Casablanca is one of my favorite movies of all time. It's set in a time and place that speaks uniquely to the American mythos: just prior to WWII in the fight against facisim in an exotic, international place with a band of international characters led by a disillusioned, lovelorned, American tough-guy who doesn't "buy and sell people." But I have to admit, as much as I admire the Humphrey Bogart character, Rick Blaine, I tend to identify more with the nerdy writer, Victor Laszlo.

Of course, in the movie, Laszlo is a hero of the Czechoslovakian resistence (well before the term, "nerd," was known). Why nerdy? Well, Laszlo was portrayed in the movie, not as a soldier but as a writer; acutally, the editor of an underground newspaper in Prague after the Nazi occupation. He wrote truth about the Nazis and that made them hate him and want to throw him in prison, or worse (things aren't so different these days). Now this is admirable in real life and very dangerous if really practiced. Journalists get dead now, just as then, for saying unpopular things to mass audiences. Still, I have this heroic image of Victor Laszlo punching away at his portable typewriter in a dingy basement, while Nazi soldiers patrol the streets above, as he turns out page-after-page of copy that acuses Hitler of murdering innocents, and of having a goofy moustache! (No, Victor didn't get that scar in battle; he was hit in the head when his stuck typewriter carriage unfroze suddenly).

Yeah, Rick's the strong, cool, dude with the heart of gold that Ms Ilsa really loves, but the plot hinges on Victor Laszlo! Getting him away from the Nazis is what puts Ilsa in Casablanca and back to Rick in the first place. And in the end, the cause Laszlo is working for trumps everything else! This is the first revenge of the nerd!

What prompted that rant was my recent review of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Like Stieg Larsson's other "Lisbeth Salander books," Hornet's Nest is a computer/writer nerd's delight. You have a quirky antihero with killer computer skills and kick-butt martial arts skills, but on top of it all, she's a super kick-butt researcher and her sidekick is a major author and publisher of a Swedish magazine! Salander can go anywhere online and find stuff, clone hard drives, and even pull down evidence against serial killers and corrupt government officials. And then her journalist sidekick can publish it all into a world-wide best seller. You just don't get any more nerdy kick-butt than that!

So here we have a direct line in drama from Victor Laszlo to Lisbeth Salander (there's an alliteration between his last name and her first name; surely not coincidence). He is a straight-laced hero of the Czech resistence with a typewriter. She is an antisocial, antihero of cyberpunks with a keyboard. There does, however, seems to be some difference in scale there. Is Laszlo's cause loftier? The characters around him certainly considered it lofty, and they make great sacrifice for his safety so he can continue his work (in private Victor muses: "People are risking their lives so I can indulge my compulsion to write on my typewriter and make pages and pages...." Salander doesn't have to keep such things to herself. She's an antihero so she doesn't care. She hacks and gets around on the Internet because she can. If she tends to solve crimes, it's because she happens to hate bad-guy-low-lifes, especially women-abusers, and she has the tools to do it. Whatever ideological drive she has is much more below surface than Laszlo's. Maybe she's more honest.

I grew up watching two-fisted heroes on TV and the movies. I've loved the khaki-clad jungle explorer fighting crocodiles and hostile natives to find some unknown. But in the end, I'm too reticent for all that. I'm more of a Laszlo-Salander combo, plunking away trying to write something that's worth something and make a difference from the seat of my leather-bound office chair. I'm alternately driven between motivations like Laszlo, who fights for the right out of ideology, and like Salander, who fights out of reaction against injury to herself or others. In either case, my weapon of choice is the keyboard or pencil striking blows in passionate prose.

Maybe you feel that way too. If so, you're my fellow warrior in the fight against the lies of those who would rule through deception, or any who would destroy the Good for the sake of meglomanic agrandizement of Self at the expense of everyone else. Brandish your pencil and plink your keyboard for the sake of the common good, and stick your neck out for somebody. Even Rick came around.

It has been a busy last couple of weeks for me. I was finally able to complete pulling together my collection of short stories into a volume I call, The Wider World, and publish it through my own little imprint, Arbordin Park Press, and distribute it in print and Kindle editions through Amazon.com. All this involved learning the CreateSpace tools, setting up the Arbordin site and writing its first blog post, and then dealing with some devilish and stupid errors in the manuscript at the last minute. But, at last, the book is out there and its supporting business entity is operational and ready to facilitate the publication of the other projects I want to do.

As it happened, I was able to get all that done and then take a little trip with my wife to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.

So we headed northwest towards the Blue Ridge Mountains where, after an overnight in Charlotte, NC, we spent a few days in the little mountain town of Blowing rock, NC. It was the first time I had been to any mountains since a trip to the Rockies when I was 17. Well, we were surrounded by mountains when we visited Puerto Vallarta, Mexico three years ago, but we didn't explore them.

Blowing Rock (named for its main attraction--a 3000 foot cliff that channels wind up its face) is a "quaint" little town that is probably as village-like as you see these days. It has a walkable Main Street full of shops and restaurants, including an English pub. We strolled the streets, shopped, and enjoyed the cooler air of the town's 4000 foot elevation.

On our first day there, we visited the nearby wild west theme park called, Tweetsie Railroad. Part of that visit was a ride on a 1943 vintage steam-powered train. It burned coal, blew its steam whistle and chugged along just like you see in the movies. Of course, it stopped for requisite show of cowboy and Indian doings with shoot-outs, fist-fights, a horse, and a fort. For me, though, I just let myself get lost in the rhythm of the train, the smell of burning coal, and a trail of embers in the air that prompted the wearing of sunglasses for protection.

The train steamed over a high tressle and around the steep hillsides through woods and over creeks. At times, I got views of the engine making the curve ahead of us (we were in the last car) in the classic scene of a train rounding the bend.

I also got a look at an old source of steam and the smoke from burning a major fossil fuel, like they did it a hundred years ago to kick off the Industrial Age. That was a first step in the warming of the atmosphere into the current hot-house. To me, all the wild west trappings were mostly from the movies and TV depictions of the US frontier in the nineteenth century. I think what you find in such theme parks is really more nostalgia for the 1950s and 1960s than the old west. The reality was different.

The next day, we went tubing down the New River. Rafting and kayaking are big in this area and there are plenty of stretches of white water to get your pulse up, but I didn't feel we were ready for that, so we just took a leisurely drift down a lazy stretch of water. Still, it was enough of a change of pace for us to challenge our comfort and deal with life from a more elemental perspective.

We each had a tube (with a bottom) to float in and they were tied together. We mostly just drifted as we had no means to fight the current if we wanted to, but we learned to use our arms to paddle together and stay in the middle of the river and avoid rocks and getting stuck on the bank.

Life is a River of Dreams as Billy Joel tells us. And a lot of it is dreaming, as we try to keep our courage up, and our hope alive as we travel on. I mean, it was great to drift down the river with my Love; it was a break from the demands of modern life. We arrived at our starting point, fiercely sunburned, but still feeling all the better for our trip.

We enjoyed the trip and being in the mountains. I hope to go back and maybe do some backpacking and horseback riding. Such activities add fuel to the fire of our inspiration and ultimately infuse my writing. We need to find our fun, and our inspirations, when and where we can.

SEEKERS look for the transcendent truth they suspect lies beyond the common experience of physical existence.

So begins the Foreword to my just released collection of speculative fiction, The Wider World. Discovering that greater reality is what happens to the characters in the collection's nine stories. What they all find is good, bad, and in-between.

I've written a lot about my book in the last few days and I hope you've read most of that and become interested. If not, let me refer you to the book's publisher's page where you'll find an overview. Then there's further write-ups on the Print Edition and eBook Edition (Kindle) pages (there are links to these pages on the publisher's page).

With the launch of The Wider World, I've also revised my Author's webpage (I guess you've noticed, since you're reading this) and launched the publisher's website--Arbordin Park Press. The inspiration for APP came from one of the stories in The Wider World entitled, The Spark: A Christmas Story. The APP blog will tell you some more about that.

In the Arbordin Park Press site's blog, I'll make posts of a literary nature--book reviews, publishing news, commentaries on writing and publishing, etc. I'll post all my other blog subjects on my Author's site. Currently, APP has only The Wider World on its catalogue page, though I hope to add more soon. While APP is the imprint publisher for The Wider World, payment and fulfillment are handled by Amazon.com for both the print and Kindle editions.

So while I intend to add much more to APP's catalogue, for now, let me further entice you to check out The Wider World by repeating a quote from the book's Foreword:

Seeking the wider world is the ultimate quest and is at the heart of all existential searches. It is also at the heart of the stories that comprise this collection. Though the writing of each was motivated by the exploration of some facet of plot or character, or the desire to express some theme, they all examine someone's journey to the wider world, or their sudden discovery of it.

And here's the Table of Contents (for the print edition):

My Christmas Carol....................................................5
Author’s Note: My Christmas Carol..........................13
Author’s Note: Supernal............................................21
The Spark...................................................................23
Author’s Note: The Spark: A Christmas Story..........76
Madam President.......................................................79
Author’s Note: Madam President..............................92
Davis and the Goth....................................................95
Author’s Note: Davis and the Goth.........................106
Fire Dance................................................................109
Author’s Note: Fire Dance.......................................124
Life Cost...................................................................127
Author’s Note: Life Cost..........................................137
Apocalypse Diary.....................................................139
Author’s Note: Apocalypse Diary.............................161
Professor Ladner’s Journal......................................163
Author’s Note: Professor Ladner’s Journal............208

And here's an excerpt from the Kindle edition's page, "From the Author" section:

The Wider World is a collection of short stories I've written over the last several years plus a couple of new ones of novella length. They are all of the speculative fiction genre in that they all have some "what if" element, or a spiritual aspect with paranormal overtones. One is an outright ghost story ("Supernal"). Two are outright Christmas stories ("My Christmas Carol" and "The Spark"). One is a confrontation with the darkest evil ("Madam President"). One was inspired by my early life engulfed in a fundamentalist religion while also being bully-bait ("Davis and the Goth"). One expresses my fear of civilization's coming collapse and how it will expose the frailty of our life supports ("Apocalypse Diary"). And in the last one, I examine the costs of making a sudden turn in the way you live. This one ("Professor Ladner's Journal") is a "pilgrimage" story and probably my most hopeful one.

And finally:

Reader comments for stories that make up The Wider World collection:

Davis and the Goth
"Well written short story about being a bully and lessons learned. Has a touch of a sci-fi twist."
"Very realistic story of bullies and an intended "victim" with a really surprising ending!! Well written."

Fire Dance
"This was an enjoyable story set in a world I would like to hear more about."

"This short story had a look of a novel...it was very good."

"Another good short story by this author."

Madam President
"This is a provocative story given today's political atmosphere and corruption...this one will remain in my mind for a long time."

The Spark
"It was marvelous, both in feeling the pain, joy, and hope that this story discussed. The characters were real and...I will definitely read this author again."

"A great read. This novelette was truly inspiring."

"The Spark is an updated blend of the stories of Santa and the Nativity. Well done with believable characters and that touch of magic surrounding Santa that we all experienced as a child. I was hooked from page one."

My Christmas Carol
 "I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will probably make reading this a yearly Christmas tradition. Great for young and old alike. Highly recommended."

So now I hope I've hooked you on checking out The Wider World and following the blog on my site and on the Arbordin Park Press site. I've added NEWS sections to the home page of both sites, so check that frequently for a quick update on what's happening in both worlds. The blogs will be updated most every week (I'm only human).

For those who have been following me for a while now, I thank you. For the newcomers, welcome and thanks for dropping by. I hope you'll all walk with me on this literary pilgrimage. As my protag in Professor Ladner's Journal discovers, once you've found the wider world, there's no going back.

* * *
The WiderWorld Availability:

Arbordin Park Press eStore:   NOW

Kindle store: NOW

Amazon.com:  08/21/2015 (estimate)


If you read The Wider World and like it, and feel my literary efforts are worthwhile, then please consider writing a few words of review on the book's Amazon.com page (where you made the purchase). Thank you in advance, so very much.


The Wider World on the Arbordin Park Press site (with links to purchase)

The Arbordin Park Press blog

My Author's website (contains this blog: Ray's Journal)

In this journal for the last few months, I've alluded to changes I intended to implement on my website towards the end of August, and also a book coming out by then. Well, I've been working hard to make that happen and it looks like I'll be able to meet my deadline.

I'll give you details later, but the launch will center around an anthology I've compiled called, The Wider World. It's a compilation of the short (and not so short) stories I've done, plus some new material. All have been revised to correct errors, improve readability, and just better express what I was trying to say. And then there are two new novellas (Apocalypse Diary and Professor Ladner's Journal) that together take up about one third of the book. It'll be available as a printed book through Amazon.com and also as a Kindle ebook.

I selected the book's title as a description of that place we're all looking for. It's the destination for that journey we're on, the enlightenment we seek on our pilgrimage, and the greater reality we find when we discover how to open ourselves to it. That's the hope I tend to write about, even in the face of the world's darkness, and it's the theme I saw running through the stories.

In 2013 I posted a series of journal entries that described my own seeking of the wider world. They came from remembrances of some old inspirations, some current literary inspirations, and some life events. My story, Life Cost, came from that time. It all culminated in my journal entry that inspired the book's title.

Then, from 2014 to now, I morphed into considerations of "the journey," that complimented my move across country to a new home and life. What I've learned in all this, and am still learning, is what I've tried to share with you in my journal, and now in this new book. As I say in the Forward:

Seeking the wider world is the ultimate quest and is at the heart of all existential searches. It is also at the heart of the stories that comprise this anthology. Though the writing of each was motivated by the exploration of some facet of plot or character, or the desire to express some theme, they all examine someone's journey to the wider world, or their sudden discovery of it.

It is my great hope that you'll find The Wider World entertaining and inspiring. Watch this website, and my Facebook page for word of the book's availability.

The Buddhists tell us that the root of our basic unhappiness in this life is its impermanence. In other words, "all good things got to come to an end." Life goes on, our best times pass, and our natural force abates. Downer thoughts, yes, and less easily pushed aside as we get older. This past week, I got an interesting perspective on this "getting older" business when my wife and I attended a James Taylor concert.

The concert was held at the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, SC. This is a 3800 seat capacity sports-and-show coliseum and it was pretty well packed. As we walked into the place, I was struck by the age level of the vast majority of attendants. That is, it was an older crowd of solid baby-boomers (the children of the WWII generation; born from about 1946 to 1964). It's been a while since I've been to a concert and I usually think of them as being attended by people my age or younger (sometimes much younger, as when we saw Nickelback about ten years ago). Though it made sense that this would be an older crowd (James Taylor is 67), it was a bit of a shock to see it. It made me feel my age, though I'm in roughly the middle of the boomer age range. It seemed a lot of the attendees were at the older end.

So there was a lot of gray hair, beards, and pony tails among people who looked like grandparents but dressed hippyish (some did, anyway; nostalgia, I guess). At least one other person noticed the older nature of the crowd. In the men's room, I heard one extrovert say to the room something like: "Looks like the James Taylor crowd is older these days."

We found our seats on the ground floor section in front of the stage (though we were on the furtherest row back). These were the most expensive seats, and though they were relatively close to the stage, it was hard to see. Next time, I'll get seats in the elevated side areas. At least they had big screens hanging from the ceiling where video images of JT and the band were projected.

I did feel the energy of the place rising as we waited. These folks were long-time fans and they were anticipating the show. When the lights went down and Mr. Taylor came onto the stage, the communion between fans and performer flowed as it has for forty years. Mr. Taylor started with some mellow songs to ease everyone into things. Then he picked up the tempo, interspersing songs from his recent album with old favorites. Everyone got into it, including my wife and me. Smartphones were snapping pictures, people were raising their arms, swaying to the music, and singing along.

It didn't take long for me to see that Mr. Taylor hasn't lost it. I thought his distinctive voice was as good as it ever was, and he was backed up by cadre of excellent musicians and singers. He introduced them all over the course of the concert and noted that a number of them were recording artists themselves, and had recently come out with their own albums.

Throughout the evening (about 3 hours), Mr. Taylor used several different guitars to support the sets and demonstrated that he is, indeed, a talented musician. His band consisted of drums (tall, self-standing ones that the drummer played mostly with his hands rather than sticks), a couple of guitars, keyboards, and 4 vocalists. The sound they produced was awesome, filling the arena but without overpowering it. The sound level complemented Mr. Taylor's generally mellow compositions very well. I couldn't tell if there were any electronic enhancements, but there didn't seem to be.

Halfway through the show, just before the intermission, Mr. Taylor brought a choir on-stage that he said was from Charleston. He introduced them as the "Lowcountry Voices" and "Together, they dedicated Taylor’s 'Shed a Little Light' to the memory of the victims of the Charleston shooting and their families." The crowd stood for the performance and offered a huge applause afterwards in sympathy for the victims of the senseless tragedy. The arena released a video of this performance on YouTube and you can find it here. It will give you a feel for the ambiance of the concert, though the sound quality is far inferior to actually being there.

In the concert's second half, Mr. Taylor and his band nailed it with big-time deliveries of the first half's promise. He led off with a get-down, rock-and-blues rendition of "Steamroller" that was punctuated with heavy guitar and keyboard solos. Former flower children swayed, sang, and raised their hands as they caught the band's energy. I even thought I might catch some whiffs of drifting doobie smoke, but I didn't notice any. I guess security was tight.

Then there were extended versions of "Mexico" and "How Sweet It Is" that the crowd really grooved to. Overall, it was a great concert, expertly performed by a music legend who was obviously enjoying himself.

My takeaway for the evening was that "boomers can still rock, and their performers can still perform." You keep doing what you do, until you can't. That may not be very Buddhist, or an answer for the sadness of impermanence, but it can help keep us going with the implied prompt to just, "keep going."

I hope James Taylor keeps going. Maybe I can too.





This week, a skirmish was won by the worker's side in The War of the Damned. The skirmish was the referendum in Greece last Sunday (Jul 05) about whether or not to accept the last "bailout" package offered by the European Troika (aka, "the European banks, the Institutions," i.e., the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)). Ever since the Greek government announced that a referendum would be held to get the will of the Greek people on the matter, Greece has been hit with a fierce campaign of fear and disinformation (i.e., voting "No" will push Greece out of the EU and the Euro; people will loose all their savings and their jobs, etc). It was also reported that polls showed that the referendum vote would be very close because most Greeks didn't want to leave the EU.

But when the rubber hit the road and the Greek people voted, the result was an overwhelming "No" ("OXI"). 61.3% of voters voted "No" and it would likely been more but for the fear campaign. This referendum was important because it expressed, once again, the groundswell of opposition by the common folk of Greece against the neoliberal policies of austerity pushed by the financial institutions of the ruling oligarchs. The vote does not change anything in that it will not force the oligarchs to back down or in any way mitigate austerity, but it clearly marks the lines between oppressors and the oppressed.

The oppressors were pretty quiet about the referendum results except for a few snide comments from the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and her office. Merkel said "Athens had wrecked any hope of compromise with its euro zone partners by overwhelmingly rejecting further austerity." The most overwhelming aspect of her statement is its hypocrisy. Athens has offered nothing but compromises to the point that they were betraying their mandate, and the troika (Merkel's bunch) rejected it all and refused to give an inch on their demands.

That silence extended to the US presidential candidates, none of whom said anything of substance about the vote, except for, of course, Bernie Sanders (Independent running for the Democratic nomination), who said:

I applaud the people of Greece for saying ‘no’ to more austerity for the poor, the children, the sick and the elderly...In a world of massive wealth and income inequality Europe must support Greece's efforts to build an economy which creates more jobs and income, not more unemployment and suffering.

I can't imagine, say, Jeb Bush or even President Obama saying such a thing, and neither did. However, Jill Stein (Green Party presidential candidate) said:

"From the cradle of Democracy comes the roar of the people!"

Ms Stein also offered a letter of solidarity on her website for people to sign in an expression of standing with the Greek people against the troika. The petition says:

We stand in solidarity with the people of Greece, for standing up to the extortion tactics of the big banks and saying no to austerity and no to the demands of the EU and IMF.

If you agree with the Greek referendum outcome, I urge you to sign Ms Stein's letter.

Without question, Greece is being punished for their defiance of austerity. Because the troika will not extend Greece time to meet its IMF payment, and because "the European Central Bank on Monday decided not to expand an emergency assistance program," and Greek banks have been closed since the week before the referendum. The Greeks, who have been suffering under austerity, will suffer even more to throw it off. But it seems they are willing to do just that to break free.

The biggest problem the oligarchs have with Greece is the example they are setting for other peoples. If they break free of austerity, others will want to do the same. Already, the citizens of Austria are seeking a referendum on leaving the EU, and the British people are petitioning their government for a referendum on austerity just like the Greeks. And then there are SYRIZA-like political parties in Spain, Portugal, and Ireland that are left-leaning and seeking to restore democracy to their countries.

I was delighted to see the Greeks' landslide rejection of neoliberal austerity. I know it will only stiffen the oligarchs' resolve to crush democracy and the Greek people's resistance, but this is a fight for survival that is forced on the common people of the world. In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway said:

...it is a time of difficult decisions. The fascists attacked and made our decision for us. We fight to live.

It is the same today. In fact, today's War of the Damned is a continuation of the one raging since at least Spartacus and through the Spanish Civil War. Every generation is forced to fight it in one way or other. I hope that the Greek referendum has opened the door to a spreading resistance. It may be that in the resisting, oligarch crimes such as climate engineering will be exposed and eventually stopped.

Whatever happens from here out, life will only get more difficult for everyone. The stakes are no less than the future of humanity and all life on earth. How will it play out? Who can say. These are unprecedented times. But I believe that staying on the high road of affirmation that life should go on and that people have the right to live free, requires that the importunities of evil be replied to with a firm and resounding, "NO!"

* * *
PS  Fri 10-Jul-2015 16:11 EST
It has just been reported that the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, has offered the Troika a deal that basically accepts their last austerity package. It includes $13 billion in budget cuts, increasing taxes (on the commoners), and increasing the retirement age--all the things the Greek people just voted against. The EU Finance Ministers will review the package on Saturday (Jul 11). If the Troika follows form, they'll reject this offer and demand even greater austerity. But even if they accept it, it will be clear that the referendum was futile in regards to the Greeks struggle for relief. I expect they will take to the streets again. and their fervor for revolt will spread.

This week I received an email from Mountain Travel Sobek (an adventure travel company) that featured some of their European trips. One of them was Spain's Camino de Santiago. The trip they offer takes a group down the length of the Santiago de Compostela Camino in ten days. It's a combination of hiking, driving, touring historic sites, and staying in hotels over the whole five hundred mile route. I'm sure it's an interesting trip at over $5K plus plane fare per person, but I would not consider it to be "making the pilgrimage."

I won't be making that MTS trip, but just seeing the ad reminded me that I've written a good bit about pilgrimages and journeys of self-discovery in book reviews and in these journal entries. I'm even writing a fictional account of such a journey for my coming short stories anthology. It's apparently a major theme for me, but then, it has long been a major theme for storytellers since Homer. Characters making a journey where they end up being different from when they started, is just too powerful a metaphor for the journey of life for the storyteller to ignore. When the journeyer's change is for the better, their story is an inspiration. When it's for the worse, it's a warning. When people purposefully enact the journey in their lives by deliberately going somewhere for the sake of spiritual discovery, then the journey becomes a pilgrimage.

Such journeys, by definition, involve the pilgrim's finding a higher reality--God, nature, spiritual powers, the oversoul. Indeed, that finding is the pilgrim's very purpose. In literature, it often involves tests of the pilgrim's resolve and mettle that he must pass before being rewarded with the reaching of his goal, or the solving of his problem (often via a new insight). Such testing implies refinement so that the pilgrim is a better person by journey's end (or has reached a "higher level" in one way or another). Such testing and refinement with reward is seen in the classic journey-tales of The Odessy and The Lord of the Rings, and is a large feature of Paulo Coelho's account of his journey down the Spanish Camino in The Pilgrimage.

It seems that people of a certain level of thoughtfulness reach a point where they want answers or insights that have eluded them so far. Whether young or older in age, they have often been challenged by events that engender loss and deep questioning. I described this prompt for pilgrimaging in my review of Cheryl Strayed's book, Wild, as:

In such a work, you won't find definitive answers or endorsements of anybody's dogmas. But in looking at the collective of such works, you'll find a literature that is spiritually infused. And that spirit is simply asking the question: "What the Hell is this all about?"

The answer is not usually a definite one, such as "forty-two" in Douglas Adam's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Rather, the answer revealed by the journey is an enlightenment that guides the pilgrim through the remainder of her life journey. Even when there is a definite solution found or act performed in the journey, such as in LOTR where the goal is to throw the ring in Mount Doom's fires, the pilgrim is left for the better (so the hobbits are able to "scour the Shire" of ruffians when they return home).

These are the attributes I've observed in the "journey" stories (fiction and nonfiction) I have reviewed and pondered. Whether the pilgrimage is one involving esoteric trials and communion with powerful spiritual forces (re: The Pilgrimage, The Camino), or is a more mundane hike that produces insight very personal to the pilgrim through the physical challenges of the journey and opportunity for introspection (re: The Way, Wild), it is in its very essence the meeting of the pilgrim seeker with the wider world, from which, up to this point, she has been estranged.

Though I have found much inspiration in the works I've cited so far (even Douglas' comedy), I think Wild is the most definitive of what I'm talking about because it is so very gritty and down-to-earth. Ms Strayed was prompted to her pilgrimage by life problems she was failing at dealing with, and her resolution-journey was a pause, or reset, that brought her to a point of enlightenment where she became able to cope. Her insight came from the physical challenge and communion with nature that represented her engagement with the wider world. My question, though, is whether such a journey today is even possible.

Ms Strayed's journey was up the Pacific Crest Trail, which is a 1000+ mile trail that follows the ridge of volcanic mountains that span the western coast of the US. She made the trip in 1995. How different would such a journey be today when California is suffering a monstrous drought with no break in sight? Would the higher elevations have less snow but be more treacherous where the ice is there but thin? Would streams and lakes be so toxic from SAG-sprayed aluminum, barium, and mercury to render purification systems useless? Would intense UV levels from a depleted ozone layer make extended time in the sun too dangerous? Would the vista of Crater Lake be marred and choked of inspiration by persistent SAG lines overhead (assuming the pilgrim is awake enough to see them)? How would all this alter the pilgrimage's potential for insight?

These questions are just as applicable to any of the classic pilgrimages, such as Spain's Camino, and to any engagement with the wider world. Beyond a lack of resources, my basic hesitancy about making any "bucket list" travels (such as to Machu Pichu) is the anticipation of sorrow from seeing the geoengineering happening at a sacred place, and being subjected to concentrated levels of the aerosols in airplanes.

So where does this leave the seeker? Is the pilgrim's path to God forever obscured by a haze of toxic nanoparticulates?

I think these questions lead us to the larger consideration of humanity's struggle with evil. It is simply a struggle that has become so pervasive on earth that we cannot avoid it. We can pretend it does not exist, so that even as we suffer from its relentless destruction, we live (or fail to live) in the consequences of that thing we refuse to name.

Even so, I believe that humans will continue to pilgrimage because their drive for understanding and need for insight is so strong. In the face of evil, and in the spite of it, they will make their journeys because they reach a point where they just can't go on as before. It's just that now, if the pilgrim is honest, she will find in addition to her insight that there is a struggle that has been brought to her. She must deal with it, or else the meaning of her pilgrimage will be lost.

I think it is my fate that my pilgrimage be a literary one. If so, then I hope it is a trail that is helpful to others making a more physical journey. It is no less daunting in scope and just as prospective for insight.


Here's a few thoughts that came to me from events of this week.

The fast-track authority for the Trans-pacific Partnership has passed in the US Senate and House, making passage of the TPP (later this Autumn) a near sure bet. The fast-track authority's passage was a narrow thing, indicating, I believe, popular resistance. That resistance just barely stopped the fast-track in the House a couple of weeks ago, but the oligarchs will not stop until they get what they want, and so, they did.

In an article for Common Dreams about TPP and the fast-track passage, Ralph Nader tells us why this is such a bad thing:

Make no mistake. If this was only a trade treaty – reducing tariffs, quotas, and the like – it would not be so controversial. Yet, the corporate-indentured politicians keep calling this gigantic treaty with thirty chapters, of which only five relate to traditional trade issues, a trade agreement instead of a treaty. The other twenty-four chapters, if passed as they are, will have serious impacts on your livelihoods as workers and consumers, as well as your air, water, food, and medicines.

You can find the full article here and it's well worth reading.

So far, I haven't noticed any spirited endorsements of the TPP from the leading presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton has been quiet about the fast-track, but I think she recently made some lukewarm statements about TPP being a bad idea or needing to be reworked, or some such. Remember, the Clintons gave us NAFTA and TPP is NAFTA on steroids.

Of course, Bernie Sanders is all-out against TPP and he has been garnering a lot of grass-roots support. Despite the mainstream media's attempts to pooh-pooh him as merely an annoyance for Hillary, he has been pulling in larger crowds than her and polling higher in favorability ratings (i.e., "more trustworthy," etc).  This doesn't mean he'll win the Democratic nomination--I don't believe he will--but it further indicates a significant resistance from the public to what's going on in US federal government. It's like they are finally beginning to realize that something is not right.

Though I like most of Bernie's rhetoric, I think it most likely that he'll garner a lot of supporters, lose the Democratic nomination, and throw his support to Hillary (he has said he'll do that if he loses). This is the usual scenario for progressive candidates that run as Democrats. It means supporting them is still supporting the appalling status quo. That's why I won't support Bernie.

But I see that Jill Stein is again running as the 2016 presidential candidate for the Green party. She did so in 2012 and that's when I discovered her. Her Wikipedia entry says this about her:

Jill Ellen Stein (born May 14, 1950) is an American physician who was the nominee of the Green Party for President of the United States in the 2012 election. Stein was a candidate for Governor of Massachusetts in the 2002 and the 2010 gubernatorial elections. Stein is a resident of Lexington, Massachusetts. She is a graduate of Harvard College (1973) and the Harvard Medical School (1979). Stein was endorsed for President in 2012 by Noam Chomsky, a linguist, author and activist, and by Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and war correspondent, among others...On June 22, 2015, Stein formally announced that she would seek the Green Party's 2016 presidential nomination during an appearance on Democracy Now!.

Listening to her talk is a different experience from listening to the Demo-Publican candidates. You get informed, intelligent commentary from her as opposed to the nonsensical pablum and sound-bites of the others. See for yourself in this Truthout interview. So if I get the opportunity, I'll be voting Green.

Why all this political stuff from me again? Because the stakes are high. This is a time for humanity like no other and that can't help but reflect in all my writings, including the fiction. I found a very good overview of those stakes in a video posted on the Geoengineering Watch website. It was put out through the "hacker" group, Anonymous, and I really don't care for their "commercial" part of it (like the music video at the end), but the most of it is a presentation by Dane Wiggington and it's one of the most cogent I've seen him do. You can find it on the Geoengineering Watch site here.

As I said, people seem to be finally realizing that "something's not right." I was alluding to this when in a recent review I did for John Hogue's Kindle book, The Essential Hopi Prophecies, I said:

We live in a time of converging calamities bearing towards a near-future that even nonreligious people see as apocalyptic. People seem to sense this even as they deny it with actions that say "tomorrow will be like today." The fear that tomorrow may actually be different, even much worse, prompts us to look for some sane direction through the anticipated storm.

These are tough times and I think the key to getting through them will be our reliance on each other. We have to form our community and trust it. As the Hopi said: "For we are the ones we’ve been waiting for."

I mentioned in my last journal entry that I intended to read again, H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. I have done so and was amazed to see not only how well the classic remains an engrossing read, but how it is so much a picture of the world here at the start of the 21st century.

If you haven't read Mr. Wells' book but have only seen movies made from it, I recommend  you do read the book.  I think the story is best appreciated as Mr. Wells wrote it, but it seems all the movie versions felt the need to "update" it. I think much is lost in doing that (note that Jeff Wayne's musical version holds pretty true to the spirit of the book and retains the nineteenth century setting).

The War of the Worlds is the story of an invasion of the earth by Martians in the late nineteenth century (the book was first published in 1898). The Martian technology as described is, of course, dated by current standards although Mr. Wells was amazingly prescient in some regards (such as in describing Martian machines that function under no apparent control).

But the main power of the book, to me, is its depiction of a vast, "unsympathetic" evil's assault of the ordinary world. This assault is preceded by a buildup of events--cylinders (Martian "spaceships") falling to earth, Martian technology seen killing humans--yet people resist recognizing the danger. Even when the Martians are on the march, people hold onto their normalcy bias and refuse to believe what is happening. To Mr. Wells' journalist narrator (today we would call him a freelance writer), this steadfast resistance by people to accepting the reality of their perilous situation was the most remarkable aspect of the story he relates. In his words:

The most extraordinary thing to my mind...was the dovetailing of the commonplace habits of our social order with the first beginnings of the series of events that was to topple that social order headlong.

In other words, while the Martians fortified the pits created by their landing, prepared their war machines and killed anybody that got too close, people not far away looked around themselves and noted: they were still employed, their gardens produced food, the trains still ran, the theatre was still open. To anybody that warned, "The Martians have landed!" they would likely say: "Nothing's happened yet," and go about their business.

One passage, I must quote at length, is a beautiful picture of this attitude. The Martians were advancing on the little town of Weybridge. The journalist observed that a lot of people there were resisting the imperative to flee:

    The soldiers were having the greatest difficulty in making them realise the gravity of their position. We saw one shrivelled old fellow with a huge box and a score or more of flower pots containing orchids, angrily expostulating with the corporal who would leave them behind. I stopped and gripped his arm.
    "Do you know what's over there?" I said, pointing at the  pine tops that hid the Martians.
    "Eh?" said he, turning. "I was explainin' these is vallyble."
    "Death!" I shouted. "Death is coming! Death!" and leaving him to digest that if he could...The soldier had left him, and he was still standing by his box, with the pots of orchids on the lid of it, and staring vaguely over the trees.

This normacly bias is very strong and it probably has some survival value. For instance, I think it was a major reason people didn't panic in the run-up to the Y2K crisis, in addition to the vested interest of the corporate power structure in keeping things operating by computer. But it can also lead to people behaving like lemmings running over a cliff when a crisis finally hits. In Mr. Wells' story, many people died by not fleeing until they saw the Martians coming--flashing their heat rays spreading poisoned gas over the countryside. Those that did get away caused a refugee crisis that only added to the suffering.

Mr. Wells was a student of history and so must have had some insight into the mechanics of calamity falling upon large human populations. Those mechanics must be classic, because I was struck with how the book foreshadowed our situation today--not in the application of technology, but in people's reactions to conditions that are becoming more and more apocalyptic.

I see the cold, unsympathetic Martians as metaphors for our world's ruling oligarchs (the Rothchilds, the Rockefellers, the Bushes, the Clintons, the Bilderberger membership, etc). Their quest for world domination is just as relentless as the Martians and just as brutal to the human masses. The most active battlegrounds right now are in the Greek fight against the European Union banks, the resistance in Donbass to Ukrainian aggression, and in the skies over our heads. The "fighting machines" they use are neoliberal policies of austerity, "Free Trade" agreements, militarized police, and Fox "News."

Many voices of scientists and activists are raised in warnings about the unprecedented dangers of global warming, climate change, and Statospheric Aerosol Geoengineering (SAG). Their cry to all of humanity is nothing less than "Death is coming!" It seems most people ignore them as they make Facebook entries with their smartphones about their "valuable orchids."

In his novel, Mr. Wells made a comment about the designs of the invading Martians that also applies (so far) to our Martians (oligarchs):

They do not seem to have aimed at extermination so much as at complete demoralisation and the destruction of any opposition.

The "destruction of any opposition" sounds like an aim of the Project for the New American Century--a think tank that informed, and provided personnel to, the last Bush administration. I think demoralization is also a chief aim of propaganda concerning the unending war on "terror," the need for draconian security measures, the Russian-and-China "threat," and such.

This is difficult material to deal with, but it is so pervasive that I am compelled to deal with it in this journal. If I didn't, I'd be like the man worrying over the value of his potted flowers when he is in imminent danger of being burned to a crisp by psychopaths with high-tech weapons.

And so this is where we stand at this point in human history. We are under assault by forces whose powers seem God-like. When you get past the delusion and the denial, and you are fully aware of the reality and gravity of the situation, there comes to you a visceral change. It is partially a success of the "Martians'" demoralization plan and partially a consequence of seeing things as they are. Mr. Wells also understood this. His protagonist says:

I felt the first inkling of a thing that presently grew quite clear in my mind, that oppressed me for many days, a sense of dethronement, a persuasion that I was no longer a master, but an animal among the animals, under the Martian heel.

I see this disillusionment in the writings of so many activists. It is particularly egregious when you understand the reality of SAG, and are aware of the constant spraying, the other-worldly sky, and you spot the SAG trails in movie scenes. You become grieved that our Martians have taken from us the very inspiration of a sunny, temperate day.

In The War of the Worlds, the salvation for humankind comes from the earth herself. At this point, I don't see how that can happen in the real world, but I don't discount the possibility. Things could turn around over some presently-unsuspected factor. If it does, and humanity survives the apocalypse, I wonder if it will be for our betterment on the other side of calamity.

Mr. Wells chose to end his story on the upbeat, with his protagonist and his family surviving, and humanity rebuilding. But that ending is with the recognition that humanity's survival was pretty much a matter of luck, with no assurances that the disaster won't repeat--the Martians could return, better prepared. Even so, his narrator believes humankind has learned from the experience of its near-demise:

It may be that in the larger design of the universe this invasion from Mars is not without its ultimate benefit for men; it has robbed us of that serene confidence in the future, which the most fruitful source of decadence...and it has done much to promote the conception of the commonweal of mankind.

The price people paid for this education is their loss of confidence in the future, but they are also more appreciative of the importance of the common good. I hope humanity in the real world can reach that same place. If we can do so and finally throw off the bounds of the dominator culture with its endless competition and exploitations, then it may be we can get our confidence back as a species. But that would be a boon for succeeding generations. Meanwhile, we have to struggle with our Martians.

With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter...Yet...minds...regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.  (H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds)

The above quote is from the famous opening paragraph of H. G. Wells classic science fiction tale, The War of the Worlds. I have not read the book since the sixth grade but I'm thinking I'll read it again soon and do a review of it and probably make some comments here. Until then, though, the book came to mind as I thought about current events and the world's dire situation, and I parsed the quote accordingly.

It seems to me that the people around me go about their business with infinite complacency, unaware of any potential dooms despite the evidence flying overhead through milky skies, the obvious lies from voices threatening war, and the lessons of recent history. Their assurance is that life will be the same tomorrow as today, and that no ill of world events will disturb their ability to live and to aspire for upward social mobility.

In Mr. Wells' story, that complacent assurance evaporated when the Martian cylinders began to fall. In our world, I think it will evaporate with the next phase of the financial collapse that erupted in 2008. A lot of economists and financial gurus are seeing this next collapse as a strong possibility in the fall of this year (2015). See here and here. That possibility is likely one reason for the Jade Helm "training exercise" during that same time period. If people panic and take to the streets, the military will be ready to clamp down.

Mr. Wells described his Martians as "intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic" and showed them moving resolutely to achieve their ends with no thought for their extermination of humanity. I believe this is an apt description of the earth's ruling oligarchy. They believe themselves to be dominant, with the God-like right to control us, the earth, and even the weather. I've written a few journal entries about Stratospheric Aerosol Geoengineering (SAG) because I see it as humankind's most imminent threat to our survival. The extent of the SAG program is mind-boggling as evidenced in this presentation by ex-meteorologist, Scott Stevens. SAG operations are like the red weed of Mr. Wells' book. They make the skies look alien in the same way the Martians' red plant altered the English countryside.

And now the oligarch's plans (or even just their common desires) are culminating with the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal (TPP). A "fast track" bill is being pushed through the congress that will allow the TPP to also pass quickly through the legislative process without debate or amendment, and only a yes-or-no vote. The fast track has already passed in the Senate and the administration is now trying to force it through the House ASAP before opposition from "constituents back home" can influence the congressmen. The TPP was negotiated in secret and the few leaks that have emerged show it to be a democracy-killer and a facilitator for corporate world rule.

To quote Julian Assange, Wikileaks publisher:

It is a mistake to think of the TPP as a single treaty. In reality there are three conjoined mega-agreements, the TiSA, the TPP and the TTIP, all of which strategically assemble into a grand unified treaty, partitioning the world into the west versus the rest. This "Great Treaty" is described by the Pentagon as the economic core to the US military's "Asia Pivot". The architects are aiming no lower than the arc of history. The Great Treaty is taking shape in complete secrecy, because along with its undebated geostrategic ambitions it locks into place an aggressive new form of transnational corporatism for which there is little public support.

The Martians of Mr. Wells' book had an overwhelming technological advantage that made our "war" with them impossible for us to win. Beating them in combat was only possible in the imaginations of the deluded. In the real-world, nuclear war is just as unwinnable although our government doesn't seem to think so. They continue to push Russia to blows over Ukraine and prod Iran, Syria, and other flash-points to confrontations that all could go nuclear.

With all these converging and reinforcing crises, what can save us? That is the question that the discussion of all this, outside the mainstream, always comes to. I've seen much speculation and a lot of pessimism in the consideration, but no consensus on an answer. In The War of the Worlds, humanity's salvation came unexpectedly from the earth itself. Having no immunity to earth's virulent microbes was the fatal flaw in the plans of the unsympathetic Martians, and it defeated them where human guns could not.

I wonder if our home-grown Martians have overlooked some similar detail that will spell their doom and so allow the rest of us to live free of their oppression. Could that liberating detail come from Mother Earth herself, who is so oppressed as to be virtually under attack? Only time will tell. I expect it will be a short time.

I think people's complacency comes from their "normalcy bias" that keeps them living in a bubble for survival reasons. On an individual level, it works as long as the wider world doesn't intrude. When it does, the experience can be shattering, and I expect it's our fate to be shattered. If we make it beyond that point, we won't "rebuild," we'll just struggle to survive amid whatever remains.

NOTE: Wikileaks says: "The Obama administration is trying to gain "Fast-Track" approval for all three TPP deals from the US House of Representatives as early as tomorrow (06/12/2015), having already obtained such approval from the Senate." There is some resistance to it in Congress, but God only knows if it will be enough.