Singularity of Destruction

(Photo courtesy of Paul Howell (Mystery writer Betty Webb‘s husband)

The excitement was palpable. The atmosphere was electric. The VIGBYOR toads were living up to their reputation – and more. Clinging atop a specially designed ‘Creeper Drome’, this Bufonidae family was being photographed by a throng, when the latter was not gaping or gawking that is.  Artificial General Intelligence (“AGI”) had attained the apogee of its potential. Using seemingly esoteric concepts such as Deep Learning and Machine Learning, a consortium of Artificial Intelligence organisations led by Singularity Unbound had succeeded in not just genetically modifying but astonishingly, birthing a new and colourful species of toad.

A pioneering technique unimaginatively titled Design Instituted Engineering (“DIE”) was at the forefront of the cutting edge research behind the evolution of the idea creating the toads. However, the irony behind the nomenclature was completely lost on the egregious scientists striving to create an alternative strand of intelligence. The darting, lashing and flailing tongues thrust out by the multicolored toads at random elicited peals of laughter from the assembled children.

However, none observed that the tongues were being thrust out at precisely measurable intervals. Neither did the proud creators realise that the communication of their creation was but a euphemism for wanton destruction.

(Word Count: 198)

Written as part of Sunday Photo Fiction. Write a story of around 200 words based on the photo prompt given (above). Hosted by Donna McNicol . For more details visit HERE

To read more of the stories based on this week’s prompt, click HERE

 

 

The World of Jaron Lanier

  1. Obsessed with likes on Instagram and infatuated with Selfies on Facebook

Chasing customized Bucket Lists clicking a thousand pictures, but never bothering              to look;

Sacrificing precious moments and memories at the altar of ‘stories’ and posts

To barricade one’s existence within the shackled boundaries of Skyping guests and            hosts.

2.  Going gaga over Alexa and unsuspectingly enslaved by the seductive Siri

Unwilling to recognise that in the world of capitalism, nothing comes free;

Fretting over friends lists all the while losing sleep over followers

Unashamed devotees of Social Media, which keeps feeding on believers.

3.  A willing prey to clever algorithms that obliterate all notions of free will

Becoming creatures of habit and fast losing the original gift of skill;

Humans becoming robots allergic to empathy

Reduced to 280 characters on Twitter, what a pity!

(Word Count: 136)

Courtesy of Sammi Cox Weekend Writing Prompt#135

 

 

 

 

This Is Not A Drill – An Extinction Rebellion Handbook

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According to their website, Extinction Rebellion is “an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience in an attempt to halt mass extinction and minimise the risk of social collapse.” Initially conceptualized by fifteen people who decided to take it up in their own hands to transform the climate change discourse and movement, Extinction Rebellion or XR shot into the limelight by embarking on a series of unconventional and out of the box actions that steered people’s imagination and attention towards the urgent issue of climate and ecological emergency plaguing the world today. XR activists shut down five iconic locations in central London: Oxford Circus, Marble Arch, Waterloo Bridge, Piccadilly Circus and Parliament Square, remaining there for ten days. They also succeeded in closing down fossil-fuel companies, and gluing themselves to the London Stock Exchange. This unique form of ‘civil disobedience’, was meant to instill a renewed sense of purpose and suffuse a reinvigorating bout of hope in the deeds and thoughts of people concerned about the pace of global warming.

“This Is Not a Drill” aims to capture the quintessential premise underlying the core and crux of Extinction Rebellion in a set of 30 concise essays. Attempting to conflate the need for ecological preservation with a choice of avant-garde and progressive steps, “This Is Not a Drill” is a handbook if not a manifesto beseeching and exhorting like-minded individuals to take up the cause of environmental protection.

The theme for the book is set, courtesy, a stirring foreword by Vandana Shiva, scholar, environmental activist, food sovereignty advocate, and anti-globalization author. After informing the readers about a coming apocalypse in the form of a sixth extinction, Ms. Shiva, conflates genocide with ‘ecocide’, both of which form ‘one indivisible process, and they began with the idea of the colonization of the Earth as the ‘civilizing mission’ of a ‘superior race’. Ms. Shiva before concluding her piece brings our attention to the Hopi people of North America who ‘describe the phenomenon of destroying everything that sustains a society as Powaqqatsi – ‘an entity, a way of life, that consumes the life forces of beings in order to further its own life’

The foreword is followed by thirty short essays penned by an eclectic band of disciplinarians and professionals. Writer, actor and the editor of this handbook, Sam Knights reveals to the reader the three uncompromising demands of XR:

  1. The government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change
  2. The government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero by 2025 the three key demands.
  3. The government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice

Borrowing from Mr. Knight’s theme, renowned environmental lawyer Farhana Yaminmakes a genuine plea for curbing fossil-fuel subsidies for businesses. “They will keep asking for fossil-fuel subsidies. The official estimates of financial support to fossil fuels are between US$ 370 billion and 620 billion over the period 2010–2015, with the UK spending £10.5 billion a year, making the UK the biggest fossil fuel subsidiser in the EU.” The warp and weft of this handbook is the presumption that we no longer can afford to tolerate the now-taken-for-granted precept of “business as usual.” For the circumstances staring us into our collective faces are extraordinarily unusual. The former President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed, who famously conducted an underwater meeting of his Ministers to highlight the escalating perils of rising sea water levels, appeals to the world to act with the utmost stringency lest coral nations such as Maldives face untimely extinction.

London based writer and musician J S Rafaeli, along with Neil Woods, who spent fourteen years infiltrating drug gangs as an undercover Police Officer, in an essay titled, “Fighting The Wrong War”, outline the key principles, of the concept of ‘Harm Reduction’. Originally conceived by Dr. Russell Newcombe, Harm reduction represents a coherent system, outlined by four key principles of pragmatism, non-judgmental attitude, relevance, and user-friendly disposition. These principles instituted to wean away addicts from the consumption of drugs, may be, according to the authors of this essay, be equally applied to fossil-fuel consumers.

Part II of the book is a guide to civil disobedience. In an essay titled, “The Civil Resistance Model”, British environmental activist, a co-founder of Extinction Rebellion and cooperative federation organisation Radical Routes, Roger Hallam, lays down the vital requirements for engaging in peaceful civil disobedience/economic disruption. According to him:

  1. “First, you need the numbers. Not millions, but not a few dozen people either. You need Requirements for a non-violent disruption several thousand: ideally, 50,000;

  1. You have to go to the capital city. That is where the government is, that’s where the elites hang out and it’s also where the national and international media are usually based. The truth is, they don’t mind you doing stuff in the provinces. They do mind when you set up camp on their lawn, because they are forced to sit up and pay attention;

  1. You have to break the law. This is the essence of the non-violent method because it creates the social tension and the public drama which are vital to create change. Everyone loves an underdog narrative. It’s the great archetypal story in all cultures: against all the odds, the brave go into battle against evil. Breaking the rules gets you attention and shows the public and the elite that you are serious and unafraid. It creates the necessary material disruption and economic cost which forces the elites to sit up and take notice. Common actions are simple ones: sitting down in roads; painting government buildings;

  1. It has to stay non-violent. As soon as you allow violence into the mix, you destroy the diversity and community basis upon which all successful mass mobilizations are based. The young, the old and the vulnerable will leave the space. So people need to be trained to stay calm and groups need to be assigned the role of intervening when tempers flare up. This needs to be organized, and non-violent Requirements for a non-violent disruption;

  1. It has to go on day after day. We all know A-to-B marches get us nowhere – and the truth is, neither does blocking a capital city for a day. It’s in the news and then it’s over. To create real economic cost for the bosses, you have to keep at it. The first day or two, no one is bothered. After a few days it become ‘an issue’. After a week it’s a ‘national crisis’. This is because each day you block a city the economic costs go up exponentially – increasing each day;

  1. Last but not least, it has to be fun. If we can’t dance at it, it isn’t a real revolution. The artistic communities need to be on board: it’s a festival. We are going to show the media that we’re not sitting around waiting to die any longer. We’re gonna have a party.”

The handbook covers all the bases in so far as organizing a peaceful rebellion is concerned, including even the type of dishes to be served. For example, food coordinator Momo Haque, in his essay titled, “Feeding The Rebellion”, provides the recipe for a simple, albeit nourishing dish using rice and lentils. “Rice and lentils – soaked together for around three hours. Add some spices, maybe cumin, turmeric, chili, ginger, garlic, onion, salt. Add lots of water, cook for an hour or so; when it’s soft and mixed together, it’s ready to serve.”

From plonking down a 21ft pink boat in the middle of a bustling street to supergluing themselves to chairs and door handles, the activists constituting XR are on a mission to save the One Habitable Planet that we have, at the time of writing this review, at least. Unless mankind is successful in identifying a suitable alternative, XR would need every bit of support it can garner if our future generations are to inherit a livable abode.

The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien (Inspector Maigret Book 3) – Georges Simenon, Linda Coverdale

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The Inspector Maigret books by Georges Simenon are to say the least, exquisite in their wake and poignant in their sweep. The third book in the series, “The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien” is no exception. Possessing un-envisaged twists and unpredictable turns, Inspector Maigret’s strange trysts – experienced within the geographies of Belgium and France- with three peculiarly intense individuals, “The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien” is an absolute ripper.

The book begins in the most non-decrepit of settings. A quaint railway station situated at the border separating Netherlands from Germany. “For Gare de Neuschanz is at the northern tip of Holland, on the German border. A railway station of no importance. Neuschanz is barely a village. It isn’t on any main railway line. A few trains come through mostly in the morning and evening, carrying German workers attracted by the high wages paid in Dutch factories.”

A ‘suspicious’ tramp carrying a battered suitcase is followed by Inspector Maigret. The shabby individual purchases a ticket to Bremen, and while waiting for the train to arrive frequents the wash room at the waiting lounge. Unbeknownst to the traveler, Inspector Maigret replaces the battered suitcase being conveyed by the tramp with an identical one stuffed with newspapers. Maigret also succeeds in booking himself a room adjacent to the one checked into by the shoddy traveler. However, Maigret is in for a rude shock when the traveler upon realizing that his suitcase has been pilfered and replaced with a fake replica, pulls out a revolver and shoots himself.

Maigret’s quandary is further exacerbated when all he finds in the tramp’s briefcase are a pair of crumpled dirty shirts and a blood stained suit worn by repeated use. A scribbled note retrieved by Maigret takes him to Belgium and an unanticipated acquaintance with three individuals of varied character, social standing and disposition. Joseph Van Damme, Import-Export Commission Agent; Belloir, the Deputy Director of a Bank and Jef Lombard a photo engraver. What could be the connecting link between the miserable man who took his own life and three genteel, refined and sophisticated individuals?

When Maigret experiences two attempts at murder, he becomes convinced that there is someone with a murky secret who wants Maigret out of the way at any and every cost. How Maigret gets to the bottom of the riddle forms the rest of Simenon’s gripping tale.

Writing in a style that is crisp, matter-of-fact and bereft of convoluted references, Simenon’s book is a veritable treat for his readers. For example, in describing about an inherent human nature of Schadenfreude, Simenon writes, “‘When there’s a fire, onlookers can’t help wanting it to last, to be a spectacular fire, and when the river is rising, newspaper readers hope for major flooding they can talk about for the next twenty years. They want something interesting, and it doesn’t matter what! Or when describing the setting of the morgue where the unfortunate suicide victim’s body is placed – “More sinister precisely because of its sharp, clean lines and perspectives, the uniform white of the walls, which reflected a harsh light, and the refrigeration units as shiny as machines in a power station. The place looked like a model factory: one where the raw material was human bodies.”

“The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien displays both the selfless and selfish sides characterizing a fictitious tragedy. More than anything else it brings to the fore, the extraordinary prowess of a natural writer who wields his pen to produce near miraculous outcomes.

A Warning – Anonymous

Warning

Donald Trump, undoubtedly has to be the most unpredictable, uncouth and perhaps undeserving leader of any democracy in the annals of human history. From ill-informed tirades, intransigent outlook to ill-conceived knee jerk decision making, Trump is a conundrum not just to the rest of the world but unsurprisingly to his own administration as well. In his bestselling book, “The Threat”, Andrew G. McCabe, the former Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and one of the ‘unfortunate elites’ in a burgeoning rank of officials to have been fired via Twitter, penned a rousing indictment, if not a measured polemic against a President who operates on instinct, indiscretion and injudiciousness.

Now in a remarkably hard hitting and sensational work titled ‘A Warning’, a member within the Trump administration going by the prosaic and plaid nom de plume of ‘Anonymous’, informs his poleaxed readers about the conundrum posed by President Trump, courtesy his eccentricities, and the struggle engaged in by his administration to keep a hold over ever fluid policy decisions.

According to the book, within the ranks of the Trump appointees, there exists a “Steady State” brigade. The rank and file of the Steady State, alarmed by the impulsive nature of the President try to “steer him away from self-destructive impulses.” Going by their track record, the Steady State association has managed to more than just distinguish itself. Robert Mueller’s Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election. “The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful,” he wrote, “but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”

The Steady State team needs to work overtime for they know that their task is more than just cut out. With a President who decides the fortunes of a nation, the friends it chooses to keep and desert, by way of rants on Twitter rather than via informed dialogues and deliberations, the damage mitigating team is left walking the tightrope more often than they deem comfortable. Even Trump’s own Party seems to be at their wit’s end with the inexplicable attitude of the President. For example, on December 19, 2018, when Trump exclaimed, falsely, that ISIS had been eliminated and it was time for the United States to withdraw their forces from Syria, Congress was, to say the least, aghast. “I’ve never seen a decision like this since I’ve been here in twelve years,” Senator Bob Corker, then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters. “It is hard to imagine that any president would wake up and make this kind of decision, with little communication, with this little preparation.” Even Senator Lindsey Graham, who’d been trying to curry Trump’s favor, blasted the decision. Lindsey told reporters the announcement had “rattled the world.”

The book demonstrates in no uncertain terms the internecine conflicts and squabbles littering the White House as the occupant’s band together into factions and try upstaging one another. Hence, “there, was the Kushner camp, the Bannon camp, the Conway camp, and others such as Penceland or the so called Flynn-stones, acolytes of the anointed national security advisor. They were united at times and divided at others. This was a real-life version of The Apprentice.”

Unlike either Obama or George Bush Jr, Trump is one President who apparently does not read anything! Averse to elaborate explanations and too distracted to plough through position papers, the President’s patience wears thin upon being told that he needs to be extensively briefed. Sample this: ““He is the most distracted person I’ve ever met,” one of the president’s security lieutenants confessed. “He has no fucking clue what we are talking about!” More changes were ordered to cater to Trump’s peculiarities. Documents were dramatically downsized, and position papers became sound bites. As a result, complex proposals were reduced to a single page (or ideally a paragraph) and translated into Trump’s “winners and losers” tone.” In so far as Trump’s administrative skills are concerned, the book has some astonishing stuff to state. “About a third of the things the president wants us to do are flat-out stupid. Another third would be impossible to implement and wouldn’t even solve the problem. And a third of them would be flat-out illegal.”

The book attempts to judge Trump against the quintessential principles of leadership laid down by Cicero. These principles have as their bedrock a four-part rubric adhering to which determines the character, or lack of it, of any leader. And as the book goes on to illustrate Trump miserably fails every single principle. For the uninitiated, the four principles are:

  1. “understanding and acknowledging truth”;
  2. “maintaining good fellowship with men, giving to everyone his due, and keeping faith in contracts and promises”;
  3. “greatness and strength of a lofty and unconquered mind”; and
  4. “the order and measure that constitute moderation and temperance.”

But the greatest danger is neither Trump nor his hysterics. As the book expounds in great detail, the President of the United States of America is surrounded by a band of loyal acolytes who are driven by the troika of power, tribal allegiance and fear. The Trump coterie as per the author can be categorized into ‘Sycophants’ and ‘Silent Abettors.’ “Put them in a room with the president and watch as he strings together unrelated sentences, as his tone changes, as his face contorts, and as he declares he is going to do something very, very good (but that reasonable people know is not good at all, and perhaps very bad). Watch as he gestures his hands to those around the room, enlisting them by extension in his declaration, whether they willingly endorse it or not. Then scan the room. The bobbing heads and forced grins are Apologists. You can see for yourself on television because the president invites the press to cover these conversations, as a means to display his total dominance of those around him. There are two separate types of unsavory Trump appointee. Both belong to the same genus, the Apologist, defined by their shared willingness to excuse the inexcusable. But each is its own species with distinctive characteristics.”

The President’s character can also be judged in the utterly disdainful and despicable manner in which he views women. As the book illustrates in a brutally uncomfortable manner, the words and style employed by Trump to describe and address women is downright ugly. “Sex appeal. Beautiful piece of ass. Good shape. Bimbo. Great in bed. A little chubby. Not hot. Crazed. Psycho. Lonely. Fat. Fat ass. Stupid. Nasty woman. Dog. Ugly face. Dogface. Horse face. If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband,” “what makes her think she can satisfy America?”

A Warning ends with a clarion call to the voters to choose wisely at the ballot box, but in so far as credibility is concerned, many would want to understand the need for the author to couch himself/herself in the garb of anonymity, especially when the potential future of the whole world is at stake.

Careen Here!

(Image Credit: C.E.Ayr)

The traffic heading into the city was unusually thin. Natalie couldn’t believe her eyes. Gripping her steering wheel hard she peered into her rear view mirrors at a relatively empty stretch of concrete. Stifling a smile, she navigated the roundabout. Just as she was about to take the second exit, a Honda CRV, came hurtling out of nowhere, careening into her path. Natalie almost stood atop her brakes, but to no avail. As her car turned turtle, the alarm clock shrieked and Natalie was jolted awake with cold sweat streaming down her face.

She knew she would die that morning.

(Word Count: 100)

This story was written as part of the FRIDAY FICTIONEERS challenge, more about which may be found HERE

For more stories based on the above prompt, click HERE 

 

Roundabout

The X – Ray

Tendrils of smoke wafted and swirled upwards in a convolution of asymmetrical shapes

A rasping cough shook him to the bones eliciting from passersby repulsive gawks and gapes;

Rivulets of painful tears streamed down his eyes brushing his parched and cracked lips

With shivering fingers he put away his pack of cigarettes along with a book of matchsticks

 

The trinity of tiny dots on the X-Ray all but signed his death warrant sans pity

SCREW LONGEVITY!

(Word Count: 76)

Courtesy of Sammi Cox Weekend Writing Prompt#133