Monday, December 30, 2013

Think you know China?

Review of Wild Swans by Jung Chang

Most often when I review a popular book I like I look to the one-star reviews rather than those with five. This is more so I'm not influenced by the words and sentiments in the raves. I want the review to reflect my own reading experience, not the viewpoint of others. The pans are usually good for a laugh, and they often give me a starting point for my own assessment of the book.

I've come to Wild Swans late, learning of it only recently from a friend who lived in China awhile teaching English. Ordinarily averse to reading books others recommend to me (don't really know why) this time it worked, in part I suspect because my friend in describing some of the fascinating revelations it contained tugged back the hem of a curtain I hadn't realized was blocking my view of a land and a culture far beyond anything I had imagined. Many of the handful of disappointed readers bemoaned that Wild Swans didn't excite them, didn't have enough dialogue to suit their taste for action. They compared the book to works of fiction or fictionalized biographies. They must have missed the parts describing the incomprehensible horrors the Japanese committed on the Chinese in World War II, and then by the Chinese themselves in the subsequent struggles for political control and ultimately by the prevailing Communist Party and by the regime headed by Mao Zedong, a certifiable madman who relentlessly set his subjects against each other by the millions, urging them to torture and beat each other to death and drive one another to insanity and suicide.

I'm surprised anyone who claims to have been bored by author Jung Chang's descriptions of such horrific atrocities as “singing fountains”, in which Red Guards split victims' heads open to entertain onlookers with the subsequent screaming and geysers of blood can read at all. Or maybe they miss the dramatic foreground music that prompts them to glance up from their cellphones in time to catch violent depictions on their wide-screen TVs.

Jung Chang builds her story, an account of China's tumultuous history during the 20th century, around the lives of three generations of women – her grandmother, mother and herself, the “wild swans” of the title. Eventually allowed to leave her politically oppressive homeland for England as a visiting scholar, she began writing Wild Swans after a visit of several months from her mother. Finally free of the restrictions to talk about anything that might be perceived as showing China in a negative light, Jung Chang's mother starting telling her daughter things she'd bottled up most of her life. She talked almost nonstop, even when she couldn't be with her daughter. Jung Chang said her mother left some 60 hours of taped narrative before returning to China. I could go on for pages describing the horrors these women suffered and the incredible heroism they displayed under conditions brought about by the most wicked behavior the human species has ever displayed.

This statement is bound to arouse suspicion that I'm a political shill or at least am exaggerating beyond reason, but from reading Wild Swans I can say with complete confidence Mao Zedong was a genius of the most evil design ever seen on the planet. If only for the sheer magnitude of Mao's murderous subjugation of China's hundreds of millions, Hitler and Stalin were pipsqueaks in comparison. As Jung Chang observed, Hitler and Stalin relied on elites and secret police to enforce their totalitarian regimes. Mao cowed and brainwashed his subjects with cunning, bringing out their worst instincts toward service without question of his every whim. One consequence was the starvation of millions during a famine brought about solely by Mao's vanity and ignorance.

My vague, naïve sense of China left me woefully unprepared for Jung Chang's deceptively dispassionate revelations. Her straightforward, uncontrived presentation, which has a diary feel at times, gives the horrors she describes a poignance that wrenches the heart. Not that all is ghastly and bleak. Alongside the indelible image of the “singing fountains” is her childhood remembrance of having deliberately swallowed an orange seed. A family member had warned her not to swallow the seeds or orange trees would grow out of her head. She admitted having trouble getting to sleep that night worrying about it.

I prefer this memory to the other, although I know both will ever remain with me. 

[ Click title to buy Wild Swans on Amazon]

Monday, December 23, 2013

Santa Detained at Guantanamo

Santa Detained at Guantanamo
         by Jordan Paust

Santa has been detained at Guantanamo Bay as a person who poses a potential threat to national security. In commenting on the detention, a White House “official” admitted that Santa does not presently threaten national security but stressed nonetheless that Santa:
1. hides his face with a beard
2. wears red (an ominous form of coloring under prior U.K. antiterrorism laws)
3. has a male’s first name ending with an “a” that sounds “foreign”
4. flies into and out of the U.S. without going through airport security checks or immigration controls and flies outside air traffic routes without filing any sort of flight plan
5. brings items of value into the U.S. in a large sack in violation of U.S. customs laws
6. has been alleged (in unsworn statements) to have traveled yearly within countries such as Cuba, Iran, and even North Korea and, thus, has “known links” with such countries and various types of persons therein
7. surreptitiously enters buildings through chimneys
8. as indicated by home searches here and abroad, he transferred items of value to opposition leaders in several countries, which the leaders do not declare for tax or any other governmental purposes
9. harbors strange persons at his compound who perform labor without pay
10. has never taken an oath of allegiance to the U.S. or to preserve and defend the U.S. Constitution, is not known to be a national of any country and, indeed, is an alien
11. has never registered to vote in any election or served on jury duty
12. has opposed war in any form, even if authorized by the U.N. Security Council
13. summaries of secret surveillance demonstrate that he has been seen often with a white powdery substance on his boots
14. somehow knows when any person is sleeping or awake
15. opposes NRA members and anyone else hunting deer
16. FBI mail checks indicate that children of various government officials and others write to him and hearsay and undisclosed informants indicate that he keeps a secret book with the children’s names and addresses
17. an alleged terrorist named Rudolph has been captured, and Santa has a known acquaintance named Rudolph

In lieu of the above, the Administration will raise the alert to “red” in December when his organization’s patterns of activities and relevant “chatter” seem heightened. The Administration has also identified things that we and/or the Administration can do in December:
1. seal off your fireplace openings with duct tape
2. kill all deer in Alaska and ask our Canadian friends do to the same in Canada
3. Homeland Security will authorize companies to clear-cut all potential Christmas trees in Alaska and elsewhere in the U.S.
4. intercept letters to Santa from your children and turn these over to the FBI
5. avoid traveling to department stores
6. do not help to finance any charities using his image
7. capture metal pots on tripods manned by Salvation Army look-a-likes as these are actually suspected weapons of mass destruction
8. destroy any Salvation Army trucks engaged in furtive behavior, since drawings from the State Department indicate that they are actually involved in the delivery of the pots
9. remind the world that we are at “war” with his organization and its message of peace
10. Homeland Security will hunt down any elves with “known links” to him or his compound
11. the Administration will launch a preemptive strike against his compound and toy-making schools
12. the Administration may try him in a military commission because much of the abovementioned evidence will not be admissible in a court of law, where he would also have the rights to judicial review of the propriety of his detention, to have access to counsel of his choice, to challenge members of the court for cause, to examine all witnesses against him, to fair procedure and fair rules of evidence, to equal protection of the laws, and to appeal to a real court exercising judicial powers.
 [Jordan J. Paust is the Mike and Teresa Baker Law Center professor of international law at the University of Houston.]

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Chapter 46 (1st draft -- Presidential Gas)

Charlotte Remora's attitude morphed through several faces as she sat with the others. Professional blank initially, to conceal her rage at losing exclusivity for her station within minutes of airing quite likely the century's hottest story. Startled next to realize her mouth was hanging open and she'd forgotten to breathe as the full import of President Morowitz's disaster established itself in the room. Finally her camera-ready complexion betrayed from beneath by the clammy pallor of helpless fear, which reflected a growing despair shared by the small group.

They were slumped on the studio's folding chairs. All but Dr. Knoe, who sat tending the president on his cot in the alcove, and Brad Morowitz, dutifully manning the camera for the record and whatever outlets remained tapped into the feed. The sound was off, so the feed carried little more than a still frame of an unconscious president. Even Dr. Knoe for the most part remained outside the view. It seemed to Remora that although Ruth Rose looked as worried as everyone else she'd become by default the center of gravity in the room. Something in her comportment, an implicit poise manifested so far as Remora could see only by a tilt of the head, as if the former president was leading with her chin and daring anyone to take a shot. Ruth's presence mitigated for Remora a creeping sense of claustrophobia. Nonetheless, she suspected that were it not for her appreciation of the irony of being the only news reporter trapped in the eye of the cataclysm she would spontaneously atomize to a mist of shrieking terror. As it was, she joined warily with the others in the frozen surrender of supplicants. Other than slight movements when Ruth and Joan Stonebraker occasionally reached outside the bunker via their cellphones the small group resembled mannequins in a department store window.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Chapt. 45 (1st draft - What's that Shouting?)

Harry Trueblood was washing his hands after using Bart Gladstone's toilet when the shouting started. He dried his hands on his jeans as he stepped back into the office, sweeping the room quickly with his eyes. The only people in sight were Joe Secord and his buddy Roger Chapman, the computer guy.
“WACKO gone?”
“Slipped out without a word, soon as the networks came back on.”
“Bart go with 'em?”
“He went to see what the yelling's about.”
Whoever was yelling was still at it. The door to the corridor was partially open. Trueblood glanced at the silent TV monitor and saw a couple of talking heads chattering frantically.
“Hold down the fort,” he said to Secord and Chapman, and headed after his boss.
Bart was out of sight, so Trueblood started in the direction of the shouting. He saw Bart around the first turn, lumbering with the purposeful hustle of a linebacker stalking the quarterback.
“Bart!”

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Prisoners

This cell the sole certainty,

all else steeped in mystery.

Why should we be here?



Eyes peer through bars.

Intrepid reach for stars,

or respite from some fear?



Is the secret cloistered

in a heart not nurtured

by the cleansing tear?



Eyes without meet eyes within,

two pair sparkling serious whim.

So why damned bars to interfere?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Chapt. 44 (1st draft -- Father Daughter Talk)

It was the tone of her voice, not his name, that cut through his concentration.

“Clem?”

Nothing unusual about his daughter calling him by his name, something she'd done since learning it as a child. He loved how it sounded spoken in the soft contralto she'd inherited from her mother. Ordinarily she said “Clem” with an easy affection that rarely failed to slip under the crusty exterior that kept most people wary in his presence. This time was different.

“Clem?”

She so seldom put the little interrogative curl at the end when saying his name that doing so now, especially with a heightened volume, conveyed an urgency that was equally unusual for her. Yet, he hesitated. Focused so intensely on a scene in the mystery novel he was writing, he needed stages of disengagement to break free. Part of his brain was calculating the degree of urgency represented by his daughter's not rapping on the door. He took a deep breath and stepped back from his laptop.

“Daddy!”

“Yes, Mary Beth. Come in.”

The door started to open, tentatively. He took the knob and tugged it enough to reveal his daughter, whose beauty struck him, as it often did, with its startling resemblance to her mother's when they'd met. Her radiant face was composed and serious.

“It's Randy. He said he'll call you from the cabin. Sounded urgent.”

“Thanks, Sweetheart. Can you find my secure phone? It should be in the desk, top left drawer.”

Clement Botticelli returned to his laptop, looked at the screen briefly and saved what he'd written. He closed it then, knowing he was finished for the day.

The throwaway cellphone twittered less than a minute after Mary Beth brought it to him. He'd moved to the recliner next to the dresser where when he worked on his novel he wrote standing.

Yeah.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Chapt. 43 (1st draft -- In the Arena)

It's the swirling...no. There's no swirling. What then? Ridge...circular ridge...no no no no no...ripple! That's it! The ripple in the deep garnet red, rolling out from the...where the drop plunked into the deep garnet...the drop! Holy shit...
House Speaker Edith Glick's head entered a terrible clarity at this moment, one of several she then knew she'd experienced since things had started swirling...there it was again. Swirling. Of course! It was the swirling cognizance. In and out of realization and then loooong stretches of...what? How long has this been going on? Forever! Ever! No! It couldn't have it just seems like it forever forever ever but only an hour at the most how can this be? Omigod...another ripple ipple ipple ipple...WAIT! No more drops! It's the...Omigod I TOOK THE SHIT! No wonder I couldn't find the goddam capsule for chrissake! I took the goddam capsule I musta thought it was the goddam ginkgo biloba shoulda put the goddam thing in a different goddam thing oh shit SHIT I can't give this to fucking Kudlow! Not now! He's a dumb ass but if he goes down in a babbling ball of batshit and I'm already a babbling ball of batshit then that means next comes...
Despite her sudden panic she understood the extraordinary license she'd been given by the collective befuddlement President Morowitz's surprise performance brought to the room. Everyone was agape. An appearance by Morowitz was not scheduled, but this surprised few of those invited to the exclusive annual Gridiron Club dinner. So when his “show” seized the airwaves only minutes into the start of the program its organizers quickly lowered the projection screen and turned the roast over to the commander in chief.
Most at first assumed it was planned, that Morowitz was mailing it in. That he wasn't funny at first was no surprise either. It soon became apparent something terrible was happening.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

All Hallows Eve

Once upon All Hallows Eve, I'd just ingested my Aleve,

Whence came a tapping at my door, a tap tap tapping,

A damnably intrusive rapping tapping, rappity dappity tapping...and nothing more.

Of course, I opened the goddamned door, and there stood monsters, three or four.

Wee ones, they, bedecked in hideous array as tiny ogres, I must say,

They held out baskets, expecting pay by way of treats, or tricks they'd play.

I thought, OK, if that's the game we play this day, you'll get your treat and then away

From here to stray no more to my front door at this late hour as before.

In each ghoul's basket I therefore did place an apple, which afore

A needle I'd embedded in its core, with hopes this bother nevermore would come a'tapping at my door.

And yet next day to my dismay a rapping sent my nap astray, two strapping cops led me away.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Heartlong

The head is good, but the heart will take awhile.

Reason understands the whys, but reason never lies,

Oh the ego had its fling, and the world seemed to sing,

So easy then to smile, as stars conspired to beguile,

Then the joker showed its face, made the hand give up its ace,

Now the head knows what it should, but it'll take the heart awhile.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Chapt. 42 (1st draft -- The President Goes Under)

President Morewitz swallowed the capsule and promptly dropped the glass of water, which shattered into a wet spray of shards on the wooden dais.
Oops...I'm OK, I'm OK. It hasn't started working yet. I don't think!” Grinning, he stepped clumsily backwards off the dais as Ruth and Geddes rushed forward. Morewitz had regained his footing by the time they reached him. Chuckling, he led them into an alcove behind the curtain. The space was occupied by a steel cot and a couple of folding chairs. Morowitz sat on the cot and motioned to the chairs, but before either Ruth or Geddes could sit something mechanical jerked the curtain up and rolled it into the ceiling exposing them to the floodlights and the president's son peering at them through the camera's viewfinder. Geddes waved him away.
You can turn that off now, Bradford,” Geddes said. “Show's over.”
No no, leave it on, Brad! I want the world to see the whole thing live.”
Ruth leaned in and said quietly, trying to keep her voice from the sound pickup, “Not a good idea, Geoff. There'll be a stretch when nobody looks very presidential.”
I don't care, Ruth. I believe I've already shown them that side of me.” He laughed. “I can't imagine a better way to demonstrate how this stuff works.
Besides, you're going to join me aren't you? Have you taken yours yet?”
No, Geoff. Changed my mind.”
Whatsa matter. 'fraid we'll start singing Auld Lang Syne? No, wait, Eve of Destruction! Hahaha.”
Oh, Geoff.” She nudged Geddes. “Thanks a bunch, Al. You didn't have to put that in the book, you know.”
So when will this stuff kick in? Should I be lying down? It sounds in your book, Al, kinda like an LSD trip?”
You ever done acid, Mr. President?”
No, Al. They asked me that many times once I got into politics. I've been with people who were tripping. When I was at Yale. At least I assumed they had taken acid. I think they called it windowpane.
Frankly I was afraid to try it. I smoked some marijuana – oh, and I did inhale hahaha – but the other stuff, the windowpane, if that's what it was, well, they just got too weird for me when they were on that stuff.”
There are similarities, Mr. President. The first time I took it unknowingly. Thought I was losing my mind.”
I know. I read both books, Al. You called them fiction, but I suspected at the time there was more truth in them than not. So has Vulcana made you a...a better man?”
Geddes shrugged and, trying to keep his face deadpan, turned to Ruth. She met his eyes and shook her head. Morowitz interrupted her as she started to speak.
That's an unfair question, Al, and I apologize for putting you on the spot. I know we're still live, although I can't imagine every station is still carrying the feed, but...”
It's OK, Mr. President. It's a perfectly valid question and, double entendres aside, I really don't feel any different, except obviously a little older and...well, even more disappointed. I'm not sure Vulcana's given me any new insights or mental abilities. Maybe I was too old and set in my ways.”
You're a goody two-shoes, Al. Vulcana doesn't affect goody two-shoeses...is that right? Two-shoeses?”
Ruth, jeezus.”
Morowitz remained seated on the cot, but his face wore a puzzled expression. He seemed distracted, staring at something behind them. Before Geddes could turn to see what it might be, Dr. Knoe appeared at his side. Her intriguing scent – a subtle marriage of fetching and dangerous – reached him first. She touched his arm and pushed him gently out of her way as she moved nearer the president.
Mr. President,” she said, in the protective voice of a mother to her child, “are you comfortable?”
No response.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Chapt. 41 (1st draft - Getting Down To It)

The scene in Joe Secord's office surprised both Secord and Trueblood with its illusion of a collegial bull session. After hearing Bart Gladstone's shouts over the phone as they arrived at the White House, Trueblood expected to hear mayhem in the office soon as they reached the corridor. Maybe find Bart spinning around doing his Kung Fu kicks with the others ducking or waving weapons or cringing on the floor. It seemed ominous that the door was ajar, and Secord pushed it open cautiously as if expecting to see corpses scattered about. He stood in front of Trueblood, blocking his view. He entered and stepped aside, and Trueblood saw Bart perched on a corner of Secord's desk, arms folded, looking thoughtfully at Roger Chapman and The Undertaker. Nobody was facing the TV monitor, where President Morowitz was still addressing the world. There was no sound. Bart turned and looked up at Trueblood.
“Shoot out the speakers, Bart?”
“He's just babbling now.”
“Your expert here couldn't shut him down. We got tired of listening to him.” This was The Undertaker. He kept his eyes on Chapman, who returned the favor. Slumped in their chairs, the two appeared to be conducting a low-key staring duel. Chapman shook his head, his face showing disgust. After a last hard look at his adversary, he raised his gaze to Secord.
“Ain't no way to shut 'em down, 'less you can shoot down the satellites.”
Secord shrugged and turned to Trueblood.
“We have any idea what he's talking about now?”
“I don't care anymore. He's killed himself. No threat to us. Anybody who's not laughing himself silly is asleep.” The Undertaker.
Trueblood: “Well, Mr. WACKO, I hope you don't mind if we wish to hear him?”
“Why bother?”
“Curiosity, if for no other reason, but if it's going to bother you...” he nodded toward the door.
“C'mon, Harry. We're on the same team here, after all.”
“I'm surprised to hear you say that, Bart, after your little go 'round with...”
“Hahaha oh, that! Just a little misunderstanding. Everybody knows ol' Bart can get a tad overbearing now and then hahaha. Gave us both – me, anyway – a well-needed workout hahaha.”
“A little sore today?”
“Not as bad as I thought I'd be. Good thing I try to stay in shape, huh.”
This brought a stretching of The Undertaker's perpetual smirk. “You do realize,” he said to no one in particular, “that fool will never again see the inside of the Oval Office?”
“At least that fool can dance hahaha. How long you think Kudlow will last in there before the media calls it 'zombie apocalypse'?”
“Vice President Kudlow at least will do what he's told. There's no election coming up. No need now for charisma.”
“You might be thinking, 'OK, he's finally got some balls. Why should he risk everything by taking some drug that hasn't been proven yet?'”
Four heads in the room whipped around to face the TV monitor. The fifth, Chapman's, was already there, as he'd been the one who turned the sound back up.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Help Us Fight Illiteracy in Our Community



We're one of those "points of light" politicians love to talk about when they're telling us not to look to our government for any money. Take care of each other, they say, smiling, because isn't that what America's all about? Oh, and vote for us, they add.

We took them at their word. A bunch of us non-politicians. Some of us are retired, some are still working to feed ourselves and our families. We started a "point of light" to help people who for one reason or another didn't finish their basic public school education. We're helping them learn to read and write, and do 'rithmetic. No hickory stick. These students come to us for help because they've reached a point in their lives when they understand the value of learning. The only "compulsory attendance" these adults know is the one they've committed to themselves by their own choice.

Adult Literacy on the Middle Peninsula  is a meeting of commitments, theirs and ours. A new light appears each time these commitments come together.

The beauty of it is, everybody's in it for free. We don't charge our students a nickel; nobody pays us a nickel. It happens because all of us who do this -- the helping and the learning -- are doing it because we can. Simple as that.

Be nice if I could say it's all for free, but, as the politicians also love to say, "There is no free lunch". That's a lie, actually, as politicians eat free all the time...but that's another story, not ours. We do have expenses. Books and study materials, a monthly phone bill and gasoline for our director to cover our territory in her little red car. She's on the road practically every day, making contacts in the community, rustling up support, and tutoring students. Public libraries in the counties we serve -- Gloucester, Mathews and Middlesex -- graciously let us use their meeting rooms, as we have no permanent place of our own.

We operate on a shoestring, but sometimes that string gets stretched pretty tight. We're in Virginia, but anyone who wishes to help us is welcome to do so, wherever they live. Literacy benefits everyone (except maybe certain politicians). We hold raffles for donated prizes, we sell donated pizza gift cards, we hold an annual spelling bee, we accept direct donations.

Perhaps our least painful means of taking pressure off that shoestring comes from our partnership with Peace Frogs, a local clothing company that's known around the world for its environment-friendly attitude. Peace Frogs gives us 15% of all purchases made from their online gift store, if it is accessed through the special URL link they've dedicated to our group. If you'd like to see what they offer, click on the link. Join our point of light: Peace Frogs 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Chapt. 40 (1st draft) - Ride to the West Wing

The SUV's blue grill lights were flashing urgency when Trueblood saw it pull up in front of the house. Not taking time to kiss his wife and son, both transfixed in front of the TV, he dashed out to his ride, iPhone in hand, and climbed into the psychedelic maelstrom of President Morowitz's animated voice launching the WACKO song. Joe Secord took a moment to study Trueblood's face, which reflected a three-way mix of shock, confusion and horror, before punching the accelerator and squealing the tires back onto the roadway.
“Bart know anything?”
“He's so upset he kept breaking the connection.”
“You get Chapman?”
“He called me. Called Bart, too. Watching the game when it started. He's probly there by now.”
“Good thing traffic is light.”
“Yeah. Everybody inside watching. What we gonna do?”
“Let it play out, whatever it is. Probly be over by the time we get there, anyway. Morowitz will be in a straitjacket by daylight.”
Trueblood's iPhone chirped. Bart. Trueblood put it on speaker.
“Where the fuck are you?”
“Almost there, Bart.”
“Joe?”
“He's driving. Roger there yet?”
“Huh?”
“Chapman.”
“Oh, the hacker. Just got here. Told him to shoot the damned thing down.”
“Anybody from WACKO?”
“Oh, yeah. Sonofabitch sitting at my desk when I got here.”
“Buford?”
“Little one. I told him I'll shoot that big bald-headed bastard I ever see him in my office again. Don't fuck with Bart, goddammit!”

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Chapt. 39 (1st draft) - The WACKO Song

Gladys Alabi and Anthony Cromwell stared aghast at the flat-screen TV on the wall in the conference room. They were watching President Morowitz come unglued, ranting about how WACKO was “the real government, the shadow government”, and that he, Morowitz, was a figurehead, a joke.

“How long you suppose before WACKO shuts them down?”

“They can't crash the bunker, Gladys. That would be too obvious.”

“Do they even know which bunker?”

“Shouldn't take them long to figure it out, but they'll wait at least until he's done speaking.”

“What about the signal?”

“You mean cut it off?”

“Yeah, wouldn't that be the best way? Blame it on the weather, terrorists?

“Oh, I'm sure they're trying.”

“I wish Randy was here with us.”

“You know...”

“Yeah, I know. He likes to work alone. I still wish he was here.”

Just then, Randy Newgate appeared in the conference room with his laptop.

“They're not doing anything. Didn't even try to keep us from co-opting the satellite feeds. Makes sense. The more that asshole rants the less his credibility, what's left of it anyway.”

“He looks pretty good up there, actually,” said Cromwell.

“That's true, but a president's not supposed to talk like that. Most people are convinced he's gone over the edge.”

“Finally grew a pair of balls, is what he's done.”

“Too little, too late, Gladys. I just hope Ruth doesn't go down with him.”

“She won't, Anthony. She's too smart.”

“Then that dimwit Kudlow will be president. Holy shit.”

Hearing Cromwell use profanity quieted the other two. They turned their attention back to the screen in time to watch Morowitz break into song.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Chapt. 38 (1st draft) - Bunker Madness

Bradford Morowitz switched the floodlights on in the studio and the room went still, as a theater does in that electric moment before a play begins, those few seconds between the lights going down and the curtains drawing back to reveal the actors frozen onstage. The actor now was Charlotte Remora, standing against the curtain, beside the lectern. She wore a simple yet stylish light green shift, which accented the freshly pretty, light-complected face within her trademark cloud of orange hair. She spoke briefly, the clipped cadences of her voice calmly professional, as she promised “an extraordinary development” and noted the exclusivity of her network's coverage.

“Do you suppose she knows?” Geddes whispered to Joan Stonebraker. Ruth was standing behind the lectern.

“I doubt it. She'd be peeing her pants – if she isn't already.”

Ruth was next. Her face serious, presidential, she simply said, after “good evening”, that President Morowitz had invited her to be with him, and she introduced him and stepped aside.

The president's awkward stride to the dais carried an oddly positive sense of purpose. Ruth suppressed an impulse to laugh aloud at the contrast this made with everything else, the surreal circumstances, fear for the safety of everyone in the bunker, and her knowledge that no matter how this unprecedented episode might pan out, Morowitz was utterly dooming a presidency that already had become laughing stock for most if not all of the world.

She had come to like and respect him in recent days, since their talk beside the Reflecting Pool. Until then her impressions had been largely superficial. Not having noticed him politically until his seemingly meteoric rise in the party as a presidential contender, she'd been struck initially by his Lincolnesque features. The absurd contradiction of his Nixonian voice quickly negated any illusion of gravitas his physical appearance might have suggested. Yet, she wasn't overly surprised when this strange apparition managed to fool enough party people to secure the nomination and from there enough voters to stumble into the White House. She watched in concurring dismay as Morowitz the president, stymied by a public perception of indecisiveness and a hostile Congress, progressively shrunk in the public eye until at this point he was barely visible.

Back in her seat in front of the dais, Ruth watched as a hidden mechanism elevated the lectern to better accommodate Morowitz's height. As this was happening it became apparent to her the lectern also was narrower than standard. She turned to Geddes and whispered, “See how narrow the lectern is? That's so his head and shoulders won't look so small.” She stifled a giggle as Geddes jabbed her with his elbow.

“Good evening,” The assured, assuring, deeply sonorous voice startled Ruth even though there was no electronic amplification in the studio and the sound was turned down on the five overhead monitors. The president's image appeared on only one of them. “My apologies for interrupting the program you were watching...well, that's not true. In fact, it's pure hypocritical baloney.” Everyone in the studio registered shock, even as their eyes remained fixed on the president.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Chapt. 37 (1st draft) - Too Late for Second Thoughts

Dr. Elizabeth Knoe had stayed out of the discussions up to now. She was in the bunker to administer the Vulcana, monitor the reactions and make sure nothing went wrong. She asked, “There seems to be a contradiction here that I don't understand. We've been denying the existence of Vulcana. Now we're about to reveal to the world we've been lying?”

They were sitting in the lounge area on cheap-but-comfortable furniture – all but the president, who had slipped away to another room to work on his speech. Ruth answered Dr. Knoe: “Not really, Liz. All we've ever said is that Al's book is fiction.

While it might be technically true, at least they can say we've been misleading. The book is labeled satire, and that's certainly how it comes across.

But Vulcana has existed all this time.”

Vulcana's still in the research stage. It's never been put on the market. In fact, we should stop calling it Vulcana, which is simply the name we've given it in-house. Give it a number or something. How about Love Potion Nr. 9?”

Spoken like a lawyer, Ruth, a smartass lawyer. But I doubt anybody will buy their argument.”

A judge will – or should.”

Ruth, what the president is doing will look like a commercial!”

For something that's not on the market?”

If it works the way it should, the way Al says in the book it should...”

The way we know it can? Sure, Liz. What's your point?”

That it would hurt your credibility.”

My credibility? Who gives a crap anymore about my credibility? If Vulcana works? And the world is watching? Live? That's the credibility that matters.”

What if it doesn't? Work, I mean? What if something goes wrong?”

Always possible. Anything's possible.

I mean, Morowitz could have a heart attack. Or a stroke, or God knows what. It might not have anything to do with Vulcana, but how could we prove it?

That is the catch, isn't it.”

Well?”

The game would be over, Liz.”

Hmmmm,” Dr. Knoe's tone was subdued, “How secure are we down here?”

Depends on how loyal the Marines upstairs are,” said Joan Stonebraker. “If they want to get down here, they'll get down here. Otherwise nobody's getting down here.”

I give them two days at the most,” Geddes said.

Who's 'them'? Two days for what?”

Before WACKO takes control of the government, Joan. If Morowitz doesn't start making sense in two days WACKO will gently urge the esteemed Quentin Kudlow to rally the cabinet and invoke the 25th Amendment. They'll hem and haw awhile, but I'd give them about a week and they'll agree to declare the president incapable of being president, whereupon the esteemed...”

The esteemed idiot will not be a factor,” said Ruth.

Say what?”

Forget him. Do you seriously believe Edith Glick would go along with putting that fool in the Oval Office?”

She'd have no choice.”

Ruth reached out and pinched Geddes's cheek. “That remains to be seen, bubby.”