Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

I'm just trying to develop an online body of work (even if the work is throwaway nonsense) to advance my writing career.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

What On Gliese 581 C Is That?

Just this month, scientists discovered a planet about twenty light years away that may have properties similar to those of Earth. It's about the same distance from its star, a red dwarf known as Gliese 581, and is about fifty percent larger than the Earth. Although it cannot be directly observed yet, some suspect it may provide conditions amenable to life.

If life does exist on the not-so-cleverly named Gliese 581 C, I hope the inhabitants of said planet also refer to their home as Gliese 581 C and not some other ridiculous name we'd all have to learn. And certainly they can't call the place the Gliese 581 C equivalent of "Earth" because that would be simply unacceptable. We've got to draw the line somewhere when it comes to planetary plagiarism.

At only twenty light years distant, this new planet would certainly have received some of our radio and television signals by now, which may explain why we haven't heard back from them. At this point in time, they would just be discovering "The Cosby Show" so if they like that, perhaps we'll receive some signals of their favorite sitcom in another twenty years, something with the exact same plot as "Gilligan's Island", maybe entitled "Lonita Ver Tubik". If this does occur, we would have to consider very seriously severing all contact with this newly discovered civilization.

Unless we develop some astonishing technology, our prospects of traveling to this new world anytime soon are absurdly remote. It's a shame, really, because whose curiosity isn't aroused by the thought of another life-bearing planet? Endless possibilities just beyond our grasp while questions abound. Not only questions of whether or not life exists there, but what kind of organisms? Is their life still in its infancy or has it advanced far ahead of our own? And do they have that same ridiculous superstition about spilling salt, the one where you have to toss it over your shoulder? How do these things get started, anyway?

For the moment, these are unanswerable questions, but if we've learned anything from science, it's that even some of the most elusive mysteries can be unraveled. I would not be shocked within the next few years to receive a message, intentional or otherwise, from a group of organized and intelligent creatures on that distant outpost called Gliese 581 C. But it had better be a polite message; otherwise, I'll find a way to send an endless loop of "Mandy" across the galaxy. How does that taste, aliens?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Myth of the Cicada Killer

This is a short story I wrote some time ago. It's my first insertion of fiction into this blog, unless you count statistics.

Myth of the Cicada Killer

When the man called Calvin rode atop the noisy green thing to shorten the green grass, she inevitably found all manner of interesting things to look at and pounce upon. So after the roar of the green thing faded to a distant enough part of the large yard, she would wander among the freshly mown grass swatting at anything that moved and many things that didn’t. Her leaps and pounces onto frequently invisible prey always ignited amused mockery when observed by her human caretakers.

"Look, Kayana is attacking nothing again," one of them would shout, and she would hear laughter in the distance, sometimes of only the woman and the child, other times of all three if the man had put away the noisy green thing. Their ridicule never bothered her, though. These creatures, after all, willingly covered themselves in water almost every morning. What could they know?

One late summer day, Calvin mistakenly ran the noisy green thing over an elevated clump of grass, exposing a small patch of earth and sand. She moved quickly to investigate the site, but at first found nothing to keep her attention. Before long, however, she observed definite activity in the vicinity of the newly found dirt mound. The following afternoon, she noticed a tiny burrow had been dug in the area; what was more, the burrowing creature was still at it, as she could see by the slight vibrations just beneath the sandy soil. She immediately put paws and claws to work, batting at the motion and caving in some of the miniscule tunnel. Before long, a creature emerged from the burrow, and it did not look at all friendly. It had wings and yellow and black bands around its body and carried a fierce, determined look. Kayana reared back and waved her front paws at the beast, but it did not attack or even appear to take much notice of her. Instead, it began repairing the damage Kayana had done to the burrow. At that moment, she heard a loud buzzing approaching from behind; she whirled to find a smaller version of the same animal, but far more aggressive. It harangued her for several moments as she made vain efforts to swat it, even once lunging straight up in the air in an attempt to bring down the pest. Presently, Calvin swept her up into his arms.

"Crazy cat," he cried, dashing away from the dirt mound and her antagonist as quickly as he could.

She struggled to free herself, but his grip was strong. Soon, she was back in the house, agitated, but also slightly relieved that he had extricated her from something she could not have hoped to escape on her own. Not that she was physically incapable of simply running away, but she was, after all, a cat.

"You won’t believe what Kayana did," said Calvin, breathlessly, as the woman and child looked on, perplexed.

"She was going head to head with a pair of cicada killers," he continued. "Those things are so dangerous!"

Dangerous. Kayana wished now she were back outside playing, frolicking with the creatures. How were they dangerous?

"How are they dangerous?" asked the child.

"They have a very painful sting," Calvin explained. "And if you have an allergy or go into shock when they sting you, you can get very sick, so stay away from them."
The child looked shaken, but kept its poise and nodded.

After that, Kayana could not resist stealing a glance at the cicada killers whenever she had a chance. Generally, Calvin would appear before too long and whisk her away from the area, but not before she leered at the large, placid digging wasp and the smaller, more bellicose flying one. On occasion, she would witness the large one dragging around another flying bug, presumably a cicada; hence the name. She was never stung.

Toward the end of summer, she found herself half-napping on a window ledge in the early evening sun when she heard Calvin call to the rest of the family, his voice both cheerful and astonished.

"I’ve been reading about cicada killers," he said, "and it’s very confusing."

The others asked how this was the case; by this time, Kayana had made her way into the same room, her ears perked and her sleepy eyes clear.

"Well, first of all, the big wasp down in the burrow is the female and the little one who buzzes around your head when you get close is the male. She’s nesting and he’s guarding. Thing is, males can’t sting at all. Only females can."

This sounded about right to Kayana. The male had bluster and bravado, like Wrecks, the loudly barking neighbor dog, but the female had the truly powerful weapon.

"But there seems to be some question as to how strong the cicada killer sting really is," he continued, "When we were kids, they told us it hurt more than any bee, wasp or hornet, that it was the worst thing to get stung by. Some of what I’ve read backs that up. But others claim the sting is just a kind of urban legend, that it feels like a pin prick or sweat bee sting."

The other two agreed this was strange.

"So maybe I’ve been protecting doofus here," he indicated, pointing to Kayana and snickering, "from nothing more than a pin prick."

"Well, how do we find out for sure?" asked the woman.

"I don’t know," Calvin replied, "but I’m not gonna be the one to get stung myself and I don’t recommend any of us do that, you included, Kayana."

Now Kayana had to know. What did the cicada killer sting really feel like? She decided to conduct an experiment to find out for certain, to prove herself to Calvin, whom she knew loved her despite often referring to her as "doofus", "knucklehead", "twitface" and "bonehead cat". It was Calvin, after all, who had taken her away from that place with all the other cats. It was he who fed her and protected her. The woman was kind enough, but only in an obligatory, common decency sort of way and the child ought to have its eyes scratched out for the things it did to her. But Calvin. She would prove herself to Calvin, establish her value by revealing the genuine nature of the cicada killer sting.

This would not be easy. The female, she recalled, was conspicuously non-aggressive. How could she provoke it enough to sting? Following several days of napping, eating, prowling around the stairs and occasionally pondering, she arrived at the obvious answer. Only the neighbor dog Wrecks could be annoying enough to induce the female cicada killer into stinging, and since she did not really wish to feel the sting herself, even if it did prove only a pin prick, she decided it was the perfect solution. Anyway, no one else would be dumb enough for her to hoodwink, aside from the child, who deserved it, but she knew Calvin would never forgive her.

Her plan worked faster and more effectively than even she could have imagined. With the dew-kissed grass of early morning at her feet, Kayana sauntered over to the neighbor’s yard and begin to hiss at Wrecks, who took the bait and lumbered after her. Wrecks didn’t run fast, in part because he couldn’t, but also because he wasn’t really trying to catch and maul her as his barks may have hinted; he merely wanted to play.

Kayana halted at the dirt mound and began to plunge her claws lightly into the cicada killer’s tunnel, just enough to get it moving, she hoped. The male did not seem to be around. Typical. She then flopped on her belly and rolled around, blissfully inviting Wrecks to join her in a friendly wrestling match. He stopped dead on the dirt mound, saw the cicada killer in motion beneath the ground and stuck his nose into the tunnel. The big wasp made a loud buzzing sound and shot upward from what was left of the tunnel. Suddenly airborne, it rocketed straight up and lunged toward the dog’s back. For a moment, all fell silent. Then Wrecks emitted an earsplitting howl of agony and rolled over on his back, in a near apoplectic fit. He clambered to his feet and bounded back to the yard from whence he had come. The cicada killer, now evidently doing her best to be unassuming, went back to work on her burrow and the male appeared suddenly to hassle Kayana. She ignored him.

It was only later she realized her mistake. Well, two of them. First, no one besides Kayana had witnessed the sting and subsequent panic, although perhaps Wrecks’ owner might behold a mighty welt on the dog’s back some time in the near future. Second, and more critical, involved the very nature of Wrecks the dog. He was such a flighty, excitable, easily panicked mutt that even a pin prick might have sent him into hysterics. Unless someone observed evidence of a ferocious sting somewhere on his body, the real power of the cicada killer sting would remain a mystery. For now.

That is, until she could somehow trick the child into getting stung. Oh, life was good when you were a cat unburdened by scruples or ethics, which is to say, when you were, quite simply, a cat at all.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Wolf At Hokie's Door

All I can say about the Virginia Tech horror show is the event itself was not predictable, but the responses to it were. The Guns-Are-Entirely-To-Blame crowd made its voice heard; the Guns-Are-Not-To-Blame-At-All wing spoke up; the Hindsight-Obsessed-Why-Didn't-They-Stop-This-When-There-Were-So-Many-Warning-Signs clan (notice it's always "they" and never "we") entered the fray, too. It's all extremely sad and very tiresome because so much of it involves the desire to advance a political or social agenda and exploiting this tragedy for such a purpose.

Ours is a violent society. On a large scale, violence has worked out rather well for the country. From the American Revolution that won us our independence and the slavery-slaying Civil War to the idealized Old West and victories in two World Wars, our perception of violence as a method of conflict resolution is not altogether negative. Unlike some of our European allies--and rivals--we have never really been invaded, occupied, or bombed to pieces, unless you count the events during the War of 1812, when warfare was altogether different. Our body count in the two World Wars was substantial, but feeble compared to the losses suffered by France, Britain, Germany and Russia. This is not intended as justification for violent behavior or as condemnation of violence in all circumstanes, but merely an illustration of some of the differences between societies. And incidentally, if you think Europe is immune to violence, think again. The point is, there are no simple answers to society's ills in the United States or throughout the world, and anyone who thinks there are is probably deluded by the presumed rightness of his or her own ideals.

"During those conversations, to my knowledge, I did not make decisions about who should or should not be asked to resign."

The above sentence was part of a statement released by soon-to-be former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. To my knowledge? That's good. That's very good! And to think I considered it very amusing when a friend of mine said, after being asked if he still had a particular job, "I assume I quit." Maybe he wasn't so clumsy with the English language after all; he might merely have been preparing for political office.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

Don Imus doesn't matter. What he said was stupid, insensitive, ignorant and racist, but Imus is right about one thing: it's not important. Marginalize him! With all due respect to the Rutgers women's basketball team and their coach, whose response to Imus' aspersions was dignified, I would not have handled it that way at all. I would have said, "I'm not giving that man any power or sway over me by responding to his comments". Or something like that. I believe the best revenge is often to not acknowledge you're even bothered.

So which is worse? Continuing to fight an expensive and frustrating war with no timeline for withdrawal after four years of what could charitably be described as disappointment, or announcing a firm withdrawal date without any knowledge of conditions on said date, essentially admitting failure and leaving behind a vaccuum of power even larger than the present one? Is there a third option? If so, no one seems to be presenting it.

If we really want to weaken the Iranian government, we could always invite it to take over the Iraq occcupation for us. Iran wants to be the toughest kid on the Middle Eastern block anyway, so let's see how they fare. If they do a better job than us, we can get tips from them. If they do a worse job, we can stick out our tongues and say "nyah, nyah". If they do the same job, we may build a better understanding with one another.

Mitt Romney's real first name is Willard; "Mitt" is his middle name. "Mitt" is German for "mid" or "middle" as in "Mittwoch", the German word for "Wednesday" (literally "midweek"). Only one conclusion can be drawn from this: Willard Mitt Romney's parents hated him.

The next Presidential Election is still more than 18 months away. Some people are tired of it already. The theme by then might be "All Burnout, No Turnout." And I'm even angry with myself for writing that!

Something tells me there's a great Irish joke lurking somewhere within the Rosie O'Donnell/Bill O'Reilly feud. I could probably think of one if I cared enough. Marginalize them, too. That's my new swear word: marginalize. If you really want to slight someone, say "yeah, well marginalize you, buddy!" This might take a while to catch on, but when it does, remember who was in the vanguard.

Kurt Vonnegut died this night, April 11, 2007. So it goes. I believe I speak for all of Indianapolis when I say: God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut. You'll be sorely missed.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Let's Loaf

The United States Supreme Court recently ruled against the Environmental Protection Agency not because the EPA had done anything wrong, but because the EPA hadn't done anything. Rather than impose stricter emissions standards, which might prove unpopular as both consumers and manufacturers would be required to make changes, or permitting more lax emissions standards to continue, which might prove unpopular as environmentalists would complain this exacerbated global warming, the EPA evidently decided that enforcing emissions and controlling greenhouses gases simply wasn't the agency's job.

Proving that even five hundred year old men are not invariably easy to hoodwink, Justice John Paul Stevens (born 1506), writing for the majority, declared in essence that denying it's your responsibilty to set standards for greenhouse gas emissions when you've got "Environmental Protection" in your name would be a bit like a dog catcher insisting a stray mongrel who attacks kids isn't his problem. In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia did not explicitly address whether or not the aforementioned duty was the EPA's job, but he did contend that ruling on the case was not the Supreme Court's job and they never should have heard it.

Meanwhile, in my home state of Indiana, the State Legislature spent several pointless days debating a same sex marriage ban, which mercifully died in committee. The whole thing is a bit convoluted, but essentially same sex partnerships are already not recognized as marriages in Indiana, but the bill's sponsors wanted to make it more illegal, or rather, preclude any chance of civil unions. The benefits of a law like this for society at large are, at best, unclear. The whole thing qualified as a "SWOT" ("Stupid Waste of Time").

Bearing all this in mind, here's the question: Doesn't anyone do any work around here?! The EPA doesn't want to work, the Supreme Court doesn't want to work, the Indiana Legislature doesn't want to work. Of course, to varying degrees and depending upon whom you ask, any or all of these institutions may serve us better by remaining idle. It could be that avoiding work is doing your job. I'll see if that works with my employer.

I'll get back with you later; I'm busy.