Kittens Caught in Trees, Men Caught in Energy Futures Contracts

Mankind in Trees

If all of humanity were stuck up in trees,
I might contemplate a career as a fireman.

But that’s an absurd 7,000,000,000+ trapped;
with numbers like that the canopies pack quickly.

Tree to tree I’d wear my ladder rungs into curves;
limb to limb, aching, my sympathies fast would wear flat.

So I’d leave them all, starving next to acorns in the night,
to gather cute kittens for a new world order.

How Barbecues Honor Our Fallen Servicemen and Women

Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for fallen servicemen and women. On such a solemn occasion, barbecues seem a glib gesture. And yet the day is also deeply associated with them, with summer and hot dogs and cold beers. Which raises the question: are we ignoring the meaning of the day for cheeseburgers?

Many say yes, and with good reason. But others, myself included, point to the common saying, “Don’t mourn their death, celebrate their life.” Trite though this may seem, perhaps impossible—how do we celebrate the lives, not the sacrifice, but the lives of servicemen we never knew?—still it is a fitting tribute, especially on this day. Why remember these men and women only as the flag-draped coffins which so often symbolize sacrifice? Their lives were so much grander and richer than that final heroic moment.

On this day, I imagine their lives beforehand, which isn’t difficult. They were Americans. Their towns and childhoods and friends and passions were much the same as ours; their lives our lives. But often I turn to the wars themselves, and I imagine the time they spent between battles. I imagine the moments that many of them surely must have shared: huddled around campfires in the evening, warmed as much by the flames as by the laughter and songs and camaraderie; and, in more private moments, sharing and bonding over memories of home, of family.

Which, ultimately, is why we fight; why we scratch tooth and nail to survive. I assure you, they did not think of flags and of dying for their country. They did not think of the ideal of freedom and whether the cause was just. The things that kept them moving and fighting, the things which softened their beds at night and sweetened their dreams, were the same things that move us all, the things that get us out of bed, that set us to labor, that motivate us to achieve safer, brighter futures.

Ultimately, every Memorial Day, we honor the dead by celebrating what they died fighting for: joy and friends and family and love. We set aside our stresses and strifes for a day, uncover our barbecues, invite over those closest to us, and immerse ourselves in what makes life worth living, what makes life worth dying for. And, in doing so, we can’t help but thank our fallen patriots for building a future where we are free to do just this, where we are at liberty to pursue the happiness that has been our inalienable right from the moment of this country’s conception.

Those Who Once Dreamed, Teach

Remember the dreams
you once wore proudly
during recess play?

T-shirts which stated:
“Future Astronaut”
or “Rock Star To Be.”

The dreams that soon frayed,
holes along the seams,
lettering faded.

Outgrown, messily
packed in a box, you
gave them to Goodwill.

In-kind donations
to the mothers of
underprivileged youths.

In hope that these kids,
provided for, might
follow their own dreams.

I Would So Watch That! — “The Grand Ball”: Part II

She finds herself in a nightmarish castle. Cavernous hallways twisting and uneven; torches flaming out of decaying human heads; an occasional muffled scream. The man leads her to an enormous banquet hall being set up by dark and disturbing imps that snicker and sneer as she passes by. The man speaks matter-of-factly: “This is where the ball will be held. As you can see, the preparations aren’t finished quite yet. Which gives you time to prepare, as there is a bit of etiquette and protocol you need to be familiar with.” He launches into a discussion of said etiquette and protocol, but she is too overwhelmed to listen closely. Another creepy man appears with a beautiful, petrified woman at his side. The two men chat as if old friends, comparing their trophies.

She is then taken to a room where she is to wait and rehearse what she has learned until the ball begins. There are yet more beautiful women waiting in the room. They anxiously discuss what is going on. Suddenly, the door opens and another woman is pushed in. She seems different than the others—not scared, but seething with cold rage.

She wastes no time, the second the door is closed, she demands their attention and reveals that she is here for revenge. “Ten years ago, that demon came for my older sister, for this damned demonic ball. She left to protect me. But the fucking monster never gave her back. I have spent ten years of my life researching, preparing for this. I enticed that motherfucker back to take me. I will have my revenge. If I can find a trace of my sister, so much the better. But I don’t have high hopes, and neither should any of you regarding your chances tonight. If you don’t join me, you will surely never see your families again—no one has ever returned. But join me, and you may yet live to hold your children in your arms.”

Most of the women are too terrified to join her, would rather take their chances. But a few, including our protagonist, move closer, asking for her plan.

And so begins their violent action-movie rampage, ganging up on and murdering demons as they navigate the labyrinthine castle. The demons meanwhile, furious and frantic, are trying to track them down before their King learns of the debacle. But the women’s Amazonian leader demonstrates a remarkable understanding of both how to hurt, maim, and kill these supernatural monsters, and how to protect the women from their black magic. The other women, lives on the line, are quick learners.

Eventually, they capture a demon lord in his surreal and sumptuous suite. They set to torturing him and learn both the location of the dungeons and the portal linking the underworld to Earth. After much brutal fighting, they make it to the dungeon, freeing everyone imprisoned there. The one woman is reunited with her sister, a teary reunion.

Now an army of pissed-off women, they leave for the portal. The halls are eerily empty. But once at the portal, they find a massive demon army confronting them. And there, at the head, their King–an enormous and unearthly beast. They anticipate battle, but the King surprises them. He pulls out the high-ranking demons that kidnapped each of them and kills them, one by one. He then parts the demon army, and, without a word, invites the women to leave, having earned their freedom.

They warily approach the gate. But no ambush awaits and the long-imprisoned women begin to leave. At the tail end of the exodus, as our protagonist looks on, the reunited sisters linger before the portal. “If we leave now, we have done nothing to stop these monsters from returning to revenge themselves upon us, or abduct yet more women.” The two sisters, alone before the demonic horde, nod at each other, then give a sad, parting wave to our protagonist…

and turn to rip and tear at the portal. The King screams and the army sets upon them. Despite blow after blow, they continue to tear the portal apart, which begins to weaken. Our protagonist, realizing time is short, salutes them with a teary shout and leaps through the fading portal. And not a second later, the two sisters heroically tear the fucker down. Freeing women for eternity.

I Would So Watch That! — “The Grand Ball”: Part I

Finished re-reading The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov—which if you haven’t read it, either ever or recently, should be moved post-haste to the top of your to-read list—and during the reread I recalled a horror movie plot I thought up long ago. And since this site seems to be collecting, among other things, plots for movies I will never care enough to write, I think I’ll add this one to the mix.

Fall: a woman and her family prepare for dinner. Everything is warm and friendly. A knock at the door. It’s a man, with so much unplaceably off about him—as if there are minor glitches throughout his genes that make his face ever-so-slightly uneven and twisted, his speech occasionally halting and jagged. After some aimless conversation that leaves them wondering what he wants, he admits that he has something to offer the woman. He assures her that he isn’t selling anything, merely presenting her with an opportunity.

They bite: “What opportunity?” “To…how do you put it…accompany me to a ball, my date as you will. You would look most envious on my arm.” She doesn’t respond, sure she is dealing with a madman. “Of course, you will agree. Right?” Her husband, an imposing man, rises to his full height and threatens the man to leave or else. Which he does, though not before reiterating with a wicked sneer, “You will agree.”

The man begins showing up everywhere—at her office, the grocery store, her son’s soccer game—making subtle threats when alone with her—“What a lovely little boy, do you ever worry about him getting hurt playing this silly little game?” Stuff of that sort. And bizarre things start happening around the house as well: things missing, objects broken, scratching in the walls. Constantly escalating. Until…

At home, doors bolted, they are getting ready for bed. She opens the door to check on her youngest. The man is standing there in the dark. She screams for her husband who takes up a baseball bat and charges in. The man seems unfazed by her husband’s threats, still doing all he can to provoke their fear and rage. Her husband breaks down and starts hitting the man with the bat, the high and hollow plink of aluminum bat on bones. But the man just laughs and laughs. The husband finally stops. The man, unhurt and still laughing, calmly steps around their frozen bodies and walks out of the room.

And then the movie warps to the surreal. Objects start falling out of the ceiling—the objects that went missing, rotten food, the corpses of small animals—the walls bend and thrum in a deep bass. Their little girl climbs out of her bed, which immediately catches on fire. The man walks back in holding their dog, a hideous smile slashed across his face. “Stop it!” she shouts. The dog writhes and twists and explodes—an unrecognizable heap of gore. She screams. His smile widens impossibly. He walks up to her daughter, frozen in the midst of running to her mother, placing his hands on either side of her little head. She breaks down, “Yes. stop. please! I’ll do it. stop. don’t. please?”

“Good.” And in an instant she is transported away.

(Tomorrow, the exciting conclusion. Or, a conclusion at the very least…)

Organics Arrogance

Happy Earth Day, everyone! Just opened some Nature’s Path Organic granola. Was greeted by this quote from the founder’s farmer father, “Always leave the Earth a better place than you found it.” Seems like a thing to live by, and many environmentally-conscious people do. But I’m here to say: fuck. that.

Why do you think we’re in the mess we’re in? Much of human history has been the story of our “improvements” to the world around us. “Man, this land doesn’t have enough almonds. It would be so much better if I could eat everything that grows within a square mile.” Now that section of land grows nothing but almonds. “Man, these almonds are thirsty, this land would be so much better if it had all the water.” And now a river has been diverted here and not where it was originally destined, leaving some thirsty critters in its dry wake.

This is what makes man man, his attempts to change his surroundings to suit his needs. The “better” world is better for man and man alone. Mosquitoes are nasty creatures, let’s eradicate them. Every bird mentioned by Shakespeare should be in America too, let’s introduce Starlings. We have a new medicine that may save a few human lives a year, let’s test it on Chimps.

Even our attempts at stewardship backfired. “Oh no! A wildfire! Put it out! Put it out! Put it…what? you’re telling me that all these years we’ve been putting out wildfires, we’ve been disrupting the natural order of these ecosystems which rely upon wildfires for renewal and adaptation? Oops…”

Even the very things that organics as an industry reacts against–pesticides, herbicides, GMOs–are themselves attempts to improve the food-producing capacity of our “natural” environments so that people around the world don’t starve. And guess how those scientists and farmers would defend their actions: “We’re making the world a better place.”

To which I again say: fuck that. Leave your improvements on the drawing board. You want a better world? Let nature reclaim it from our goddamned arrogance.

Culture, Part III or: Who Tends the Untendable?

To recap: I am not merely a single organism. Instead, I am composed of trillions of single-celled organisms in intricate partnership. But I am greater than the sum of my parts—these single-cells have an emergent culture that is the “self.” And this culture of the self is similarly-fashioned to societal cultures.

Now to the exciting conclusion!

Despite all I’ve written, no doubt we are all still biased to look upon ourselves as single organisms. A human being. And science would agree. Seems the culture of our single-cells is enough to qualify as an organism in its own right.

So why not other, higher-order cultures? The one’s built from multi-cellular organisms (us)? Let’s run through the seven characteristics of life once again (using business cultures once more as an example):

  • Responsiveness to the environment: ✓ New technologies available? Increased consumer emphasis on sustainability? Of course the business culture adapts.
  • Growth and change: ✓ Does this even need defending? Of course business cultures grow and change over time.
  • Ability to reproduce: ✓ Ever heard of sub-brands? Or new regional or international branches? How about companies splitting off from a parent company and making a go of it on their own? That is a culture reproducing.
  • Passing traits onto offspring: ✓ That new corporate branch or company that split off? Of course it carries the legacy of its parent culture with it.
  • Homeostasis: ✓ Businesses strive, and have processes in place, to keep internal workings running smoothly and to restore order following disturbances.
  • Breath and metabolism: ✓ Requires a change in definition, but arguable. What makes a business culture continue to function? An influx of resources—raw production materials, energy, labor, dollars—which are converted into an outflux of finished products/services and waste which are in turn used to keep the influx of resources and internal processes humming. That is breath and metabolism to my eyes.
  • Made of cells: ✓ Cells are involved, us multi-cellular beings, so you could make the argument the culture is made of cells. Also, have you ever seen a cubicle? Looks like a cell to me.

My god, it seems all the cultures that permeate human society are themselves organisms. Not a new idea this. Still, very cool.

But there is one final piece to this puzzle, which starts with the etymology of “culture,” from the Latin cultura—to grow, to tend, to cultivate. As in: farmers “culture” their fields. (If this seems unfamiliar it’s because we’ve noun-ed the word in common parlance, we now tend bacteria cultures instead of culturing bacteria.)

What does this have to do with the definitions of culture we’ve been throwing around? As mentioned before, cultures are used as a perceptual and behavioral framework. In a way, the cultures of our lives “tend” to us, providing pattern and structure so we don’t flounder in the harsh and unguided world we live in. The same goes for the self, it tends the little cells that are its component parts, helping each and all survive and thrive. The general idea being: cultures grow, are alive and expansive, but have some manner of “higher power,” some higher culture, managing that growth.

So how high does the ladder go? I’m just going to say it outright: the biosphere, the collective culture of every living being on planet Earth. And what exactly does that culture like?

God.

But not the God, omnipotent creator of myth. Just as you don’t create your cells, and cultures don’t create groups of people, this god did not create life. It arose from life. But we don’t need to throw out all of the old religious conception. And just we can perceive the culture of ourselves and our societies, we can perceive the culture of the biosphere. God is merely some more-difficult-to-conceive mega-organism. And god does pattern the lives of its constituent parts, as much determining your life and fate as the God of myth. Sometimes he is the cruel God that determines who lives and who dies. And other times, he is the omnibenevolent God of Love. For real.

Spring is upon us. Go for a walk. Smell the sweet and colorful blossoms of life. Feel the soft breath of wind brushing over you. Gaze up at the blue-vaulted sky. Experience the world around you, feel its breadth. I assure you, what you will feel swelling within your heart is love. And that love is the culture of our world.

Blue Marble