Friday, September 12, 2014

Evil?

When the world is faced with annihilation, one reporter sits down with the man who discovered the threat -- renowned billionaire David Sunderlin. The interview reveals much about not only Sunderlin, but also humanity and what true evil really is.

_______________________

“What is evil really? Is a doctor evil for amputating a limb to save a patient? Is a police officer evil for shooting an armed attacker to save innocent lives? Is a military evil for killing soldiers to rescue civilians in danger?” Billionaire and CEO of SpaceFlight, David Sunderlin said in a recent interview. We sat down in his penthouse apartment to discuss recent developments, including his address to the United Nations in which he informed the world of the asteroid hurtling towards Earth. Sunderlin granted the interview gladly and personally, rather than using an assistant to work out the details. When I arrived at his apartment he answered the door himself. The man with the largest fortune in the world — made primarily through buying struggling Internet companies and then selling them once he has turned them into household names — stood before me in ripped jeans, a plaid shirt, and sporting plastic rimmed glasses. His salt-and-pepper hair fought itself, a conflict which Sunderlin paid no mind.
“Of course I don’t consider myself evil,” Sunderlin continued in response to my question, “But then again who would? I doubt any person has thought of themselves as evil. Even the worst of us has justification for our actions. And really, that’s the issue here. Justification.” Sunderlin went on to list companies and individuals who justified what he considers to be evil. Were I to print the names here I might be guilty of libel. Suffice it to say the accusations are serious and wide-reaching. Sunderlin told me of justifying extortion, racism, pollution, murder, slavery, oppression, starvation, war and nearly every other crime imaginable. All of this, said Sunderlin, was justified to the point where simply talking had no chance of changing minds.
“I don’t think I’m the best person for this job,” he leaned forward on his couch and tented his fingers before continuing, “but I’m the one with the means. I tried to convince people. I tried to use the political system. I tried to use economics. I tried begging. I tried spreading my ideas across the Internet. None of it worked and now it’s too late.” With that he leaned back into the Corinthian leather of his sofa with an audible sigh.
Sunderlin was referring to the asteroid and his UN address. He went on to say, “It was the only thing I could think of — the only way I could hope to affect change. I told them what needed to happen. I told them that only if the world started working together could the asteroid be diverted. It’s coming too quickly and too soon for any one country or alliance to stop it alone. The whole world needs to agree or the whole world is doomed.” 
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Read the rest here

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Battle for the Net

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Net Neutrality is a popular buzz-word right now, but its political and tangible effects are harder to fathom. The most recent effect is that Netflix slowed down on the servers of Time Warner, Comcast, AT&T and Verizon. To resolve the issue, they agreed to pay a fee for faster internet access.

If the providers are allowed to charge fees for access to faster speeds on the internet, we could soon face a corporately run system where the biggest companies have the loudest voice. This is already true in our political system and our traditional media. If it becomes true of the internet too then the promised democratization effects of online communication will fail.

Let's put that another way. If companies can pay for fast lanes, they can also outbid everyone else to create slow lanes. 

This is a step away from full-on censorship. Right now your voice doesn't matter much in the world. Your elected officials don't really care what you think on an issue. The companies that provide you with everything you need to live don't care if they hurt or abuse you. What they all care about is the flow of money. Politicians overwhelmingly follow the money that comes from lobbyist and SuperPACs -- funded by businesses. Businesses overwhelmingly follow the dictates of their shareholders in making decisions -- intended to maximize profit, not benefit the consumers.

You have one place now where your tiny voice can be magnified to the point where politicians and companies will listen -- at least some of the time. You have one outlet for changing minds. One location where a true democracy lives and thrives.

If we lose Net Neutrality, we lose the last remaining bastion of individual power.

There are a few, simple things you can do, right now. Use the power of the internet to save the power of the internet. Save not only your voice, but the voices of the oppressed around the world.

Click here and learn more. Sign the letter (I did). Write your own letter (I did). Tell your friends. Demand an open internet. Demand your voice be heard.

Friday, September 5, 2014

July Rain

Barca is faced with a choice: obey his commanding officer or save his dying wife. 


Dust puffs up with each fat drop’s impact on the ground. In an instant the moisture is gone. I smell the rain, or rather the dust made wet by the rain. It’s a clean, warm, life-giving smell. It smells like hope. I have to shield my eyes against the sun setting under the heavy clouds as I pick out the path ahead. The moment of respite is welcome, but I can’t stop for long. I’m chased and chasing. If I don’t make it up the mountain in time… I don’t even want to imagine what could happen. But behind me the General’s men are even now finding my trail and zeroing in on me. They won’t be gentle when they find me. Rhythmic thunder pulses in the distance.
Most people would call what I did stealing. Most people would also call it justified. I don’t think the General cares about “most people.” But I didn’t have anywhere else I could get to in time, so I had to go to him. He trusted me once. That’s all in the past now. My thieving made sure of that. I chose to disobey him. I chose to leave. I chose a different way.
I settle the pack onto my shoulders and push on up the hillside. I have knowledge on my side. The General’s men are new to this mountain and must go slowly. I’ve lived here since I can remember. Trees and stones were my first friends and lifelong companions. I greet them by name as I pass and thank them for guiding me home. I don’t even allow myself to wonder if the home is still there for me.
As the sun sets I make out the soldier’s lights in the forest below. They are fanned out in a typical formation groping forward slowly, but sure of their progress. It will take them the rest of the night to get to the top. I hope to be there in an hour.
Despite my familiarity, the trees can’t make my legs stronger or my lungs more able to draw in air. I’ve been hiking through the hot, high desert for over thirty hours with little water and no food. The meager drizzle stirred some life in me, but it can’t cover over such a multitude of sins.
Steps become stiff, wooden. I will my leg to move and then the other. My world constricts down to only my feet on the darkened path. One step and then another. Stopping would be final, fatal. I keep moving, an animated corpse. But eventually the ground starts to level. It takes my benumbed mind a few minutes to realize the import. I’ve reached the top. I am steps away from the cabin. I am steps away from her and soon she’ll be okay.
I break into a trot, using my newfound strength, when I reach the broad clearing around the cabin that had seen every major event in my life. I’ll be by her side in moments and moments after that she’ll start to recover. When I am maybe fifty yards from the front door I notice an odd, dark lump behind the cabin. Dread wells up inside me. That is the General’s helicopter. 
***

Read the rest here

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Trial of Mrs. Randall

When Jake and Patty decided to not have children they took a lot of criticism for it. But one doctor offered them the chance to never regret their decision. What he didn't tell them, what they couldn't know, was how it would tear their lives apart. 

“Ahem.”
She looked around vaguely for a moment before her eyes found the source of the disturbance.
“Mrs. Randall, I’ll ask you again, can you tell us the role of Dr. Olson’s procedures in the tragedy of January seventeenth?”
She furrowed her brow, looked at the lawyer, then the judge and then back to the lawyer, “If you really want me to…”
“We really do,” said the judge.
***
With that, Mrs. Patricia Randall explained why she and her husband went to see Dr. Robert Olson. They’d been married for over ten years and finally decided that they weren’t going to have children. Her husband, Jake, was going to have a vasectomy so that she wouldn’t have to keep taking birth control.
They’d gone in to see the doctor, but since they didn’t have any children, there were a series of talks, evaluations and confirmations required. First, the nurse talked to them for a long time, asking them if they were really sure that they didn’t want kids. Then the doctor came in and asked the same questions. Finally they were sent off for a psychiatric evaluation, separately, and asked the same questions.
It’s not as if their parents and friends and sometimes complete strangers hadn’t grilled them already with the standard litany of questions.
“Who will take care of you when you’re older?”
“Don’t you like kids?”
“What about the future?”
“You’d make great parents. Why won’t you do it for the kids?”
And of course, “Isn’t that selfish of you?”
But still, after all the cajoling and interrogation by friends, family, nurses, doctors and psychiatrists, they still came to the same conclusion. Jake and Patty didn’t want kids. The vasectomy was performed, Jake recovered in a few days and the couple went on with life as usual. Jake went back to work selling computers and Patty continued with her travel agency – yes, some people still use travel agents.
Months later, after they’d forgotten about the procedure, they received a letter from Dr. Robert
Olson. It was vague, but in it, they were invited to discuss the results of the vasectomy with him, in private.
Jake worried that something was wrong, reasoning that doctors don’t invite you to talk in private if they aren’t telling you that you have cancer or something. Patty reassured him, but she didn’t delay in making the appointment with Dr. Olson.
When they arrived at the address, they both noticed that it was a much nicer building than the clinic where the original procedure happened. The landscaping was immaculate and the waiting room had real, wooden furniture instead of pressboard and veneer. The magazines were even recent and unmarked by crayons and jam-encrusted toddler fingers.
They both settled in for a long wait, standard operating procedure for their usual doctor visits. So they were surprised when the nurse called them back the moment the clock struck ten-thirty – the time of their appointment. Stepping into Dr. Olson’s office, they both gawked at the dark, wood shelves lining the walls and filled with leather-bound books. The mahogany desk centered on the far wall was wreathed by light from the French doors. Later Jake remarked that it felt like they were walking into Mr. Burns’ office at the nuclear power plant. The only thing missing was a stuffed polar bear in the corner.
“Please come in, sit down,” Dr. Olson said. “I’m so happy you came.”
After they shook hands and settled in to the plush chairs, the doctor addressed the reason for his letter.
            “The two of you are the perfect candidates. After all our searching and researching, we’re so happy to have finally found you.” 

***
Read the rest of the story here

Friday, August 22, 2014

Sunrise

After trying everything else and failing only one option is left for those trapped in the darkness and tasked with bringing others light.


Left.
Right.
Left. Cordan’s left hand flashed out and slapped with a metallic clang on the nearest trunk.
Right. His right hand found the next pillar and deposited a small disc on its surface with a satisfying smack.
Hands worked autonomously, freeing Cordan’s mind to focus on the next footfall. The uneven ground under his feet sprouted large trunks at regular intervals. He ran as quickly as he could, as closely as possible to each of the pillars rising up in his path. They stretched, straight and gray into the blackness above. Cordan felt adrift in darkness; he saw only a few yards ahead by the light of his dim headlamp.
Endless hours of training made Cordan’s movements second-nature, natural. He flowed, more than ran. Each shaft received its share of his offering. Occasionally his foot slipped on the loose, dry dirt. The barren ground lacked any sign of animal, insect or plant. He cursed himself for being too slow and sped on.
The image of an orangutan came to his mind as his arms swung out from side to side. He’d seen a documentary on the creatures once. Still he pressed forward. He’d seen many things in documentaries, but they usually felt like fantasy. The world he saw on-screen had nothing to do with the world he lived in.
            His world was dark. Dark and harsh. They were the Caretakers who were required to keep the panels working. Down below, they had access to all the wires, all the connections, but they stayed in the dark. Once a year, chosen by lottery, a small group of workers would take a long ride in a secure elevator to the top of the panels. For a week they would clean and maintain before descending again into the darkness. The stories they brought back evoked rapt wonder and harsh doubt. How could such a bright, living world exist, supported by the black, lifeless existence below?
...

Read the rest here

Monday, August 18, 2014

Critique Group and Writing

One of the -- if not the most -- beneficial tools in a writer's box is helpful critique. There are a lot of things that go into making critique helpful instead of just criticism. My friend Erik Wecks and I have worked on offering helpful critique (with many pitfalls along the way) to the point where I know his feedback helps to make my writing better (and I'm sure I do the same for his).

If you don't have a critique group for your writing, I highly recommend getting one together, but don't just throw a bunch of people in a room and hope it all works out.

We talked about some of the stuff that works in this video. You should watch it.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

It Gets Better?

He stood alone in the room, the last words of his speech cut off by the crash of a neglected door swinging shut on the lecture hall.
“It’s getting better,” he finished in quiet defeat.
Doctor Larry M. Northrup hadn’t expected his lecture to be popular, or even well received. He knew that his thesis flew in the face of what everyone expected, but still he presented it. The original paper had passed peer review – not without significant rebuttal and critique – so Dr. Northrup had submitted it to the World Association of Journalists and Broadcasters for their annual conference. Not only was he surprised to be accepted, but thrilled to be given a chance to deliver the keynote address.
In the months leading up to the conference Dr. Northrup went over every detail of the presentation. He contracted professional slide designers to give him the best visuals possible – he used the same people that produced slides for Steve Jobs and Al Gore. He checked and rechecked his peer-reviewed data, searching for any flaw. He could find none. It was a beautiful, inspiring, reasonable, uplifting presentation and he would deliver it to the very people who needed to hear it most.
He decided to start with the big picture and then move to the specifics.
“Today in history,” Northrup began his lecture, “is the safest time in the history of the world. There is less disease, famine, hunger, and war than any other point in human history.”
The audience shifted in their seats and looked like bored high school freshmen hoping to avoid homework over a long weekend.
Dr. Northrup felt the sweat start to form on his upper lip and between his shoulder blades. But he continued, “By every measurable, objective statistic the world is better today than it was five years ago and far better than it was even twenty years ago. You can see here that murder rates have dropped considerably. Violent crime is down. Drug abuse is down. Violence against women is down.
“Or look here,” he switched slides to show a graph with lines climbing every higher, “education is improving, life expectancy is increasing, quality of life is up, income is up—“
An interruption came from a particularly dour-faced man in a gray suit, “What’s that line going down?”
           “Ah, yes, I’m glad you pointed that out,” Northrup adjusted his glasses and clicked to the next slide, “Here you can see the one positive indicator that has been consistently going down.”

...


Read the rest here