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Choose Your Battles

:flick:

It's a simple act, turning on a light.

"What are you doing? Turn that off!"

"Why? It's dark in here, I can't see."

"See how high up that light is?"

I've lived in this house for years, walked through this foyer countless times.

I look.

"We don't have a ladder high enough to reach it. If that bulb burns out, we'll never get it changed."

"If that's the case, why don't we use it until it does burn out?"

She looks at me like I'm a stupid child, one that may not make it past the 6th grade.

I turn off the light.

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Intruder Detection System: Model 38, Class A, Number 5
Copyright © 2010, Yaegini Lenoir

The laser ranging back and forth across the landscape betrays its approach. The machine makes no noise as it picks its way through the former suburb on six insect legs, looking for evidence of intrusion. It scans, measuring everything it can, and submits the data to central control. Scan, send. Scan, send.

Receive!

"ALERT: 30 meters in a heading of 23.3°, investigate car. Current height 3.5 inches lower than last baseline. Threat Assessment: 21% likely; Pre-emptive Action Threshold: 35% certainty."

...continue reading "Walking the Beat"

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For having only 6 letters, my last name has been pronounced an infinite number of ways. I can still hear Coach Silly Bean (what was his real name, Sylvester? No, wait, I was never on the Cheerios) shouting at me in 7th grade PE:

Laneer, get over here!

la-NEER, get over here!

I'll answer to any, but the following two are the most correct:

...continue reading "How do you pronounce my last name?"

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These are the core principles that guide my beliefs and inform my platform.

  • We are all in this together

    We cannot exclude anyone from the benefits our nation confers. All of us, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual preference or citizenship. True, being a citizen confers certain rights and responsibilities, but not being one doesn't put you beyond the pale.

    Let's be careful about using the label "them".

  • We are the government

    There is no other institution that allows all of us to act together. Businesses are beholden to their owners, religions to their god(s).

    If we abdicate our responsibilities as citizens, since politics abhors a power vacuum, someone will step in and they will not likely care about everyone.

    Consider, too, that since we are the government, the government acts in our name.

  • Good guys don't shoot first

    It's tempting, I know. Holding back means good people will get hurt or killed. I agree, it's sucks in the short term. However, long term, it shows the world who the bad guys are and it makes sure that our wrath, when it is stirred, is properly directed.

    This applies domestically as much as on the international scene.

  • Don't be a dick

    C'mon, just because you can, doesn't mean you should. No action is wholly good. Someone will lose out with any change. Let's not inflict pain on those already suffering.

  • Don't be stupid

    Don't let your principles lead you off a cliff. Constantly evaluate your actions and their impact. If something doesn't seem right, revisit the core principles. Maybe it's an unavoidable situation. Or maybe we need to readjust how we act.

2

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Has this happened to you? Your first meal at a restaurant is enjoyable, maybe even in 5-star territory. You rave about the place to friends and family. You can't wait to go back. And when you do, it, well, kind of sucks. This happens to me more often than not. WTF?

Best Breakfast Ever
Best Breakfast Ever from Sunny Point Cafe in Ashville, NC

First of all, I dread eating somewhere new to me. It's a risk. You have to accept the possibility of failure, something I'm not always willing to do. Sure, I'll do it when I'm on vacation, but it's not like I have much of a choice. In more familiar haunts, though, the good dishes I know call out to me. It's when I get bored that I take the risk.

The First Visit
The First Visit

So, I walk in to a new place. I'm in borderline panic mode. What do I do? Do I seat myself? Who do I talk to? There's too much noise, I can't concentrate? Oh, yes, table for two. I sit down, grab the menu. What the hell does this mean? Why can't they call things by normal names? A burger for $12?!? Ga! What? Yes, I'll have the special. No, just a glass of water, wait, what's on tap?

Then the food comes, it looks wonderful and smells even better. And, damn, it's tasty. Before I know it, my plate is empty. If I'm not eating with my wife, I may even lick the plate.

Maybe that's it. I start with such low expectations that the meal can't help but seem good. When I return, though, I'm more familiar, better able to judge. I notice the lapses in service. This time I'm expecting good food and disappointed when it's not the best I've had.

I still take the risk, though. How else will I find the gems?

Cerritos Pupuseria, A Great Find
Cerritos Pupuseria, A Great Find

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Day 43

I saw Johnny Kim today. His impeccable hair maintained even after death. How does he do that?

We were friends with enough touch points to keep in contact year round, but were never really that close.

His wife is hot. Is or was? I'm guessing past tense. We're near his home. If they got him, they got her, and the kids, too, probably. (What about mine? Will I ever know?)

He wandered out there with only a few others. Should I have killed him? Is kill the right word? I don't feel guilty. The world is certainly better off without Johnny and his crew.

I dropped out the tree in which I was enjoying my lunch, perfect array of branches that let me rest comfortably, and adjusted my bandana and goggles to guard against splatter. I aimed to sneak up behind Johnny, not out of fear, I've handled this number before, I just didn't want to see his face when I did it.

I tripped him from behind. Not very sporting, I suppose. With a foot on his back, I took a golf swing with my axe. It is true, he did have a lot of brains. His mates turned when they heard. I took my time with them, practiced some new techniques.

Did I do you a favor, Johnny? Are you in a position to care? It's not as bad as I should have thought. Still, would rather avoid meeting more I know. Knew.

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The Colony TV Series
The Colony TV Series

Aired on the Discovery Channel

I was jonesing for more Walking Dead after I finished watching season 3. I couldn't wait for season 4, so in desperation, I followed the "More like..." links and stumbled upon this TV show. It's a reality series that aired before the outbreak. Each season confronted the participants with an end of the world scenario (unknown catastrophe in Season 1, disease in Season 2) and set them loose. I went in with very low expectations and was pleasantly surprised. I'm shocked that I haven't heard more about this and that it lasted only two seasons.

Before I set forth on a glowing review, let me get the negative out of the way:

  1. Too many useful people on each team.

    In season 1, the least useful person was the marine biologists and I'd still want her on my team. At least in season 2 they had a fashion model who was mostly useless. In real life, out of 10 people, you'd be doing good if 2 of them had useful skills and no more than 5 were dead weight.

  2. The show glosses over the team formation stage.

    I cannot blame the show for this, you have to have a good group to make for interesting TV. In real life, though, the team formation stage is the most critical. Many times teams fell apart or were dysfunctional. The bonding that happens (or not) on first contact is very important. I did like that they subjected the participants to sleep deprivation, hunger and other taxing situations before the show started.

  3. I wish my TEotWaWKI experience was sponsored by Harbor Freight.

    This is a Season 1 issue. It seamed like when they needed a tool, a Harbor Freight labelled crate containing the object just happened to be laying around. At least in the second season, they had to do some serious foraging to find their tools.

These are nitpicks. This show is informative, teaches many helpful skills and it was dramatic. Yes, I know this is a staged show and that the participants are truly not in danger (well maybe not, I read that season 3 has been postponed due to the death of a participant), but some of the emotional scenes ring true with me. Here's why you should watch the show:

  1. How to establish a fresh water supply

    As Mr. Grylls showed us in his Man vs. Wild series, fresh water is a key ingredient to survival. Both seasons showed the participants initially struggling with this. Where do you find it? How do you get it back to the shelter? Once there, how do you make it safe to drink? The answer to that last question alone makes this show worthwhile.

  2. How to generate electricity

    To electrify or not was a source for debate throughout TEotWaWKI. The infrastructure needed even for a minimal flow of current mitigates against mobility. It doesn't make sense if your shelter will be temporary and your mode of transportation is by foot or bike. Also, if you're able to scrounge supplies and aren't making things from scratch, your demand for juice won't be as strong. When you do find yourself in a situation requiring a regular supply, though, both seasons demonstrate how you can create your own and store it.

  3. How to work with butt-heads

    Michael from Season 1 is a classic case. He is defensive and quick to see insult in just about everything you say. It would be tempting to give him the boot. But he has an array of skills that would be most useful. Suck it up and see what you can do to put those like him at ease.

These are just a few. They also cover food gathering, security and other useful tidbits. And let me reiterate the drama. From losing team members to the stress from hunger and sleep deprivation, this is good TV.

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Ever Since the World Ended
Ever Since the World Ended

Directed by Calum Grant and Joshua Atesh Litle

This is an independent movie about the survivors rebuilding life in the San Francisco area. It is a well-written and haunting story. While it posits a plague as the agent of TEotWaWKI, the lessons and outcomes are universal.

The Generational Gap

"Every time someone else's parent starts telling me about the past, they start crying. That's bullshit. I don't wanna hear your sob stories, I've been living with them. It's almost like you adults are the kids now. They want it the way it was. I think it's a bunch of fucking adults who are still strung out on the idea of what the world used to be. Personally, it's over, if you ask me."

With each passing year, the percentage of people with no memory of Before increases. This is bound to have a serious impact on society. When the last of us are gone, the end of the world will be just another story in the history books.

Justice

"Who's going to give up their time to watch this guy?"

Exile now seems to make sense, not like the vague concept it was Before. With so few people left, jail guard duty is a waste, a huge opportunity cost. The demand for the death penalty is stronger now.

No Leeway for Bad Luck

"It seems more real than it ever did before, more vivid. Before in the world there was so much going on that you were bathed in noise and constant input. There are so few people left that when someone dies, they really die, the silence is that much more profound. But you're used to it."

In this story, someone dies of an infected gunshot wound to the leg, mention is made of a burst appendix. The little shit can get you now. With so few of us left, each is a serious loss. This is why I have such misgivings about the death penalty.

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Looking back through my journal of the time from outbreak through that first winter has been a difficult task. So much pain and misery. However, I remember this morning with a bit of fondness. I woke up from my first real sleep since the SHTF.

Day 6

The buildings soak in the rays of the rising sun, reflecting back on my billboard perch across the road. The arches, the red-headed little girl and the ubiquitous source of caffeine. I hate the sameness of fast food architecture, but today it gives me comfort. The memory of my boys whooping it up at an indoor play place, the half eaten cheese burger instantly forgotten; the early mornings before work, when I'd be the only customer and could hear the staccato Spanish ricocheting from the kitchen.

Those buildings look like they're ready to greet the day's customers, but none will be coming. None who I can see, anyways. There are a few zombies moving about like pinballs unsure which way is down, but no one else. There certainly were, though, and not too long ago.

The cars tell the story, map the river bed of the highway that separates those buildings from me. Jammed together, some driven off to the side, run out of gas or vainly trying to bypass everyone else. They would have been smart to just stay put inside, locking the doors, hunkered down. Appears like most got out and hoofed it. Most, but not all. I see a few cars rocking, a zed caught inside, I'm sure. Well I won't come a knocking.

Glad I wasn't here to witness it. I've seen enough already. Could use a sausage, egg and cheese, though. Will have to settle for beef jerky and some raisins.

Trenton was a mess. I'm not far from Philly, which is probably worse.

How much longer until I get home?

5

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What in the hell does Star Wars have to do with food? Let me explain.

It is too easy to mock these movies. The acting is so wooden and the writing stilted that it's not much of a challenge to pick it apart. But there's got to be more to it than that. There are poorly made movies that I still enjoy despite their flaws. For the longest time I couldn't put my finger on what was truly wrong with Star Wars.

Stake Land
I'll take mine medium rare.

Then it hit me while I was watching Stake Land. (This is actually a pretty good movie, I don't mean to damn it by including it with Star Wars.) There's a scene, very brief with no dialogue, only the sound track playing, in which we see the characters sharing a meal. It cemented their bonds and filled me with warm fuzzy feelings despite it being a world over run by zombie-like vampires. IT FELT GOOD! That's what's missing from Star Wars.

Yodo Serves a Stew
Apparently the Force cannot be used to enhance Yoda's cooking skills.

I can only recall two scenes in any of the six movies where you see someone eat. Once in The Empire Strikes Back when Luke visits Yoda in his hut. Though hungry, the young Jedi cannot seem to stomach the bowl of whatever Yoda served. Not very encouraging. The other instance is in The Return of the Jedi when Leia shares a candy bar with an Ewok. Close, but not enough.

Kaylee eats a strawberry
Damn, that tasted good.

Thing is, a good scene with food is not hard to do. In the first episode of the greatest TV show ever, Firefly, you just know that fresh fruit is hard to come by, and there's Kaylee with a dearly bought strawberry, clearly enjoying it. Again, a short scene, but it conveys so much. This is what's missing from Star Wars: the sensuousness of food and how it can bind characters together in a meaningful, believable way. If you can see characters letting down their hair, talking frankly while emphasizing a point with a chicken leg, you can believe that they just might take down a galactic empire. A jug of an Italian red table wine with that couldn't hurt.