From A Work in Progress Called “Diabolus Ex Machina: A Fable.”

I am hoping this short novel/long novella shows up on Amazon fairly soon. It is set 8-10 years in the future.

While Ferguson slept for the next 18 hours, life churned on in Portland. In the morning, students all across town stood waiting for buses, and nearly all of the children were staring off at different angles into the same electro-space, through the glasses that displayed virtual reality programs, vidstreams and other commnet effluvia in their field of vision. Most neither focused on nor heard the traffic as it went by.  An application on their glasses (a few were stuck with handheld smart devices) tracked the progress of their various school buses and alerted them to when their particular bus was within 60 seconds of their respective bus stops. At that point the waiting children turned their heads as one in the direction of the soon-to-arrive bus, as if guided by a choreographic magical hand.

Some of their parents drove/rode in autonomous electronic cars connected via an uplink to a server farm that plotted an optimal course and processed information gleaned from the sensors on the autonomous cars and downloaded back to the cars’ central processing units nearly instantaneously, but not quite, hence the occasional collision of autonomous cars and bridge abutments.  The cars’ occupants watched high-resolution displays on the dashboards that fed them information about: the latest movements of the Americana Movement in Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas … the investigation of an assassination attempt on President Dalton-Smith, who had handily defeated President (former Speaker of the House) McConnley earlier in the year … ratings for the droning head-bashing of the Krieger Network founded by Ronald Krieger after he resigned as President in his second term and took Vice President Quince with him and Speaker McConnley ascended to the presidency    the bitter battle between France and Germany over who owns Alsace … the rise of the the Soviet Islamic State in the Middle East … the privatization of six West African countries … what to do about the 100 percent increase in car-pedestrian accidents in Greater Portland involving teenagers… the latest price hike on self-administered Narcan Plus to reverse the opioid overdoses that continued to grow despite tremendous national hand-wringing and profit-taking… the latest interest rate on CRIAs (consolidated retirement income accounts), a fairly recent product offered by banks in which people pooled their money into one account and, theoretically, shared proceeds from the invested funds equally … news about Caitlyn Jenner, who even at her advanced age was lobbying to enter the upcoming Summer Olympics heptathalon and try to become the first person to win a gold medal as a male and a female … the latest trends in smart shoes and nano-fiber shirts … formation of the newest Interpersonal Communication Platform (IPC) company, which had come to replace what was formerly known as “social media” … the pending move of the Portland Trailblazers to Reno, Nevada … the renewed suggestion by many neurologists that players on the 12 teams remaining in the National Football League should wear minimal padding and bicycle-type helmets without face masks so as to prevent head injuries … and audio versions of the comments sections of Oregon Totally Live in which anonymous people with meta-ironic avatars issued increasingly virulent comments about the comments of other commenters commenting on the opinions of other commenters about the content of a news posting whose subject had long since been lost to the memory of the commenters.

The autonomous electric cars whirred along in the designated left lanes of I-5, I-84 and connecting highways (205, 405, 217, 26, etc.) while those with vehicles powered by engines that required the drivers to manipulate pedals to make the cars/trucks accelerate and stop sat and fumed in stop-and-go traffic in the other lanes. Most of them relied on old Bluetooth technology to send GPS route suggestions and traffic alerts from their smart devices to the after-market vidstream screens mounted on their dashboards just to the right of the steering wheels. Efforts to create a second designated lane for cars with two or more occupants had failed miserably due to difficult enforcement conditions (increasingly realistic mannequins) and the fact that a large percentage of this lane’s users were UGo drivers, which was deemed to be government sponsorship of a profit-making enterprise and thus abandoned one year after it went into effect. UGo (formed from the leftover pieces of Uber and Lyft) was increasingly under the regulation of the Oregon Traffic Safety Organization (one of 50 splinters from the now-broken National Traffic Safety Commission), which was dominated by representatives from sparsely populated central and eastern Oregon, where people resented the fact that elites in the Willamette Valley could get a ride by activating an application on a smart device and simply wait for a ride to arrive. Things like the Oregon Traffic Safety Organization were on President Dalton-Smith’s radar, but the devastation she inherited and doing something to fix it was an onerous task, particularly when people were trying to kill her.

Most houses in upscale sections of Portland had sixth-generation wifi that connected HVAC systems, refrigerators, stoves, lights, security systems, water heaters, air purifiers, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, baby cams, device-recharging systems, timers, smoke detectors, televisions, music players and the computing base stations that replaced the old desktop and laptop computers. One could look in on the baby, tell the refrigerator to make ice, make sure no one was lurking outside the house and plot the predicted course of one’s portfolio over the next 48 hours all while waiting in line for brunch on Sunday, a Portland tradition that evolved when reserving a place in line to get into a restaurant for brunch emerged and “line sitting” became the new side-job money-maker. AppleSoft Inc., creator of the operating system that made “the commnet of things” possible, had recently issued a patch after thousands of such systems installed, on their own, “self-coding security enhancements” and locked out customers not only from their smart devices but from their houses as well.

One trend, interactive chips implanted just above one’s right thumb for those too lazy to swipe a card or punch in a code, had died completely out when it became clear that it was a lot easier for a thief to just knock you down and extract the chip with one quick cut from a sharp knife than it was to steal your smart device or hack into the software running your computing base station.

[Ferguson] had no Transglobal credit card, no bank card or in fact any card that scanned by a certain machine automatically connected to all the other machines tracking his likes/dislikes, bank accounts, spending habits, perversions, inversions, history of melancholia, family of origin, dietary needs, medical misadventures, level of education, certifications, licenses, dispensations from units of government, marital status or lack thereof and location anywhere at any possible intersection of latitude and longitude anywhere in the world.

© Joseph Galligan 2019

The Dog God Giveth, and the Dog God Taketh Away

I still have a hard time looking at this picture four days after this dog (Mort) went to the other side. I believe that dogs occupy a space in some of our lives (and mine) that is primal and touches something that other humans just don’t reach.

This dog would be so excited when I got home that he would cry like a puppy even at frail, deaf, half-blind, tumor-in-his-mouth 16 years old. I used to work in a very stressful job working with people in treatment for addictions, and as a clinical supervisor I was also almost constantly frustrated by the management of the place where I worked, and this greeting from him would make all that slip away. Bourbon used to do that for me — until it didn’t anymore.

This dog connected with me on a basic level of just sharing being alive. He needed me for food and shelter, and I needed him to remind me that caring for and about an animal grounds me like nothing else can.

Per the Furry Lewis song also done by Dave VanRonk (“Old Blue”), when I get his ashes back I’m going to dig his grave with a silver spade and lower him down with a golden chain. With every link I will call his name.

 

mort

Been Sick, Better Now

Ended up needing major surgery on an infection behind my right lung on Sept. 16. Just now coming out of that. More to follow.

October 10:  Seen surgeon, who says everything in knitting up the way it’s supposed to. Got off antibiotics on 10/4 after three weeks with some kind of heavy-duty antibiotic on board. New word for your vocabulary: empyema. I do not wish this on you.

About 80 percent back. I have a feeling that last 20 percent is gonna be harder to come by than the first 80 percent. Thanks to everyone who wished me well/inquired as to my status,

Monica Lawlor Galligan

nanny

Many people think of one or both of their grandmothers as special, but what made my paternal grandmother special is she lived in three centuries. Born 1898, died 2001. In other words, she lived through the entire 20th century. That fact is mind-boggling just on the face of it, but the fact that she came out of the most-accelerated pace of change in human history as a gracious, caring person is almost beyond comprehension.

Two interactions I had with her underscore just how staggering the change she experienced in her life really was. In 1986, she 88 years old. I was sitting with her at my parents’ house where she lived at the time, and we were watching Halley’s comet on television. She said, “I remember that.” It took me a moment to realize what she was talking about. She remembered actually seeing Halley’s comet. It was 1910, when she was 12 years old. She said her father took all the children up on a hill in the middle of the night, and it being 1910 in Taunton, Mass., there was no light pollution. “It was like you could reach out and touch it,” she said. In fact, the Earth passed through the comet’s tail that year, and on a clear night with no light pollution it would in fact look like you could reach up and touch it. www.wired.com/2009/05/dayintech_0519/

The first amazing thing is she saw this comet twice in her life. But what is far more amazing is that she saw it the second time on television. You could go back to 1910 and write a powerful science fiction story about a 12-year-old girl who sees Halley’s comet bright in the night sky and way later in her life sees it again, but this time on a cathode-ray-tube device that decodes and rearranges in a series of pixels images that are sent out through the air by another device. But that’s exactly what happened.

Another thing  I found amazing about this encounter was that she was so casual about the whole thing. The television miracle didn’t matter, or even occur, to her. What did matter was a chance to talk about 1910 and what the world was like then and who inhabited it and what was important to people 76 years prior.

What intervened in those 76 years besides television? Radio, telephones, airplanes, widespread use of automobiles and the interstate highway system, space travel and men on the moon (more 1910 science fiction come true), all the large dams on western American rivers,  two world wars, numerous other wars full of pointless carnage, women’s suffrage (her mother couldn’t vote in 1910!), the civil rights movement, the election as President of the U.S. of an Irish Catholic man (who was from the same Irish Catholic tribe as the Lawlors/McHughs/Hanrahans/Galligans/Hogans who gave rise to my father after the English tried to starve them to death in the 1840s), the Great Depression, nuclear weapons and the threat of human extinction, AIDS, computers, the internet and smart phones, just to name a few. A comprehensive list would take up an entire book. Ballpoint pens didn’t exist in 1910, to cite one banal example.

One could make an equally long list of things that have disappeared or are disappearing in the U.S. over those 76 years, but two of the most important are the presence of wise elders and simple face-to-face discourse between human beings. My wise elder was given to me and to my children by virtue of a lineage. It was like my children had a living, breathing connection to the 19th century, and I know they deeply appreciate it. I spent hundreds of hours talking to my grandmother. Not on the phone. Not with a text (which isn’t talking at all). Talking to wise elders connects you to history, which leads to another encounter I had with Monica Lawlor Galligan.

It was a Memorial Day at the assisted living facility where she rapidly became the alpha female. She was talking about the Memorial Day parades when she was a small child. She had that amazing level of detail and recall that the very old bring to bear on long-ago events. At one point, she said, “And then would come the part of the parade where the veterans were marching.” Here I stopped to think. Veterans? This is before WWI. The Spanish-American War? Maybe, but there weren’t enough veterans of that war to march in a parade in a small Massachusetts town. Then I realized she was talking about Civil War veterans. Of course. If you were 20 in 1865, you were 60 in 1905. I felt like I was in some kind of time machine watching men who had survived one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history.  And it was fought over the idea some people had that it was OK for one human being to own another human being, and the ones who thought that it was OK were willing to die for their right to think that. And it wasn’t really all that long ago from that day, or from this day for that matter. That is what I learned from my grandmother that day.

Monica dressed up every day and always wore a lot of jewelry. She treated the staff at the assisted living facility as if they were her own employees for whom she had a great deal of personal concern. Her political consciousness seemed to have ended with JFK. Bill Clinton was “a nice boy.” She never comprehended how Ronald Reagan could become President. She watched the Chicago Cubs on WGN, and when Lee Smith, a ferocious relief pitcher with one of the meanest faces in the history of the game would come in to pitch, she’d say, “Strike him out, Lee dear!” She always wanted to know, “What’s new?” She broke her hip just ahead of a huge party held on the occasion of her 100th birthday. That is known in geriatric medicine as “the cascade of disaster.” But she was not going to miss that party, no matter what. She healed from the hip and hung on three more years because she was so interested in “what’s new?” Then it was as if she just didn’t care about what was new anymore, and she decided to die. So she did.

© 2017 Joseph Galligan