Thursday, December 15, 2016

Future War

No, this post is not about the (awful?) sci fi film by this name, although that venerable classic does impinge somewhat on the content I am about to discuss.

Specifically, I am interested in the Mad Scientist Science Fiction Contest sponsored by the US Army TRADOC Command.  This contest was recently announced, offering the winner rather obscure financial inducements ("most travel expenses paid") as well as a chance to speak at the Army's annual Mad Scientist Conference (I kid you NOT!) and publication in an Army journal.  TRADOC's mission is to plan the army of the future, and one is tempted to believe that includes the military occupation of outer space, as well as this planet.  Never mind that we have signed treaties to the contrary -- the military doesn't each time it launches another secret military mission into and beyond the Earth's atmosphere.  Now, on the positive side of the ledger, one has to admit that there is and must be a certain rationale for defining the presence of some kind of human military and its weapons in outer space, so let's look at the possibilities.

In the classic Western film, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, the bandit Tuco (played by Eli Wallach in what is arguably the best performance in a Western by any actor in history) is fond of the catch phrase: "There are two kinds of people..."  Of course, Clint Eastwood's Blondie character eventually teaches him that there are really three kinds of people, even if one of them is "a dirty son of a bitch."  Let's say there are three kinds of truly military eventualities in outer space.  The first is that we encounter aliens more technologically advanced than ourselves, the second that we encounter aliens less technologically advanced than ourselves, and the third that we encounter aliens equally technologically advanced as ourselves.  Of course, it is possible that we might encounter no aliens at all, which just leaves us ourselves to fight each other, that is, no different from what we face right now.

Should we have a hostile encounter with aliens more advanced than us, it is likely to be a short war.  This time, the shock and awe would be completely on the other side, assuming that we stay around long enough to even feel shock or awe.  If humankind manages to survive a hostile encounter with a more advanced life form, we would not be in a situation to wage the type of war so far contemplated by the military, based on Robert Heinlein's work and especially on Starship Troopers.  Our only hope for survival would be to carry on a struggle on a completely assymetrical basis against great odds.  So I would humbly suggest to TRADOC that they might talk with someone in the People's Army of Vietnam or maybe even (dare I say?) El Qaida or ISIL, who have experience with that sort of thing.  Unthinkable, you say?  Maybe not, since some of our proxy soldiers are Chechens very friendly with those boys.  But let's leave the specific problematics of that weird combination for other times and go on to the other possibilities.

The second eventuality, that we might encounter alien life forms less advanced than ourselves, leads directly to James Cameron's Avatar.  I concede that we have yet to find evidence of big blue low-tech natives who ride dragons and talk with trees, but from a human angle that film touches on many contemporary values as we begin to contemplate deep space mineral exploitation in our immediate cosmic neighborhood.  How would our real starship troopers deal with the indigenous species?  The way North Dakota is dealing with the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies?  For that confrontation in the depths of North American Outer Space is certainly being viewed by military theorists as a training mission for future corporate vs. "native" standoffs.  And when I say military in this instance, I mean private as well as public, since Blackwater and other corporate entities are trying out new weapons and strategies on what's left of our own Na'vi.  Anyone who takes a look at our novel Life Sentence will realize that we have a highly skeptical attitude towards the ability of corporations to attenuate the chance for violence.  So we're not well placed to win a TRADOC prize for helping the military figure out how to colonize other species and their territories.

Even more potentially damaging is the possibility that we will face a hostile encounter with a species of equal technological advancement.  I state this because, as we see in places like Somalia, Syria, and Libya, equally pitched sides tend to create the most thorough and interminable suffering for everyone concerned.  Humans' time-proven inability to abide by their own promises or to foster compassionate understanding might easily yield to the (natural) military impulse to exploit any tactical advantage in order to unbalance the playing field.  Only a bilateral recognition of mutually assured desstruction might avert a conflict between equals, but even that would depend in some measure on non-military negociation.  Which brings us back to an important issue: to whom would a human space military answer?  To POTUS?  To the CIA, The UN?  Amazon?  Elon Musk? All of the above?  Even a half-century after the fact, we're still not completely sure whom the military was answering to in Vietnam, since the rat's nest of strategic, commercial, and political motives in that (relatively simple) human-on-human fiasco has never been completely unraveled.

So, Tuco, there are not just two kinds of people (friend or foe) or three (good, bad, and ugly), but a potentially infinite number of kinds of people out there, and no one prospect of war to deal with them.  Even worse, at this stage, is the face that there is not even one single type of peace that is receiving any planning.  If it is a question of peace or war, and war is the one with all the plans, chances are it will be war, indeed!  We probably shouldn't count on TRADOC to plan  interstellar peace, since that's not its mission, but maybe someone should take up the call.  If technology seems inextricably tied to war, maybe we need to take the cue from another sci fi classic, Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, and lay a footing for some kind of Second Foundation that would work on solutions other than the Starship Trooper style.

OK, I admit, this is not going to win me a TRADOC prize or even their attention.  There are hundreds of military sci fi authors out there who are laboring each day to come up with the kind of scenarios TRADOC wants and expects to see.  To come back to Future War's premise, I suppose I am suggesting that humanity should consider ways of being more than a TOOL.  As we inevitably move toward space, I assert that it is implausible that we will have to use martial arts against Robert Z'Dar, Kasja, and a bevy of tyrannosaur puppets, so we have to develop more options for analysis and organization, to be dissatisfied with the inevitability of armed conflict, better prepared for exchange (and its downsides), surer of what we want as a species besides minimal survival, if we are to take advantage of any encounters that may occur.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Roman en vente chez

     Salut, les amis francais!  Nous sommes ravis d'annoncer que notre roman Life Sentence est disponible, a la fois en formats imprime et electronique, chez  Et cela pour la somme raisonnable de 2,99 euros pour le Kindle.  Nous serons tres heureux de recevoir vos reactions sur ce site et particulierement en forme d'etoiles (beaucoup, on espere!) sur le site meme d'  Nous avons deja  commence la recherche d'une traduction francaise, mais beaucoup d'entre vous sont certainement en mesure d'apprecier le texte americain.  

Saturday, November 19, 2016


A Taste of Life Sentence

by J. M. R. Gaines Copyright@2016

Our new novel available now on Amazon Kindle

     The judge wriggled uncomfortably in his robes as he read the scrap of paper, then passed it back to the bailiff and said, “Foreman of the jury, in the case of the state against Wilhelm Klein for first degree murder of Feldwebel Schmidt, Kommissar Lebov, and Inspector Ciccolini, how find you the defendant?”
     “Defendant, have you anything to say before sentence is pronounced?”
     “I was framed,” answered Klein in a deadpan delivery.
     “Mr. Klein, really! We have satellite photos of 1 to 35 resolution showing you pulling the trigger on two of these three auxiliary security personnel who periodically served as loyal contractors to the government. If you hadn’t decided to murder the third one in a lavatory, we’d have a photo of that, too. In that, DNA proves your presence. It’s true all three were off duty, but their contracts afford them the same protection as full-time servants of the state. How can you possibly say with a straight face that you were framed?”
     “What can I say? Do you always trust a camera a hundred miles up in the sky to give you the full story? You asked me if I had anything to say, and I say I was framed.”
     “Since there are no mitigating circumstances, I shall pass directly on to sentencing,” said the judge, smoothing his moustache and ignoring the argumentative prisoner. “The court of the United Nations, District 12, Circuit C, Region 35, sitting in the city of Athens has found you guilty of murder. This is a capital crime and calls in principle for the death penalty.”
     Suddenly the walls of the courtroom erupted with protestors waving signs and chanting “Save a life! Save a life!” and “No more Justice with bloody hands!” The contrast between the projected images and the relative tranquillity of the little court chambers was acute. Inside the room sat only the judge, the bailiff, and the robotically restrained prisoner. Even the foreman of the jury was only holographic, attending the trial from his home hundreds of miles away in Bulgaria. But the streets around the Palace of Justice were filled with angry activists.
     “This is Kent Phillips reporting from Athens where yet another death penalty has set off demonstrations around the Acropolis in protest to capital punishment. As might be expected, the majority of the protestors are Greeks and Turks who have been here all week for this session of the assizes. But there is also a sprinkling of Brits, Poles, Germans, and French, since this batch of hearings includes an overflow from the courts all over Circuit C. Our psychometric reaction scale shows a reading of 67, which makes this one of the livelier responses of the week and may portend the outbreak of some minor looting and the torching of automobiles in the nearby neighborhoods. Now over to our on-site analyst Demetrios Palamenides!” The screens shifted from the blond, Californian traits of the announcer in the streets to the darker, more elegant face of a man clad in a designer suit.
     “Kent, we see this as a very controversial verdict. Before we cut away to commercials, I can tell you that our viewer audience rates confidence in the judge at only 22.7%, lowest of the past three weeks. And now a word from Muellerwurst, the fine old-world sausage founded in 2075.” Dancers in lederhosen filled the screens, weaving their way through the happy chaos of Oktoberfest, while in a little corner window, the producer counted down to cue in the magistrate.
     Judge Brock whispered “Shit!” away from the microphone and then turned back to his most dignified courtroom manner. “As I was saying, the death penalty is mandatory IN PRINCIPLE in these cases, but I am willing to indulge the public abhorrence for further violence and commute the prisoner’s sentence to life if any authorized body will claim him for a prisoner. Is any authorized agent in the audience willing to make a clemency bid?” There was suspense on the view screens and the digital display of Judge Brock’s approval rating shot up 10% on the courtroom master console. The public loved this moment almost as much as the crowds in the Coliseum must have loved waiting to see what the emperor’s thumb would do. But none of the incoming data sources lit up. The bailiff, who was off camera and off audio, sneered in Klein’s face and said, “Nobody wants to take a chance on a con with your rap sheet!” Watching the approval points erode from his digital display, Judge Brock suddenly added, “Since we are too close to dinnertime to evaluate all the offers coming into our studios, I have to say tune in tomorrow to find out the results of this sentencing, followed by the fantastic details of the LoBello rape case. This is John Gabriel Brock saying that’s all for this issue of Criminal Court Drama!”

     Klein slouched against the wall of his cell. He would not turn on the view screens, and he was tired of reading. He set his antique first edition of As I Lay Dying on the table next to the bunk. He had stolen it from a merchant in Colonial Williamsburg several years ago and never had a chance to really get into it before he was incarcerated. Rossellini the trustee rolled up the prison library cart outside the bars. “That’s pretty depressing crap to be reading in your cell,” he remarked. “How about this to cheer you up? Two Tibetan girls and an orangutan?” He held up one of the generic black holodisks that were loaded with prison porno.
     “Unlike you, I don’t fancy sex with animals.”
     “Huh, you’ll be lucky to get an animal where you are going” pouted Rossellini. “You’ll be happy to get an orangutan. Or even a mangy monkey!”
     “What do you mean where I’m going?” Klein knew that the trustees were often privy to all sorts of news that the cons could not normally get.
     “I mean you have been claimed!”
     “No shit! Where?” Klein’s mind raced. Maybe one of the platforms in the Arctic or Antarctic. He could face that. They said Kerguelen Island wasn’t so bad if you had warm clothes. Even the moon. That would take some adjustment, but he could take the moon. Just no asteroid duty. An endless spinning of stars in the black void would get to him in a matter of weeks. Anything but asteroid duty.
     “I said Domremy. You are about to become a proud citizen of the colony of Domremy.”
     “Where the hell is that?”
     Rossellini started to chuckle. “Wellll, they say you tie your ass to an ion accelerator, take a deep breath, fly out to Way, Way the Hell Out There, then turn left and go as far as you can till you run out of fuel!”
     “Funny man. I’m going to recommend you for a merit badge in geography.”
     “No kidding Klein,” said the trustee, turning serious for a minute, “You have any final desires, you better try to hook up now. They gonna ice you down for a good many months to send you out to Domremy. I know because I seen the requisitions for the suit. You’re facing one hell of a long nap, man.”
      “Nuts,” said Klein, looking at the floor. “In that case, give me the damn holodisk.”

     It was worse than Rossellini had predicted. The next day they put him on the Jet-Cat for the trip across to Alexandria. Klein had hoped they would launch him up from the platforms from Woomera so that he could experience the exhilaration of lifting off from Earth. But it was not to be. They were treating him strictly as cargo. He would be iced down on Earth and launched in a container with a hundred other stiffs from the big mass driver that Olivetti had just built in the desert down near Mogadishu, almost exactly on the Equator for minimum orbital thrust. He would have liked to look out on the Mediterranean whisking by at 80 knots, but he was to be locked in a windowless biologicals hold with an armed robotic guard and case after case of the latest Ebola mutation serum. He shuffled down the gangplank at Alexandria, right onto a bus for Port Said. There, in a ratty little lab, they handed him over to a pair of sadistic technicians who didn’t give him enough tranquilizer to put him to sleep. They laughed and laughed as his panic grew. Few people who have not been iced can imagine the feelings that go through you as your body systems shut down one by one and paralysis creeps up from your toes to your head in an almost discernible line until it reaches the face. The mouth shuts down first, as you gag on your last attempts to articulate a word, any word, before you can speak no longer, then your nose, as you frantically dilate, gulping for a last breath of air, then, last of all, the organs of sight, slowly numbing and dying while you strain until it feels like your eyeballs are going to pop out of your head as you grasp at the last few twinkles of light.
     He became vaguely conscious of still being alive when he was somewhere out in space, cramped onto a shelf in a transport compartment, still in his clammy shipping suit. After a while he began to panic again, as it seemed that he would soon exhaust whatever air was slowly pumped into the suit, asphyxiating before he could move his arms and legs. Shouting did no good, but just as he thought he would go mad, a crew member came into the room, turned on the light, and nonchalantly went down the shelf unzipping suits, quickly passing on from Klein without comment to finish the row. The man had already opened the hatch to head for other chores when Klein was able go croak out, “Is this, is this Domremy?”
     “Where?” said the puzzled mate. “I got no idea where you carcasses are going, but this is the spaceport at Tau Ceti. You’ll be reprocessed and sent out again from here.”

Klein felt a wave of nausea sweep over him as he realized he would have to go through the icing process all over again, maybe more than once, before he got to wherever Domremy was. He must have fainted after that.

Monday, October 17, 2016

               To all our readers around the world, thank you for staying with us for this journey!  Our novel Life Sentence is now available on Amazon Kindle for purchase!  We appreciate all those who have followed us so far in realizing the journey of Klein and Entara, and hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it! Continue to follow us as we create the sequels in the Forlani Saga, and stay tuned for our new webpage!
Now available on Amazon Kindle! Our first sci fi novel for the bargain price of $2.99. Try it, and if you like it, do an Amazon review and give us (appropriately) lots of stars. Not recommended for under 16.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Final Frontier

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Gene Roddenberry’s legendary TV series Star Trek. Although both the series and its standard storytelling formulas are well enshrined in popular culture, many people do not realize how much the series changed from Roddenberry’s original conception to the version that finally aired on network TV. Numerous changes were made between the unaired pilot film “The Cage” and the series’ onscreen debut, and the most interesting of these involve an entire character who was deleted in the transition between the two versions of the series.
“The Cage” featured a cast that was mostly different from, but roughly corresponded to, the crew of the series proper. The most significant divergence was in the second in command character; instead of being Spock (who was still part of the crew, but a less prominent character in this version), the second in command was a woman referred to only as “Number One”, played by Majel Barrett. Number One was an intellectual, cerebral, unemotional character in a position of authority…the exact opposite of how most female characters were portrayed on 1960s television, and a rarity among female characters in science fiction of the time. Not merely a female authority figure, she also became involved in the action, beaming down to the alien planet several times and demonstrating to the Talosian race that humans would die for the sake of their independence. There was no female character in the series proper who could compare to her in terms of being a female authority figure—in fact, the original series had an entire episode that revolved around the fact that women were unsuitable for service as Starfleet captains!
In the series proper, Number One’s stoic demeanor and stoic qualities were folded into the Spock character, who became second in command of the revised crew. This effectively eliminated a character while preserving some of their essential qualities in the group dynamic; it also makes watching the more emotional Spock of “The Cage” a surreal experience for longtime fans of the series. This brings up an important question; why would a 1960s audience that was willing to accept such supposed taboos as alien and Russian crew members and television’s first interracial kiss still be deadset against a female authority figure? Roddenberry claimed that Number One was too cerebral and cold to meet the approval of female test audiences, and this claim is supported by some of the campier Season 3 storylines that seemed to revolve around Captain Kirk becoming romantically linked to “hot alien babes” who functioned primarily as eye candy.
Not only was Roddenberry’s original vision of an inclusive universe compromised with the deletion of the Number One character, Star Trek writers seem to have been traumatized for decades over the fate of the original pilot. The Next Generation was even more inclusive than the original Star Trek was, but still struggled to promote female characters. Of the two most significant female crew members, one of them, Beverly Crusher, seemed to serve largely as a “Team Mom” in script dynamics and the other, Deanna Troi, functioned as a romantic interest for Commander Riker, the ship’s second in command.  An actual female captain would finally emerge in Voyager’s Captain Janeway…in 1995, nearly thirty years after the first Trek’s launch. Clearly the fallout of audience test reactions to “The Cage” left deep scars indeed if it would take nearly thirty years to create a series with a female Starfleet captain! Nonetheless, Number One lived on in both fanfiction and officially licensed Star Trek novels and comic books for decades, providing readers a “what if” scenario in which she had maintained her original prominence. Over fifty years later, she will finally receive a clear nod in the latest series, Star Trek: Discovery, which will feature a female lieutenant commander named “Number One”. Perhaps this latest series will finally provide a sense of closure for the fate of a character once retconned out of existence due to the taste of 1960s focus groups and cultural mores.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

What We May Do For Mars

                “Ask not what America can do for you…” John F. Kennedy famously once said.  Perhaps we should apply the same approach in our preparation for eventually putting some of our species on the planet Mars.  Though the son of a gangster and terrorist sympathizer and probably unelectable by today’s purportedly superior standards, JFK remains the only US president who has so far voiced a coherent policy about exploring outer space. Most recently, Bush II and Obama have made ludicrously inappropriate statements about ambitions for human expansion to the Red Planet, while the real groundwork is being done by capitalist adventurers like Elon Musk and Robert Bigelow.  The real inadequacy, of course, comes as usual from the US Congress, which is filled not with scientists or thinkers, but with scheming money raisers and media personalities who know little enough about our own world, not to speak of others.  It is true that Boeing, Lockheed, GD, or some other defense contractor will build anything we eventually choose to get to Mars (at many times the actual cost).  Still, it is perhaps time to think more about what will happen when we get there.
                Let us consider that only this past week, potential astronauts emerged from a year-long experiment  designed to test extended human habitation on the target planet.  This Bio-dome-like environment was completely anthropocentric, since it was supposed to test the effects of Mars on man rather than man on Mars.  Once the trash and debris was carted off to a dump in Hilo, Hawaii, there was little concern about what might come crawling out of it, since it would predictably be no worse than other local vermin.  It determines only what we may do for Hawaii, but not what we may do for Mars. 
                So far, Mars strategic planning is going on the assumption that the planet is lifeless, or at least home to microbial life that will not cause immediate harm to humans.  Nevertheless, people seem to have forgotten that Mars is an environment, and one that in all probability was at one time able to harbor life.  I cannot identify any long-term experiment that has been able to truly recreate a simulated Martian environment where humans, and all out little cooties, could be introduced to see what might happen biologically in such a scenario.  It puts me in mind of an old episode of the original “Outer Limits” television program named “Wolf 359” where a scientist did something much like this, simulating the environment of a planet near a distant star.  In that case a form of life did emerge that eventually threatened earthly creatures, including the scientist himself.  A dangerous biological development would not have to take the form of the spectral Pacman creature of the “Outer Limits” – merely a rogue bacterium would be enough to provide a formidable obstacle. 
                The first instinct of any potential colonist would be to consider a harmful organism as an alien menace, ignoring the fact that we humans would actually be the alien menace on Mars.  Lest we dismiss the idea that we would constitute a harmless explorational presence on another planet, it is useful to apply lessons now obvious in our own colonialist history on Earth.  The very existence of early Earth colonies tended to follow a pattern of occultation of real purposes.  Jamestown, for example, was never really conceived as a “plantation,” but rather as a pirate base, and was actually constructed at the location of a once-planned Spanish base to guard against pirates.   It is reasonable to expect that adventures in outer space, particularly of a corporate nature (remember: Jamestown was also an example of an early corporate enterprise), would also operate with similarly concealed motives.  Early human colonies often resulted in the extinction of vulnerable local species.  More frightening still is the fact that highly developed technological exploitation is not necessary to bring about such human-caused extinctions.  Stone-age Maori tribesmen landing on New Zealand were able to eradicate the indigenous giant Moa birds in the matter of a few hundred years.  Simply put, we humans are just bad news for the natural inhabitants of any place we choose to appropriate as ours. 
                More preliminary research is necessary before we land humans on Mars.  We will have only one chance to make a true first contact with that extraterrestrial environment and, in the absence of more solid proof than we currently possess, we have to consider it as pristine and capable of engendering its own expectable forms of life.  Even though that life may prove to be harmful to us and our greedy purposes, we would be mistaken to treat it with a lack of respect.  Recent films such as “The Martian” have flamed the imagination of many with the prospect that the only challenge to overcome in dealing with Mars is one of the technological survival of us – a challenge we are bound to overcome with innate human ingenuity.  It is essential to keep in mind that “The Martian” is partially based on an earlier film, “Robinson Crusoe on Mars,” which is much more explicit in its reliance on eighteenth-century rationalism and its postulate that the human mind is capable of solving all problems without limitation.  Even a rationalist like Dirty Harry Callahan knew that “A man has to know his limitations.”  Research can tell us more about ours, and not just as concerns the viability of discrete individuals, but of entire environment.

Monday, July 25, 2016

On Zombies

A fantastic Halloween mask?  For sure!  More than that, a cultural icon.  Zombies are rooted deep in our collective imaginations.

It is significant that since George HW Bush declared the beginning of the New World Order in the 1980’s, Americans have increasingly sought to exteriorize and examine their social unease in the symbolic form of imaginary beings such as elves, vampires, werewolves, and zombies. Each of these creature cults has its own specific associations within the social realm, but I will limit myself here to the cult of zombies, as typified in the popularity of the television series “The Walking Dead.”

First of all, it is important to specify that we are speaking here of neo-zombies, rather than the traditional zombies associated with voodoo. The latter were always under the control of a designated spell cast by a designated priest or priestess possessing the knowledge of how to create the living dead from either live or deceased subjects to do their personal bidding. It is interesting to note that, while anchored in certain mainly African practices, the voodoo zombie has always been associated with the New World, that is, the Americas, and in particularly Haiti, Brazil, or other Latin American locations.

The neo-zombie is also principally associated with the New World, though there have been some instances of British and other cultural manifestations. New World and New World Order are in many ways closely associated, so it is not unnatural that the neo-zombie should make a resurgence during the post-Bush era. The cultural popularity of neo-zombies traces from the horror film “Night of the Living Dead” of 1968 and we shall return to discuss how many features of that film were precocious in prefiguring the central elements of the zombie cult. However, for the moment, it would be more appropriate to continue at this point with a further structural hypothesis about the significance of the neo-zombie in the third millennium.

Unlike the classical voodoo zombie, the neo-zombie has no distinct causality. It is not under the control of any perceptible conscious force. The neo-zombie always originates from the grave, or at least from the state of death, rather than being a live human under the spell of sorcery. The origins of the zombie phenomenon are deliberately occulted in zombie culture. Commonly, some plausible pseudo-scientific explanation is at least suggested: arrival of spores from outer space, mutated viruses, research gone wrong, etc. Yet there is little importance or time devoted to the discussion of such matters for several major reasons, all associated with the cult of survivalism that is the human counterpane of the zombie cult. Humans in contact with zombies are typically “average” people rather than scientists or doctors, and their encounters with learned human survivors are generally disappointing if not fruitless. The wave of zombie destruction has almost invariably reduced human civilization to a point of near Stone Age conditions, entailing the disappearance of laboratories or other higher institutions capable of providing an analysis of zombies. The survivors lack the time or motivation for pursuing such questions themselves, since zombies always pop up from nowhere to interrupt even the simplest of life’s routines. The zombies themselves, in the perpetual search for flesh or brains, do not possess the intellect to ask the simplest questions of why they exist or how their condition can be bettered.

The lack of a sense of causality in the zombie cult coincides with the cultural notions of postmodernism, which eschews such explanations as being pointless or false. In postmodernism, logic springs only from relatively primitive sources such as the quest for dominance or the need for physical gratification; all notions of a universal logic based on impartial premises is dismissed through distrust that any such valid premises could exist. Logic becomes much like magic in that it is a powerful projection of desire. Thus zombies offer the public mind the advantages of magic without being fettered by concerns for verisimilitude or explanation that would otherwise apply in a universe postulating the existence of some form of universal logic. Zombies are both generalized and particularized in a uniquely convenient way to articulate a pseudo-philosophical base for the social concerns of humans, and especially Americans as New Order humans, in the third millennium.

Zombies are thus phenomenologically self-evident: they are there and one has to do something about them. Yet, the only thing survivors can really do about them is kill as many as possible and try to survive, despite the fact that zombies apparently cannot be wiped out. All the ramifications of human existence become compressed within the parameters of the survival imperative, which seems to depend on the abililty to inflict death individually on zombies by destroying their heads. Whether the zombie cult public identifies with the desperate survivors or, more likely, with the unidimensional zombies,1 they can expect the necessity of contemplating a lot of blood and gore.

Both the zombie and the survivor are complementary representations of a sense of radical disconnectedness. Anomie affects the zombies themselves because there is no differentiation in zombie existence: they all act the same and their motivating hunger, though rooted in each zombie, is exactly the same among all zombies. For this reason, zombies never compete with each other. In one sense, the depiction of zombies offers a worst case scenario for the outcome of the Dilbert vision of New World society, where individuals are reduced to meaningless roles that threaten both to absorb their entire existence and to efface any particularity of a positive type.2 The processes of Dilbert’s corporation are as vague as the zombie genesis and seem to go on without any concern for logic. Workers are arbitrarily classed as engineers or marketing or IT, despite the fact (or perhaps because of it) that their functionality seems to be warped or completely futile. Take away the cubicles and the coffee cups, substitute a hunger for gore, and the Dilbert characters easily become zombies in endless supply. Zombies can be likened to a kind of Lumpenproletariat. The radical connectedness of zombyism.

As for humans, their pre-holocaust existence is mostly destroyed, persisting only as a king of ghostly projection that allows for some semblance of plot movement in a landscape where everything else has been leveled. Survivors can compete, but only within the imperative of killing zombies and continuing to survive. They are radically disconnected even from what ostensibly meaningful personal relationships they enjoyed in the pre-holocaust universe. Loved ones have disappeared (sometimes to return as killable zombies) or complicated things by developing interim relationships with other survivors. They have no work, other than survival.

1 Zombies have become popular Halloween characters. A 2012 survey by the National Retail Foundation found that zombies ranked as the fifth most popular costume for adults and the ninth most popular for children, a rather revealing difference in the parameters of this study. Also, television casting calls for zombie extras are swamped with would-be zombies. For several reasons, the same is not true with survivors.

2 Interestingly, the character of Wally, with his rejection of institutional useless, represents a kind of revolt against this universe, but it is much like the alternative offered by the Artilleryman in H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds, where the revolt is limited to a meaningless retreat beneath the surface of society.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

                                                              Bem-vindo , os leitores portugueses , desde a terra natal de meu bisavô Antonho Da Silva ( São Miguel , Açores )

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

What can sports tell us about meteors?

     Can we save the Earth by learning to throw a curveball in outer space?  The thought might not be as preposterous as it sounds.  A simple device may be a key to preserving our planet from impacts with the numerous dangerous objects floating around our solar system.

   Consider the humble meteor, a hunk of stone or perhaps ice moving on a certain trajectory that may threaten to coincide with that of our world.  Yet it is not necessarily stable as it moves.  Like a bullet, or perhaps more like a baseball, a meteor probably has some tumble as it speeds along.  There may be a way to make such tumble useful to us.  When a pitcher sizes up a batter, he wants to hit a certain spot the catcher designates.  He does not want the trajectory of the ball to be a straight line. Otherwise, every pitch might yield a home run.  Instead, he uses the seams of the baseball, the grip of his fingers, the motion of his wrist, and sometimes a little spit, to impart a non-ballistic motion to the ball, so that it won't follow the path the batter thinks he sees.

     A simple device may someday help scientists and engineers change the path of a meteor the same way a pitcher produces a curve ball or a slider to achieve the desired end. If we can first of all manage to track and determine the tumble of a meteor, and secondly to alter that tumble in such a way as to change its trajectory, we may have a tool for ensuring safety to all on Earth. So far, solutions for a meteor impact in science fiction have consisted of the old fall-back; a big explosion. Films and novels have generally focused on the idea of using explosives, particularly nuclear, to blast an impact body to pieces or move it out of the way.  In a nod to reality, these big explosions do not always work.  In some cases, they only slightly reduce the meteor, breaking it into numerous lethal parts, or fail because of the internal structure of the body, or have insufficient "braking power" to do the job. Occasionally the prospect of landing on the meteor as part of the solution is examined, but this tends to involve the high-risk, low-efficiency notion of "boots on the rock" in the form of astronauts.

     Since robotic space operations are really proving their success in recent years, let's get back to our simple device.  Okay, perhaps not so simple.  More efficient than transporting a man to a potential meteor is the proposal of sending a nice compact device, at first in a purely research mode.  I am talking about a device that is basically an enhanced recorder-transmitter that would attach itself to the body and study its tumble characteristics.  This is not as easy as I am making it sound, but it is perfectly feasible now that we have landed devices on moving comets.  So let's let Houston or Tokyo figure the details and go on to the next step.  Analyzing the tumble would involve the complicated step of accurately charting movement in relation to some stable reference point, not always without difficulty in a universe where everything is moving in relation to everything else.  Even our dependable sun may not be, in itself, a completely adequate reference point.  It might be necessary to allow our device to keep track of its position relative to some much more distant points, such as a triangulation of quasars.  A meteor has no seams like a baseball, but with quasars serving as the equivalent of a strike zone, we should be able to get a good understanding of tumble and its crucial aspect, that is, whether it is random or patterned.    Determining a tumble pattern is phase one.

     Next, our experts would have to go back to the drawing board and figure out if a patterned tumble can be altered by some other existing device, such as an ion drive, in order to change the trajectory of the meteor.  There is no certainty that it could, but it is worth finding out if it might be possible.  Just as there are no seams on a meteor, there is no atmosphere in space to affect its motion the way a pitcher can use the air to affect his baseball.  We might try looking into phenomena such as the solar wind, but it is not certain to play a role.  Likewise, the mass of a given meteor may prove too great to alter by the output of a surface-mounted drive that changes its tumble.  But we will never know unless we do the fundamental research and try.  I would argue that a single project of this nature may prove more practical in our celestial neighborhood than some long-distance projects already under way being discussed.

     Skeptics may argue, and rightfully so, that ion drives produce too little energy too slowly to be able to alter a meteor for practical purposes.  We should not forget, however, that other more powerful drives are being investigated, including laser and helium-3 drives.  The more complicated part of the operation may actually be determining the correct sequence for applying the drives during the tumble so as to achieve the maximum desired effect on the mass of the meteor to alter its trajectory.

     Of course, it's a long shot, but then everything involving space is, ipso facto, a long shot.  For now, it's an idea, and one that belongs to the -- I believe -- more fruitful category of interacting with the existing universe, instead of seeking to completely remake it.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Revisiting the Fermi Paradox

     Everyone interested in space knows something of the Fermi Paradox.  It arose from a conversation among scientists working on the development of the atomic bomb -- and that detail is not without significance.  When many of the top physicists associated with Los Alamos research were speculating one day about the likelihood of alien intelligence, Enrico Fermi threw out the paradoxical question, "If they are out there and know more than we do, why haven't they contacted us?" -- or words to that effect.  A very natural statement from an Italian-American who would have found it hard not to want to have a chat with interesting visitors.  Indeed, Fermi's observation has stirred a lot of curiosity among those wishing to hear from aliens.  
     Earth has been broadcasting now for about a century, so arguably some of our transmissions may well have made it out as far as 25 parsecs or so into outer space.  Recent discoveries of exoplanets lead us to suspect that somewhere in that expanse, life is likely to have evolved.  Perhaps even intelligent life.  The apparent silence observed so far by our radio telescopes and listening arrays could lead us to conclude that we are alone in the universe.  
     But wait!  A scientific report disseminated this week by Cornell researchers Evan Solomenides and Yervant Terzian comes to a different conclusion.  Based on the vastness of the universe, they conclude that it may well take another 1500 years before we can expect to get an answer from intelligent alien life beyond our solar system.   That's a long time to sit by the phone waiting for a call.  
     The Cornell duo present a well reasoned discussion of the issue.  The realm of speculative science fiction adds other possible scenarios for the lack of first contact so far.  Consider, for example, the wonderful early film It Came From Outer Space, where an extraterrestrial craft (oddly resembling one described in Cyrano de Bergerac's 17th century novel, The States and Empires of the Sun) crash lands on our planet, forcing its crew to kidnap and imitate Earthlings in order to procure materials to repair their vessel and depart unrecognized.  They have no intention of announcing their presence to us primitives because, as they are forced to divulge, we are not ready to understand them and their ways.  
     Despite Gene Roddenberry's almost cock-eyed optimism about our species, the Startrek universe relies on an equally accidental cause for first contact.  The Vulcans, who had been nonchalantly ignoring Earth,  only deem it worth a stopover when they detect that we have achieve technology to produce a warp drive.  
    Now, one may argue that accidentalism is not a very good explanation for the lack of response to our communications so far.  Highly intelligent creatures might not be awkward enough to simply stumble across mankind, as in the Universal-International film, or neglectful as the Vulcans in Star Trek First Contact.  One may assume, on the contrary, that such a race would have its eyes wide open, especially as they may have more than two.
    And if they were watching, what would they see?  A planet full of inexplicably belligerent beings interested in exploiting space for military purposes!  Not content with proliferating nuclear warheads and various other horrors on the planetary surface, we have filled space with weapons.  True, we have sent out misleading messages of peace on some of our space probes, yet in reality we continue to advertise strife in ways that would become obvious to any intelligent observer.  After all, for every peaceful observatory that we point out toward the heavens, there are scores, if not hundreds, of ultra-sharp satellites peering right back on Earth to search for potential military targets.  Of the spaceworthy states on Earth, only the Japanese and the European Space Program seem to have any commitment to peaceful exploration.  All of the American missions are carried out by military personnel and even NASA has been essentially weaponized.  No sooner had it developed a robotic minishuttle than it was turned over to the Air Force. The X37 spacecraft is launched from a secret location, on a military rocket, for mysterious purposes known only to military personnel.  It is not delivering popsicles to the International Space Station or tweaking the Hubble telescope, that much is for sure!
     We can only conclude that any intelligent alien life observing Earth would be very reluctant to make itself and its science known to such nasty beings.  It would be like putting assault weapons in the hands of brutal drug gangs (oh, wait! we do that!).  Surely, though, we would have intercepted some bit of stray communication, wouldn't we?  Maybe not.  If we Earthlings are capable of jamming each other's radio, microwave, and other transmissions, would not a more knowledgeable civilization have even more sophisticated ways of masking its own messages from us?  Would we be even capable of deciphering their communications, given that we are listening for messages as simple as a Fibonacci sequence?  More probably, we will hear from them when and only when they are good and ready for us to do it.  In the meantime, it is plausible to assume, as did the viscous creatures in It Came From Outer Space that we are not yet ready.  Folks, that may be a very diplomatic way of putting it.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Middle Management: Part Three

A Tale of Scientific Experimentation

by James F. Gaines

copyright 2004

The Boss was shaking his bushy white hair as he stepped in the door. At first he appeared not to notice the assistants, turning away from them. But then they heard his sonorous voice say, “I’m glad you’re all here. We need to make some changes.”
Mike stepped forward and blurted out, “Sir, there’s something you need to know. Something dangerous is going on. Nick – ”
You look worried, son. Calm down. You don’t need to protect me from any truth. I’m a big boy, too, you know.”
Gabi interjected, “But sir, Mike’s right. The entire program could be ruined, all the projects will go down the drain if – ”
Sometimes we have to let go of some things to save others, my dear young lady, that’s how the system works.”
Why don’t you pipe down and see what our leader has to say?” Nick smirked.
Thank you, Nick. Always to the point as usual. Well, I’ve been down to the mammalian compound and I don’t like what I find. They seem to have degenerated even worse than last time and I believe serious action is in order.”
Izzy perked up. “Do you mean cancellation, sir? In that case, could I suggest that the protein – ”
No, Izzy, I know what you’re going to ask, but I’m not going to let you feed those subjects to your frogs, especially not alive! I have my rules about how things will be done here. Besides, I am not shutting down the whole project.”
Nick gave the others an I-told-you-so look.
The Boss went on. “I know that a lot of them will have to be destroyed and I have decided to eliminate those that will not continue. Better to let them perish than to pass on something to subjects in another project. After all, what is wrong with them might prove, in some manner, to be contagious.”
But it doesn’t sound bacteriological,” objected Mike.
Doesn’t have to be,” whispered Gabi. “Could be viral, or even prionic.” She glanced up at Nick. “We can’t imagine what has gotten into those subjects or how.”
In any case, I have given the lot a good look over,” said the Boss. “I’ve culled out a number that might serve for a new control group. Not many, mind you, but more than I thought at first. We’ll have to go right back to the drawing board with them and work on the most basic adaptations to the environment. With a sharpening of the selective eugenics and some behavioral conditioning, all might not be lost. I’m planning to take a hand myself from now on. Directly back into the handiwork. I’ve always missed that anyway.”
Nick chimed in. “I’m glad you’re thinking of a little shakeup, sir. I have a few suggestions of my own I’d like to discuss with you. It seems to me that we could realize some interesting economies by consolidation. I could certainly take on a lot more – ”
Yes, Nick, I believe you can.”
Izzy would not give up his quest for protein, though. “Sir, in the most strenuous terms, I must object to the waste of good biological resources when there is so much to be gained from the batracian experiment.” He glanced at Nick. “I realize some people feel that I haven’t brought them far enough, and I am completely ready to step aside, provided that the work go on. Just listen to their music, sir, and think what the right nutrients might – ”

I know they may not make the kind of cognitive progress you want without that metabolism, Izzy, but I want you to look at some other survival factors first.”
Sir,” answered the desperate amphibiologist, “We have here a breakthrough from biology into culture of unprecedented importance. You cannot let the chance slip though your fingers.”
There are many chances, Izzy. But I won’t let your subjects starve, don’t worry.” He scrawled out a note and handed it to the bespectacled young colleague. “Take this down to entomology and draw whatever you need from their stores.”
Oh, no, bugs and mealworms!” Izzy whined. “Their music, sir, it will just become so degraded. I can’t stand by – ”
The Boss drew a breath and his voice assumed a quieter but at the same time immensely more powerful tone as he slowly stated, “Izrafel, that is not a suggestion, but a direct order. Off with thee to entomology! And you, my dear Gabrielle, and you, too, Michael, can accompany him and help him bring up the stores.”
Right away, sir,” acknowledged Michael, and he took Gabi by the arm as they followed a dejected Izzy toward the far doorway.
When they had filed out, Nick turned to the Boss and said, “Very clever, sir. And merciful, too, to spare them a good reaming. By way of consolidation, I would like to suggest – ”
Oh, I intend to talk about consolidation in just a bit, Nick. You’d better sit down.” The Boss’s tone had changed again and when Nick turned to him to scrutinize his face for the reason, he saw a look he had not seen for a long time, one that sent chills down his spine. Anger was concentrated in those eyes like a beam from a blazing fire.
The Boss reached for something in the pocket of his tweed jacket and tossed it on the table in front of Nick. Aghast, the assistant’s jaw dropped, as he realized, too late, what was on the Boss’s mind. The object was a skull with two enormous fangs.
Now, Nick,” said the Boss, “First we’re going to have a little discussion about snakes.”

Nick folded his dark wings closer to his body and hung his head, fearing, correctly, the absolute worst.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Middle Management

A Tale of Experimentation

Part Two of Three

Copyright James F. Gaines 2004

With Izzy cringing in defeat, Nick made his way over to Gabi’s table. “Maybe you should be the one I help. I think you’ve already had enough tips about those squids to owe me a little something.”
Gabi looked up apprehensively. “I really am grateful for your help. But we are all a team, aren’t we? Why does everything seem to have a price for you?”
Nick leered at her. “Because I’m the one who controls the marketplace.”
Mike came over and deliberately moved his muscular body between Nick and Gabi. “Haven’t you forgotten about the Boss?” he asked. “After all, you’re only assistant director.”
Do you see the Boss now?” ranted Nick, flinging his arms in a circle to indicate the entire lab. “Do you ever see him around here much? He’s clueless these days. He literally doesn’t know what’s happening with the projects. I think he’s up there in his office snoozing most of the day.”
I don’t know, Nick. It’s true he hasn’t been in much. But I don’t think he ever sleeps. Every time I tell him something about the avians, he already seems to know.”
That’s because your work is so simple-minded it doesn’t exactly require a great intellect to take it all in. It’s the right thing for someone with a second-rate degree, though. You couldn’t begin to manage the marine project, for instance. You’re only good for swabbing out cages.”
Mike pursed his lips and made a movement toward Nick, but Gabi reached out and put a hand on his shoulder to hold him back, shaking her head to remind him it was not wise to confront this arrogant superior.
That’s right,” chortled Nick. “You know the score, honey. I’ll be number one around here before long and only those who know their places will have any hope of staying on.” He sidled around to Gabi and reached out to caress her neck. “And you know your place, don’t you, Gabi? Under me!”
She brushed away his hand as though it were covered with slime, rose and took a couple of steps away.
Nick’s leer had instantly turned into a glare of hatred. “Bitch!” he sneered, curling his lip. “Goddamn whore! You’re more slippery than anything over in Izzy’s little swamp. Think you’re too sophisticated for me? I’ll have you scrubbing out test tubes back in no time if I want to. And I want to. Hell, I’ll have you handling contagious stuff at some hospital in the slums.”
Mike moved menacingly close to Nick and lowered his voice. “Lay off her, now Nick. Nobody here wants to cause trouble for you, but I won’t let you bully her.”
Nick answered Mike’s threat with mocking laughter. “Hah! The great hero comes to the rescue! Gabi, I can’t believe that instead of me, you’ll go down with the half-wit of Notre Dame, here.”
Mike’s fist came flying and landed square on Nick’s jaw. It seemed enough to knock him into the next room, but to everyone’s surprise, Nick merely turned his head back slowly and felt the reddened spot where the punch had landed. It looked as though an insect had had the impudence to sting him and he was curious about the effect. He looked up at Mike and hissed, “You’ve sealed your fate, now, stupid. In the monthly report I’m going to let you have it. I’ve been saving up a few things. And just to show you how it’s done, when you’re gone, I think I’ll take over the avians myself and have a little fun. I’ve got a few recombinant strains I’ve been working on and it will be interesting to see how virulent they are. Interesting to see the effects on those birds when they can’t get off the ground.”
Mike became visibly scared, not so much for himself as for the eagles and falcons he had come to regard almost as pets, even though they were completely adapted in a wild habitat. He realized his strength could not protect them. Perhaps not Gabi either, if it came to that. Nick seemed to have anticipated any reaction anyone might make.
Izzy, who had been meekly watching the confrontation, cleared his throat and tried to change the subject. “Nick, is the Boss going to close down the mammalian project? Are you going to recommend it?”
Nick’s eyes refocused and a strange smile came over his face. “No, I don’t think it’s time just yet. We haven’t closed down an experiment in a long time.”
Not since the the Boss terminated the reptile experiment,” said Izzy, who immediately regretted he’d mentioned it. The reptiles had been Nick’s domain and he had been furious when, for some reason no one could readily understand, the Boss had ordered it ended and reassigned Nick to general administrative duties.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking, four-eyes!” said Nick. “Those lizards meant a lot to me and showed how much I could do. They were splendid, and it was a waste to let them go.”
Though I hate to admit it,” conceded Mike, “I couldn’t help but admire their strength and toughness. They were amazingly aggressive. Almost unstoppable.”
Yeah. Even an oaf like you could see that much. But they were so much more. More than any of you could grasp. Or him. It showed how much he was already slipping when he took away my creatures. And look what we’ve got instead. A bunch of failures.”
They wouldn’t have failed if you had devoted some of your superior intelligence to solving their problems,” observed Gabi.
You’re right about that. And that’s why I’ve been doing a little free-lancing with the apes down at the mammalian project. That’s why he’s down there now, trying to figure out what went wrong. He thinks the breeding protocols are all screwed up and the mating imprints aren’t working. As I said, he doesn’t have a clue. I’ll soon show that what I did with the reptiles was just a taste of what I can achieve.”
The three colleagues were alarmed by this revelation and burst into objections.
How could you tamper with that project? What did you do? It’s a delicate experiment in environmental ecology and needs to be closely calibrated!”
Nick laughed scornfully. “What you don’t realize, and what even he doesn’t grasp is that it is no longer an experiment in environmental ecology. It’s entirely a matter of genetic control now.”
Nick,” said Izzy, “You haven’t done anything to the genetic protocols, have you?”
Done anything? You plodder, I’ve surpassed them. Do you really think I spent all that time since the reptile fiasco twiddling my thumbs? The reptiles had already shown AI, full self awareness through artificial intelligence. I saved everything essential I had done with the DNA and since then I have been honing it and perfecting it in a few snakes I kept on my own. Think we can’t use snakes to get mammalians to think a different way? Think again!”
Gabi frowned. “But they’re already self-aware. So your artificial intelligence stuff wouldn’t give them anything they didn’t have already.”
Oh, I’ve gone far beyond that. Self-awareness is one thing, but I’ve made their selves into something one step further, I’ve found a way to implant a self-motivating pleasure principle in them that will override all other drives.”
The others gazed in shocked silence for a minute. Then Mike spoke. “But with creatures of that order, they’ll never survive, they’ll self-destruct.”
Not before I’m ready for them to do it. I want to pique them to try a few new things first. Then I’ll harvest the results, as I did from the reptiles.”
Izzy nodded his head. “That’s why the mating protocols broke down. Your pleasure principle has overcome their most basic instincts and sent them off on a search for constant stimulation that will never end.” He tapped on a few computer keys. “Until the population becomes unsustainable – not that far off in the future.”
Mike’s brow wrinkled. “The old man will know.”
He’ll know nothing of the kind. In a little while he’ll saunter back in here with his head in a fog, wondering how his perfect little plans for the primates fell apart.”
Izzy pressed the earphone to the side of his head. “Not in a while. Now!! The batracians sense him approaching because of the change in the magnetic field.”
Gabi leaned forward in earnest. “Tell him, Nick. Tell him right away.”
Nick grinned back. “You tell him if you dare, go ahead. But remember the price. And it’s going up all the time. I’ll have you on your knees in no time, you skank. Just go ahead and open you big mouth.”

Saturday, January 23, 2016

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Tale of Scientific Experimentation

Middle Management

Part One

by James F. Gaines

copyright  2004  James F. Gaines
originally published in Riverside Reflections

          Gabi opened the lab door and peered in.  Izzy was in his normal seat in front of the batracian experiment, listening to his beloved frogs through the earphones.  Even without the electronics, Gabi could hear their harmonic chirping through the enclosures. 
She walked up to her berapt fellow researcher and tapped him on the shoulder.  He was so accustomed to her presence, to her return at this precise hour, that he merely smiled vaguely in her direction and waved his hand without breaking his focus on the batracians. 
It was not until Mike returned from the avian compound that Izzy lifted off his earphones and triumphantly exclaimed, “Did you ever hear such beautiful music in your life?  They’ve organized their calls into chords, into chords!  I can’t wait to tell the Boss.  Where is he, anyway?”
Mike spoke up and explained, “I passed him on the way back from the aviary.  He was headed down to the mammalian experiment and he didn’t look very happy.”  The strapping ornithologist walked over to Gabi and gave her a lingering look that was returned in kind.
Izzy paid little attention because he had known for some time that they had become intimate.  “I’m hoping he will finally close down that primate thing.”
“It hasn’t been going at all well, that’s true,” noted Gabi.  “But what interest do you have in it?”
“Protein.  That’s a lot of animal protein that should not go to waste.  Just think what my batracians could do with that kind of protein source!  They’ll be creating symphonies in no time.”
“But what if the Boss doesn’t agree?  After all, we can’t go around closing down operations just to feed to your frogs.  Why did you design them to be carnivorous, anyway?  The Boss warned you about that.”
“Don’t be silly, Gabi.  There’s no reason to throw away perfectly good biomass.  What do you think, Mike?”
“I agree with Gabi. It seems a little bit ghoulish to be making those mammalians into a menu for your subjects.”
Izzy pouted.  “So why don’t you modify your eagles and falcons into herbivores if you’re so keen on achieving ecological balance?”
“You can’t make that comparison,”? retorted Mike.  “There’s got to be priorities for higher order avian species.”
“You two should have followed my lead,” said Gabi.  “My cephalopods are omnivorous.  When there are no fish available, they convert to feeding on algae.  Very sensible.”
“But Gabi, dear, that’s fine for sea creatures,” answered Mike.  “But how can you expect big birds to feed on vegetation?  Eagles and hawks are at the top of the food chain.  We can’t let them start gobbling down spruce trees or it would put everything in their environment topsy-turvy.  The smaller species would soon starve.”
“That’s why the sea is such an advantage,” Gabi said, shaking her blonde locks.  “Liquidity, freedom of exchange between different levels.”
Izzy chimed in.  “That’s where I have you both beaten!  My amphibians can have the best of both worlds.  Of course, they can’t fly yet.  But they already sing and communicate better than your birds ever could, Mike.  And Gabi, all your octopi can do is primitive touch communication and color changing.  I submit that my creatures are the highest achievement of this lab.”  He pushed back his glasses as if to make a point.
Gabi shrugged her shoulders in her delightfully ingenuous way.  “Well, I don’t see how we can resolve this argument.”
A suave voice cut in from behind them.  “I can.  You’re all a crew of idiots and all your animals belong in the trash bin.”
Unbeknownst to the trio, a fourth scientist in a spotless lab coat had silently entered the room during their conversation. 
Izzy eyed him suspiciously.  “Ah, the great philosopher is back.  Where have you been, Nick, while we were working?”
“You call that work, you four-eyed geek?  Those frogs of yours are on the edge of extinction.  You want the mammal protein because you still haven’t got their metabolism properly engineered.  I offered to give you the benefit of my genetic knowledge, but you have floundered around, screwing up the math, letting all sorts of dangerous recessive traits develop, while you rhapsodize over their stupid chants.”
Izzy blushed.  He did not know which made him more upset, the personal insults or the truth of Nick’s assessment of his beloved batracians.  With his usual incisiveness and acid wit, Nick had bored straight to the weakness of Izzy’s project.  He slouched back over his desk and tried to work once again on the biochemistry that had been puzzling him.