Thursday, September 29, 2011

12 Minutes Max

Short story

“We should write our own piece,” I said, “we could perform it.”

“I know, I've been thinking about that. I could just do my solo performance piece.” Ciera whispered back.

We were staring at a faded pink recliner and a nightstand. We were in the black box theater ready to see a series of 12 minute performances. I looked at Ciera, she had her program in her hand resting just under her nose. I didn't like the idea of being cut out of the performance. I wanted credit too. “How about we just record us for 12 minutes, and use that as material. We're hilarious.”

“Yeah, but then only you and I would want to watch it.”

“Doesn't matter, we could talk about all sorts of stuff. Just be loud and rude,” an epiphany hit, “we could just sit on-stage and watch the audience and yell at them.”

“I don't think people like to get yelled at.”

“You know what I mean, we could be ourselves now. In this audience.”

Ciera warmed to the idea slowly, “we could comment on all the hipsters in the audience.”

“Yeah, like that one,” a hipster walked by. There is nearly no way to describe one after a point. A stylish facial hair arrangement, something plaid and vaguely lumberjack-esque, the scent of stale cigarettes, thick horn-rimmed glasses, and hair styled so that it was clear he just didn't care.

“But that gets old. And most people in the Northwest are hipsters. You can't escape it. We moved here.”

“These seats are so uncomfortable,” I had moved on, “my back feels like I've been in a car wreck.”

“You have.”

“Yeah, but this feels like I'm pregnant too. Look, my feet are swollen,” I pulled my feet out of my shoes, they were worn and needed imminent replacement.

“Put those away. Your feet stink.”

“No, your feet stink. They stink worse than dreadlocks.”

“Shut up. Did you see the guy sitting behind us?”

“Yeah so? I don't know him.”

“I do, he's the artistic director for the theater.”

“Oh...is that important?”

“Yeah. Anyways, we don't say anything too interesting.”

I thought about it for a moment, “we could be like Chekhov, we could be sublimely human. Comment on the human condition through subtle dialogue and shifts in our body language.”

Ciera tilted her head slightly, still staring at the recliner, “maybe...but it would have to be good. It couldn't be cynical or slapstick.”

“You mean I couldn't write it,” I made my voice sound offended.

“No...I just mean...”

“That's exactly what you mean,” I shifted in my seat, rearranged my legs and flipped through the program. “This is going to be good. I'm excited for this show.”

“Are you being nice now?” Ciera looked at me and lifted an eyebrow.

“Yeah...will you entertain my ideas?” I shot back at her.

“I guess you aren't better. Just sit and watch this show. People put a lot of work in. See if you get any ideas from that.” Ciera turned and stared at the stage. People bustled around us, trying to find seats.

“You don't think I'm being nice? At least I'm not a covers hog.” I was trying to get a playful rise out of Ciera. She wasn't biting.

“We've been over this, you are the cover hog. You mess up the bed and you ruin the nice work I do making the bed and doing the laundry for the sheets. I swear you would let the sheets go for months if I didn't wash them.” She was right, I had before in college but I wouldn't tell her.

I conceded and sank into my seat, a little, “I guess,” Ciera turned and stared at the set, “the new sheets you put on are nice. It's like if you went muppet hunting and skinned it and made a blanket out of it.”

“That was a little graphic. I just say it's like sleeping in a muppet,” Ciera watched me as I twisted and stretched my back cracking it loudly, “see, you aren't subtle. We couldn't do a 12 minute piece if we tried.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Stumped (picture)


Thought that has been tossing around in my head, what if trees were so big that they grew into space?

Seattle Center Rant


I am sitting under the Space Needle. I finished my work day, met Ciera at On the Boards. It is a contemporary theater that does anything awesome. Today they had a badminton tournament where many local art houses ranging from the Seattle Art Museum to Seattle Opera to Pottery Northwest competed in ridiculous outfits. The point is to foster a strong community of artists. That is worth so much. Ciera and I would never have found that in NYC, Boston, or LA. Especially LA. I'm just happy I made what I feel to be the right choice if that really exists.

I saw two hipsters walking their French Bulldogs. They stopped to talk to two other hipsters walking their two cats. Sometimes...

I am currently digitizing the old files at Triangle Associates. It is a lot of work. People seem to sympathize with the load and understand how slow the work is. I've gotten better, but in six hours I only made it through three and a half years. That's not much considering the archives go back to my birth year. I might be exaggerating—I hope I am. Because I'm only doing proposals. I still have products and educational materials and an eternity of information. It's going to be crazy.

Waves and spirals are interesting things. I bet that they explain a lot of the world or possibly hold innovative solutions to a great many problems. But a spiral is just a lateral circle. And an audience full of performers watching amateur actors on a stage is a curious thing. But not unheard of. That's the beauty of being in the audience. You can be anyone and everyone. A face in the crowd.

Metaphor is a great way to help one explain the things around them. But it should not be confused with the object of the metaphor. I think people have a propensity to do that.

Don't fly Delta air. They were really bad the last time I flew on their airline, and not even remotely apologetic.

Sometimes I walk down the street and see people who look lonely. Not because they have a specific expression or because they look sad. Usually they look happy and just as normal as anyone else. But something in the way they carry themselves—that's loneliness.

I felt old today. People my age have kids. What the hell do kids watch these days? Why do people ride around on Segways? Get a bike, or a unicycle. And stop outlawing skateboards and roller blades. It's a form of discrimination.

Whales used to swim into Lake Union. Only boats do now. All the beautiful places that people live—those places used to be nature. Untouched; in Seattle it was endless forest.

Sometimes I write well. Most times I just write. I think that is most of life. Just doing (Nike didn't pay me to say that). Because time is a one-way street, things have to move forward, and going against traffic is instantly fatal. So it's a matter of planning. But the highest virtue in our society is being present. There is a time for everything I suppose.

There was a time for trees. There was a time for homes. And sometime in the far future there will be a time for nothingness. And that time will go on forever unless we can change it somehow. We probably won't. But that doesn't matter to me, I'm just at the edge of a time of radical change, and 100 years from now people will be living completely differently. Or maybe just the same. They'll look back on this time and say, those people lived in much simpler times. And they couldn't see the world ahead of them, the infinite possibilities that they squandered because they were so self-centered. They won't say it like that. There will be historians who put it politely and laugh about it with a stiff drink in their hands. That will be a century from now.

And people will say that things have changed drastically.

Thirty minutes of walking a day for every American would reduce adult incidences of heart disease to a third of what it is currently. I walked over thirty minutes today. But I could have not. If I wanted I could take 300 steps getting ready in the morning and going to the car. Then I could have parked right by where I work and taken another 50. double that for the second half of the day and my total walking would have totaled under a quarter mile. By contrast, in thirty minutes I walked about 2.5 miles. Americans are lazy people, even though we have the highest productivity per capita. What do you think that means?

Playing House


I hold my breath and exhale quickly. There is no way to quell my excitement. It is anxiety. It is genuine giddiness. I couldn't help but smile as I opened the cream pink Westinghouse refrigerator. It was original from when the unit was built. And I had found the place I wanted so badly. I didn't even look at Ciera. I would have broken and given away my thoughts to the world. Vulnerable and exposed. Especially to the older gentleman showing us the place. He spoke of the building with a fondness and familiarity that made the apartment home instantly.

There were flavors of childhood in an empty room. A strange thought for a place that was essentially walls. It was the smell. It had just the right tones of all my favorite relatives' houses growing up in the nineties. I could smell Yae's home, not the heavy distinct smell it normally was, but a subtle variety of it. I missed her instantly.

I missed being too small to navigate stairs without nearly jumping to reach them. It was rainy outside but I could feel the Berkeley sun for a moment. I wanted the place. I wanted it so badly. And I wanted to craft a future out of the bits of my past that I could salvage from the place.

The apartment felt so familiar; the fusing of fragments of forgotten memories into a one bedroom that I had to have desperately.

Ciera and I frantically filled out our applications and wrote the man with the yellow teeth a check for eighty dollars for the processing fee. Relief washed over me for a moment.

But then anxiety crept back; what if we didn't get it? What if it all didn't work out?

Ciera and I ate nachos at the place we had before. The nachos were good and I was happy to be eating something. We watched 12 minutes max at On the Boards. Theater and food and beer and a home. We have to make it happen. We just have to. I risked a lot leaving my friends and family. I am pursuing my dreams and I dreamed of that apartment. I dreamed I lived with Ciera and we were Bohemians in a beautiful city. I dreamed I could do it.

I never want to disappoint my younger self. I am playing house with the girl of my dreams, and living the life I want. I am thankful. I am grateful. I am hopeful. And I want to give it back—if I get the apartment of course.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Fall


Fall is here. The smells, the moments. “Fall holds a special place in my memories,” Ciera said.

I can smell fall. The thick air, full of earth and moisture, calls out in the purple night; I listen closely, sure I can hear coming rain. But for the moment, I can only see stars. Cold pinpoints against the deep azure sky, outlines of trees frame the depths of the universe. And I breathe deeply. A distant wind rustles the evergreen leaves. I can almost taste the thick spices of baked goods. Multiple varieties of squash inhabit the produce aisle, replacing the bright fruits of the summer.

The earth embraces me slowly. Red leaves litter a sidewalk, crunching beneath my feet. Leaf blowers replace lawn mowers, scarves replace halters; long skirts in matted colors. Tan, orange, yellow, and red. The colors of autumn beckon. Clouds rush overhead, moving south with the birds. I think of rowing, the simple feel of a boat under my body—smooth motions, strokes down an autumnal creek. The trees change too quickly for me to notice—too slowly for me to watch.

The ocean is rough, whitecaps remind me to wear a heavier sweater. I put on my socks, put away my flip-flops. The earth surrounds me. Suddenly the colors all make sense. A dark mahogany finish, the smell of a bookstore. The warmth of a coffee shop. The lure of a bowl of soup. And creatures stare at me when I walk through the woods, curious that I do not recoil at the coming winter. “The fall is here,” the wicker chair says. Ciera sits and reads a book.

The sky turns red as the sun sets. And every breath is full. I cannot yet see my breath before me, but I know it is coming. I bundle up in my sweatshirt; under knit blankets and layers of indoor comfort.

The fall holds a different feeling; one heavy as the earth beneath my feet. I dance with Ciera at a middle school; promise to learn to swing dance. I reminisce with her under an orange street light. High school was so long ago, but fall makes old memories new as I hold her hand to cross an empty street.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

is that weird?


There's something human in nature. Today I walked to the local park and sat in a space designated by the Issaquah Highlands Parks Department as a nature recreation area. They put it on a square plot of land and built homes around it. They said, “here is where the wild will stay wild. Trees will grow here. Squirrels will live here. People will walk through designated paths and enjoy nature here.” Is that weird?

There's something human in nature. I felt so energized by being there. On the walk over many cars passed me. None had their windows rolled down. The day was nice; perfect for having the windows rolled down. But none did. Is that weird?

A gunman with a rifle and a handgun walked down Front Street in Issaquah. He was headed to the High School. He fired his guns but didn't hit anyone. Police shot back and killed him. Nothing like that ever happens here. Is that weird?

I sat on a park bench. I saw a garter snake. A spider crawled over my stuff. An array of insects I had never seen before landed by me and flew away. I saw a dragonfly. I heard a bird I had never heard before. It took a long time for the life to come out and say hi. Most people just walk through the park with their dogs. The forest is empty if you keep your eyes on the path. Is that weird?

Fox News recently ran a report on military advancements at one point saying that these might lead to “a safer way to wage war.” War is risk. War is not something we do behind a control booth. What happens when all it costs is some expensive equipment. Why not just do it in a simulation? Why not just stop waging war? Is that weird?

The Adjustment Bureau is an amazing movie. Based off a Phillip K. Dick story. I didn't know that until the credits. It's not the thriller you think it is. It's much better. When I found out it was by Phillip K. Dick I looked at Ciera and said, “they just whipped out their Dick and mind-screwed me.” Vulgar but I was thoroughly satisfied with the art of the movie. Is that weird?

I was so at peace today. Just walking around. We get tired of our peace I think. All of us. Humans. There is something human in nature. It's the peace we left for the comfort of control. Because humans don't want to be mauled by a mountain lion, they want to shoot at each other with the guns they built to hunt mountain lions. Is that weird?

Friday, September 23, 2011

GPS Interference


So, maybe I'm crazy but something doesn't seem right about this. This is the fact that LightSquared (a 4g lte wireless company) got a waiver from the FCC to interfere with GPS communications to promote its technology. Lightsquared is trying to create a 4g lte network in urban areas. The idea is to create a strong mobile broadband network in dense places. Sounds great except that the signal they use is very close to the band that GPS satellites. So close in fact that the FCC conducted a study and found that Lightsquared's signals caused significant interference with GPS signals.

GPS—Global Positioning Satellites—are a system of satellites built by DARPA and the Department of Defense to help the military more accurately pin their destinations. The satellites send signals to equipment on the ground that can direct, locate, and guide users. Many things can interfere with GPS signals (foliage, concrete, etc.) and reduce the strength of the signal. The weaker the signal is, the more inaccurate the position.

Lightsquared's technology would cause significant harm to GPS signals wherever it was installed. This translates directly to increased danger to industries that rely on this important tool. Emergency vehicles often rely on GPS and an interfered signal could mean the difference between life and death. The aviation industry depends on this important tool as a way of keeping planes on track; say goodbye to that over urban areas (only the most heavy air traffic areas). The military would be utterly paralyzed in most circumstances. In particular, during natural disasters GPS is one of the key tools used to rescue people.

I'm sure Lightsquared has a good reason for this. Except they don't. They are not disputing the FCC's findings, instead asking for a waiver. And they got it. How? It might have something to do with their promise of technologies to fix those problems in the future. Technologies that just don't exist, and won't for a while. But Lightsquared is building their network now. And for a time, we could all be in for some serious problems.

Today there were protesters outside of the Jackson Federal building. Too few protesters. How do we not know about our security getting sold off to the highest bidder?

For Those...


I'm cynical these days. I guess a car crash does that. I try to be optimistic, but lately I can't help but worry about a couple things I see in Seattle. Vagrancy. Too much of it. Why don't we have a better way of helping the homeless? And why are there guys in suits on the street asking me for five bucks a day to help some child somewhere I have never heard of? Especially when I'm in a rush and then he resorts to begging. At least the homeless guy is only asking for a one-time payment of an amount of my choosing. And why isn't the guy who is asking me for 5 bucks a day helping the guy on the opposite corner?

We live in a blind and ignorant world. By the way, if I want to donate to a cause, I promise I will do it on my own time and not when some red-bearded over-enthusiastic midget comes barreling up to me to talk about all the children he loves. I don't think that's an effective use of my money.

And also, I'm kind of broke right now. I am just happy to have a roof over my head and food in my pantry. I don't even have my own place yet. I have college loans due soon. I don't know how I am going to pay for all that. It's just daunting. And I'm supposed to give up 5 dollars a day? I spend that just going to and from work. I wish I could afford a charity now. But I am feeling increasingly closer to a charity case myself. Tip for those who stand on corners soliciting people, just because I am an affable clean-cut recently graduated person does not mean I can afford to help you. Look for the dickish dude on his cell-phone with a venti cup of coffee in his other hand yelling about his prime investments. I think that guy can spare some change.

Also, I don't like this new trend of advertising that starts with “for those who...” Why the hell is a billboard dedicating something to a specific audience. It's like the most heartless, corporatized shout-out to someone you can imagine. “For all those who 'insert clever line that makes someone go that's totally me', this is for you. 'Insert faceless corporation that doesn't give a crap.'” I think I can make my own decisions about whether my banking hours are sufficient or my tortillas need to be microwaved. But thanks for the dedication, I totally felt like you cared.

Generally when I do shout-outs like that (or more aptly when I've heard them), it's a rebel yell. Something made to say, “screw the system because the system is screwing you.” And generally a bunch of Seattle Indie Punk Rock fans will scream back and demand the head of the slime ball with the venti cup of coffee that doesn't give change to the homeless man on the corner with a sign that says, “need money for weed.” That's what a dedication is. So this is for all those who don't believe in that crap and can make their own decisions and are tired of getting heckled on the streets.

NBC Thursdays


This week on Ciera and Nick's soon to be canceled NBC bad couple comedy...Well, we ran out of ideas already, but look forward to three seasons of this crap. We'll call it, “Joey.”

Anyways, I have been taking in media recently. My most recent outing was to go see “Take Me America.” It is was an excellently done production without the lyrics or story to back what was otherwise an incredible 90 minute show. The show is about people applying for asylum in the US and it goes through a day in the life of the people that inhabit our asylum offices. If you believe that is a boring and taxing version of your workplace, you are right. If you remove the songs and the one dimensional comedy relief from the story, you are left with inept bureaucrats that can't find the 'human' connection except through contrivance. So you add some musical numbers that are uplifting to the spirit. But those are dull and unoriginal (most of them repeat the tag-line over and over again until the song is done). Take Me America, the title song, suffers from the problem of repetition until it is over; literally 90 percent of the song is people singing some variation on “take me America.”

There is no clear character development or choice. Everyone is a flat metaphor for a system that is supposed to be human but comes off as cold as the monolithic filing cabinets that make up its set. The play is so heavy handed that it borders on insensitive, leading me to question if the author had done any research other than to watch a 90 minute documentary that served as the inspiration for the play. I also wonder how any actors of an ethnic nature would agree to sign on to this play due to its clear ignorance of foreign lands.

But perhaps it is the distinctly American play, seen through an American's eyes. The 'protagonist'--a young clean cut white male—suffers throughout the play trying to decide whether to follow the law or find his humanity. Ultimately, some are let into the country and told they can finally be “American.” This is further enforced by a projection of the American flag and the statue of liberty in the background. If this doesn't feel over-the-top yet, it gets better. Aside from no character depth, there is no real sense of history with the characters seeking asylum. The Sudanese man talks about owning cows and how great that is, then talks about torture. The Albanian woman with the French accent talks about the horrors of genital mutilation. The main character's 'tough' history of a recent break-up is given passing commentary (the play falls into unintentional self-commentary/parody when one character yells at the main guy, “we have only scratched the surface of your life, and you think you can judge me”). And at the end two of the characters completely disappear or die in the real world, given only a line of dialogue and no time for the audience to reflect. By that time the audience is supposed to applaud and be happy for these poor ethnics who are now American citizens.

The play utterly misses the gravity and emotion that accompanies such a difficult decision. The real insights come in glossed over lines that have the meat of the story. Instead it feels like filler between numbers, the cast is just waiting to sing and bow for the audience that walks away feeling satisfied off the empty calories of swelling music and empty lyrics.

The process for gaining asylum in the US remains one of the most difficult in the world, and even though we call ourselves a nation of immigrants, we do not hold our arms out wide and take the poor and tired. Take Me America only enforces our inflated self-image and does nothing to shed light on the actual process of gaining asylum in the United States.

Also saw the new Community and Office. The Office might crash and burn with Andy as the manager (sorry for the spoiler if you couldn't see it last night).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Work Day


Life moves rapidly and no one seems to care. I have now worked for three days at Triangle Associates and continue to be excited by everything I do. I already got kind of chewed out for two things: being arrogant and overly familiar, and using the word boring to describe work. I have to shut my mouth I guess. I guess I have to cut out my idiosyncrasies. I'm not bored working, but sifting through poorly organized documents on the world wide web does tend to lose its sheen when the noir setting of my imagination dies before the task is completed. That's work. I see the end goals though, and that keeps it exciting.

I'm just tired of walking on eggshells. I keep getting told how casual the office is and how familiar everyone is but then told I have to work for that connection—which is true—and told to only take what I'm given. I try, but I've never worked in a professional setting and my inability to communicate in that sort of professional way is obviously getting me someplace I don't want to be. I just want to relax at work.

Maybe it's my space. I am in a corner in a hallway. No cubicle, just a workspace. People pass through just to see people in their offices. Who knows. I have to rearrange the desks soon though and that will hopefully give me some privacy. Hopefully. But what does space have to do with anything. I guess everything if it's all about comfort. Which it is. I didn't take a break or eat or even go to the bathroom on the first day. Not comfortable yet. I just don't want to feel like I'm bugging people by just being there.

I want to feel valuable and not like an impostor. Also, I want to write blogs and not diary entries. I guess I didn't do so hot at this one.

Ciera got cast in Spring Awakening (the play not the musical). The car has been deemed totaled (we're driving a rented Dodge Avenger now—huge blind spot, and totally for men having midlife crises). Liam bailed (he's going back to Vermont because he had an epiphany, and I hope that works for him). And we saw Take Me America—musical about gaining asylum in this country.

I used to wish I could just have a breakdown. Odd how I don't wish that now despite the difficulties.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Driving


The hardest part is getting back on the road and doing what everyone else does. It seems so effortless. We spend so much of our lives on cruise control, watching the road pass under us in a blur.

I moved, cruised. It was the same thing I've always done. Ciera and I have been road warriors. We drive to Seattle. We drive to Portland. We drive wherever we need to. And we have gotten good at putting life on cruise control. I love the road. I love driving and feeling the motion and knowing that even though my life may feel like a traffic jam, the road continues to disappear under the wheels of the car.

I helped Olivia move into her PSU dorm room. It is a large 1 bedroom. Her couch didn't fit. But I got to see my family. I got to visit with them and hang out with them. Sometimes I don't realize how much I really miss them; how much I wish I could just be home in Reno.

It was an excellent weekend topped off with an excellent family dinner. Crystal and Micah made homemade salad dressing. My mom made 2 varieties of enchiladas; they were amazing. Liz and Rick made fresh blackberry pie, and three varieties of homemade ice cream (vanilla, pecan, and coffee with amaretto). It was a meal of epic proportions and I felt so content with my family—extended and immediate.

And we drove back to Sammamish (suburb outside Seattle). It was a dark and stormy night. Visibility was low. And traffic was appropriately heavy and erratic. I don't think I will ever understand why drivers seem to forget all the rules of the road when the weather becomes inclement.

We had seen many accidents on our way up. There were flashing lights all the way up I-5 and I was maintaining extra caution on the roadways. Always allow 2-10 times normal stopping distances.

I was in the middle lane. A semi pulled abreast of us on the right side. We rounded a bend where a man was holding a flare and waving people off the left lane. Suddenly the Washington driving mentality showed its weakness. Washington drivers have a curious tendency to drive abreast of each other. Lanes don't move significantly faster than one another and I have noticed that big clumps of cars tend to occur on Washington roadways.

In the left lane an SUV slammed its brakes. A white pickup that had come abreast of us on the left slammed its brakes and swerved into the middle lane—our lane. He sideswiped us, pulling off the mirror and denting the car door significantly. All I could think was that I didn't want to hit the semi on our right. We didn't know what happened until we finally pulled over. We got out somehow. We were ok somehow.

The car was drivable. We were stiff but ok. Shaken but ok.

And we weren't half-way. It was so difficult driving all the way back from that point. And it was so hard to just get back on the road. Just to do what everyone does; get up and keep moving. Today was my first day of work. It was a lot harder than I had imagined it would be.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Crane Folding

It is a tradition in Japanese culture to make 1000 paper cranes for people in need. It is a way of bringing the family together and showing goodwill. There are 575,000 Somalis in danger of death from starvation. There are 9 confirmed dead from the recent air race disaster in Reno. There are a lot of cranes that need to be made.

Moving In PSU

Olivia moved into her awesome new apartment at Portland State. She is all ready to start in on her major and finish college. I hope she does well. But I know she will.

Like a Rolling Stone

Liam is an interesting guy. Our new room mate is a talented artist that can feel his way through life. It's a window into a different way of life. He spends a lot of time trying to understand his gut.

I understood the potential future as we hung out in Mimi's living room. Mimi was out of town and had left us to tend to her house. As a way of celebrating our apartment search, Ciera and I invited Liam over to have a barbecue. We cracked open a couple of beers and barbecued some kebabs. We relaxed and talked outside as the gray day turned into a kind of gray night. It was fine, a few drops here and there, a quiet northwest evening.

Later, when we had switched to wine, Liam sat at the piano and sang covers of classic rock songs. His raspy voice, perfectly in tune with his very natural and flowing way of playing the piano filled the room. His version of “Like a Rolling Stone” had more than a passing similarity to Bob Dylan's original version but of course added his own musical talents and personality. Having a personal concert performed for Ciera and I was a moving thing. It was a flash to the time of Jane Austen; when pre-recorded performances didn't exist, when people played for friends and family live.

I felt the year thus far. A few simple chords and the weight of graduation and the uncertainty of starting out on my own came entered the room. The room was full. Full of music. Full of the year to date. I was warm and comfortable, despite the uncertainty.

I woke up the day before. Ciera didn't have work until later. She refused to wake up and so I sang loudly, and poorly, to wake her. It is nice to know that I don't have to be embarrassed singing in front of Ciera. I love singing, but I can't do it. I improvised a song about waking up. She laughed and got up, we made coffee and we continued the hunt to find a home for ourselves. Happiness is not predicated on the comforts we surround ourselves with.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Rapid Reaction: Epilogue

I'll go back to telling you a bit about my life soon, but enjoy the epilogue:

Epilogue:

Department Report, Permanent Peacekeeping Program of the United Nations
Subject: Northern Turkey Conflict, Successes and Failures of Elite PPP units

Approximately forty-eight hours before the General Assembly of the United Nations voted to deem the conflict in Turkey a genocide and thereby extend specific military and humanitarian authorization to peacekeeping forces, several units of the Permanent Peacekeeping Program were deployed to strategic locations in and around the country of Turkey. One unit, code-named Alpha was dropped into the heart of the country to secure a safe-point for fleeing refugees that was maintained by the Red Cross.

This action was a response to the sudden swing in political leanings of the Turkish government 24 months ago. The ruling regime, a radical Islamist group, instituted wide-ranging policies that were widely condemned by human rights groups (see UNICEF and UNHDP Report: Rise of Radical Islam in Turkey). The sudden extreme marginalization and violence caused by these new policies and supported by the regime prompted many citizens to flee from their country. As reports trickled into the UNPPP, the department head quickly petitioned the Security Council to take measures to end or mitigate the conflict.

While the United States was in the midst of an election season, and China was experiencing its fourth consecutive year of severe drought in its western regions, there was a low priority politically to engage in what was largely seen as 'someone else's conflict'. It was Russia, in a rare show of post-Soviet leadership, that spearheaded a way to make it politically a priority and feasible. The Siberian nation saw that the traditionally stable and liberal nation presented a 'domino effect' to the region, something that could possibly destabilize the still weak southern European Union countries. France, Germany, and Great Britain resolved to get behind a resolution provided that the US would support the resolution with military backing. The United States complied with the caveat that it would head major naval operations; and the PPP units were dispatched to their locations.

The major focus was to keep any aggressive forces at bay while a convoy of UN forces was mobilized to safely transport refugees to camps outside the borders of Turkey. It was well known to the Alpha unit that there would be almost no support until a UN resolution to start a peacekeeping mission was approved by the General Assembly. Strictly speaking they were there to 'maintain order as aid was handed out' (see Alpha Unit Mission Briefing). More generally, they were to defend at all cost, the safety and well-being of the refugees that came into their care. It was almost certainly illegal, but the prosecutors of the ICC issued a special exemption to the members of Alpha unit.

Approximately 1 hour before the General Assembly voted to approve a peacekeeping force, violence escalated to the point that the refugee camp was over-run by an encroaching army. The two UAV units and a satellite feed recorded in detail the 83 minute period that has come to international attention. In this period, with minimal support from outside sources, these 8 soldiers were able to fend of nearly six thousand Turkish soldiers and sixteen tanks. At the time of the last soldier's transmission over the radio, an entire convoy of reinforcements was about an hour's travel time distant from their position. When the convoy did arrive; there were still a significant number of survivors; almost 1200, including 20 homosexual minorities that had been kicked out of the mosque by other refugees.

While casualties were heavy, nearly 3300 in this engagement alone, and the genocide in Turkey was grave, it is worth it to note that these 8 soldiers are estimated to have saved 1200 refugees, and nearly 4000 citizens of their town. This is certainly a worthy feat and should be seen as good support for expanding the PPP program.

With elite training and strict protocols that these units are subjected to, they are able to quickly deploy and stay for long periods of time. Their training acts as a force multiplier, giving them the ability to take on forces that far outnumber them. The PPP program has had many successes in its short 10 year span: it is considered the reason that western Africa has stabilized so well, and why the uprisings in Yemen did not turn into full-scale war.

This event can be considered the PPP's greatest success and failure. The number of people saved is the largest number directly attributable to PPP action. But it is also a failure in that the program lost 8 of its most valuable asset—its well-trained soldiers and diplomats. Their conduct on the battlefield is admirable in the highest degree, and the program's tight funding has made it difficult to train new recruits to the same caliber as the 8 brave souls lost in that Northern Turkish town.

Going into the future, the board has made a unanimous decision to recommend greater expansion of the program pending a full review of the PPP's deployment policies. It is, of course difficult to see how the US will want to entangle itself further in the international peacekeeping arena and thus get the full support of the Security Council, but this board thinks it necessary to find the political will to continue and expand this program. If Alpha unit had been given better support and equipment there is no telling how many lives could have been saved.

As a final aside; while the footage of the engagement leaking into the public domain has been construed as a tragic exploitation of the deaths of all involved, it is worth it to note that many civilians in many countries are demanding expansion of this promising program.

Respectfully submitted,

Robert Dahl, Chairman
Special Committee on the Turkey Conflict

Rapid Reaction II

Rapid Reaction II: The Red Cross couldn't keep all three hostile Turks alive; one soldier had been hit in the femoral artery and bled out. The second went into shock then a coma, but was stable. The third was only lightly wounded. Sgt. Mathers questioned him for an hour, learning as many details as he could; it wasn't much. The soldier had been under the impression that the entire military was amassing at the Syrian border to fight off what was rumored to be another American foray into expanding their capitalist empire. Everything was so patently untrue that by the end Mathers was surprised the soldier could tell his head from his ass.

Sgt. Mathers secured the detainee down and locked him in a room, then resumed his patrol at the entrance to the mosque. He got on the radio, “Alpha unit, it looks like we have stirred the pot. That patrol was due back thirty minutes ago, so I'd expect things to heat up here in the next few minutes. I need everyone on their guard. I doubt they'll use heavy artillery or explosives. Expect to be surrounded. I've got the UAV circling and satellite is tracking what it can, but the Turkish army is well-equipped to hide a lot of their signatures. My guess is that there are probably two companies and a large tank unit. We have an hour until the General Assembly vote and I have confirmation that NATO and SCAPO forces are standing by for support.”

Cary looked at Coos, they could conceivably be over-run in fifteen minutes. Actual support, aside from a lightly equipped UAV and an even more lightly equipped French destroyer, could take up to five hours to reach them. He knew the unit was going to be without much support but he didn't know it was going to be that sparse.

“I have large scale movement, all converging on the main road,” Patel's voice shook over the radio, but he knew it was good news. That the units weren't coming in from all sides gave Alpha unit a good shot at holding them off. They had no idea how many PPP soldiers were defending the refugees and that was a big bonus. Every movement would be suspect, an excellent way to keep the tense army at bay.

“Hold fire until you have a clear shot. All units conserve ammo,” Sgt. Mathers knew he would have to multiply his forces somehow, “I have command on-line, they are authorizing two more UAVs and the French have missile support incoming. That should give us what we need, but the French destroyer needs a target. Do you have a position Patel.

“Switching to targeting. I have a point right on what I think are the main tank lines. Give me a perpendicular spread off my point and we should be able to get a good scare in them,” Patel's voice betrayed his lack of confidence.

“Roger, all units stan--” Sgt. Mathers' voice stopped, “what?” a long pause, “No. Tell them to stay...no...I don't care if that's the case...this...no...damn it!” Sgt. Mathers got on the radio again, “all units, I have about forty refugees that have just been kicked out of the mosque. They are gay apparently, and the other refugees don't want them there. No one will house them for fear of retribution.”

“I have a unit incoming. Fourteen right down the main road,” Patel interrupted.

“Hostile?” Sgt. Mathers forgot the refugee situation momentarily.

“Kicking down doors,” Patel said it with the assured voice of someone with a target in the crosshairs. Cary could hear the violent pounding and yelling of the soldiers as they broke into the first few homes on the road. Cary looked at Coos who was controlling his breath.

“Clear to shoot, clear to fire. Conserve ammo, I repeat, conserve ammo,” Sgt. Mathers was stern with his words.

Cary peeked around the corner and saw three soldiers pulling a woman from her home. They were tugging at her hair and screaming she was a treacherous whore. One soldier pushed her on her knees and put his rifle to the back of her head. He yelled at her to submit to God's will. A bullet ricocheted off the dirt behind the soldier. The soldier collapsed, spilling blood from his head as he fell. The woman screamed, the soldiers panicked and called to their comrades. Cary called out his shot over the radio, “clear on back target, firing.” He hit the soldier in the chest.

“Clear on front target, firing,” Jackson's voice came over the radio, “Patel is targeting the line of tanks.” Jackson fired a burst from his machine gun, the front soldier fell and the woman ran screaming back into her home. The advancing soldiers stopped trying to raid houses and ran for cover. The narrow streets and alley-less architecture made them sitting targets in the corridor.

Cary watched as several soldiers made their way to his position. He whispered to Coos, “left most clear,” and fired.

Coos followed suit, “right-most clear,” and fired. They did this until all seven were injured or dead on the ground. It took less than four seconds.

Bursts of machine gun fire hit the back soldiers, spreading them into chaos. Cary heard a soldier call out a retreat and the soldiers scrambled back to the town's entrance.

“I have confirmation from command, missiles incoming,” Sgt. Mathers sounded relieved, the first time he had emoted in a long time, “contact in 15 minutes.”

“Sir, does that mean we have an official engagement?” Jackson asked.

“Not yet, but it seems the assembly will vote to support us. I have three SCAPO destroyers en route to us and the UN has a full rescue on standby at the Greek Border. But that's not important now,” Sgt. Mathers came to his senses, “Private Sharma, I need a head count on our evicted refugees. I also need a place to put them that is safe.”

The head count came back and there were 43 gay minorities—all of them singled out and kicked out by their families. They ranged from a young 16 year old boy to a 58 year-old woman. The Red Cross had run out of tents and they were standing in the plaza completely exposed.

“We can move some of the people in overflow to the mosque, but it won't be everyone,” Nguyen had been running through plans. “We can commandeer a house, but I don't think it's within our goodwill protocols.”

The goodwill protocols are what made PPP missions so complex. Along with being active combat units, they were also considered UN diplomats. The expectations of their behavior were held to the highest degree. A long-sighted US secretary of defense had made it required for American support of the PPP's creation; her justification was that hearts and minds were won through the duty and honor of the soldiers on the ground. It wasn't a unique idea but it was certainly the most extensive (and ultimately restrictive) codification of those principles. Violation of those codes, even in the most dire of situations was grounds for severe punishment.

“We might be able to surpass those codes given circumstance,” Nguyen was doing the calculations. The goodwill protocols were fuzzy in a couple areas, and the utilitarian approach meant that they might be able to justify it.

Sgt. Mathers thought for a second, “do it. I want an easily defensible residence near the plaza. I need two volunteers.”

Cary spoke up, “I'll do it sir,” he punched Coos on the shoulder, “Coos will too.”

“Good, your position is fine for now, but your fall-back position will be where they are housed and not the mosque, clear?”

“Clear sir.”

break---

Cary looked overhead, he could see the bright streaks in the distance. The missiles were coming. He braced himself as he felt the earth-shattering explosions rock the line of tanks outside the town. There would be lots of noise and fire. Certainly another round would be headed their way. The Turks knew that. They would be headed into the city to get cover and make a full-blown attack on the refugees.

Cary heard the rumble of several thousand soldiers marching in time toward his position. At some point the march changed into a looting. He could hear the soldiers speed up and become animalistic. Their anger and hatred reaching a fever pitch as they yelled and kicked down doors. Cary wondered if they had made the right decisions. They were sworn to fulfill their duties and make sure the mission succeeded. But the town wasn't in their parameters. And they weren't defending the families that had quietly let the refugees gather in their town. The people of the town weren't dissidents but they were brave to allow a seeming act of treason reside in their town center. And now Cary could hear their screams as gunshots rang out inside the houses. The sound of footsteps got louder and a woman ran by.

“God is great, Turkey is great, I am loyal, I am loyal,” she tripped.

Three soldiers ran up to her, “you are nothing. You don't know God.” Cary fired off a burst, hitting them in succession. He heard more soldiers approaching. Loud heavy footsteps. Coos and Cary started firing, trying to stem the flood of soldiers going down the main street.

The UAVs came in low, strafing straight down the street. Cleanly spreading soldiers. “They're taking to the side streets. Fall back.” It was Patel.

Coos took a grenade and tossed it into the street. Smoke poured out of it, creating a wall that Coos and Cary could run behind. Gunfire burst out sporadically through the smoke. The soldiers were obviously confused. Cary called into his radio, “we're falling back, location?”

“Building closest to you on the plaza,” Sgt. Mathers was setting up a defense of the plaza. He knew they weren't going to last long.

Cary burst through the door of the house, there he was confronted by forty three faces of scared and helpless refugees. He tapped Coos and signaled the upstairs; Coos nodded and took a position at the upstairs window. Cary signaled the people to move to the far corner and stay quiet. He peeked out the window and watched for soldiers. He heard rifle bursts and screams. People yelling in Turkish. A massive execution was happening right outside and he didn't have any way to really stop it. A soldier came running out of the smoke and a line of machine gun fire stopped him in his tracks.

Cary turned and looked at the plaza. There was a fire in the distance, they were setting the town on fire. Cary knew that he would die; it was strangely comforting to know that. He watched as the smoke started to fill the night sky and the city turned orange.

Soldiers started coming into the plaza, a few at first and all of them easily picked off by the soldiers of the PPP unit. Then it was in droves, they over-ran the tent. The soldiers fired blindly into it, marking it with hundreds of holes. The tent was back-lit by the flames in the distance and he could see people running and screaming; falling and dying. People poured out of the Red Cross tent, trying to escape. They were met with a hail of bullets. He heard the sergeant on the ear piece, “Nguyen is down!”

Cary saw gunfire coming from behind a wall near the entrance to the mosque. A machine gun burst and sniper fire from the minaret. The smoke was getting heavy now. The noise was unbearable almost. Then it felt like there was a rumbling everywhere, and the tanks rolled into the plaza. He held his breath, turned to the refugees and turned over a table. He hid behind it with his gun trained at the door. Blood spattered the window. He heard banging on the door; they were trying to come in. Cary took stock of his equipment. A smoke grenade, two flashes, and two explosive grenades. He hoped it would be enough. He heard Coos firing out the window. Then, “flash!” Cary covered his eyes. A flash was almost useless in the open, but it surprised the enemy sufficiently to give Coos a clear shot at two soldiers.

Then the rumbling stopped. Coos yelled down, “this is it!” He threw his grenades to the streets. Cary saw men scattering and heard a deafening boom. The grenades exploded but the boom came from tank fire. The tank had fired on Coos and blown up the second story of the house. The refugees that could, screamed.

Cary turned and yelled in Turkish, “quiet if you want to live!” It was suddenly silent and Cary knew that most of the refugees must be hurt or dead. He trained his gun at the three points of entry in front of him: window, window, door. Faces streamed by: some fleeing, some chasing. There were tanks in the plaza, firing on the mosque. Cary watched as a direct hit to the minaret sent tons of brick and mortar crashing to the ground. Patel and Jackson were gone.

The barrel of a rifle peeked through one of the windows. Then a grenade dropped into the room. A refugee jumped to cover the blast. “No!” Cary couldn't breathe. He ducked for cover and felt the change in air pressure. A blast of heat came through the room. The house was in shambles. He looked at the door, it was falling off its hinges.

Then there were soldiers at the door, banging, breaking the already weakened hinges. Cary tightened his grip, looked intently through his sight and braced himself.

Rapid Reaction

I know, I've been slacking on posts and photos. I don't want to use wikimedia commons anymore because it takes too long to load. Anyway, a short story of a theoretical near future:

The helicopter came in low. Cary looked around nervously at his comrades. The eight members of the UN Permanent Peacekeeping Program (PPP) unit were dropping into a rapidly escalating conflict. Word of hundreds of thousands of religious minority Turks fleeing their homes had reached the Security Council. With a unanimous vote, fourteen PPP units were dispatched to secure refugee camps while a more substantial Peacekeeping mission was organized. Cary's unit was assigned to the most dangerous position. Just outside the city limits of Istanbul, the unit was to secure a 'refugee safe point' for all those fleeing the dense city.

It would be an array of tents where the Red Cross had already set-up shop to quickly examine and document those fleeing while providing temporary food and aid until a convoy of transportation vehicles would whisk civilians out of the country to permanent refugee camps.

This was also an unprecedented mission. In previous engagements the PPP was given a mission along borders or within war-torn areas, but never in a fashion such as this. The escalation of violence in the region had happened so rapidly and on such a scale that the Security Council had authorized a break from normal policy. There would be a partisan condemnation of the government's actions and the immediate evacuation of at-risk civilians. Fleets were already amassing and NATO along with the Southern and Central Asian Peacekeeping Organization (SCAPO) was preparing a multi-tiered negotiation of hostilities with the Turkish Government. Diplomatic channels were being used to try to quell the conflict but each hour made the sanctions and use of full-on military force a more real possibility.

Cary checked his gun again. A PPP soldier was issued a standard Navy Blue uniform with a UN PPP badge on it and a bright blue reflective band on both shoulders. Their helmets deviated from the standard of other UN Peacekeeping forces. They were practical military arrangements, with ranks on the left side of the helmet in UN blue. Other than that they were double insulated and equipped with night vision goggles. A UN PPP soldier was not supposed to engage any hostile without reason and followed most of the same protocols as traditional forces. The big difference came in their permanency and free-exercise of discretion.

Ten years previous, the UN had authorized the creation of the PPP as a permanent standing force to rapidly react to developing conflicts. The small funding meant that there was little equipment beyond training to ensure the PPP's success. But they were trained well. They were trained as an elite unit on par with the best in the world and given the same discretion as those units. Their mission parameters were the main dictators of what kind of discretion was warranted. Similarly it was hard to serve time for war-induced violations of engagement, but this came at a severe cost on other matters. A PPP soldier could serve 5 years in solitary for lewd conduct in or out of uniform, and up to 75 years for any form of sexual crime. Non-conflict violent crimes, committed under any banner, were punishable with life imprisonment. Military tribunals set-up under the authority of the ICC and its governing treaties meant that justice would be swift for soldiers caught tarnishing the reputation of UN or its PPP forces.

Cary knew the drop was going to be hard. Reports had the Turkish army setting up anti-aircraft batteries near the city. Fire could get heavy as they dropped into the small suburb outside the city. It was dusk, and Cary could see the lights of Istanbul blinking on. He smelled the salt and desert air.

The rise of the Islamist government to power in Turkey meant that moderate Muslims along with Christians, Jews, and Sikhs, had all been forced to run for their lives. The fairly strong infrastructure of the country meant that the Red Cross had been able to provide aid quickly, but that didn't stop the government from getting in the way. Reports of 6 Red Cross workers killed at a checkpoint while trying to obtain access to those in need had prompted the security council to vote. Despite the political pressure to not take action, it was a rare instance where Russia, China, and the US all came forward to condemn the actions of the Turkish government. The US president even made the rare argument against its unilateral policies and implored world governments to take action. The EU, even in its diminished capacity had quickly delivered millions of dollars of aid to the border.

Cary's PPP unit was the only one to cross into the sovereign nation of Turkey. If a resolution for escalation was rejected by the general assembly, it could stay that way. Cary flicked the safety on and off on his gun mindlessly, they were going to drop in uninvited without any support. They had forty-eight hours and a general assembly vote to make it through for their mission to be successful. And despite the unprecedented nature of the cooperation between nations, he didn't believe his luck was that good.

“Unit Alpha we are coming into the drop zone, you have thirty seconds to make your descent. New satellite feed has four batteries that may fire on us,” Cary listened to his comm intently and took a look at his team once again. They were going to drop, and hopefully make it out. The sun burst into a brilliant orange, tinting everything a pleasant color, Cary savored the moment.

Break---

The helicopter swerved away and messaged a good luck to the unit. Cary checked his equipment and looked at Sgt. Mathers. Mathers gave a hand signal to head out toward the Red Cross camp. The unit silently moved forward, passing a farmer and his goats. The man regarded them quietly and moved on; the conflict had not reached out here, but it soon would. They passed over a ridge and saw the camp on the edge of a small town. The PPP unit walked into the camp and met a Red Cross officer.

“Hi, it's nice to see we can feel safe,” a middle-aged Turkish man with vivid green eyes looked at the unit, “we have been waiting for you. I have bad news, this camp is not safe, I don't think. I have been looking all day and the uneasy neighbors make me think we could get very hurt here.”

Sgt. Mathers pulled off his helmet, “what do you suggest then? We've looked at the landscape and this seems good.”

“Not good enough. I have been told the government building is safe; it is also a mosque. There is a square in the front and lots of buildings behind it make it impossible to attack from behind.”

“Ok, and locals?”

“This is a liberal town, they would protest but they would be refugees too you see.”

Sgt. Mathers nodded and looked around at the camp, “how long will it take to relocate?”

“We have already started. I think there will be a new camp in forty minutes. You should move your men here,” the Turkish man pointed to a point on the map. The Sergeant nodded and signaled his men to move out again.

Cary re-secured his helmet and headed for the square. The Turk was right, approach was almost impossible except through the front. A small tent with the Red Cross logo on it stood out front. A line of people was being quickly processed to enter. Red Cross nurses were handing out water and bread, while trying to see if anyone needed medical attention. It looked like a slow motion state of panic. Everyone was quietly taking in their bread and water while the tension buzzed with the crickets. Cary gripped his rifle tightly. Things could turn quickly. The sun slipped below the horizon, long shadows melted into surrounding darkness.

The Turk came by and spoke to Sgt. Mathers, “I have gotten word of a mass exodus tonight, people will be moving in the darkness. Some know to come by here,” the Turk cocked his head slightly as if to relieve tension in it, “be ready."

Sgt. Mathers knew what that meant, he turned to his unit, “I want two men in the minaret, three at the tent, and two at the entrance with me. Double-check your gear, I don't want any misfires or jams.”

The stars came out slowly; stark points of light on the endless sky. Cary stood at the entrance to the large hall; he looked at the now empty square. Sgt. Mathers walked by, “central says they are reading military activity in the hills behind us. They are holding. Sats also picked up several masses moving toward our position. I assume it's a party of refugees. Numbers are in the thousands.”

Cary held his breath, the hall was going to be packed. The open design of the mosque meant that people could easily be hurt if the building were to take significant artillery fire. The refugees came quietly. Their fear was palpable. They smelled like sweat and the desert. Cary saw what they had; sacks of clothes and food, the most precious heirlooms that they could carry. A lifetime is not lightweight.

“This is Alpha one, I have a lock on movement about a half click out,” Cary heard private Patel over his ear-piece. Privates Patel and Jackson were in the tower keeping watch on the mosque and its temporary residents, “looks like refugees. Sir?”

“Keep an eye, tell me when you get a number.”

“Several hundred at least. This is pretty bad stuff sir. Can we fit them?”

“Let's hope,” Sgt. Mathers shrugged his shoulders heavily. They came in droves. There wasn't even time for processing. The night had cooled off significantly and there was a slight breeze. The Red Cross handed out all their blankets and then all of their food. There was almost no water by the time the refugees had passed. It was packed, people pushed against each other and struggled to navigate the makeshift maze of bodies and blankets. It was weirdly quiet. People spoke in hushed tones but no one dared raise it above a whisper. Cary was put on inside patrol. He was the only authority inside the mosque aside from the Red Cross officers—three of which were asleep. He crouched down in a corner and lit a cigarette. The sky had become black and the streets were quiet, he could hear a cat wander the rooftops silently.

Cary took a quick drag and looked around; the people were settling in, ready to sleep. A man got up to use the bathroom, bowing slightly as he passed Cary. There were three couples with young children that had been put in the back rooms to keep everyone from being bothered. It was probably the only time that such an accommodation could be managed. The refugee camps were squalid and dirty; it was barely above an animal pen. Cary put out his cigarette and looked at the minaret; a tower that extended toward the sky, there to call a town to prayer. He thought about the church steeples in his hometown; how similar they were to the minaret.

The moment was shattered by a gun shot. A large caliber automatic rifle. A scream and then the wailing of a child. “Corridor, where the children are, I'm here!” Cary yelled into his ear piece. He flipped the safety on his rifle, took a brief check of his position and swung through the doorway. He was horrified, he saw the man who had gone to the bathroom, standing at the head of the room pointing a rifle at the terrified families. Cary knew the rules of engagement, he yelled at the man in Turkish to put down the gun. The man turned to him, aiming the rifle squarely at Cary.

Cary's heart stopped momentarily as the first bullet whizzed by his ear, he felt the plaster from the wall hit the back of his head. He felt his finger depress the trigger and place a bullet in the man's chest. He kept his weapon pointed, “I need medical, three wounded, I'm all right though.”

He ran quickly to a woman covered in blood, she waved him off, screaming in Kurdish, “my son! My son!” Cary only knew a little bit of Kurdish, but it was enough. He turned quickly to a boy, maybe two years old, and searched for wounds. The boy had been shot in the abdomen and was bleeding profusely. Cary held back a shudder and tried to stanch the bleeding. He heard footsteps as his the sergeant and private morales entered with several Red Cross workers. A nurse came by to help Cary; she checked the boy's pulse and told Cary what he already knew. She shook her head slowly and pushed Cary's hands away gently. Cary looked at the mother, the blood on her clothes wasn't hers. Another nurse was checking on the man Cary had shot.

Unit Alpha had been trained for the exhausting marathon nights. They knew that they were massively outnumbered; in a worst-case scenario it could be as much as two thousand to one. Elite training was no guarantee of success under odds of that magnitude. They had already experienced the first taste of the battle's personality and were wary of the desperation and hate that pervaded the hard-liners' viewpoints.

“I am ordering a basic search of all incoming refugees; no one gets into this compound without being cleared for security. Private Gould you will instruct these Red Cross workers on how to perform a basic pat-down and gear search. Got it?” Sgt. Mathers turned his face to Cary. Even in the darkness, the sergeant's intense stare seemed to penetrate Cary. Cary nodded.

Cary went to the gathered Red Cross workers. He showed them the procedure for a pat-down and assured them that someone would be watching at all times to keep them safe. The Red Cross workers were worried and unsure but seemed to understand the process easily. Satisfied, Cary went back to the entrance to report in.

“I'm getting increased movement. I think the Turks will try to bombard us. They know this might be their only chance to keep a full-blown military intervention from happening.”

“What's going to happen sir?”

“It's a gamble, if they show too little force and we die, NATO and SCAPO might start firing missiles, and send in troops for a full-blown peacekeeping occupation. If they show too much force and we die, they might get the UN to back-down but create a civil war in the process. If they do it right, killing us and just enough political dissidents without disturbing the main population, then they can stay in power and keep their hard-line government without international intervention.”

“How's it looking for us, sir?” Cary was afraid to ask.

Sgt. Mathers stretched, “well, it looks like either way we aren't coming out alive. But that's good politically for the PPP department. They need some good poster-children,” he yawned and cracked his neck, “didn't you want to be on a poster?”

“I hope you are joking sir.”

“So do I.”

break---

Private Cary Gould woke from sleep, the morning call to prayer rang out from the minaret. He smiled at the thought of privates Patel and Jackson waking with a start to the call blasting out their ears. A light dew had settled on his equipment. The gray of the early morning made him shudder. He looked over at the sergeant.

“Looks like a small tank unit and infantry. Enough force to kill us many times over, but not enough to destroy this town,” Sgt. Mathers looked out at the square. Red Cross workers were already setting up, getting ready for another day of tense relief work.

Cary heard the buzz of a plane overhead, he recognized the familiar sound of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle—a UAV. They were practically silent now, able to fly low and keep a good trace on all movement around them.

“Command says NATO has approved limited air support. We get UAVs and any firepower on them plus a French destroyer is in range to cover us in case of full-scale war. As always, the rules of engagement apply,” Sgt. Mathers said the last part bitterly. He knew that their mission was effectively nil without an act of aggression against PPP units. They could only stand and defend the Red Cross workers in the case of a violent clash.

Cary saw the pink of the early dawn color the tops of the houses, it would soon be a warm day. Cary breathed in the morning dew. He could taste the rich history of the land, and lamented the circumstances under which he visited the land. He stretched out the morning cold and sharpened his mind to the day ahead, “do you hear that sir?”

Cary had stopped mid-stretch. He thought he had heard something. Then, over his ear-piece it was Patel, “I have visual on conflict. Gunshots at two clicks southeast. Sir, they are being surrounded.”

Cary was shocked, the normally reverent army was attacking during prayer time just to corner and kill refugees. The hard-line Muslims spoke of jihad in terms of religious conflict, yet failed to follow the basic tenets of their religion. It was obvious to him that their rhetoric was a sham.

Private Patel spoke again, “sir, can we do something? I have a clear shot. The refugees are completely surrounded. They are being lined up. Sir, it's going to be a firing squad.”

“Hold your fire,” Sgt. Mathers spoke through gritted teeth. He knew a couple things: one, that Patel was a good enough shot to pick off people at two kilometers, and two that it would be a huge violation and further security risk if he were to authorize the shot.

“Sir, please, they are walking down the line, picking people off,” Patel was obviously struggling.

“You know the rules. We're stuck,” the sergeant sounded more that a little conflicted, but he had to think about the mission and its successful completion. Firing on the Turks could direct them to their location, risking thousands more lives, “I'm sorry.”

“Sir, some are running. They're escaping. The army has opened fire on the rest of the group. The runners got away. Everyone else is down,” Patel's voice faded.

“See if you can get a position on the runners. Are they headed here?”

“No luck sir, they disappeared behind a ridge. I can't tell where they went.”

The rest of the day went by uneventfully. The square filled with some people, the town moved sluggishly. They saw the coming storm and steered clear of the conflict as best they could. A couple of men came to the mosque to pray but were turned away. Cary got some more sleep; he savored his sparse rations, knowing that the refugees had little to eat. He handed out a K ration to a family. It was the last he had.

Just after sundown Jackson spoke over the radio, “Sir, we have significant movement about three clicks out. It looks like a large group of refugees.”

“I just got satellite confirmation on that one. Alpha unit, prepare for incoming. Patel, do you have a clear line of sight on that main road into the square?”

“There's a deep shadow that obscures my vision on the far edge, but shy of an entire army trying to come through there, I have a clear view.”

“Good, here's the plan, I want Gould and Coos to take a position at the corner right before the second line of buildings. You two will not give away your positions under any circumstances but will report all incoming, got it?”

Cary nodded at the sergeant. He grabbed Private Coos and found a good view around the corner of the corridor. They waited as it started to get darker. Cary then heard the shuffling of feet. He peeked his head around the corner and saw a lanky figure stumbling down the road. It was a child, maybe ten years old, hobbling quickly toward the plaza. The child was bleeding from his arm which hung limply at his side. Cary could hear him screaming for his mother in Kurdish. Soon more people trickled into the city center; the Red Cross struggled to administer aid quickly. Many were wounded and all cried about a military ambush outside the town.

Patel and Jackson confirmed that there were roaming patrols of soldiers looking to capture anyone running away. The mosque was packed. The Red Cross had set to opening their tents in the plaza, unable to fit all the refugees in the building.

Cary looked at Coos, “how many more do you think there are?” Coos shrugged.

Over his ear piece, Jackson spoke, “patrols have found us, they are headed into the town.”

“Maintain your cool, hopefully they will respect the Red Cross, and our mission. Hold your fire all,” Sgt. Mathers said over the radio. A small patrol of five soldiers walked down the main road toward the plaza, Cary watched them slowly as they passed his position without noticing him or Coos. The Turk running the Red Cross station approached them with his hands out. Cary could hear him speaking to them.

Coos nudged Cary and whispered, “what're they saying?”

Cary strained to hear, “the Turk is saying that he is with the Red Cross. That they should leave unless they need medical attention. That they are welcome as long as they put down their weapons.” Cary heard the raised pitch of one of the soldiers, “they say he's holding insurgents. Infidels and criminals. They are asking the Turk to turn them over,” Cary realized he had been gripping his neck strap anxiously and relaxed his grip, “they are threatening the army.” Cary watched the Turk wave his hands gently.

Over the comm, he heard Patel's voice, “I have a clear shot, sir.”

Cary whispered to Coos, “The Turk says they do not take sides, only aid those in need. He is asking them to leave if they wish to cause harm. They pointed the gun at him. Sir?” Cary spoke into the radio, he noticed Sgt. Mathers making a slow approach toward the group with his gun at his side and his hands out forward, exposed. The soldiers took his approach warily, aiming their guns at him.

Cary heard the sergeant's voice over the radio, “if I say Jihad, you are all cleared to fire. Do not shoot to kill, if you can, clear?” Several hushed yes sirs came through on the ear piece. Then Cary heard Sgt. Mathers speak to the soldiers in Turkish, “Leave if you do not need assistance, we are here for peace. Your guns have no place here.” The sergeant had a poor accent, probably because he spoke the pastoral Persian of Afghanistan much more fluently. It made him sound unrefined to Turkish sensibilities, a problem in a situation as tense as this one.

The soldiers took the statement as a threat and spoke back, “you have treasonous war criminals here, we demand to take them so they may answer in a court for their crimes.”

“Your guns are not a fair trial. Leave, I am authorized to defend this place from attack.”

“Stupid Pashtun goatherd, you have criminals against Islam, give them to us.” The leader signaled to the other soldiers and they took aim.

“Put down your guns, I am warning you one last time,” Sgt. Mathers kept his voice steady.

The leader signaled two of the soldiers to head toward the camp, “you are a criminal too if you do not help us.”

The sergeant spoke sternly and clearly so the unit could hear on their ear pieces, “there is no place here for your Jihad.” Seven gunshots rang out almost simultaneously. Four soldiers fell and one dove out of the way, he swung his gun to fire at the Turk, but Sgt. Mathers got to his sidearm first. With one shot, the soldier went limp. The sergeant got on the radio, “Hold position except Nguyen and Howard, get medical, it looks like we have three captives.” The sergeant kicked away their guns and held the wound of the soldier that was bleeding the most.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I Got the Job!

The worst part is that I don't know what to do with myself. But that is far outstripped by the immense feeling of relief and excitement coursing through me. I got the internship at Triangle Associates. I get to see facilitation and public policy in action. I get to see the buzzwords—sustainability, environmental justice, collaboration, common pool resources—worked into a real world example. This is what I knew I wanted to do right out of college and I found someplace that does it. Way cool.

Anyways, you may be wondering, “but Nick you were just going off on a rant about internships?” No, I can't emphasize that enough. I am not against internships. I am against unpaid, unregulated internships that leave the promise of advancement wafting through the crack held open by the proverbial foot in the door. This is none of those things. The size of the firm—15 full-time employees—means I will have access to a variety of jobs and experiences that (unless I choose to blind myself to them) will certainly teach me the trade. It will also help me pursue my future goals. And it will be paid (never mind that I proposed a non-profit exemption).

The economic pay-off in the short term (wages) as well as in the long term (valuable experiences and connections) is assured. So I can be excited that Triangle is not only a sustainable consulting firm, but also a practicing employer of sustainable practices. In fact, Triangle's hiring could be seen as part of the example for improving internships.

But that wasn't the overall point. I was trying to say that I am excited to work for these guys and eager to get going in their world. I am ready to try my hand, in whatever capacity I can, at this work. And I am way relieved that I can pay rent (once we find an apartment of course). That loomed over my head like a cloudy Seattle day.

Also, Liam has joined Ciera and I in the hunt for housing. Liam is a very relaxed sort of guy. Ciera was in the BFA acting program at Emerson with him. And he is a real artist; thoughtful, intense, and engrossed in re-presenting the world to an audience. The three of us walked around a few areas trying to find 'for lease' signs. We came up empty, but the new day always provides more opportunities.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

two hundred and fifty four

“Which channel?” I asked. I was twelve and it was early morning. Patti had called, she almost always called whenever she could, so 7am wasn't too unusual.

“Any channel,” I didn't understand, but I did so anyway.

The television made a familiar crackling sound as the lines warmed up and the colors appeared. I could always feel the static coming off the tv if I was close enough. The gray reflection of the room in fish-eye turned into a bright day showing a skyline city. I didn't know much about cities, or what I was looking at. Just that two enormous pillars stood before me and one was engulfed in smoke. The huge plumes baffled me. It was an enormous structure and I couldn't conceive of what had caused the smoke.

Speechless. I was so talkative and being speechless was a new phenomenon. The action movies I was so accustomed to seemed suddenly trivial and inconsiderate. There were lives lost in that building, in that fire. What was happening? Who could have done this?

I realized that Patti had hung up the phone and I was listening to a dead tone, “Dad? Dad!”

My dad came into the room, “what?” His face dropped as he watched the TV, “oh no.” He repeated it several times as if wishing the image on the screen would disappear, as if the headlines would suddenly change to April Fool's. But it wasn't April, and the television got worse.

I watched the screen as the second plane came into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. It disappeared and a big ball of fire came out the side. It was surreal. The plane entered the building like a knife through butter. It was too easy. I expected the plane to come out, for the film to magically rewind itself. More smoke, more stunned commentary on the screen.

Do I go to school still? Do I still have to go? Even then I understood some enormous change was happening before my eyes. Something about how we were perceived in the world was different. Something about how we would conduct our affairs was different. Something was different.

And I watched the first tower collapse. Hollywood never prepares the mind for the real thing. Down, smoke and ashes. It was just dust and debris. What once was there, gone. And I hoped that everyone got out. That everyone was as lucky as the woman I saw on screen, running for her life, but alive. But I knew that wasn't true.

At school later, I heard the second tower had collapsed. But we continued our day of learning. School was school, and we had an obligation. The obligation was to carry on and learn; pretend that everything was the same while tacitly acknowledging everything was different. I don't remember much about the rest of the day. I think it was warm and sunny. I must have walked home alone. A stillness passed through my quiet neighborhood street.

And today I woke to the memorial service. Something important, stories of courage and loss. A nation still in shock. Families still in pain. But I carried on with my plans. The same as I always did. I went to breakfast with Adrienne and Ciera; ate a nice meal. People honked as any other day. America kept moving. I told Adrienne about a dream I had. I was a peace-keeper in a war-torn country; trying to save people from death. She replied, “that's an intense dream, you must have a lot of empathy.” I hoped she was right.

I spent a few hours with Mama; she was feeling ill and I was struck by her candor, “I have been getting tired more. I am ready to go. I am going to do it my way.” Her cancer has now spread from her lungs to her liver. She is on a steady downhill slope; spending time with her has become draining. She naps often. Our conversation drifted amongst family members, living and dead. It is sad to hear of the many lives lost in the natural course of life. She asks me if I could make her some breakfast. I cannot turn back time. I cannot hold those moments in my hand. I can only be thankful for this summer I have had with her and make the most of every moment I have left with her.

And I suppose it's the same with everyone else. Their days are not perceptibly finite, but that doesn't mean I should not savor the time. In a radically changed world one decade out, what do I hope for the future? What will I remember about that time? It won't be the politics, the economics, or the wars. It will be the sense of goodwill and unity that accompanied national tragedy. It will be the way moments together suddenly held the real weight that we always aspire to have.

In those ten years, I have grown and become an adult. The changes to the world imperceptible amongst the magnitude of my own puberty and graduation. But I know what lesson I will derive from that day. It was the courage to be magnanimous; the will to be kind; the empathy to be there when called.

I have had the luck and fortune to be there for my family this summer. I am broke and jobless, but my happiness has always derived from those around me; those I care about. And it has been my pleasure to be here with them in this changed world.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Grandma's Birthday


My grandpa and grandma. Grandma's b-day is tomorrow. My grandparents met right after the war. One night my grandpa came to her window drunk and started yelling at her window. She'll be 89 and still sharp.

Auntie Marian


My great aunt Marian. She turned 82 yesterday. We celebrated her birthday tonight, along with my grandmother's. She used to be a PE teacher, and she got fired from a job once because her hands were so fast and her work so efficient, that it was too costly to keep her on staff (she got paid by the amount of beans she sorted).

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ending Internment

Real Internment.

I wrote yesterday about the problems of unpaid internships, but I didn't elaborate on what possible solutions there are to rectifying this gap in labor and wages. Now I believe there are multiple solutions so I will address them from the top down.

The first thought is often used and generally obvious. Create a legal definition and framework for an intern. Through a government regulation of an industry or profession it is possible to limit the economic impacts of unpaid interns. Most probably there would be a multi-faceted and nuanced approach to intern regulations. Interns would, much like student workers in the Skidmore dining hall, have specifically delineated duties that could not overlap with the work of paid labor. There may also be a maximal hour requirement, forcing interns to work say ten hours a week, and exceeding that limit would require pay of some sort. Alternately it is also possible to mandate a minimum wage for all interns except in special circumstances like non-profit firms.

Secondly, using accredited universities to manage internships. It is already in practice on a limited basis around the country. Using the university system in conjunction with regulation, or even on its own, has several benefits. The first is that internships could be completed for credit, making it part of obtaining a degree in a field. The credits could effectively amount to compensation. The second benefit is that the university system already is regulated; there would be little need for massive change in the system as is. Third, banks are willing to loan out money and scholarships or grants exist for endeavors such as higher education, and using the universities gives lower economic classes at least the opportunity to enter industries and make necessary connections for getting a job in the real world.

Third, there could be a system among firms of logging the experience and 'banking' it within the industry. I'm speaking of an apprenticeship type approach. Using the industry organizations to regulate standards and benefits for interns could also work. Using, for example, the Bar Association to manage standard codes for interns across all law firms would make the work more quantifiable. Think, if there was a 'standard' for what kinds of experience an intern is supposed to walk away with, then those skills can be reapplied across all jobs with the same needs. As is, internships can vary greatly in their quality and depth. Some of my friends have answered phones for months while others learned new skills and dealt directly with clients.

Fourth, we can all start making the collective decision to refuse internships and protest the unfair practice of using labor without pay or standards. Of course, that is a personal decision that many people have to make together and there currently is little political will to really accomplish that. Besides, as I said yesterday, internships can be a great thing so protesting them outright, even just unpaid internships would be a difficult strategy. Specifically I find myself thinking about the prospect of marching capitol hill with a bunch of recently graduated individuals, “No more unpaid internships except for particular cases!” is a bit of a mouthful to shout—nothing catchy about it.

So there exist some ideas of how to fix the damaged system, not irreparable just broken. The increasing prevalence of unpaid (and paid) internships as a way to start a career means that there is a need to critically look at practices and see what can be done to fix the issue. It is something of the dry nature of economics and politics that must be addressed to ensure the prosperity of our country into the future.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Unpaid Slave Labor

Paul Revere's famous engraving of the 'Boston Massacre.' It is literally whitewashed--the first person to die in the American Revolution was Crispus Attucks, a black and Wampanoag man who was either an escaped slave or a free-man.

Well, interview number two. I really like these Triangle guys; their work is hard not to be passionate about.

Sure the position is that of the 'lowly' intern, but slogging through the menial office work and being the 'coffee bitch' might just be how I get up and running. And I didn't learn to ride a bike before I could walk...so that holds some weight.

During one of my interviews—there were two rounds and five people coming and going to interview me—one of the interviewers said about the internship position, “I guess that's how we do it now.” She was referring to the increasing practice of having an intern and then pulling them on to work full-time.

This internship would be paid, that's a lot more than I can say for the majority of internships out there. And that seems to be the new track for people starting their careers. I'd like you to think about the implications of that.

First, for many firms out there (in an economic sense firms are all people who have a product or service to sell, and employees under their control) their productivity can be increased through the addition of an intern. And for interns, their level of experience and job potential can be increased for the future. It is basically a down-payment on a job later.

But the second part is potentially problematic. Interns, unpaid ones anyway, do work that has a value. And by 'loaning' out their work in the short term, they can depress wages across other positions as well. The threat of their job potential in a firm directly competes with the output of the other workers. Basically, a firm can pay less to all its workers because the intern will work for zero.

Third, firms that do not compete using unpaid internships are at a disadvantage against firms that do. That means that the practice is likely to increase as time goes on because it is an unregulated and cheap way to reduce labor costs. When unpaid interns 'loan' their labor for a future pay-off, a firm increases its competitiveness and pushes out firms that do not compete at that level.

Fourth, the labor that is supplied at a zero price point in the short-term means that only those that can afford a negative income from the experience are eligible to move forward in the industry. The prevalence of these internships on a wide scale effectively negates certain classes from partaking in this practice. In simple terms, the poor cannot compete at all. The barriers to entry are too high. Obviously there are other areas where initial economic costs are huge barriers as well, college education is a notable example. But very often there is an alternative to the initial cost, such as off-setting through student-loans and scholarships.

But in the private industry, there exists no such principle. People can be hired as unpaid interns without any way of making the experience affordable. The system is a perpetuation of an economic conflict and has the potential to exacerbate class disparities. The rich can afford the 'experience' and take the economic chance, while the poor are locked out, unable to surmount the barriers to entry.

Essentially, the argument makes a lot of sense to a firm because it provides an opportunity to increase output while decreasing cost (the basic definition of productivity by the way), but to the labor market it is a huge problem. In much the same way that illegal immigrant labor is said to hurt the demand for 'honest' paying jobs, these unpaid internships offer a much more disturbing trend to the labor markets. Instead of sub-minimal pay, the interns take on zero pay, causing a greater effect on overall labor markets (the classic supply and demand graph). Further, these interns are generally well-qualified, but inexperienced applicants; their existence drives down the overall value of an education at a higher institution as well as jeopardizing the existing prices for qualified and experienced labor. Firms now have to calculate in the problem of interns into their business model. Is it worth it to hire someone to replace Betty or would it be smarter to open two unpaid intern positions to fill in her work load, and when one is qualified enough to do the work, put him/her on staff full-time at 20% less than what Betty was getting paid?

This dilemma is playing itself out across the nation as firms become increasingly crunched by the elongating recession, intern friendly competitor firms, and an anxious supply of recent college graduates that can't find a job.

I find myself becoming increasingly weaker to the lure of an unpaid internship. I have just graduated college and know that 'loaning' out my labor will eventually pay-off. But I am not sure at what cost. Certainly my wages in the short-term would be zero. And with the cost of living being higher than that, I would quickly be bleeding money to an unsustainable point. In the long-term I could be given a full-time position with benefits, and even possibly more. A firm invested in my labor would almost certainly want to pay for me to get a higher degree if necessary.

It's hard to think of what the recent graduating class is doing to the established white collar labor, let alone to our counterparts of a less affluent nature, but the increasing use of unpaid interns should be discouraged because of its negative effects on our economy as a whole. It is little stretch to wonder when the unpaid internship will extend from a 3-6 month stint into a multi-year one. And internships aren't all bad; I did, after all, just interview for a paid one. But their usage should be limited to firms that have special circumstances: non-profits, underfunded government agencies, and similar organizations. So, I have one thing to say to all those thinking of taking on an unpaid internship: your labor has value, just because it's tough to get a job now doesn't mean that it is impossible, nor does it mean that there aren't plenty of firms looking for your set of skills. Demand equal compensation for your work; it's worth it.