I Learn About F. Scott Fitzgerald

Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, with daughter Scottie

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I Learn About F. Scott Fitzgerald

After decades of resisting the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), thinking him and them as inconsequential and passé, I finally fell under their spell. He was a literary genius, a great romantic and perceptive and fundamentally tragic writer. His novel, The Great Gatsby, is shimmering, transcendental (beyond the powers of cinema to capture), and – from the perspective of our limited human lifetimes – eternal. A collection of his short stories compiled in 1960, Babylon Revisited, is fascinating, showing how inventive he was at devising characters and plots detailing the intertwining of the psychologies of those characters. And he would present it all with fluidly lyrical prose of amazing compactness. What has drawn me to his stories is his implicitly deep understanding of the human heart, which he conveys from behind the casual facade of both manic and faded Jazz Age settings. What I see from his own personal story is that every true artist must constantly struggle to be able to do the work that expresses their art and gives their life meaning, despite the enervating drag of the many demands heaped on one by the needs of economic survival, exhibiting sufficient conformity for social acceptance, and the emotional needs – and illusions – of close family. I think that is the great heroic epic of each artist’s personal life: somehow producing the work held deep in the heart and soul and mind, despite both the intentional and indifferent impediments placed before that artistic drive by life’s banalities. Some succeed better than others, and some are broken and fail in that they themselves are lost to life and their unknown art stillborn. With all that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, I think that we are only seeing fragments of his potential, even given that he was one of America’s supreme literary artists. I appreciate his decades of struggle to produce those gems. It can be very hard to be an ordinary, imperfect human being gifted to be an instinctive channel to a primordial artistic insight and creative drive. His gift to us is the wider awareness we may gain by reading his stories, and immersing ourselves in his enthralling lyricism. I’ve now embarked on Tender Is The Night, which he called “a confession of faith.” In the last year of his life, F. Scott Fitzgerald earned $13.13 in royalties. Since his death in 1940, more than 10 million copies of his books have been sold throughout the world.

Winter Dreams: F Scott Fitzgerald’s Life Remembered (PBS, 2001)
https://youtu.be/XnEO8yT_ApM

Sincerely, F. Scott Fitzgerald (BBC, 2013)
https://youtu.be/cCfUsaX5F10

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The Liberation of Ellsworth Street

Night Rider

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Not so very long ago in Berkeley, California…

The Liberation of Ellsworth Street

Old Dog turned off of Bancroft Way and shuffled himself through the night fog down Ellsworth Street, looking for a warm place to piss. He didn’t want more cop hassles, so he passed up the usual spots against the church walls near Durant Avenue, and the scraggly hedges along the way lit by street lamps. It made him mad to think it’d been easier to find a good piss spot in broad daylight under mortar fire during the war than it was here in Berkeley, even at night! God damn it! They owed him a piss spot at least, as he didn’t even have an inside flop! That’d be worth more than that scratched and ragged Purple Heart he used as a pocket knife, and nobody ever wanted to buy so’s he could get some juice or pain pills.

Old Dog got to Dwight Way and waited to cross as there were always bullet-boy bikers and preppy college kids in their German cars racing up the street toward Telegraph Avenue. They never gave him anything when he sat out on the sidewalk against the cafés and froo-froo shops, with his sign out and playing his harmonica. Hell, he even put his cup out by his feet, far enough so’s they’d never have to smell him if they stooped to throw in some change. Anyways, it was dead of night and traffic was gone, so he crossed over Dwight to shuffle on down Ellsworth. Against the telephone pole at the corner he saw a poster, dimly lit by the streetlamp. “Reward,” it read, “Berkeley Police Department seeks information on the possible murder of Howard W. Johnson at the intersection of Ward and Walker streets.”

Old Dog had known Howie Jo, who was found burned half to a crisp about a month ago, right there against the street barrier at the end of Walker Street. Howie Jo had been a nomad, like Old Dog, all scruffy, sunburnt, with two old coats on, and a mass of sprawling kinky salt-and-pepper hair and beard. Old Dog had told Howie Jo many times that looking at him was the same as looking into a mirror. That joke didn’t work anymore. The scuttlebutt was that Howie Jo had gotten himself a whole bottle of hard stuff, and later got so sloppy drunk he probably passed out while trying to light up a smoke, setting his alcohol-spilled coats on fire with the bottle in his lap. Unless somebody lit it after he’d passed out.

Ellsworth Street is blocked, past Dwight Way, on the far side from Bancroft Way and the University. Two pairs of bollards, like solid cement garbage cans, are anchored into each side of the roadway, leaving a narrow gap between them wide enough for a fire truck. In that gap there is a short, thick steel rod lined up with the bollards, and just tall enough to rip the bottom out of any car that tried moving between Dwight and Ellsworth.

Old Dog couldn’t abide looking at those barriers anymore since he now imagined seeing a smoking black crispy pile of charcoal on them with Howie Jo’s untied army boots sticking out on the street. Anyways, Old Dog wasn’t getting any warmer, didn’t see as he was likely to get any reward, and had to piss even worse than before. “Well, fuck ‘em,” he thought, “I’m gonna’ piss right here, and put out that fire on Howie Jo’s ghost!” Old Dog was a man of vision, many of them. He stood over the barrier, his back toward Dwight, and watered that damned monument to exclusion real good.

Old Dog went back for his pack, which he’d laid down in the black night shadows behind the big telephone distribution box near the utility pole. Just then a motorcycle came purring slowly up Ellsworth toward the bollards. Old Dog crouched down into the blackness to hide. The rider, all in black leather and helmeted, reached under the weeds spilling out over the top of a bollard and pulled out a packet or small pouch which he put in a plastic carrying case on his motorcycle. He then took a different packet out of the plastic case and buried it under the same weeds. He eased his bike through a gap in the barrier and sped away up Dwight.

It didn’t look good, but Old Dog was still curious to look. Just as he thought to step out of his hide, he noticed a dark car with its lights off gliding quietly up Ellsworth toward the bollards. No time to run, he hunkered down. The black limousine stopped and a chauffeur in uniform, with a cap and all, emerged noiselessly from the car, walked right up to the bollard where the drop had been made and retrieved what had been hidden there. Old Dog expected the limo to back up to turn around and leave. Instead, he saw it rise up slowly till high enough to easily clear the metal pipe in the street, glide past over it, and then lower itself back down.

As the limo began its right turn onto Dwight, the house windows behind Old Dog suddenly lit up dispelling the black shadow he’d been hiding in. The limo lurched forward, its back tires almost chirping and, as it turned onto Dwight Way, Old Dog saw that the car’s back window had been opened, so any eyes behind it would have an easy view of him. It gave Old Dog a shiver, and it wasn’t from the cold.

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Sergeant Wanda Travers was sitting in Precinct Captain McCready’s office, getting a new and special assignment. “Travers,” he said, “see what you can find out from the street guys that tend to sleep out at Willard Park, and wander down from the University area along Bancroft Way, and out of People’s Park, into the Willard-Bateman-LeConte neighborhood below Dwight Way, between Shattuck and College Avenues. The public’s coming down hard on the city, and the mayor’s coming down hard on the chief to solve the Johnson killing, and nab the murderer if that’s what it was.” Wanda had been a lacrosse player in school and was a stocky, muscular but not fat, medium height woman. All the cop gear strapped around her waist made her look stouter than she really was, and quite formidable, but she could remain calm and low key enough to be able to approach the street people and patiently tease out bits of street-sightings information from them better than anyone. Maybe she could fish out a lead on the Howie Jo immolation. “Go plainclothes on an unmarked bike, so you can get closer to what’s going on in your neighborhood. And give me, and only me, detailed reports,” concluded McCready. “Yes sir,” and off she went, pleased because this kind of assignment was basically a promotion.

“Come on Old Dog,” Wanda said as she crouched down near his head, barely out of his frayed sleeping bag in the shadows off the grass in Willard Park, “did you see or hear anything on the streets recently that might be connected to Howie Jo?” Old Dog had a wild-eyed tense look and was shaking his head “no” like a vibrator. “There’s somebody out there messing with those that live on the street, and we’ve got to get them and keep the people safe.” Old Dog just looked at Travers speaking, his head shaking a “yes” in tiny trembling vibrations, and holding his sleeping bag close and tight under his chin. Travers knew Old Dog and his pals were always worried about being searched, so she tried to calm him on that score so he might listen better and maybe talk about anything that might be a lead. She tucked her card and a small basic cell phone into his bag even as he held it closed tight, saying “Keep it. It’s got my number on it. You can call it any time, no charge. I’m not going to be looking through your stuff, no hassles. Anything you see could help us out.” Travers got up to leave.

“Black Limo!” said Old Dog. “What?” Wanda looked down at him. “Black Limo!” he repeated. She sat down and just waited. “They says a black limo passed by Howie Jo that night.” Wanda stayed quietly listening. “Big Black Car! The Mother Ship!” and he went silent. “What kind of black limo? Tell me about it.” Old Dog seemed to sink into a well of lost thoughts, his eyes looking out far past Travers. “That’s what they says about Howie Jo, but I never seen it before. But t’other night I saw one pass over the street bar at Ellsworth. Could have been the Mother Ship cause it passed right after a Black Rider left something for it.” Wanda figured Old Dog had seen a drop for a drug connection. “Was this down by Ashby?” “No, not that far.” Now Wanda knew it was Ellsworth at Dwight Way. “What’s the Mother Ship?” she asked. “Peoples say there’s a Black Rider whose poisoning dudes whens they sleep, shoots them up!” Wanda wondered if this was a myth born out of fear, because there had been a higher incidence of street people dying of heroin overdoses during recent months. “And this Black Rider” she prompted. “Some says there’s Black Riders coming out of the Mother Ship, and going everywhere! Some say they’ve seen it!” Wanda tried bringing it back down to earth, “You mean they’ve seen this black motorcycle rider connect with the limo?” “Yes!” exclaimed Old Dog, “I seen them, and they seen me! I gotta’ keep low, so they don’t find me!” Despite her cautious probing, those were all the details Travers could get out of Old Dog that day.

Wanda’s phone rang as she was biking up Hillegass Avenue toward People’s Park. “Any progress?” McCready asked. “One of my regulars at Willard reports a story going around among the people about some combination of a big black car, or limo, and a motorcyclist all in black offing the people by injecting them with heroin overdoses, or burning them up, like Johnson. Could just be paranoia fantasies because of the ODs happening among them, besides the usual night crimes they suffer. My guy’s all panicked because he claims he saw this Mother Ship and the Black Rider, as he calls them, during a drop and pick-up on Ellsworth, and thinks they’re now after him.” “Good work, keep me informed,” and McCready hung up.

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“Hey, what you doin’ here?” Old Dog asked Lenny the K under the big trees by the corner of Willard Park at Hillegass Avenue and Derby Street. “I’m looking for a quieter night, People’s is getting noisy, too crowded.” Old Dog looked at Lenny dubiously, “you just mustn’t wanna’ share.” Old Dog knew Lenny shot up the haphazard mixed poisons they called “heroin” on the street, and he must have made a big score. “You’s best do your shit outta’ sight, ‘cause the cops come ‘round here as’in it’s a good neighborhood” warned Old Dog. “Where you sleeping” asked Lenny. “I likes under dees big trees, snuck in back d’bushes. Best for one, so you take it. I’m going t’other side.” Old Dog wandered across the park, and was lucky to find some unfinished discarded picnic food, and by early evening had discreetly ensconced himself behind the Recreation Hall, along the fence in the shadows below the bushes. As dusk slowly faded into night, Old Dog was able to get himself between his dark green blankets with some leaves scattered over them, looking like a low pile of grass clippings and leaf debris, if anyone could have even seen him through the dark from Hillegass just a few steps away. He fell asleep.

Old Dog stirred awake to a low purring motor, and low voices, in the dead-of-night street by him. He poked his head out cautiously and looked toward Hillegass. The Black Rider!, he was there under a patch of streetlight by the telephone pole! The Black Rider switched on his motorcycle with little noise, pulled out then purred down Hillegass toward Stuart Street and out of earshot. Even as Old Dog was trembling in fear, he noiselessly edged himself forward just enough to see past where the Black Rider had been parked: the Black Limo! In the streetlight Old Dog could see the license plate! In another minute the limo pulled away quietly and disappeared after the Black Rider.

Next morning, as Old Dog walked up Hillegass headed to all the action and possible handouts around People’s Park and Telegraph Avenue near the University, he saw a police car and ambulance flashing their lights by the big trees at the corner with Derby. It was Lenny the K. He’d OD’d and they were carting him away. Old Dog fished out the phone Wanda had given him and called. “I seen it,” he told her. “Lenny the K OD’d last night at my big trees spot. They’s just took him away.” Wanda listened intently, she’d already seen the dispatch report of the fatality. “And I seen the Black Rider and the Mother Ship! They for sure musta’ done Lenny!” Wanda coaxed “did you see anything about them?,” she wanted an identifying clue. “Yes!, I gotta’ number on the Mother Ship. Its B-L-T-1-3-K-K-K. I looked at it good, and I wrote it down!” Wanda replied “Listen, Old Dog, stay at Willard. I’m going to get you to a safe place, and some food. You’ll be okay during the day. We’ll be out there before dark. Promise me, so I can find you.” “Okay, I’ll do it.”

“Captain, I got a line on the black limo,” Wanda told McCready. “I got the license plate, and it’s registered to Berkeley Luxury Transport. It’s one of a number of businesses, most real estate, owned by Paul Malverson. He’s that big booster of the Police Benevolent Society, and supposed to be the real estate industry’s next candidate for mayor.” McCready beamed praise at Wanda, “Excellent work!” Wanda continued “I can’t get anywhere with BLT, so I need to interview Malverson so he can help us find out what’s going on inside his limo business.” McCready shot back “I’ll arrange for that, and call you back as soon as I can. Where’s your informant?” “He’s at Willard. I told him we’d move him to a safe spot before dark.” “Perfect, I’ll call you soon,” and McCready ended the call. Wanda rode down Telegraph Avenue, found a sandwich shop, and brought back some lunches that would keep Old Dog for a day or two; then she biked to the precinct hall.

“Wanda,” McCready told her, “Malverson is happy to see you this evening, I just talked to him. He says he’ll have his manager of Automobile Fleet Operations at BLT with him, and they’ll do whatever it takes. Malverson’ll be at an event with the Mayor and council members till about nine tonight. So, they want to meet at a complex his company manages, on Ellsworth between Parker and Carleton, after nine” and McCready rattled off the street number and the access code for entry. “Also, we picked up Old Dog, and he’s being well taken care of, don’t worry. You can interview him tomorrow, to nail down his testimony. Okay, finish up all your reports here so I have them before you go, and I’ll buy you dinner so you can get them all done. Chinese?, Thai?, Japanese?, Mexican?, pizza?, or burger?” Wanda set to work on her reports, and to thinking about the whole case.

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The big garage door at Malverson’s apartment building on Ellsworth Street swung open, and Wanda walked her bike into an expansive, neat and well-lit garage with doors to other rooms at the far back. A tall, well-built Chinese man dressed in a crisp chauffeur’s suit, complete with cap and gloves, emerged to greet her. “Hello, Sergeant Travers, I’m Peter Chan, Fleet Manager at BLT,” and he led her to a large office in back, where Paul Malverson was waiting seated behind a big desk. Chan showed Wanda to a plush office chair and left, closing the door.

“Well, Sergeant Travers,” Malverson began, “Pete and I have made detailed inquiries with our fleet supervisors and dispatchers, and have not been able to find any unusual or unauthorized activity by our drivers. Because of the sensitivity of our business – we transport many important people, and host very sensitive meetings for both corporate clients as well as facilitating social functions. So we require our drivers to pass the most rigorous security background checks, and we require periodic interrogation updates with polygraph testing. We conducted quite a number since receiving Captain McCready’s call earlier today, on all personnel who have had any contact with the vehicle you identified, as well as other vehicles from the same pool. Naturally, every now and then we find the usual sort of hanky-panky: a little drinking, or some amorous connections in a waiting vehicle while clients are engaged at a lengthy function. But, we have not been able to find anything of the sort of surreptitious and continuing activity that Captain McCready is concerned about. Is it possible that as your informant is an indigent street person, like so many others in Berkeley, that he may be a bit unbalanced and prone to flights of fancy?”

“Mister Malverson,” began Wanda, “the facts are that we’ve had a sharp increase in heroin overdose fatalities over the last few months, and even a homeless man burned to death in the streets. For many of these incidents, the people who are the closest witnesses report sightings of the limousine we’ve identified near the scenes. I agree, the sightings are not exact eyewitness testimony, nor are the people involved the most reliable of our citizens. But, the weight of evidence points to a real connection, if still unclear.” Wanda was overstating her certainty a bit to see if she could agitate a substantive tidbit out of Malverson. “I’m going to pursue this case to find that connection, because lives have been lost, and other lives may be at risk.”

“Admirable determination,” Malverson said while looking down and stroking his left eyebrow as he thought about it. The office door behind Wanda opened and Chan returned. “Pete,” Malverson instructed, “we’re going to have to clear this up without delay, we can’t leave it hanging.” Wanda turned her head around to see Pete holding a pistol with a long black silencer pointed straight at her face. “Don’t move, for your own good.” At that moment, a fully helmeted person in a black leather body suit entered. So there it is, thought Wanda, the Black Rider is Malverson’s man; but why? The Black Rider took Wanda’s gun from her waist holster under her jacket, then zip-locked her hands together in front of her, and her ankles, and then connected these with a third plastic zip-lock tie.

“Well Miss Travers,” Malverson began, “your investigation is very inconvenient for us, so we can’t let it continue. Sadly, you’ve allowed yourself to become indoctrinated by the false ideology of coddling the losers and the parasites on American vitality and progress. These street people you worry so much about are simply vermin: dirty, deranged incorrigibles without any merit, without any contribution to furthering American prosperity, either by productive work, useful talent, or substantive investment. In fact they are a total drain on the public resources essential for investing into the expansion of business activity and wealth enhancement. In any neighborhood in Berkeley, property values would rise at least thirty percent, and in many cases double, if these street vermin could be completely and permanently cleared away. In this very apartment complex, rents could be doubled overnight if we could eliminate the hordes of filth that ooze out of that People’s Park and contaminate the surrounding area. There are people of means all over the world who compete to send their brilliant sons and daughters to the University here, and who would be delighted to house those students in the rental properties along this street, and other streets near the campus, at significantly more profitable rental rates, if we could provide them with clean and comfortable neighborhoods. That unrealized profit potential is being destroyed by the dirty, noisy and importuning parasitic losers we allow public resources to maintain unendingly. Since government is incapable of solving anything that advances economic progress, it is essential that the private sector solve the problem, quickly and permanently. Our country is beginning to wake up to this socio-economic reality, but much too slowly. I am not waiting for the clarity of that truth to dawn universally in some far future, we are acting on it now! As our Cleanup Crew advances the disinfection, beautification and habitability of our city, and property values balloon, commerce accelerates, and a greater influx of the successful people who drive the engines of prosperity settle into our previously blighted neighborhoods, the realization I am talking about will become accepted as the universal norm. For a healthy garden you remove the weeds and litter, for a healthy farm you fumigate the parasites, for a healthy body you purge the pathogens with antibiotic and antiviral drugs and then inoculate against further infection, and for a healthy society you purge the incorrigibly lazy, obdurately unproductive, contagiously filthy and demented parasites and willful losers. Members of your trade, police workers, should rightfully apply their labors to protecting productive society and the corporate engines of prosperity from the degenerative elements of present society, which are so inexplicably tolerated and maintained in Berkeley. By rights, you should be a vigorous member of the Cleanup Crew. Fortunately, some police are, but not nearly enough.”

“You’re mad!” Wanda yelled at him, “inhuman! Do you really think you can get away with all this?” “I’m afraid you’re on the losing side of history, Sergeant Travers, and I regret that this is so.” “Even if you get rid of me, the department will investigate intensively. They’ll follow up on my findings, and certainly look into whatever becomes of me.”

“I don’t think so” said Malverson. The Black Rider pulled off his helmet, and Wanda’s heart stopped, it was McCready. “Traitor!” Wanda yelled at him, “you’re using the department to betray the people!” ”Now, now, Travers,” McCready replied, “the department works for the people who can pay for it to work. Malverson is right. The only way for a working man to have a stake in the prosperity to come is to work for those who make that progress happen. You don’t advance yourself by wasting your time and energy on the useless and the losers. That’s just stupid socialist bullshit that brings you down to their level, and keeps you down.”

“I wondered about you,” Wanda glared at McCready, “when Lenny the K turned up dead after I told you where Old Dog was sleeping.” Malverson’s eyes shifted toward an impassive Pete holding his gun on Wanda, as Malverson’s left forefinger traced a line down from the outside corner of his left eye to the corner of his mouth, then led his hand laterally into stroking his chin, while his eyebrows arched a tad for a moment; then he returned his attention back to the exchange between Wanda and McCready.

“You’re scum,” Wanda glared at him, “groveling so low for money, you’re not even part of the human race anymore.” McCready started to raise his hand as if to slap her, when Malverson interjected “McCready, let us not descend to the level of the degenerates. We do whatever is needed as a business necessity, but we never sully ourselves with crude displays of emotion, nor disreputable actions that can cloud our minds and distract us from our actual objectives. It is because we keep our control that we are superior. So, let us conclude our business.”

McCready put on his helmet and stepped out. Pete taped Wanda’s mouth shut with a big swath of heavy-duty black tape, and wheeled her bound in the chair out toward the garage. The Mother Ship, license number BLT13KKK was parked facing outward. She saw McCready setting an unconscious Old Dog into the front passenger seat. Malverson soothed her, “Don’t worry about your odiferous friend, he’s only asleep under the influence of a mild, and entirely safe sedative.” Malverson tore off a small strip of newspaper and held it under Old Dog’s nostrils where it gently fluttered. “See, he’s breathing.” Pete and McCready lifted Wanda into the back seat of the limo, behind Old Dog. “Close up, then meet us there,” Malverson told McCready, then got into the limo next to Wanda, the garage door swung open, and Pete drove the Mother Ship out into the night.

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The black limo eased up Ellsworth Street towards the bollards before Dwight Way. Paul Malverson sat in back on the left, with a sly smile of satisfaction at the smooth progress of his plan. Wanda Travers sat to his right with her hands and feet each bound in front of her, and these two plastic bindings connected by a third tie-wrap. Her mouth was taped shut by a big swath of heavy-duty tape, and Malverson’s gun was pointed at her left temple. Old Dog was slumped in the front right seat, unconscious. About half a block before the barrier, Pete swung the car around to the left, then backed up to park facing away from the bollards.

McCready quietly rode up Ellsworth from behind them on his motorcycle. He eased to a stop before the bollards on the other side of the street, shut his motor off and dismounted, then walked over to the parked limo. Pete unlocked the limo doors, got out, walked to the back of the limo where McCready met him, and opened the trunk. Pete took out Wanda’s bicycle and put it down against the curb a short distance behind the car. He then pulled out two bottles from a case of twelve that were labeled “White Vinegar” but were actually filled with ethyl alcohol; he also pulled out a near-empty bottle of cheap whiskey. McCready dragged the unconscious Old Dog out of the limo and to the bollard in the shadows near the telephone pole and utility box, propping him up against the bollard. Pete followed and put the alcohol bottles down near the crumpled Old Dog, then went back to the car. McCready planted the whiskey bottle in Old Dog’s lap, and doused him with all the ethyl. He picked up the vinegar bottles and returned to Pete, behind the limo, and put the bottles in the trunk.

“Okay,” said McCready, “all set. I’ll light him up once you get moving. What about Wanda?” Pete smiled, pointed a gun with a long silencer straight at McCready’s chest and fired. McCready staggered, fell to his knees dumfounded, looking up with pleading eyes into Pete’s face. “She’s going to be a hero,” Pete sneered, “she just killed you.” He shot again, shredding McCready’s heart. McCready fell on his face, and a dark pool began widening beneath him. Pete briskly unscrewed the silencer from Wanda’s gun and slipped it into his pocket. He walked over to the bollard on the other side of Ellsworth, by McCready’s motorcycle, and planted Wanda’s gun in the weedy top. Pete returned to the body to pull McCready’s gun out from his ankle holster inside his right boot, then he screwed on the silencer.

“It was very perceptive of you to forward your reports to McCready’s superiors. Ah, well, this car will have to disappear. I’m sure in time they’ll name this street after you, for the heroic service you provided the City of Berkeley,” said Malverson. Wanda just stared at him with pure hatred. “You will have come upon the crooked cop who was the entirety of the Cleanup Crew, while he was in the process of eliminating another one of the street vermin, and you will have neutralized him in a gun fight which, for the benefit of the nocturnal tranquility of the neighborhood, we are muting.”

Pete opened Wanda’s door, pulled a wire cutter out of his left pocket, and snapped off the plastic tie-wrap around her ankles, and the one that had linked her bound hands to it. “Pete,” said Malverson, “close up and get the car started so we can go quick after you move her bike and light the barbecue.” Pete went around back, closed the trunk lid, and returned to the driver’s seat. “Get out,” said Malverson to Wanda, pointing with his gun, “time to close escrow.”

She swung her legs out to step onto the street. Malverson slid right a bit, then half turned, tapping Pete on the shoulder, “Give me McCready’s gun and those wire cutters, can’t leave the plastic.” As Malverson was in his half twist grabbing McCready’s gun and the cutters with his left hand, Wanda bolted out of the car slamming the door behind her, and raced back toward the trunk to gain cover and reach her bicycle. “Turn ‘round!” yelled Malverson even as Pete switched on the air pump to raise the car height, and gunned the motor to swing the car into a u-turn for the chase.

Wanda jumped on her bicycle and pedaled hard toward the barrier, her steering wobbly because her tied hands were clasping the handlebar at the stem. Pete would be on the wrong side of the limo to shoot her until he’d made the u-turn, and, if she was lucky, Malverson would be pulled to the left into the car by the g-force of the turn and have trouble opening his window to take a shot. The car quickly swung around and was bearing down on Wanda and toward the big gap between the pairs of bollards.

She jumped off her bike, leaving it down in the middle of the road, and dove behind the bollards in front of McCready’s parked motorcycle; her bound hands searching desperately in the bollard’s weedy top for her gun. “Pfft! Pfft!,” chips of concrete flew off the bollard, ripped through her hair and stingingly pitted her right arm. She found her gun!, rolled to the ground between the two bollards just as the raised limo slammed into her bicycle and scraped it forward trailing a wake of sparking red flames.

Wanda fired six shots in rapid succession into the left front wheel arch, exploding the suspension air bag so that corner of the car collapsed and veered the limo straight toward her bollards. Pete swung the steering wheel hard to the right to aim the limo back through the central gap. The smoldering wreckage under the limo hit the central steel barrier and the car stopped dead, its passenger safety airbags bursting open with stunning suddenness to engulf Pete and Malverson as the limo pivoted left, sweeping up McCready’s motorcycle and slamming into the two bollards that Wanda was furiously rolling away from onto Dwight Way. The collision ruptured a fuel line spilling gasoline into the burning already underway causing flames to erupt upwards and engulf the car.

Wanda got up, seeing she wouldn’t be needing the bullets still left in her gun, if any. She could already hear the wail of sirens, racing in from afar, as she ran up to see after Old Dog. She grabbed his coat collar and pulled him off from the bollard he was propped against, and further away from the fire to just past the telephone pole at the corner of Dwight. Wanda peeled the tape off her face as Old Dog stirred awake. “What the hell?,” he said, looking at Wanda wild-eyed, with her two hands wrapped around her bloody glistening gun. “It’s okay, they’re all gone. We made it,” and nodded her head towards the burning limo.

As they watched, the ethanol exploded blowing the trunk lid off, expanding the conflagration, and buffeting Wanda and Old Dog with the shock. Then the fuel tank exploded into a fireball that pulsed out a blast wave that stripped leaves from the trees and ripped posters off the telephone pole. Wanda and Old Dog were showered with this haphazard confetti, and a shredded piece of poster fell into Old Dog’s lap. “Reward,” it read, “Berkeley Police Department seeks information on the possible murder of Howard W. Johnson at the intersection of Ward and Walker streets.”

Wanda looked at Old Dog with an amused expression. “Well, old guy, it looks like you’re going to get a reward.” Old Dog looked at the poster, then the fire, then at Wanda, “my own indoor place to sleep, with a shower?” Wanda looked at him with kind determination, “It better be.”

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The Ultimate Great American Novel

“The Great American Novel” is an idea difficult to define yet clear in every American mind, or at least in the minds of some of America’s readers. It is that ideal book that captures some universal quality of American life and popular aspiration, and especially of quintessential patterns of American thought and speech at a particular time and place during the nation’s history. For a truly timeless work, it would give an insight into enduring universalities of Americanness as perceived through a compelling story cast in idiomatic and ephemeral particulars.

It is impossible for any one novel to achieve this ideal for any length of time, or even at all. But, a few do ascend artistically far above the accumulated mass of published and unpublished American novels. Here are eight that I think qualify as being contenders for the unattainable title of “The Great American Novel.”

First, they are listed by publication date:

Moby-Dick
(Herman Melville, 1851)
(1820s-1840s New England whalers at sea)

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
(Mark Twain, 1884)
(1830s-1840s, rafting down the Mississippi River)

The Great Gatsby
(F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925)
(1922, love longing, triangles and betrayal in wealthy suburban New York)

The Grapes of Wrath
(John Steinbeck, 1939)
(1930s homeless Oklahoma farmers on the road in California)

The Catcher In The Rye
(J. D. Salinger, 1951)
(1950, a prep school boy’s New York City)

To Kill A Mockingbird
(Harper Lee, 1960)
(1933-1935, in a rural Southern town)

Catch-22
(Joseph Heller, 1961)
(1942-1944, US Army Air Force men in Italy)

Slaughterhouse-Five
(Kurt Vonnegut, 1969)
(1944-1945, 1968, 1976, US Army survivor of the Dresden fire-bombing).

Secondly, they are listed by the time periods of their stories:

Moby-Dick
(1820s-1840s)

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
(1830s-1840s)

The Great Gatsby
(1922)

The Grapes of Wrath
(1930s)

To Kill A Mockingbird
(1933-1935)

Catch-22
(1942-1944)

Slaughterhouse-Five
(1944-1945, 1968, 1976)

The Catcher In The Rye
(1950).

Thirdly, they are listed in my rank order:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Moby-Dick

The Great Gatsby

The Grapes of Wrath

The Catcher In The Rye

Catch-22

Slaughterhouse-Five

To Kill A Mockingbird.

I would group the eight novels thematically as follows:

Moral defiance versus obedience to the avaricious and vengefully obsessed, before the Civil War:
– The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
– Moby-Dick

The soulful poets among the materialistic urban elite, as social failures by definition:
– The Great Gatsby
– The Catcher In The Rye

Prejudice against the wretched dispossessed in a time of economic depression:
– The Grapes of Wrath
– To Kill A Mockingbird

The sanity of being creatively insane to try surviving the random heartless cruelties of war, and of life:
– Catch-22
– Slaughterhouse-Five

So, perhaps an Ultimate Great American Novel would offer us the compelling attraction of seeing strong individual moral character successfully defy the social strictures that direct people into lives of soulless materialistic gain and obsessive and even vengeful ambition; and, by artful indirection rather than polemics, it would lead us to condemn those aspects of our society by which the most wretched and dispossessed are inflicted with the cruelest forms of exclusion, exploitation and persecution; and it would show us how to recognize those morally insightful and artistically apt observers of our unappealing and often denied social realities, despite the casting off of such poets by materialism’s powerful. Finally, such a novel would delight us with a realization of good triumphing over monolithic indifference, by showing how its good-hearted empathetic poet-observers and realists, who captivate our attention, escape monstrous injustices and random fatal cruelties by their own artful nonconformities. Seeing such escapes would give us a lightening hope: perhaps we could do it too.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835-1910) wrote that “a sound heart is a surer guide than an ill-trained conscience,” and Huckleberry Finn is “a book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat.” Because of his innate good character and his beneficial friendship with Jim, an escaped slave, the adolescent Huckleberry Finn comes to see black slavery and its enabling racism as morally wrong despite their being treated as upright and legally essential to American society, by the white adults of his time. It is important to note that Jim, the runaway black slave, is the noblest adult in this story. This is the quintessential American novel, scintillating and funny, still fresh, still relevant, still controversial.

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

Herman Melville (1819-1891) wrote “one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world” and “the greatest book of the sea ever written” (D. H. Lawrence). It tells of Captain Ahab’s obsessive quest, aboard the whaling ship Pequod, for revenge against the white whale, Moby-Dick, for having bitten off his leg at the knee on a previous voyage. Melville gives detailed and realistic descriptions of whale hunting, the extraction of whale oil, and life aboard ship among a culturally diverse crew. Mixed into this narrative are explorations of class and social status, good and evil, and the existence of God.

The Great Gatsby

In 1923, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (1896-1940) wanted to write “something new – something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned.” That effort produced his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby. The story centers on the young and mysterious millionaire, Jay Gatsby, and his quixotic and obsessive passion for the beautiful former debutante Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby’s main problem is Daisy’s oafish, wealthy husband, Tom Buchanan. Because of their inherited wealth, Tom and Daisy are spoiled and thus careless people, and that causes damage to others of humble origins who have their own great aspirations: the American Dream. The story is told by lyrical observer and incidental participant Nick Carraway. Fitzgerald’s artful, fluid prose conveys not only the interesting plot of the social drama, but a sense of the times, the nature of the characters, and – very subtly – his own judgments about each of these.

The Grapes of Wrath

While preparing this novel, John Steinbeck (1902-1968) wrote: “I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this [the Great Depression and its effects],” he also said “I’ve done my damnedest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags.” The Grapes of Wrath is the story of the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, changes in the agricultural industry, and bank foreclosure. Down and out and on the road during the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California along with thousands of other “Okies” in the hopes of finding jobs, land, dignity, and a future. Steinbeck’s sympathies for people like the Joads, and his accessible realist prose style, brought him a large following among the working class worldwide, and recognition with the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1962.

The Catcher In The Rye

Jerome David Salinger (1919-2010) matched Mark Twain’s achievement in Huckleberry Finn, of presenting the story of a rebellious and kind-hearted teenager, Holden Caulfield, in the very specific idiomatic speech of the protagonist, his peers, time and place. This novel presents an unparalleled view into the angst and alienation filling a perceptive teenage boy’s mind, trying to unravel the complexities of innocence, identity, belonging, loss, and connection. James Joyce had said that he wanted his own book, Ulysses, to be so richly detailed in describing Dublin on 16 June 1904 that one could thereafter recreate the entire city of that time out of his novel. Salinger did just that, with The Catcher In The Rye, for the New York City of a prep school lad during Christmas week, 1950.

Catch-22

Joseph Heller (1923-1999) mined his experiences as a U.S. Army Air Corps B-25 bombardier, who flew 60 combat missions on the Italian Front during World War II, to write his best novel, Catch-22. This satiric novel unfolds in a non-chronological manner, and it centers on Captain John Yossarian, a B-25 (a twin engine, medium bomber) bombardier, who along with his companions attempts to maintain his sanity during his time at war, despite its continuous undercurrent of deep dread, which is punctuated by random instances of explosive terror. The great hope is to return home alive. There are many comical elements in this book, and Yossarian is a serious nonconformist, a wise ass, but all these laughs are forms of gallows humor to help these men trapped in war to momentarily release their tightly knotted tensions. This is an anti-war book. In the novel, the Catch-22 itself is a circularly constructed Air Corps rule that makes it impossible for an airman to arrive at a valid excuse – except being killed – for being relieved of combat duty. Milo Minderbinder, one of the characters in Catch-22, is the quintessential icon of a capitalist, a parody that is so exquisite because it is so realistically accurate.

Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death

To write Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) drew on his experiences as an American prisoner of war, captured by the Germans in 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge, who witnessed the destruction of the city of Dresden by an incredibly intense firestorm created by four British and American aerial bombing raids, dropping high explosive and incendiary devices, between 13-15 February 1945. At least 25,000 Germans, mainly civilians, died as a result of the indiscriminate area bombing of an ancient city with scant military installations. Slaughterhouse-Five is an overt anti-war novel published during the height of the Vietnam War. It presents the science fiction-infused story of Billy Pilgrim, an innocent Everyman-type who is a chaplain’s assistant in the U.S. Army and survives the firebombing of Dresden as a prisoner of war. This experience forms Billy into the not-so-usual individual he becomes by his maturity in present-day 1968 upstate New York, and the guru-seer he becomes thereafter, “unstuck in time” and in out-of-his-control contact with the Tralfamadorians, aliens from deep outer space. Vonnegut’s prose is almost child-like, and his science fiction episodes are whimsical, but the essence of this book and the drive behind it are very serious.

To Kill A Mockingbird

Nelle Harper Lee (1926-2016) reflected on her observations of her own father, a lawyer, to write this warm, Southern Gothic novel about the rape trial of a black man, Tom Robinson, by a white court and jury, in a small Alabama town during the Great Depression, in 1936. The rape victim-accuser is an unmarried white woman whose father is a rabid racist; Tom Robinson is a married man with children: a black family. This story unfolds as the observations of two young white children, primarily Jean Louise Finch (nicknamed Scout), and her older brother Jeremy (nicknamed Jem), who live with their widowed father Atticus Finch, a highly principled, anti-racist and quietly brave man. Atticus Finch is Tom Robinson’s defense attorney. About this novel, the critic J. Crespino wrote in 2000 that “In the twentieth century, To Kill a Mockingbird is probably the most widely read book dealing with race in America, and its protagonist, Atticus Finch, the most enduring fictional image of racial heroism.” To Kill A Mockingbird was Harper Lee’s only published book from 1960 until 2015 (seven months before her death), when her publisher, J. B. Lippincott & Co., issued Go Set A Watchman, an inferior novel based on an earlier draft of To Kill A Mockingbird. I suspect this was an act of pure exploitation by Lee’s publisher.

Are The Movies Any Good?

Nothing equals the experience of reading these books, and having their artistry unfold intimately in your own mind and at your own pace. Do yourself a favor and read each completely before you see any movie or even movie clip of it (actually, a movie of somebody’s interpretation or even misrepresentation of it).

Also, make sure to avoid all introductions, prefaces, essays about and critiques on any of these stories before actually reading the full texts that the authors labored to gift us with. Don’t allow the blather of others to pollute the purity of your own first impressions and – just as good as any critic’s and English teacher’s – your own analysis and artistic appreciation of what the authors have given us.

The nature of American society and the American cinematic industry makes it impossible to create accurate and meritorious movies of three of these novels: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, and The Catcher In The Rye. The barriers to making good movies of these three stories are, respectively: the inability to face Mark Twain’s searing frankness about 19th century American racism; the inability to produce a movie as elegant, layered, lyrical and subtle as Fitzgerald’s novel; and similarly with Salinger’s novel, which he anticipated by stipulating that movie rights to his stories never be sold.

There are good movies of Moby-Dick (in 1956, by John Huston and Ray Bradbury), The Grapes of Wrath (in 1940, by John Ford, Nunnally Johnson and Darryl F. Zanuck), Catch-22 (in 1970, by Mike Nichols and Buck Henry), Slaughterhouse-Five (in 1972, by George Roy Hill and Stephen Geller), and To Kill A Mockingbird (in 1962, by Robert Mulligan, Horton Foote and Alan J. Pakula). But read the books first!

Other Great American Novels

Obviously, there can be as many different nominees for inclusion in lists of “great American novels” as there are enthusiastic and opinionated readers of American literature. A listing of often cited works for inclusion among the “American greats” is given by Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_American_Novel).

Remember, readers come in two sexes (and varieties of sexual orientation), of all ages, and from the wide multi-cultural spectrum of the American people, and beyond. So, the type and period of American novel that would captivate any given reader, as a “great book,” can be quite different from the novels I have listed.

I’m not arguing, just gratefully enjoying and appreciatively learning from the sincere and varied literary artistry of the dedicated authors cited here. Enjoy!

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Beam Me Up! (With Fossil Fuels?)

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This article originally appeared as:

The Fossil Fuel Paradigm
25 October 2013
https://www.counterpunch.org/2013/10/25/the-fossil-fuel-paradigm/

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“Beam me up, Scotty.” That phrase is as well known to science fiction aficionados as “Gort, Klaatu barada nikto.”

James Tiberius Kirk, the lead character and commanding officer in the futuristic space fantasy television series Star Trek (1966-1969) would call through his wireless communicator for his chief engineer Montgomery Scott to initiate the process of “energizing” him, to be instantly converted into pure energy, and propagated — “transported” — from a planetary surface or another spaceship back to Kirk’s own spaceship the Enterprise where he would be returned to his bodily form.

The popularity of the Star Trek series and its many sequels, spin-offs, imitations and entertaining derivatives all show how entrancing people find the idea of being able to pursue their private dramas with unlimited energy and unflagging power at their disposal, literally at the push of a button. And, one of the most attractive fantasies about having such power would be the ability to hop in a flash across great distances at a moment’s notice: the transporter.

Today as our fossil fuel diggers frack their way under the skin of Planet Earth with their noses pressed tight against the grindstone of profitability, and we burn up oil squeezed out of tar sands and coal hollowed out of mountains to keep up the high-powered freneticism of modern times, dismissing concerns about increasingly turbid choking cancerous air (as in Harbin, China) and global warming with its negative effects on the polar regions, on oceans and marine life, and on weather and climate, the longed-for science fiction fantasy of unlimited kilowatts and unlimited horsepower without undue environmental consequences can seem so cruelly distant. Why can’t we have that now? When will we get it?

In our (humanity’s) attachment to the fossil fuel paradigm, too many of us find it so much easier to imagine how we would employ unlimited push-button power for our expanding and instantaneous personal wants, instead of imagining how to fashion lives of timeless fulfillment liberated from fabricated desires, and expressed with elegant and graceful efficiency.

Given all that, I though it would be interesting to consider the physics problem of building a “beam me up” transporter. To start this speculative analysis, let us consider the energy and power needed to convert a 70 kilogram (154 pound) person into pure energy for electromagnetic transport.

First, a few words about notation:

The symbol x means multiply.

The symbol ^ means exponent (of ten).

The unit of mass is a kilogram, with symbol kg. 1 kg = 2.20462 pounds.

The unit of energy is a joule, with symbol J.

1 Exajoule = 10^18 joules = 1 EJ.

The unit of power is a watt, with symbol W.

1 joule/second = 1 J/s = 1 watt = 1 W.

1 Kilowatt = 1 kW = 10^3 W.

1 Terawatt = 1 TW = 10^12 W.

1 Exawatt = 1 EW = 10^18 W.

3,600,000 J = 1 kilowatt x 1 hour = 1 kWh.

Albert Einstein famously showed that mass (m) and energy (E) are two aspects of a single entity, mass-energy, and that the pure energy equivalent of a given mass is E = m x c^2, where c is the speed of light (c = 3 x 10^8 meters/second, in vacuum).

The physical universe is 13.8 billion years old (since the Big Bang) and presently has an extent (distance to the event horizon) of 1.3×10^23 kilometers. The total mass-energy in the universe can be stated as a mass equivalent of 4.4×10^52 kg, or an energy equivalent of 4×10^69 joules.

A 70 kg mass, whether a living person of just inert stuff, has a pure energy equivalent, by Einstein’s formula, of 6.3×10^18 joules (6.3 EJ). So, our desired transporter must supply at least 6.3 EJ to beam a 70 kg mass.

For comparison, the total US energy use in 2008 was 95.7 EJ, and the total world energy use in 2008 was 474 EJ. The combined pure energy equivalents of 15.2 people of 70 kg equals the total US energy use in 2008. Similarly, the combined mass-energy of 75.4 such people is equivalent to the world energy consumption that year.

Given that there are 3.15569×10^7 seconds in one year, we can calculate the average rate of energy use during 2008 (the power generated) in the U.S.A. as 3 TW, and in the world as 15 TW.

At the US power rate, it would take 24 days to convert one 70 kg individual or object into pure energy for transport if the entire national power output were devoted to this task. If the entire world were yoked to this purpose, it would take 4.9 days.

Aside from considerations of monopolizing national and world power consumption, the idea of “disassembling” a living person and converting them to pure energy over the course of one to three weeks seems unappealing long. How do we assure we don’t lose the life whose bodily form is being disassembled and dematerialized so slowly? The whole point of a transporter is to achieve near instantaneous relocation.

For the sake of simplicity we will continue a little bit further with the convenient assumption that a 70 kg transport, whether of a human being or a lump of lead, only requires 6.3 EJ. This implies 100% efficiency of mass conversion to energy, and that no extra energy is required to collect the information needed to materially reconstruct the individual or object on arrival, rather than just deliver a 70 kg puddle of gunk.

If this transporter were to accomplish the 70 kg conversion process in 24 hours exactly (86400 seconds), it would have a power rating of 6.3 EJ/day or 72.8 TW. This is a much higher power consumption than the US national average (3 TW). To operate such a transporter would require an energy storage system with a capacity of at least 6.3 EJ to feed the transporter (discharging over a 24 hour period), and which storage system would be charged up over a longer period prior to transport.

Obviously, if we could build transporters of increased power, the conversion would occur in less time. Thus, a transporter that could convert the 70 kg traveler to pure energy within one hour would operate at 1,747 TW (and draw power from the storage bank at that rate). A 1 minute transport conversion would require 104,846 TW. A 5 second transport converter would require 1,258,157 TW (1.26 EW). For any of these machines, it would take 24 days of total US power generation to store up the energy required for one transport, or almost 5 days of total world power generation.

The power generated on Planet Earth, in reality not science fiction, is just not enough for a transporter. Why not use the power of the Sun?

The Sun’s luminosity is 384.6×10^6 EW. If totally harnessed, it would take the Sun 16.4 nanoseconds to supply the 6.3 EJ needed for our 70 kg transport converter. A 5 second (1.26 EW) transport converter could be powered from only 3.3 billionths of the Sun’s luminosity.

The solar mean distance to Earth is 1.496×10^8 km, which is used as a convenient unit of distance in descriptions of the Solar System, and known as 1 AU (one astronomical unit).

A disc 34,224 km in diameter at 1 AU would capture the 3.3 billionths of the Sun’s luminosity needed for our 5 second transport converter. That solar collection disc (assumed 100% efficient) would be 2.7 times larger in diameter than the Earth. Since we wouldn’t want to give up our sunshine by using Planet Earth as a solar collector (for the transporter), nor risk shadowing Planet Earth with an oversized collection disc in nearby outer space, it would seem best to have the entire collector and transporter system away at a distance comparable to the Moon. Travelers and cargo from Planet Earth scheduled for deep space transport would first have to shuttle to their embarkation point on the Moon by relatively sedate rocket technology.

Let us return to the question of the extra energy required to collect the information needed to materially reconstruct an individual or object on arrival after beaming. The immense amount of information about the molecular, atomic and sub-atomic bonds and their many dynamic structural arrangements that in total make up the biophysical self of a particular individual will necessarily require a huge investment of energy to ascertain and code electronically.

One can see that such vital information about the actual relationships between particle and cellular forms of matter, which actually form a specific living organism, has an equivalent mass-energy being the sum of the energy required to program the information and then convert that program into transmissible electromagnetic waves. Because a human being is much more complex than the sum of his or her elemental and chemical composition, it is possible that the information mass-energy of a human being will outweigh their bulk mass-energy. Hence, the transport of a 70 kg person that only accounts for the 70 kg of bulk mass will undoubtedly deliver a dead blob of stuff unlikely to even duplicate the original chemical composition. To deliver the same living person, who happens to posses a particular physicality of 70 kg bulk mass, will require much more energy, a vast overhead to account for the great subtlety of living biochemical reality and consciousness. So, perhaps our 70 kg transporter will be able to deliver 70 kg of water, or a 70 kg salt crystal or slab of iron, but only safely transport a much simpler living organism like a small plant or an insect.

Actually, it is only the fully detailed structural code of the individual that would be essential for dematerialized transport. We imagine that such a code would have to be determined by disassembling the materiality of the individual (or object), by “energizing” them. It is then only necessary to transmit the code, not the now destroyed physical materiality converted into pure energy. Otherwise, if such unique structural codes could be determined nondestructively, then the transporter system would advance into being a duplicating system, a 3D cloning printer.

On arrival, the electromagnetic message that is the coded person or object being transported can be rematerialized from energy stored at the destination. Otherwise, the electromagnetic forms of both the structural code and the bulk materiality of the person or object would have to be transmitted, and the materialization at the destination would involve reading the code to use it as a guide in reconverting the beamed-in energy back into the original structured bulk mass.

Other problems for transporter system designers, which we will not explore here, include conversion efficiencies, distortion and loss of signal during propagation, and transport through through solid material.

It seems that we will be earthbound without transporters for quite some time.

Oh, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt,

Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,

Or that the Everlasting had not fixed

His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God, God!

How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable

Seem to me all the uses of this world!

Fie on ’t, ah fie! ‘Tis an unweeded garden

That grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature

Possess it merely. That it should come to this.

Today’s reality may seem so primitive, constricted and decayed in comparison to the fantasy worlds of Star Trek, unbounded by physical science, but perhaps the liberation of the spirit so many imagine through science fiction can be experienced here by having the right attitude rather than just wanting unlimited power.

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IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD (sci-fi horror)

Cell

IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD
(a science-fiction horror movie plot)

An alien amoeba sweeps into Earth’s atmosphere and is rained out, infiltrating the aquifers and reproducing prodigiously. Able to withstand the toxins in the environment and pass through water filtration systems, it is consumed by humans. Seeking high quality fat to consume, these amoeba invade human brains to feed, reproduce and radiate by exhalations to infect other hosts.

However, the electro-chemical action of intense neural activity associated with critical thinking disrupts the normal functioning of the alien cell walls, allowing human B cells and T cells to detect and successfully destroy the amoeba. This alien antigen epidemic was discovered by immunologists analyzing MRI brain scans of people expressing different political views, in a study seeking a correlation between immunological robustness and intellectual activity.

Political opinion was chosen as an easy marker of intellectual activity because the sample population could be divided into two distinctive groups: high activity and low activity. That is to say, high activity people were enthusiastic about Bernie Sanders, and low activity people were enthusiastic about either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump (it was impossible to distinguish between the two varieties in the low activity group because of their low signals for brain activity).

Since both groups had an equivalently wide range of physiological variation, the brain scientists were mystified as to what caused some people to exhibit high levels of critical thinking and preferred Sanders, while others had low levels of critical thinking and preferred Clinton or Trump. The mystery was solved when the alien brain-eating amoeba was discovered in the low activity group.

Unfortunately for the brain-eaten, the brain loss was permanent, and at best they could only slow or halt their infections by a strict regimen of vigorous critical thinking. Naturally, this was harder to do with reduced brain capacity. A public health alert went out to the nation to begin vigorous exercising of brains with critical thinking, to combat the epidemic. It was clear that the victim population had been lazy thinkers, and even non-thinkers, prior to the invasion of the alien amoeba, and were thus ripe for infection. A contributing factor to the speedy spread of the epidemic was excessive exposure to mass media, debilitating brain activity.

The public discovery of this epidemic and its societal impact caused an uproar: could the votes of the brain-stricken be nullified, and political power be denied to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, on the basis of their prominence being a symptom of an epidemic of mental illness caused by an organic brain disease, which was in fact an alien invasion? The brain-healthy argued that allowing the brain-diseased to vote was allowing an alien species (technically, illegal aliens) to subvert the American political system, and undermine national sovereignty. The brain-eaten argued that they had to have who they had to have as president because they had to have them. Pressed further, they gave as reasons: “he/she will protect us from them,” or “she would know what to do,” or “they won’t take my guns away.”

The crisis expanded into one of constitutional law when brain-healthy legislators tried to enact a rider to the First Amendment that required the exercise of free speech that was called “news,” by FCC licensed media, to be verified as factually true, unbiased and accurate prior to broadcast, and for all other commentary to be preceded by a statement of who paid for it, and how they intended to benefit from it. This measure was seen as essential to combat the spread of the epidemic of brain-eating disease, without actually infringing on First Amendment rights. However, the brain-infected vehemently opposed this proposed legislation because it infringed on the right to deceive, which was an essential element in the exercise of the right to profit, which is the entire point of the American economic system. Other reasons given by the opponents of the Truth In Broadcasting Act were: “I’m with her,” “you can’t take away my guns,” “she’ll know what to do” and “he’ll protect us.”

Ominously, the amoeba adapted to the resistance of the active human brain power of critical thinking, by evolving into several strains each attuned to different human cultures. So, the battle between democratic freedom and brain germ slavery spread globally as a spectrum of related disorders. This wrecked havoc with world peace by bringing the concept of respect for cultural diversity into conflict with the expectations of sociopathic, psychotic and inhuman regimes for recognition, respect, deference and greater power in the direction of human affairs.

Some of the most advanced thinkers trying to combat this epidemic began to fear that the parasites would only die out once the host population was consumed: human extinction. Indeed, the actions of the brain-eaten were leading to the collapse of many social systems and much infrastructure essential to the intelligent continuation of human activity. Even the habitability of the planet was now in decay as a result of massive brain-eaten stupidity.

Could the spirit of critical thinking be reignited among the intellectually indolent masses?

Could the brain-evacuation of the stricken be halted, and they brought back to some level of compassionate intellectual functioning?

Could culture-specific campaigns of mental hygiene succeed and link up globally?

Could humanity regain its freedom and its peace by a vast expansion of critical thinking, and its global integration?

Who can say? The battle rages. But this we know for certain: thinking is freedom.