Sunday, August 28, 2016

Interview with a Sangendrian

The 2016 modern summer Olympics is over and the concept is truly wonderful: nations gathering to compete in peace and amicability. There is one problem with the Olympics that was recently illustrated to me by a citizen of the country of Sangendria.

Sangendria is a very old and small country nestled in the far north eastern part of the Himalayas. Their country was not arable enough to sustain them so they became great traders, craftsmen and diplomats. They imported raw materials and exported finished goods. Disputes were brought to them and they adjudicated. Treaties were brought to them: and they edited and negotiated. Many trade routes went through their country because of ease of passage as well as splendid way-stops. They were known as far back as Roman times.

They have maintained their traditional culture through to modern times and it includes two peculiar aspects: their religion, a pantheism based on tree veneration, and a completely lacking distinction of genders or sexes.

It is this last aspect of their culture that has kept them out of every modern Olympiad, they can neither compete in the men's events nor the women's.

I recently spoke with Choris by Skype because I had been doing some research about countries that have not or do not participate in the Olympics. I found Sangendria in Wikipedia and then on facebook. Choris is the moderator of the Sangendria facebook page and was delighted to grant me an interview and quotes for this blog.

Choris is a young adult whose long hair is pulled back in a braid and has no facial hair. I couldn't say if Choris was clean shaven or just had no dark hair on the face. There really were no characteristics I could see to indicate any gender role nor physical sex. Choris never indicated a physical sex nor gender role to me.

Me:        Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I'm sure there are many people who would be interested in learning about your culture.

Choris:   I'm very happy to do it. I'm sure the thing that is most interesting to you is what is most interesting to me about your cultures, the idea of gender roles and sexual categorization. I think we Sangendrians may be unique in this.

Me:        I don't know of any other culture that does that. First I have to ask, and please don't think I'm rude, but are their no physical genders in your culture group? How do you reproduce? Are you physically different from other Homo sapiens?

Choris:  [laughed] That is really three questions, but I know the confusion that underlies all of them. We are no different physically from any other Homo sapiens. We do reproduce sexually just like everyone else, but we don't categorize people by their physical sexes. When two people have sex they might produce a baby and they might not. Some couplings of people are more likely to produce offspring than others. Sexual intercourse has many functions and reproduction is only one of them.

Me:       There is no mandate in your religion to be fruitful and multiply?

Choris:  No.

Me:       Do you have marriage?

Choris: We do have an institution that is very similar to your marriage. Two people pledge allegiance to each other completely, exclusively and in perpetuity. This includes sexual rights and responsibilities.

Me:        Do you have things like homosexuality?

Choris:  That is rather meaningless to us. Each individual has a preference for what they like sexually, this includes physical attributes as well as intellectual and emotional attributes. We see everyone as having many aspects and each of these in many varying degrees. I have studied other cultures and your categories interest me greatly. I do see some advantage in, "packaging" people with many predominantly similar features. Women have breasts, and female reproductive organs; and are generally smaller. This is true of a large majority, perhaps over 90% so it makes a lot of sense to make a category so people can use it as a sort of shorthand. For instance a person can say, "I like girls sexually" and find others who also have this preference to discuss things with and find appropriate mates with. It is much more flexible for us, but also more difficult.

Me:        Because no one can make assumptions.

Choris:  Yes. This is a great disadvantage most of the time, but does allow for things that your cultures have trouble with, like "alternative lifestyles" and intersexed people. You really have no easy way to address or deal with people that don't fall into the categories you set.

Me:        You see sexual categories as too limiting, but you also see a lack of them as limiting as well.

Choris:  Yes. It is my culture so I have a bias toward it, but humans do tend to categorize things, we do it for everything. If I tell you I'm looking at a bird, what characteristics do you think the thing has?

Me:        It probably has feathers and wings and flies.

Choris:   Right, but and that's true of most birds, the vast majority in fact. But, of course there are flightless birds that don't fit the category. It works the other way too. If I see a new animal I would look at its characteristics and try to categorize it. This works very well usually, and makes things a lot easier in many cases. There are exceptions and people can go too far, like Diogenes' chicken.

Me:        Or the Olympics.

Choris:  Yes. We cannot participate in the Olympics because we can't really draw the line grouping people into men and women.

Me:        You can't just take the characteristics and apply them, assigning your athletes at least temporarily?

Choris:  We can, we aren't stupid, but we are very uncomfortable with it. It just doesn't sit well with us. We neither want to categorize people that way nor do we want to be categorized.
Me:       What makes it so uncomfortable? If it is someone else's category you don't have to feel that you are that category.

Choris:  It is so ingrained in your cultures that it is really what you see those people as. It is who they are. I am me, not a man or a woman or something else. If someone tried to take away your individuality you would be very upset.

Me:        Yes I would. I hope you don't take offense.

Choris:  I don't. I know this is a very difficult concept to understand.

Me:        And we haven't even discussed gender roles!

Choris:  Of course gender roles stem from the physical sexes so it makes sense to talk about them first. They are very closely related.

Me:        The whole topic can be confusing and I wonder if it is more confusing with the categories or without. I have run out of space for my blog post thought so I'm going to split the interview at this point. Can talk about gender roles when we come back?

Choris:  I'd like that very much.

Me:        Thank you for your time.

Choris:  Thank you.

This was of course a fictional interview. I wanted to conduct a thought experiment with the idea of a culture that has no sexes nor genders. I thought the idea of an interview would be a good way to do it. I have no formal training in gender studies. My background is a BA in Anthropology and autodidactic reading. I meant no offense to anyone.

I hope you found the concept interesting and I apologize if I have offended anyone. If you would like me to post the second part of the interview let me know and I would be delighted to.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Young Mad Scientists in Love: "The New Team" - Part 2

Part 2 – Congratulations Doctor Neal You Do Not Get Tenure

”Doctor Neal, may I speak with you?"

Fredrick Neal was standing in his lab, examining a microscope.  He was well built and athletic without being bulky.  He had perfect skin, perfect teeth and a fantastic head of hair.  He looked up with his glorious golden eyes and smoothed his magnificent mustache.

Cassandra Jones was thin and tall, not thin and tall like a wire guided antenna, but more like Seattle's Space Needle.  Her exoticness extended to her voice.  It reminded Neal of a predatory bird's scream or a German dive-bomber.  The woman made him flinch whenever he heard her voice.

"Yes, Ms Jones," Neal shuffled on his stool, fear obvious in his voice. 

"Doctor Neal you may be the most intelligent person in the university, and that is saying quite a bit," she sauntered toward him.  For a moment his fear took a back seat as he marveled at the giraffe-ntile way she moved.  The pendulous swing of her legs was almost hypnotic.

"Well, thank, thank you very much, Ms Jones."

"Oh please stop calling me that."  She took a few steps to stand across from him and leaned over the table like a cantilevered crane.

"What would you like," he said as she put a finger on his chest, "What would you like me to call you?"

"You know, you are really the most adorable little man, perfection in miniature."

"It's more efficient, and adds in life extension.  I, uh designed the treatment myself."

"I could just eat you up," she licked her lips and he hopped off the chair backwards.  Though this left him a straight-line view just below her breasts, it also made use of the stool as a barrier.

"It is a rather complicated procedure.  It involved genetically modifying virus RNA, not just to cause the desired effect in the patient, but to modify the behavior and propagation of the viruses.  If you would like I could-"

"Cass," she said as if she were putting a finger over his mouth with only the word.

"Um, excuse me?"

"You asked what you should call me. You should call me Cass."

"Oh, um thank-"

"Often, and immediately."

While his mind worked at that she held out a long hand and helped him back onto his stool.

"I would love for you to give me, the treatment.  That's not why I came down her though." She turned away and hung her head.  He said nothing as she took a few steps down the table to retrieve her clipboard.  She looked at it and composed herself.  When she turned back to him she couldn't fight the smile that spread across her face.

"Oh, you are just too adorable the way you shrink back in terror like that."

"You're a very-"


"Intimidating woman."

"Yes, power can have that effect."

"Right, power, that's exactly what it is."

"I mean, as the Dean and head of your department I hold a lot of power over you."


"Like I could come in here and tell you that you don't have tenure and you won't be getting it," she forced a chuckle and batted at his shoulder, feigning playfulness.  He was quite surprised she could reach that far as she was several steps away.

"Wait, are you telling me I'm fired?"

"Let's call it an opportunity for us to take our relationship to a more personal and maybe intimate level."


"Well, as the head of your department I am your boss so it would be conflict of interest and maybe sexual harassment for us to, I don't know date."

“So I’m fired, after all this time.  Thank you very much.  How long do I have to get my stuff and get out?”

“You’ll have to finish teaching your classes.”

“The whole rest of the semester?”

Jones opened and closed her mouth twice.

“Well, Ms Jones, you know what?  You can just screw yourself.”  He stepped off his stool as dignified as anyone could and stormed off.  Actually, given his size it was more of a gentle sun-shower.

At the door he paused and looked back at her.


“Screw yourself.”  He slammed the door.

“But that’s what I wanted you to do.”

Friday, August 12, 2016

"The Case of Reverse Engineering" Part 2

See this link here for part I.

"The Case of Reverse Engineering"
Part 2

I took a long look up at the head table.

"Only six out of thirty seven survived?"  Winkle said.  Gottschalk nodded.

"And brought out the technology everyone was fighting over?"  I asked.

"I don't think Blair's diary went that far.  After what I think was a few days it eventually all became unreadable gibberish and then what I think was alien language.  That all would have been within the timeframe before the USAF was alerted."

"Then how do you know?"

"I got curious so I asked.  For my trouble I was told to shut up, mind my own business and then they took the materials away.  After that, I put in a few calls to some buddies of mine from the Army Air Corps days.  I got records of Air Force signals traffic reports.  The way I figure it, they were sending dummy signals for about a week before they put in a distress call.  That matches the Blair diary.  Then there was some normal traffic that started being more and more couched and cryptic until right before the flyboys got there to find half the place burned.  They never reported any fires or any additional deaths."

"Excuse me again, gentle people," Ferrini was speaking again.  "There will be two parts to our presentation today.  The second part will be a question and answer session for everyone to participate, but before we begin that part we will have a, well I hesitate to call it a lecture, a slide show from our honored guests.  I'd like to go ahead and get that started while everyone is enjoying desert and coffee.  Could we please draw the curtains?"

The same phalanx of porters who had surreptitiously locked the doors moved over to the giant windows and closed out the midday light.  The room was momentarily lit only by the exit signs, the centerpiece Jacob's Ladders and a sliver of light coming under the kitchen door.  There was a shuffle at the head table before a small light was turned on at the lectern.  It barely illuminated Professor Melitene's pudgy face and shoe-brush mustache.

"Erm.  Thank you President Ferrini, ladies and gentlemen," he began with a voice a full octave lower than I expected, "You can go ahead and start-"

He was talking to the porter handling the projector who turned the machine on and a huge screen against the wall lit up with a white and black photo.

"Uh, thank you.  This is Antarctic Research Facility Number Four."

"Before the fire," Gottschalk hissed.

"Last year Professor Allouez and I had the privilege of conducting some magnetic research at this facility.  In the process of our studies we discovered a magnetic anomaly, er next slide please.

"This anomaly turned out to be a structure we believe was a mode of transport capable of traveling in space, a spaceship if you will.  You might even call it a starship, because, as I'm going to try to show it was most likely capable of traveling the immense distances between our solar system and the planetary systems around other stars."

There was quite a bit of mumbling around the room.  Several more photos clicked in procession.

"As you can see from these photos the craft was extremely large.  In an effort to excavate the starship we inadvertently caused a fissure to open in the ice structures in which it lay.  It slipped irrevocably into the crushing depths of the crevice, well beyond anyone's ability to even reach let alone study, I'm afraid."

There were several outcries including, how do you know, why did you bring us here then and couldn't it have been a submarine.

"I know what you are all thinking.  Please rest assured we are completely certain this was not an artifact of earth.  We also know it could not have been any less than ten million years old; more likely twenty, million years old."

Silence fell.  There was probably nothing more shocking than this news, except the next thing Melitene said, "We also found the body of one of the starship's occupants."

This led to gasps around the room.  Gottschalk gripped the table with white-knuckle intensity and her eyes looked like they would fall out of her head.

The photo changed to one with a block of ice a dozen feet long and more than a yard on the other sides.  It was surrounded by men, including Melitene.  If Allouez was in the picture he wasn't recognizable.

"This is the creature we found."  There were several more shots of the ice block from different angles and eventually in a storage room.

"In an effort to study the remains more closely we thawed the carcass slowly for over twenty four hours.  The creature we found was determined to be of a life form and a biological system utterly alien and distinct from all life forms on earth."

"Bullshit!"  Lon Vandergriff stood at his table.  He was one of the most prominent alumni from Pattell.  He had made his own fortune from mining and steel.

"Pardon me?"

"You're talking about aliens and spaceships, but where is the proof?  You lost the ship.  Where is this alien body?  What technology could you have gotten if you lost the ship?  What did you do, wake the alien up and ask him?"

"Yes, yes we did."

The room went dead silent.

"What?  What did you just say?"

"I realize this will be difficult to believe," he stopped and pushed his glasses up.  He glanced at Allouez who nodded.  "You must understand that the creature was a lifeform completely different than any earth lifeform, apparently not subject to some of the limitations of earthly life."

"Are you implying you found a twenty million year old alien carcass and it was still alive?"  Vandergriff roared with laughter, then reached down and pulled his wife to her feet.  "Sybil we are leaving and canceling any monies we had allocated to this sham of a school."

A photo of a vertical and moving alien body appeared on the screen, larger than life.  A woman screamed.  Another appeared and a third.  They weren't the best quality, with the fire, the dead dogs and the men fighting for their lives.

"We had some trouble bringing the, sample, back for a more thorough examination and continued research."

The slide show had to be stopped for a few minutes because several attendees fainted.  The screen went blank to reset everyone's brains.  The room was still dark otherwise and many other attendees made their way through the gloom to the bar, insisted on getting drinks, downing them and getting another before returning to their seats.  

"What the hell is going on?"  Winkle asked us.  "This can't be real."

Gottschalk was no help.  She was moving her eyes around, reading some imagined script while her lips moved and her hands trembled in their grip on the table.  "Could this possibly mean..." was all that I got from her.

"I would be inclined to think this is all an elaborate hoax of some sort, but why something so far-fetched?  The starship wasn't even saucer shaped.  It looked more like a zeppelin."

"I assure you, Mr. Richman this is no hoax."  Allouez was standing behind me and spoke with a smooth, silky voice.  It sounded almost as if it were coming from inside my own head.  I turned to look at him, trying to use the light from the white lit screen to see him as well as possible.  He was an unremarkable man, middle fifties and average in every way.  He even wore the plainest suit and tie possible.  The man could have blended into a crowd of two.  He smiled and walked away.

"There are some forms of life in Antarctica that are viable during the brief summer months and freeze most of the rest of the year," Melitene was continuing the slide show.  The screen showed a series of microscopic life, algae, lichens and fungus.

"We suspect the alien creature had a similar method of coping with the extreme cold.  It was most likely the cold that allowed it to maintain some integrity through the eons.  The cold and length of stupor may, however have contributed to the, rather inhospitable manner in which we interacted with it.

"In the end the creature perished, and unfortunately so did a good number of our party."

The screen went blank again and there was a long pause.  In the silence I heard Gottschalk muttering, "No, no, that's just not possible.  There must be some other explanation," then she went back to her internal review.

"The next part of my briefing is extremely confidential.  I must ask that anything I say or show you going forward not leave this room."

"This next part?"  Winkle whispered.

"During our far too brief encounter with the interstellar visitor, some progress was made in recreating part of the creature's technology, namely a small model of the propulsion unit, or engine if you will, and the power-plant to support it."

The photo on the screen showed a man in a backpack clearly floating several feet above the floor of a shack.

"The model, built with the help of our visitor, was fully functional when found, unfortunately there was an accidental fire and, along with more loss of life the machinery was damaged beyond repair."

Allouez and two porters had brought a large wheeled table from behind the dais and unveiled it as the lights came back up.  On the table were the charred remains of the same backpack in the photo and some sort of generator or projector.

"We have started the process of analyzing this technology with help from some of the good people in this room, but we have a long way to go."

Ferrini stepped up and bent the microphone away from Melitene.  "This is why we invited all you marvelous benefactors.  We ask that you-"

He was giving his usual spiel for money and I tuned him out.  "Wink, what do you make of this?"

"If this weren't your alma mater I'd say it's all snake oil."

"It's not snake oil," Gottschalk pushed herself away from the table.  "I've been going over all the times and dates, everything I know from the documents and the Blair diary.  I can't make it add up.  I don't see how it could have been done."

"It sure as shit didn't look like cooperation in those photos," I said.

Most of the room was either in shock or awe.  There were many who gathered around the table of technological remains and others who clung to the bar like a life raft.

"I want to talk with Melitene, by God," Gottschalk said.  He was near the table, surrounded by a throng of question askers.

"I'm after Allouez," Winkle said and moved off.  The invisible professor was near Melitene but being ignored.  Winkle smiled at him and got him to the side, near a still curtained window.

"Professor, I have some questions, if you please."

"Certainly," he smiled.  Of course he smiled.  He had just unveiled the scientific find of all time and he was talking to the prettiest girl in the room.  Gottschalk slid up behind her.  He glanced at us and returned his gaze to my partner.

"Professor," Winkle began, but Gottschalk interrupted.

"How did you two pansies get out of that camp alive?"

"I'm sorry?"

This clearly wasn't the tack Winkle was going to take, but she got the weather gage and drove on.  "What Doctor Gottschalk is referring to is the fact that only six men from the original complement of thirty seven were rescued from the camp and a good deal of it was on fire when the Air Force finally got to you.  That must have been quite a struggle for you."

Allouez's smile broadened, "It certainly was quite a story."

"Spill it," I suggested.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

A Quick 20

I was visiting a facebook page for the 133d Signal Battalion of the Illinois Army National Guard today (it's a private group, but I can send the link if you are interested in joining).  It reminded me of a conversation I had with my dad.

One day in my junior year of high school I came home from school and Dad was in his room getting dressed or undressed (with his rotating shift it could have been either).  He called me up and asked me how I was expecting to pay for college.

I was sixteen at the time, but there had never been any question about whether I was going to college or not, I was going.  I don't remember ever deciding that, I just always knew it.  What I never considered was the cost.

I had always known I was going to have to pay for it.  I don't remember it myself, but Dad always reminded us that the day we each came home from the hospital after being born he took us around the house and showed us the place.  He then told us the rules and baptized us in the kitchen sink.  Among the rules was the fact that he would not pay for our college.

My answer to Dad that afternoon was, "I dunno," with a shrug.

"Well, you could join the Guard.  The Illinois Guard offers a full scholarship to  any state school."

To this I responded, "Yeah.  That's what I'm going to do."  Done deal, decision made.  No problem.

"You can just do  a quick twenty and get out."

A quick twenty?!  I was only sixteen.  I hadn't even seen twenty years yet.  I was far less committed to that idea than the idea of enlisting to pay for school.

"What do you want to do in the army?"  Dad asked.

"Drive tanks or fly helicopters," I said with a mighty, manly grunt of youthful testosterone.

"Well Illinois doesn't have any armor units, but I'll check into finding you an aviation unit."

True to his word of course he found me a unit, the 1903d Helicopter Maintenance Company.  The main part of the unit was based out of Midway airport and they had a detachment in Decatur.

In November of that year I turned seventeen and on January 14, 1984 Dad and I got in the car to drive to the recruiting center on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  A few blocks after leaving our house we stopped off and picked up  Jac Charlier.

Unknown to me Dad must have had a similar talk with Jac.  He and I enlisted together that day and in 2007 I retired after doing a, "Quick" twenty three years.