Let’s Get Political

So let’s talk about something terrible.

Over the last week or so, I’ve seen a renewed concerned over a possible Muslim registry, especially in light of the ban on entry from some Muslim majority countries. Now this is horrible, and very likely not super legal, but quite a few people have announced, and many made this announcement the very day such a ban was even suggested all the way back in 2015, that they would help to defend the Muslim population of the US by registering themselves as Muslims if this should happen. I’ve seen this compared to a story about the King of Denmark, Christian X, who allegedly wore a Star of David in protest of Nazi Germany’s policy of forcing Jews to wear the same badge identifying them as such. Snopes says this story is false, but the sentiment is a good one.

Unfortunately, there is a problem.

There will be no ‘registering.’

If this does happen, and I’m not saying it will (but it could), it won’t be something you get to sign up for.

If the orange man, or congress, decided to implement this database of Muslims in the US, they won’t ask for cooperation, because they won’t need it. They will simply use the tools of data collection already available to them. They will look up who the people going to mosques are, who the people buying halal are, who is googling passages of the Quran, and who follows any prominent Muslims on twitter.

The state of data collection is currently such that not only could they do this with zero cooperation from the populous whatsoever, they may already have done it.

The orange man has been the executive for over a week now, and he could have asked for such a list day one.

And the worst part? The orange man didn’t have to do anything but ask, because we did this.

This is the surveillance state we built since 9/11.

We should be proud of ourselves for that, I suppose.

There are still ways to muddy the water. It is still doable, but you’ll have to make a real effort.

First and foremost, you can’t talk about it. If you utter a word of your intention to anyone just about anywhere over the internet, then that’s almost certainly the end of it.  Next you’ll have to stop going to whatever your current (if any) place of worship is, and start going to your nearest mosque. No I’m not kidding. You’ll need to start reading and following Muslim authors and thinkers, you’ll need to make professions of faith, you will have to start being a Muslim in all visible ways.

And even this, even essentially converting to Islam, may not be enough, because we built a surveillance system so pervasive and powerful, and all in the name of keeping Americans “safe.”

Not a happy thought, but this is the state of things.

Good luck to everyone.

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Software

Allison was in a room with green carpet. She found it hard to believe that any government office would ever put in lime green carpeting, but her brain wouldn’t process R values anymore. Everything else was fine, but no matter what she tried, she couldn’t get her vps to see red anymore. She’d been surviving on community patches for years, ever since the UI update in ‘29, which she hated. The legacy OS she ran had great user support though, and an awesome community, so she wasn’t worried. Still, nobody could figure out the R value problem, so it was probably time to upgrade. And so she sat, as far as she knew, on a black (or red) plastic chair, in a room with green (probably more brown) carpet, teal (off-white maybe?) walls, and a stars-and-stripes flag in corner, which to her eyes as black, white, and blue.

She contemplated her number, ‘85,’ as she looked around the waiting room. The people looked even weirder than the carpet. Filling the allegedly black chairs of the room, waiting for their own numbers to be called, sat about a dozen beings colored variably turquoise to almost forest green, like extras from a cheap science fiction show.

“Number 83, please report to room 2,” called a musical, synthesized voice over the intercom.

One of the bluish-green aliens around Allison stood up and walked back to the offices. She settled into her seat, checking her feeds. There was a lot of really nice words of encouragement from friends and family on her social media. Her son had mentioned her brain augment problems to a friend and word had gotten around. Her feed was also full to bursting with ads for upgrades and brains-transfer services though, so part of her wished Leon had kept his big mouth shut. Though her grandkids had already offered to help her crowdfund for a transfer if Medicare didn’t cover her particular issue, and it was nice to know little Sarah and Leon jr. cared enough to offer.

She googled her problem again. She’d done it a half a hundred times, but she wanted to be informed when she was talking to the social worker. She check a few forums again, looking for any quick fix or some user made patch. Still nothing. She could barely find anyone with her issue at all. The closest was one user who made a post five years ago. Same augment brand and model, and they got a few suggestions, responded saying none of them worked, then stopped posting, without leaving any post about the solution. Either they gave up and just transferred to a new brain, or never bothered to post the solution they found. Poor forum etiquette, as Allison understood it.

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Operation Caesar’s Folly (part IXX)

Admiral William Caldwell, Commander of His Majesty’s Third Fleet, leaned back in his chair as the analysts from Intelligence laid out the situation in the Americas.

“Our sources on the ground are reporting more skirmishes along the Spanish border with the Inca. The IHS Kon and Apocatequill have been deployed from Vilcabamba and are headed North. In response the Spanish are mobilizing their El Cid battle group out of Panama City.”

“What’s the composition of El Cid?” Asked Admiral Black, Commander of His Majesty’s Second Fleet.

“Three Barclay class heavy battleships, one Isabella class carrier, seven Conquistador class destroyers, and about a dozen lighter support craft,” answered another man from intelligence reading from an open folder.

Black shrugged at Caldwell, “They might have a chance.”

“How serious are they?” Caldwell asked.

“We can’t be sure,” the intelligence man who was standing in front of his projected map said with a slanted tone. Implying he had a very strong opinion.

“Best guess?” Caldwell pressed.

The man with the folder looked over to the corner of the room, where a gentleman with a cane nodded, and the folder man answered, “We don’t think El-Cid is under orders to engage, but we have a detailed profile of their commanding officer, and we absolutely expect him to do something foolish if he meets the any Incan ships, no matter the size.”

“So the Inca and the Spanish have another spat, how is this news?” Lord Admiral Anderson said with a yawn.

“The Americans,” The man with the cane said with flatly.

“What’s that? Can’t hear you from all the way over there M,” quipped Anderson sarcastically.

The man in the corner chuckled, tapped his cane and nodded to his man at the projector.

“Yes, sir. Slide please,” the man said to the secretary at the back of the room. The slide that replaced the map showed a high altitude photograph of a river valley. “What you see here, ladies and gentlemen, is troop movement in First Nations territory, mostly Kwahare militia near the Mexican border. No airships in play as yet, but we have a source that says the tribes are meeting, as we speak, to answer an ambassador of the Incan Hegemony on whether the First Nations will back them if it comes to war in Central America.”

“Oh, bloody hell,” Anderson sighed.

“And how do we expect that to play out?” Black asked, absently straightening her sleeves.

“Unclear,” said the folder man.

The projector man continued, “We suspect they’ll tentatively commit to the Inca, but how much that commitment will translate to in terms of manpower or aide is…very uncertain.”

“Very well,” Anderson stood, collecting himself. Black and Caldwell followed suit, but the fellow in the corner did not. “I assume you want something from Airborne or we wouldn’t be having this meeting. So what is it?”

“Intelligence would like to propose the Seacole battle group be deployed on a training exercise,” the folder man said.

“A ‘training exercise?’” Black asked.

“Yes, Ma’am,” he replied.

Caldwell felt he had to ask, “How will that do anything other than escalate our problem? The last thing we want is another war in the new world.”

The projector man answered, “We only need the battle group to put a ship fifty miles from the coast of Panama. After that we…,” The man was interrupted by the tapping of a cane. He continued, “How much do you wish to know, Lord Admiral?”

“That’s plenty I think,” Anderson said removing his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose, “I assume Seely has signed off on this?” Both men nodded. “Then fine. We’ll send the order out within the hour. Will that be all gentlemen?”

“Yes, thank you, Sir,” both men began gathering up their materials.

The man in the corner came to his feet and addressed William, “Could you hold back for a bit? I have a quick question for you.”

Black gave Caldwell a look, but all Caldwell could do was shrug to her.

As the rest of the Admiralty vacated the room, the man with the cane opened a small box, wound up a crank inside, and then set it on a window sill to tick down softly.

“Still paranoid, Admiral?” Caldwell asked smiling.

“Always, but more so in the last few days,” the man, Melville, whose official codename was ‘M’ but most in the Airborne simply referred to him as ‘The Admiral’, returned to his seat in the corner of the room and spent a good five seconds looking at Caldwell, “I had the most intriguing conversation with the Secretary of State for War last night. Seely had the most vivid memory of you authorizing the deployment of two of our chatter-code cylinders for private use.”

Caldwell shrugged, “And?”

And,” the Admiral parroted, “I’d like to know where they are.”

“Vice Admiral Vasquez sent me a request for them. One for the Falkland base and the other for his residence on the mainland. It didn’t seem untoward, and Vasquez is a man we trust. I understand he has a little brother aboard that little pet project of yours.”

The Admiral nodded, “It’s true, Vasquez is a man we trust, and you noted as much in your request. But when was the last time you actually spoke to Vasquez?”

Caldwell felt a chill run the length of his spine. He searched his memory frantically, it couldn’t possibly have been that long ago. “I…I don’t actually recall. I couldn’t have been that long ago.”

“Six months ago at the Falkland base inspection was the last time I recalled seeing you together,” the Admiral said, his tone serious and his frown obvious, “I on the other hand spoke to him on the wireless earlier this morning. I asked him about those code cylinders, and he had no idea what I was talking about.”

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Saghir de Oppara

This is a story I may or may not come back to. It’s a shameless fan-fiction if we’re being honest. I believe I’ve mentioned before that I play a lot of tabletop rpgs, and this is a bit of story featuring a character I played awhile back. If folks want to read more I might have to finish this, but for now it’s just a short one page excerpt of the character’s life. Saghir de Oppara (aka Samwise Turnbull Hunter; aka Alsaghir Mukrah) who believes himself to be more competent and a far bigger deal than he actually is. Still, he has gotten around a bit, and has friends (and enemies) in some very unusual places. Scenarios like the one below, are not all that uncommon for him.

The first thing that hit me was of course the floor. The second was that I had been thrown there from my cot, and anyone who throws a sleeping man to the floor is not waking you to have a pleasant chat. I fumbled for a knife at my belt, not remembering at the time that I had pawned the knife to by more shiver, and unleashed a torrent of scathing curses upon my attacker. I couldn’t see who they were or how many through the dim lit haze of the den, but I can curse in seven languages and almost everyone takes equal offense to a well placed barb about their mother. I yelled and flailed with a free hand whilst fumbling for the knife, until a young lady in heavy plate armor kicked me soundly in guts. I presume to prevent me from further embarrassing myself.

Gasping for breath, clutching my well bruised stomach, and still shaking off a night of shiver induced dreams, I politely declined to resist when she grabbed me by the arm and hauled me over to a chair.

“Saghir de Oppara?” she asked in a voice low and gruff.

I coughed once unintentionally, then thrice more in an attempt to stall for time. I had hoped the span of three coughs would be enough to spot an easy avenue of escape. No such luck. The windows of this particular travesty in Taldane architecture had been boarded up by the locals, and I don’t care what you’ve heard from whatever storyteller you’ve heard it from, it is not a simple thing to dive through a boarded window. That left the stairs, before which stood the hulking woman in front of me, and at least one person in similar garb. Black cloaks over dull, beaten armor. Instead, I just lied. “I have never heard that name. My name is Sam.”

She stepped on my foot.

She was wearing very heavy boots.

After an undignified shout of pain and the biting back of a few tears, I confessed. “I am Saghir. Sorry, I’m not quite awake yet. ”

“Good,” she knelt down, putting her eyes on a level with mine, “Is it true that you once spent a year in the court of the Queen of Lamasara?”

The fog around my mind cleared just a bit, replaced by a chill down my spine. I looked at these two I had taken for thugs a bit more closely. The cloaks were a cliche, to be sure, there was no hiding all that armor, but black cloaks still meant something. A black cloak in the night was the universal language for “I do not wish to be seen, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll go about your business.”

That armor under the black was something too. No gold, so not Eagles. No spikes, so not Hell Knights. Just cold, grey steel. And well used too. Not the sort you send to deliver a message. These two were the sort you send to kill a man.

I started looking at those boarded windows a bit more carefully. The building had only been abandoned recently but the boards on the third window facing the street must have been when they ran out of good wood. They look at least a little bit weaker than the rest.

“Answer my question,” The gruff woman insisted.

“Well, you see-,” and I bolted for the window. And though I shall never know for certain, I maintain that I would have been able to break through. The one who hadn’t done any talking yet got me. They tackled me to the floor, and were kneeling on my back pressing my face into the splinters before I was even halfway to the window. The woman who’d been talking stood up slowly, walked casually over to her companion who was pressing a metal clad knee into my back, and crouched down to my level again.

“I will ask again: did you serve in the court of Lamasara?”

Cooperation was, at long last, my only real option. “I may have spent some time there, many years ago.”

“Good,” the woman nodded, “We have questions.”

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Operation Caesar’s Folly (part XVIII)

“You cannot possibly expect us to give up territory for such a small sum,” Gavrilović scoffed.

The Italian side of the table began loudly grumbling, but fortunately 0sc4r’s whistle was still ringing in their ears, which kept them from breaking into a new shouting match. The Italians, having laid out their proposal, wanted Istria for a start, the coast of Dalmatia, and the islands in between. In exchange, they were prepared to offer an amount of money that Issac had almost actually gasped at. He knew that matters of state involved the movement of millions of pounds, naturally, but it is one thing to be aware of the fact, and quite another to be in the room whilst it was being spent. He wasn’t entirely sure where the pound was in relation to the mark these days, but he thought the figure was somewhere around 15 million pounds. This seemed like quite a lot to Issac, and the Italians clearly thought so too.

“I hardly think 25 million goldmarks is a small sum,” said the Italian foreign minister, a man named Ricci who looked like a bank clerk, “Especially for so little territory.”

“The Sultan regards all his holdings as precious to his empire,” Gavrilović said frowning, “You might as well name a price for one of his own children.”

“I wonder how the people of Istria would respond to being referred to as the Sultan’s ‘children,’” Ricci said, hardly making the tactful effort to disguise his sarcasm. Gavrilović chose to ignore it.

“We are prepared to offer a deal where Italian ships may conduct business freely, without taxation, at a sizable number of ports in Istria and Dalmatia. It should allow your people access to that which they desire while keeping the border unchanged and uncomplicated.”

“You’re changing the subject,” Ricci snapped, “Trade is well and good, but it is the view of His Majesty’s government, and mine personally, that these people are Italians! We cannot abide seeing their land occupied and the their citizen’s mistreated.”

“Mistreated? What are you implying?” It was the Turkish side of the table on the verge of shouting now.

“Imply? Nothing,” Ricci snapped his fingers. An aid brought him a folder of papers, and Ricci made a grand gesture of opening it and flipping through the pages. “We have reports of the widespread seizure of property, the burning of pro-Italian publications, and the assault and jailing of those advocating Italian sovereignty.”

“You cannot dress up police actions against terrorists as oppression of an Italian state that does not exist.”

“So you do not deny these accusations?”

“I refuse to dignify them with a response.”

This went back and forth for some time. Ricci would focus on Janissary atrocities, Gavrilović would deflect to talk about trade concessions. Issac was reminded of the worst of the his college’s debates he’d ever attended. Meetings nominally about one thing, but all parties clearly there with very different things they intended to discuss. Though at university, the worst case scenario was bruised egos and six months of departmental drama at most (Save the case of Professor Bullsworth and his etheric field calculations, which was still a point of heated discussion around Cambridge some five years on). Here though…nations hung in the balance.

This can’t be how it works, Issac thought, bitter men in back rooms, having two different arguments. Is this how wars start?

“Gentlemen, please,” Issac said standing. He took a moment to compose his own answer, which he noticed added a small, but nicely dramatic, pause between when the room went silent and he started speaking. Whether this was because of his alleged position as an emissary of the Kaiser, or another dividend paid towards the threat of 0sc4r’s whistle was anyone’s guess , “Let’s try to be civil. We are after all, here to defuse the situation. Now; Minister Gavrilović, our Italian friends have offered 25 million German goldmarks for the territory. Is the problem the price or the territory?”

“Both,” Gavrilović said, nodding to Mr. Ricci, “The territory is too vast, and the price is too low.”

“How much territory is acceptable then?” Issac leaned over the table, bracing himself lightly against its surface with extended fingers.

Gavrilović thought for a moment, “Istria, for 40 million goldmarks.”

“That is half the territory for almost double the price. Unacceptable.” Ricci shouted.

“Gentlemen, please!” Issac bellowed. That’s a start, we can negotiate from there, Issac thought, before remembering that he was here to prevent consensus, not create it. “It has been a trying morning. Shall we take a brief recess?”

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In 48 hours, America will…

And from there I don’t know.

I can not see the future. Part of me wishes I could, and part of me knows that is a terrible idea.

I don’t like telling people who to vote for, for several reasons. For one: who the hell am I? I’m just a guy, and as I said, I cannot see the future. More over, I’m a white cis male and I’ll probably be ok no matter what happens (for a number of bullshit reasons), but many if not most of my close friends are not, and in a civil society, that means I have a responsibility to think about them as well.

This is what Rousseau called the Social Contract. We are all part of a thing together, and we have to acknowledge that when we utilize our political power.

So, if you live in America and you haven’t already: vote.

Vote thoughtfully, and vote with your conscience. Vote with the intent to make this world a place both free and beautiful, for all humanity to thrive in. Vote as a member of the human race, and think carefully about what that means to you.

And now, here is one of my favorite speeches of all time. I hope you’ll forgive me for borrowing some of the sentiment in those last few lines.
The great Charlie Chaplin everyone:

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Lamplight

We shouldn’t have stayed out this late.

When we get to the bit of the street between Warren and Harris, stay close to me, and stay in the light of the lamps. Only stop when you’re right under a lamp post. Catch your breath and then go. Just go. Don’t wait, don’t slow down, and whatever you do: don’t look anywhere but the next lamp post. Not even for an instant. The blackness will seem absolute. Keep your eyes on the light and say to yourself that it’s not. The street is still there, so are the buildings, and people inside them. Tell yourself that, even if you don’t believe it.

When you’re running, between the lights, you may hear things. I won’t tell you what sorts of things, it’s different for everyone. If you do, and we do get through, I don’t want to know anything about what you heard. Understand? Say nothing. I won’t either. It’s better that way.

I won’t tell you not to breath between the posts, but I don’t. There’s a smell. Like sweat and burning sugar, with strange notes that you won’t be able to place. Try not to think about it. The longer you think about it…the worse it gets. You’ll start to lose your way. The way forward will seem to twist away from the lamplight. Don’t let that happen. Remember this: always towards the lamplight.

Your skin. Are you ticklish? If you are, it will be harder. More sensitive skin means you’re more likely to feel it before you get back into the light. Don’t expect it to hurt, because it won’t. It will be soft. Tender even. Like a lover’s fingers brushing lightly over your flesh. Shy, but needy, full of desire. Full of hunger.

The air…will have a taste. Like the smell, I say to ignore it, but you may not be able to. I can’t give you a food to compare the taste too. I’m not sure there is a single food in all the world that tastes like the air between the lamp posts on that road. It tastes like a thunderstorm; like the warmth of a human body; like the confession of a dark secret. It tastes wonderful. But you have to ignore it. You have to.

When you’re past Harris, and only then, you can stop. Once you’re past there, you are…I can’t say you are safe, but…

If you do not see me on the other side, do not come looking for me. People make it, or they don’t, and that’s it. And if you don’t…well…just remember the lamps. Always towards the lamplight.

We should never have been out this late.

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The Firepit

I killed Jeremy, but not the others.

No, I’m…I’m not pleading guilty or anything, ok?

Self-defense then.

Well look at me!? Look what it-he did to my leg!

And Susan!

She’s ok right?

But she’s gonna be…

… Ok.

When can I go home?

But I already told the other cop everything.

This is bullshit!

… Yes.

… Yes.

Yes.

Fine. What do you want to know?

The beginning of the fight or the party?

Yeah I guess.

Ok.

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Sketch Practice

Every now and again, I try my hand at sketching.

I’m not very good at it.

But for the last month, I’ve been trying to sketch every day I can, in an effort to get better. So here are some of the less awful bits.

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Ashtray

Hando looked across the wide conference table, eyes locked on an ashtray sitting there.

He didn’t know why it was there.

The thing was glass, or some glass-like synthetic, he couldn’t really tell. Translucent and dark, ‘smoky’ was the best word Hando could think of to describe the coloration, which he supposed was fitting. He reached over and picked it up. It was small enough to fit in the palm of one hand, but heavy enough to be authentic glass he supposed. Turning it over in his hands, he noticed a small maker’s mark etched into the underside. A few cyrillic letters that Hando didn’t know.

It looked old.

It wasn’t in bad condition, and it seemed quite beautifully made, but it was chipped a bit here and there, and the bottom of the tray was soiled with the black residue of snuffed ashes.

Hando wasn’t sure why it was here. Almost nobody smoked tobacco anymore. Most people couldn’t afford it, and even among those who could only one person in a hundred, maybe. Everybody was using ecigs. It was cheaper, didn’t require an extra dose of anti-cancer meds, and you could get a THC pack for less than five dollars American.

You were lucky to find a pack of cigarettes for less than fifty these days.

Hando glared at it, enthralled, puzzling over its presence here. He’d never seen anyone in the company smoking ever, much less in the conference room. He’d seen plenty of people pull out an electronic; so many brands and flavors that the table had become a soft rainbow of different LEDs. Never any real tobacco though.

And yet; here was a hand made, and probably very expensive, antique ashtray in the middle of the table.

Was it just for show?

That seemed to Hando like the stupidest waste of money he could think of. But even as his nose wrinkled at the thought somebody specifically buying an antique ashtray with the full knowledge that it would never see actual use, he tried to imagine the long conference table without it. It seemed…empty. He tried filling the space occupied by the ashtray with something else in his mind. In his AugR application, he cut and paste a floral arrangement, an amusing knick-knack, or a projector into the space that the ashtray had occupied. Nothing seemed to fill the space the way the ashtray did. He wondered if that was an actual ability inherent to the ashtray, or if he had just become accustomed to it being there. Or maybe he was just conditioned by culture to think cigars and ashtrays when thinking of corporate boardrooms and high powered executives.

The Nineteen-eighties had never really died in the corporate world. It had just been rebranded.

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