok, I stole that line from some peak TV show. Damn they’re good these days – I especially recommend Twin Peaks, Atlanta, Babylon Berlin, The Dark, Legion, and Superstore)
I always thought the universe of Star Trek was a little too good to be true. They’ve managed to solve pretty much all the problems of humanity and become total good guys in space. How is the whole thing not a fantasy? How is it not really happening in the Matrix? It’s a virtual reality game which includes its own virtual reality games (holodecks and whatnot). What’s most amazing is how they solved all those problems using computers but without any of the now-commonplace worries about artificial intelligence. It’s all pre-Terminator stuff, I know, but come on. Where did all that starry-eyed idealism come from, but even more importantly, where did it go?
Can you smell the shift from dystopia back to utopia? Positive futurism is going to be making a comeback so I figured I’d hop on board with that – too soon, way too soon of course – and at the same time explore this optimism a little bit with my usual cynical eye. I’ve started this exploration on Wattpad under the title I.B.U. (which in my mind stands for universal basic income, but backwards). That Star Trek world has no inequality, has no racial or gender bigotry, and the implication was abundance for all somehow, and everyone has the freedom and opportunity to explore their own personal sense of mission. What would that really be like, especially keeping in mind the kinds of technology that might make this possible?
I have some plot ideas that may or may not work out. We’ll see. It could be another false start – that happens – but for now it seems to have at least a little momentum.
When I was five years old I wanted to have a life’s work. I didn’t know what that meant. I just overheard my mother use that phrase. She said it as if it was something very valuable, something not many people possessed, only the very lucky few. She said she was not one of those people. As far as she could tell, she would spend the rest of her days doing other people’s laundry and taking out their trash. So I asked her, if you could have a life’s work, what would it be? She thought about it for a moment, and then said, you know? I can’t think of anything!
I was not happy with that answer. I was only five, and didn’t have much experience with the world, so I couldn’t think of anything either, but I decided right then and there to make it my mission to…
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I rarely use this space for daily chronicles but today I feel like it. I spent the past few days on the road, a small vacation between jobs, while my family is away on a trip of their own. It was the first time I’d gone camping without any family or friends in (literally) decades, and it was nice to do exactly what I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted, with no discussions or debates. The idea was to see some parts of Northern California that I somehow had never seen before, despite having lived here so long. Destination number one: Humboldt County.
The drive up north starts to get beautiful above Cloverdale, and more and more so as you get to Benbow and beyond – this just off the highway is a glimpse of the South Fork of the Eel River
I’d originally planned to camp near Eureka but changed my mind after searching online a bit more, and was glad I did. The original spot, on Humboldt Bay at Samoa, was not for me – it was meant for off-road dirt-bike people, so I went on, to Big Lagoon, a bit further north.
The Big Lagoon is a sand-locked lake of sorts, one of several like it in a row along that stretch of coast. A spit separates it from the Pacific, which periodically breaches through and refreshes the lagoon. I had intended to go out in the kayak there but the wind was ferocious and I’m too old for that so I just set up camp and rode around on my bike for a while. Among my campground neighbors was one guy incessantly searching the grounds with a metal detector, some old folks in vans and a couple of local shifty drug dealers. It’s certainly not the season to be up there, and in general the north coast is no place to make a decent living. It’s all lumber, paper mills and shipping along with the usual crappy retail jobs. Eureka – the largest town around – struck me as a poor man’s Santa Cruz, and a much colder one.
The cold and wind kept up all night, with a bit of a rain in the morning, which prompted me to get up before dawn, pack up and hit the road. I was glad I did. Trinidad harbor at dawn was a beautiful sight.
I’d thought about camping at Agate Beach in Patrick’s Point State Park so I headed up there and looked around. I spent the morning climbing up and down cliffs and walking along the coast. There are a lot of pretty agate stones lining the beach.
I was a bit restless, though, so I got back in the truck and drove on down to Humboldt Redwoods State Park. I wasn’t expecting much – I already live among the coastal redwoods and am used to those glorious beings, but this place was something else entirely. For one thing, there was the river.
And then the forest there is quite different from my coastal ones – the terrain is flat rather than mountainous, so you can hike for hours like a casual stroll, and rather than the enormous ancient redwood being the anomaly among much younger trees (my area was mostly clear-cut in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and replanted), here there are many, many giants.
I was not done with the day yet. I had wanted to break out the kayak that morning but where to go now? I was already headed south so I checked the map and noticed a rather large body of water – Clear Lake, in Lake County. I’d heard of this place for years but had never been because it’s mostly for motor-boats and fisher people but the weather looked good and I had never been, so what the heck. A couple hours’ drive took me there (and now I know where the cherry orchards are now that they’ve been run completely out of Silicon Valley to make way for endless concrete and all the world’s data).
Ah, much warmer and calmer! But it was not just a big old lake, there are feeder creeks and sloughs that were very nice to paddle around
The campground there was also nice and mostly deserted this early in the season, so it was a relaxing place to spend the rest of the day. From a dawn on the ocean to a dusk on an inland stream, with a forest of giant redwoods in between, it was a pretty good day on the road.
In May of 1976 I dropped out of George Washington University where I had been majoring in history, and went to work at a bookstore in Washington DC. My job was in the basement where I sat in front of an old wooden file cabinet, typing up index cards on a decrepit manual typewriter (not even electric). These cards would contain information about every book that came into the store – their title, author, quantity and date received, price, discount, invoice number and invoice date. All of that data was needed for when the store needed to return unsold copies. I later did that job as well, typing up forms to publishers requesting permission to return N copies of such-and-such books, originally received on such and such a date, at price X, invoice number Y, invoice date Z. Then when the publisher replied, by mail, with permissions, I would type up a packing slip and pack up the books, handing them over to the shipping clerk, my friend R. I worked in that basement for several seasons, through freezing winters and boiling summers in that unheated, low-ceilinged dungeon, in the company of an incomparable cast of characters, from the enormous and imperious boss-lady A., a.k.a. the King of the Basement, to T., the 6’6″ towering, bombastic and hilarious black male Queen of the Basement (who later joined the navy to become a dentist while stranded on a ship at sea along with 600 other physically fit young men), with the scrawny and shady K., soon fired for smoking hash down there as well as for selling it out the back door, with L., the outspoken and dramatic revolutionary actress whose alleged boyfriend was an active rebel fighter in the Philippines, and R., the son of a diplomat who had once smuggled his beauty-queen-and-top-chef wife out of Czechoslovakia in the trunk of his limousine during the height of the Cold War. There were some others down there in the basement during those years whose faces and names I have forgotten. I was smoking dope every day by that point in my life as well as smoking cigarettes and drinking at least a dozen cups of coffee a day and barely eating anything but rice and beans and living on less than three dollars an hour. I can still see myself sitting there wearing wool gloves and a wool cap pulled down around my ears, watching my breath rise in the frigid air as I frozenly typed away at those sorry index cards. There were no computers, far from it. There were no databases and there was no automation. It was old-school Charles Dickens’ Christmas-Carol-style labor down there, a far cry from the desk in the office I currently occupy in a skyscraper overlooking much of the most modern region of this most modern world. In the end, I’m still just typing. The physical act remains the same. It’s been a 40+ year horizontal and vertical translation, from the east coast to the west, from youth to old age, from manual data entry to software engineering, from poverty to comfort, and I look at my son and the young people surrounding me at work every day, and I don’t know whether to envy them or pity them for how they are starting out their careers at the top rather than having to work their way up from the bottom. I’ve seen how everything turns 180 degrees or more over the long run. I sometimes worry about them and their future, but mostly I know it’s theirs and not mine to worry about. I’m still just typing, even now, at this very moment, same as ever.
Viveca Ornstein is another great example. She was born in the backwoods of rural Arkansas to a drunken mother and enabling brother. At the age of three she realized she was meant to lead. By seven she was already bossing around her several siblings, nieces and nephews, and at twelve she had already earned enough Victory green stamps to purchase a push lawnmower. These achievements only fueled her ambitions. She was destined for greatness, or if not greatness, at least not simply mere goodness. Her official biography states that on her twenty first birthday she changed her name to Rama bin Lama and began her decade-long training in the Himalayas with the famed burglar and lousy chef, Kor-e-na-ghe-na-san. Like many others who had come before her, Viveca stumbled on her path. Ultimately it did not lead to glory but to an early death due to pneumonia contracted while cross-country skiing in Utah.