Wild Cards V: Down and Dirty edited by George R.R. Martin

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Bagabond

If you are unfamiliar with the Wild Cards shared universe series, I hope that you will first read my previous article.  This is a non-spoiler review of the 5th book in the series.  But when I say ‘non-spoiler’ what I really mean is that there are no spoilers for that specific book.  Since Wild Cards has several plot threads that span multiple books, just my naming of a character’s presence in this book may give a hint as to what happened (or did not happen) in a previous book.  So you’ve been warned.  If you plan on reading the earlier books in the series, I’d consider waiting until you’ve done so before you read this review.  Otherwise you may find out that character X survives, Character Y does not, and Character Z is really a villain/hero/douche.  OK, you’ve been warned (oh, and definitely read the earlier books — with the exception of book 4, they are all excellent, while book  4 is simply ‘decent’).

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The first several chapters/stories in Down and Dirty take place concurrently with the events in book 4, the WHO tour described in Aces Abroad.  The latter part of the book takes place after that tour.  The book opens with the Mafia deeply embroiled in a gang war against several different asian gangs, seemingly united under the control of an unknown crime boss (but we know who it is from the previous books).  And Brennan (aka Yeoman) intends to take advantage of the situation to infiltrate one of the gangs.  He hopes to work his way up in the organization, so that he can finally confront the target of his vendetta, Kien Phuc, who he knew from back from his time in Viet Nam.

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Brennan/Yeoman

The book has several intertwining stories to it, and fans of Croyd Crenson will be glad to know that this is a Sleeper-heavy book — Crenson appears in several of the different plotlines.  I won’t say that he’s the ‘star’ of the book, but certainly he crosses paths with a lot of people, many of whom regret it.

We also see the return of Modular Man (who was destroyed by Crenson in a previous book) and his creator, Maxim Travnicek, who is just as demented as ever.  Cordelia Chaisson has grown up (mostly) and is in the record business.  The Turtle (aka “The Great and Powerful Turtle”, aka Thomas Tudbury) is dealing with PTSD and thus looking towards permanent retirement — something that would surprise anyone, since the world thinks that the Turtle died on that fateful Wild Cards day, when The Astronomer had his shell napalmed and sunk to the bottom of the Hudson River (Tom escaped with his life, though many other people did die on that day).  We also get to know Dr. Tachyon’s formerly estranged son, Blaise, who is, essentially, a spoiled brat.

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Ti Malice and one of its mounts

Here’s a listing of the intertwining stories, along with their authors (from Wikipedia):

Story Author(s) Description
“Only the Dead Know Jokertown” John J. Miller Yeoman infiltrates Kien’s gang as things heat up in New York’s underworld.
“All the King’s Horses” George R. R. Martin The Great and Powerful Turtle must find a way to get back into his shell.
“Concerto for Siren and Serotonin” Roger Zelazny The Sleeper is hired by the Mob to do a few “special” hits, but is unaware of his contagion.
“Breakdown” Leanne C. Harper Mafia princess turned district attorney Rosemary Muldoon gets Bagabond and Sewer Jack unwillingly involved in the growing gang war.
“Jesus Was an Ace” Arthur Byron Cover Reverend Leo Barnett saves Quasiman‘s life.
“Blood Ties” Melinda M. Snodgrass Dr. Tachyon helps Jokertown prepare to defend itself during the gang war.
“The Second Coming of Buddy Holly” Edward Bryant An Aids-Wild Card awareness concert may bring rocker Buddy Holly — who is still alive in this universe—out of retirement, and will change his life more than he knows.
“The Hue of a Mind” Stephen Leigh An Arab woman with precognition sees the secrets of Puppetman.
“Addicted to Love” Pat Cadigan The parasitic Ti Malice has come to New York, looking for new “mounts” to live through.
“Takedown” Leanne C. Harper The Mob turns against Rosemary as the war goes against them.
“Mortality” Walter Jon Williams Being killed once has given Modular Man a fear of Death that propels his efforts to hunt down The Sleeper.

The quality of the writing here is excellent.  There isn’t a story here that I can say is bad.  Certainly, “The Second Coming of Buddy Holly” seems a little bit out of place, but that is forgivable, considering just how good it is.  I was least interested in the Mary Muldoon/Maria Gambione story line.  She’s never been one of my favorite characters, but I do like some of the peripheral characters in that story, including Bagabond, Sewer Jack, and Croyd Crenson (of course).  I ALWAYS wish for more Brennan someone who really is one of my favorites.  But I’m thankful for what I get.  He both starts and ends the book on high notes.

Now, I have to wait a bit before I can get book 6, Ace in the Hole.  I have it pre-ordered from Amazon in e-book format, and I should be getting it on October 4th.  If you are desperate, you certainly can get older editions of it, but I prefer electronic format because I take my kindle everywhere.  I’m excited about it because, from my vague memory of the book, it was one of my all-time favorites of the entire series.  It’s the culmination of the whole Puppetman story, and it takes place entirely at the 1988 democratic convention.  At least it’s out before election day.

 

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George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards

I was thinking about writing a review of the latest book that I’ve been reading, Wild Cards V: Down and Dirty.  But then I thought that maybe before I do that, that I give an introduction to the series as a whole.  This is because, while HBO’s “Game of Thrones” has turned George RR Martin into a minor celebrity, most people don’t know anything else about him, especially the fact that he’s done more of value than “A Tale of Ice and Fire”, the series that “Game of Thrones” is based on.  And my personal favorite of those things has been his creation of “Wild Cards”, and his leadership (along with Melinda Snodgrass) of the writers of that series.

Back in 1980, when Mr. Martin moved to the Albuquerque area, he discovered  a gaming group that several other writers participated in, and he joined up.  One game that they played which was game-mastered by Martin, was a pencil and paper rpg called “Superworld”.  In this game, the players, would create their own super-powered heroes to have ‘adventures’, moderated by the ‘gm’.  From this game, Martin had the idea to create a literary shared universe, that he and his fellow writers/gamers could play in.  And thus, Wild Cards was born.

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In a literary shared universe, the idea is to invite other writers to collaborate and to split up writing duties, within the framework of an overarching plot, created by Martin.  Some of the players brought their superhero creations (with modifications) to Wild Cards, while other writers who were not part of the gaming group were also invited to participate.

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One of several covers for the first Wild Cards books — it pictures Dr. Tachyon landing on earth for the first time, and his living ship Baby is in the background

The first book, titled simply Wild Cards, was a series of connected short stories, that gave the premise of the series, and introduced many important characters.  The premise is that after the end of World War II, an alien who calls himself “Dr. Tachyon” lands on earth to warn that some people from his homeworld were planning on releasing a dangerous virus on earth, as an experiment.  He’s treated with a great deal of suspicion at first, but eventually people start to believe him.  On a fateful day in 1946, the WWII ace pilot, nicknamed “Jetboy” fights heroically to prevent the release of virus “Takis-A” over the streets of Manhattan… and fails, dying in the process.  Thus, the Wild Cards universe is born.

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A cover from Wild Cards 4 that depicts Chrysalis, a Jokertown information broker.  She has the dirt on everyone, and everything but won’t share it… unless there’s someone who can pay her price.

Takis-A is dubbed the Wild Cards virus because it has a different affect on everyone who is infected with it.  90% of people with it simply die a painful and hideous death. People in the world have a name for that — ‘drawing the Black Queen’.

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Steve Jackson Games created a Wild Cards supplement for their GURPS role playing system.  This cover pictures Dr. Tachyon and one an unknown female, being confronted by Fortunato, one of the most powerful Aces in the Wild Cards universe.  Fortunato is a pimp who gains incredible mental powers.  In a twist, he has to recharge those powers though tantric sex.  (yeah, Wild Cards goes there)  Fortunato is one of my all-time favorite Wild Cards characters.

All of those who survive their infection, end up genetically altered.  Thus the Wild Cards infection can be inherited.   About 90% of those with the virus will become deformed in some way.  The theory is that how one specifically is affected has to do with the psyche of the individual.   But it’s usually to the detriment of the person.  People who are so deformed become known as ‘Jokers’.  Many end up living as outcasts in slums and ghettos, the most famous of which is Jokertown in Manhattan.  Jokers include Chrysalis, who has completely transparent skin — when you look at her, you see all her bones and blood vessels and muscles, and Snotman who…. well you can imagine.

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A cover from one edition of the second Wild Cards novel pictures Jube, a simple newspaper salesman who everyone seems to know.  He may be more than he appears to be

A few rare individuals, those who neither die nor become deformed by the virus, actually gain beneficial abilities, and those people are dubbed Aces.  Some, like Thomas Tudbury, decide to put their abilities to heroic use — he uses his incredibly powerful telekinetic ability to become “The Great and Powerful Turtle”. Others use their abilities for more mundane purposes — Hiram Worchester who gains the ability to control gravity, has a brief stint as a costumed vigilante named fatman, but soon turns his powers as a tool to allow himself to eat as much as he wants, and remain relatively weightless.  He opens up one of the most famous restaurants in New York, “Aces High”, where he enjoys feeding all of the celebrities and Aces who come to New York as well as wealthier tourists who come to star-gaze.  A few turn their talents to crime, such as Jennifer Malloy, aka “Wraith”, who uses her ability to walk through walls, to become a rather successful burglar.

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Dr. Tachyon meets Albert Einstein (from Wild Cards 1)

Wild Cards is an alternate history series, in which super-powered individuals exist.  It originated in the same era that produced “Watchmen”, a graphic novel that posed the question “What if REAL people put on costumes and fought crime”.  The people (and even the aliens) in Wild Cards are real people.  Thomas Tudbury, aka The Turtle, who I mentioned above, is one of the most powerful heroes in the Wild Cards universe.  But he suffers from PTSD after a very specific incident that almost kills him.  Dr. Tachyon falls in love with a married woman.  He also is exiled to France when he refuses to testify and name names to congress, in a scene similar to the historic communist witch hunts of the 1950s, where he spends years on the streets as an alcoholic.  There’s also a robotic hero known as “Modular Man” who’s story is reminiscent of Pinocchio.  But in this case, his creator is a psychotic Wild Card infected idiot savant-like genius who really doesn’t care about anything other than himself.

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A cover from a spanish-language edition of Wild Cards 4: Aces Abroad.  It’s one of my favorite pictures of Peregrine, the winged superhero who becomes a talk show host.

Numerous writers have created characters for and written either short stories or novels or collaborated on the mosaic novels.  Melinda Snodgrass, Roger Zelazny, Lewis Shiner, Pat Cadigan, Edward Bryant, Michael Cassutt, Stephen Leigh, Leanne C. Harper, Chris Claremont, and others have all contributed to the Wild Cards universe.

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Jet Boy — a key character of the Wild Cards universe.  His tomb is an NYC landmark and spot for annual Wild Card day observances.

I will say that the series as a whole is far from perfect.  Book 4 (“Aces Abroad”), for example, is a lot less fun than any of the books that came before it.  After the first 6 or 7 books, the series got quite dark, so dark that people started to complain.  I will admit that at some point along the way that I lost interest, partly because a lot of my favorite characters were dead, or inactive, and because of a long gap in the publishing so that I had lost the general thread of the story.  Now that the books are being reissued, i plan to read the rest of them.  But it’s hard to outdo some of the excellent books that appeared early in the series (particularly books 1-3 and Book 6, which is my favorite).

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Brennan, aka Yeoman — he’s a bow-wielding non-powered hero with a vendetta.

Anyway, if you like superhero stories, or science fiction, or George R.R. Martin, then I highly recommend the series, at least the early books (1-7 for sure, granted book 4 is a hiccup, but it’s not bad, and it’s well worth continuing to what follows).  Whether you decide to read further than that, is up to you.  But 1 to 7 are must-reads, certainly for all superhero fans.

Keep an eye out for my upcoming review of Book 5, “Down and Dirty”.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

I just got back from seeing this — if you don’t know what the movie is about, it’s right there in the title (and in all of those commercials that we’ve been bombarded with lately). As I’ve said in previous reviews, I enjoy a good comic book movie, even enjoy some of the comic book TV shows.  So I was a bit excited to go to see the film.  I’m going to try to tell yo about the movie without giving any serious spoilers.  But lets face it — most of the spoiling was already done in the title of the movie, and in the trailers themselves.  If you haven’t seen any of the trailers, then you can consider this a spoiler review.  But if you have, I’ll try not to go  any further than the trailers have already gone.

This is a direct sequel to 2013’s “Man of Steel”.  That film can be considered the first in DC’s extended movie universe.  The story introduces a new Bruce Wayne/Batman, played quite well by Ben Affleck.  We already know who Superman (Henry Cavill) is, so, of course, this film spends a bit of time showing us who Bruce Wayne is, and in some brief sequences, his origins as Batman.  When Superman fights General Zod in “Man of Steel”, Batman has already been fighting crime in Gotham City for years.  This is an older, more world-weary Batman than even in the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy. He’s had losses, and that makes him a bit paranoid and hardened.  He sees Batman and Zod destroy much of Metropolis, including the Wayne Financial building there.  He doesn’t trust Superman -he knows that, should he desire it, Superman could lay waste to entire cities.

The first half of the movie, which was directed by Zack Snyder, seems like it was butchered by editing.  The film is 151 minutes long, but I have to assume that Snyder struggled to keep it from getting any longer, and the result is what we see – a kind of disjointed narrative that doesn’t make sense, mostly because it seems like there is too much missing from those scenes.  I have to assume that at some point there will be an extended edition on Bluray and DVD that probably would be a lot better.  Unfortunately, that’s not what made it to the theater.

That said, the second half of the movie is a lot better, and makes more sense.  Israeli actress and model, Gal Gadot, makes quite a splash when she appears on screen, and I look forward to seeing her in  both the upcoming Wonder Woman, and Justice League movies. She actually doesn’t say a lot in the film, but everyone in the audience cheered her appearance.  The acting, overall, is pretty good though I’m not entirely thrilled with Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor.  I’ve liked him in other movies, (most notably, “The Social Network”).  But here, his performance is uneven, and I’m not exactly sure how much of that is the script.

Overall, I do recommend the film to people who like Batman or who enjoyed “Man of Steel” — you’ll probably enjoy this.  Half the movie is excellent, and will likely please superhero fans everywhere.  Unfortunately, that’s only half the movie.  If you can get through the first half, though, there’s a lot to enjoy in the second half.

Now I want to give some additional info because I know that everyone who’s going to see the film will want to know these things:

  1. There is no post-credit scene — if you leave at the start of the credits, you won’t miss anything other than those credits.
  2. There are cameo appearances by Ezra Miller as The Flash, Jason Momoa as Aquaman, and Ray Fisher as Cyborg.  These are very quick cameos that, which are of very minor importance to the plot.  But no one should go into the movie expecting more than that.
  3. Robin is not in the film, nor is Green Lantern, nor is Joker (I mention them only because people asked me about them when I told them I was going to see the movie). That does not mean that Robin has not existed in this universe (remember, this takes place long after Batman first started fighting crime).  Joker will be in the upcoming “Suicide Squad” movie (Jared Leto looks great in the trailers for that).  And there is a proposed Green Lantern Squad movie that MAY appear several years from now (2020 according to IMDB), but these things have a tendency to change.

10 Cloverfield Lane

“10 Cloverfield Lane” is a suspense film, told from the point of view of a young woman named Michelle, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead.  The movie opens with Michelle packing up to leave her boyfriend.  It’s clear that they’ve had an argument, and she’s leaving him.  And from the messages he leaves on her phone, you know that he wants to reconcile, but she’s not having anything to do with it.

After an auto accident, she finds herself in a survivalist bunker, ruled over by Howard, played by John Goodman.  Along with Howard, is a young man named Emmett, played by John Gallagher Jr.  Howard tells her that the world she knew outside of the bunker no longer exists.

The whole cast is good, but I love John Goodman, and have ever since I saw him in “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou”.  And he is great here.  He has a scary intensity, with things going on beneath his surface, that you can only guess at.  The story is not TOTALLY unpredictable, but it’s still fun to watch the drama unfold.

I have to mention that the film is not meant to be a sequel to the movie “Cloverfield”.  In fact, the movie was originally going to be based on a script that was not tied to the Cloverfield universe at all.  And that kind of has me split as to what to think with regards to the suggested tie-in of the title.  Unfortunately, I cannot go into much detail without giving major spoilers.

That said, the movie itself is worth seeing, because of the great cast and the suspense.  This is NOT a monster movie though, like Cloverfield was.  So if that’s what you are looking for, I would not recommend seeing it.    But if you want a decent suspense film, (a genre that is not all that popular nowadays) this will adequately fit the bill.  I’m not sure exactly how I feel about the ending, but the acting more than makes up for any misgivings I have about that.

Reality

Do you believe that there is an objective reality — that is, are there things that are true, that can be proven to be true, regardless of opinion or belief?  It may seem like a silly question — it did to me.  But for some unknown reason, I keep running into people who seem to insist that opinion trumps evidence, that in questions of reality, that it’s simply my opinion against theirs, and no matter how much evidence there is, it still comes down to that.

This has surprised me greatly.  It seems to me to be self-evident that while our senses can (and do) fool us at times, that some kinds of evidence can be used to draw conclusions, and that the amount and strength of that evidence can become insurmountable to the point that no other conclusion may be drawn but the one that represents reality, or at least, a very close approximation to it.

We’ll start with a simple example.  Aristotle proposed that the speed at which objects fall to earth is dependent on their weight — his opinion was that heavy objects fell to earth faster than lighter ones.  Galileo disagreed.  Certainly that was a matter of opinion… up until he tested it.  In 1589, he did an experiment.  He took two objects of differing mass, and dropped them simultaneously from the Leaning Tower of Pisa and both objects hit the ground at the same time, thus giving evidence that Aristotle was wrong, and that the speed that an object falls at is independent of how heavy they are.

When we talk about good science, though, there is something known as replicability and peer review.  In the modern world, most experiments are more complicated than that. There is nearly always the possibility of an error in any experiment.  The errors can be tiny, and not strongly affect the conclusions that the scientist makes or they can be totally misleading.  Therefore, there is a process.  When I do an experiment, and I come up with some brand new conclusions as a result, that’s not the end of the story.  A good scientist will share the details and results of an experiment, along with his conclusions in a respected journal for his fellow scientists to read.  Scientists will question the methodology, the data, and/or the conclusions — it’s not personal, because that’s how science works. Scientists do not accept anything without question, nor should they.  And as it turns out, the theory that objects fall at a fixed speed, regardless of their mass, has been tested time and time again over the years.  And except for variations based on aerodynamics (for example, try dropping a bowling ball, and a feather or a paper airplane from the same height), the results have always been the same.  It’s the type of experiment that is so easy to do, that physics students in almost every high school in the country have probably performed it.  And I guarantee that in every case, Galileo’s observations and conclusions have been confirmed.  That is perfect replicability, meaning that Galileo discovered one key facet of reality, a reality that is the same whether you believe in it or not.

With more complex experiments, involving all sorts of potential sources of error, scientists will try to replicate experiments, maybe adjust the experiment in some way, trying to make improvements to it, or simply trying to attack the problem from a different angle.  There may be many attempts to replicate the results.  And if very few people, if any, are able to, then more questions are asked — what was different the first time?  Did we do something wrong, or was there a problem with the original experiment?  Maybe some mechanical or electrical device that was used was malfunctioning, or maybe we simply don’t understand what happened.

But lets say that you do an experiment.  And it turns out that the results were not a fluke, that other scientists can replicate that experiment and get the same results.  And peer review has found that other scientists, after looking at your experiments, and those of everyone trying to replicate the experiment and determined that you are correct, that there is no other conclusion that better fits the evidence than what you claimed, then you have a theory.  That theory becomes a model of reality as we know it, and will remain so, until we have evidence that forces us to adjust that theory.

Which brings me back to what I was talking about at the beginning: reality.  Let’s have a thought experiment — Aristotle and Galileo met at the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and were arguing about whether or not heavy objects fall faster than lighter ones.  Galileo proceeds to drop a 10 pound and 20 pound weight from the top of the tower, and both of them hit the ground at the same time.  But let’s take this one step further — Aristotle does not believe the results, and so he also drops a 10 pound and 20 pound weight from the top of the tower.  And in HIS experiment, the 20 pound weight hits the ground 5 seconds sooner than the 10 pound weight, thus proving that the nature of reality is subject to belief.  In this fictional world, science and the scientific method would have to completely be abandoned, and belief would be the engine for everything in the world.  And this seems to be the nature of the world that many people believe in, where belief trumps objective reality.

I’ll give you an example.  I encountered a person recently who believed that acupuncture was good for relieving pain.  As it turns out, whenever you are dealing with treating symptoms, instead of a specific disease or disorder or damage, psychology can get in the way.  Pain is a phenomenon that is experienced in your brain.  You feel pain in your leg because your brain says you are feeling pain in your leg.  If I were to kick you in the leg, a signal would be sent from the neurons in your leg, to your brain, and then you just might feel it as pain.

Let’s say now that you have a tension headache.  Your head is hurting and you take an aspirin.  For most people with tension headaches, you will get some relief from that headache.  But one interesting thing that scientists discovered is that if instead of giving you an aspirin, they gave you pill that has no medicinal ingredients at all (say, a sugar pill), but that you are told is an aspirin, that a certain percentage of people (approximately 40%) will ALSO feel some relief.  This has been called a Placebo effect.  Exactly how a placebo works is a mystery to me, but it does, in about 40% of people.  But lets get something straight — that sugar pill did NOT actually relieve the person’s headache, because it could have been ANYTHING.  Your own brain stopped the pain.  Somewhere belief came into the picture — the belief that you would feel relief helped your brain to give you that relief.  A brain is a wonderful thing.  But more than half of the people who take the placebo will not experience a placebo effect at all.  And when results are that unreliable, you don’t rely on them.  You would not rely on a barber to give you a good haircut if only 40% of the people who visited him were satisfied with that haircut.

Which brings me now to acupuncture.  The majority of research has shown primarily, that any positive effects of acupuncture comes primarily from the placebo effect.  Believers in acupuncture tend to talk about something known as ‘qi’ (pronounced ‘chee’) and meridians.  Qi is, supposedly life-force energy, which isn’t a type of energy that is recognized by science.  You cannot collect Qi in a battery, you cannot cook your food on a Qi-powered stove.  Qi does not attract objects the way that electromagnetism does.  You cannot detect Qi with any known device.  If Qi exists, it thus does not seem to have any interaction at all with matter EXCEPT for (in the opinion of those that believe in it) acupuncture needles and the human body.  Therefore, for all intents and purposes, qi does not exist.  It is fictional, invented by ancient chinese philosophers as an explanation for what they saw in the universe.  People hate not understanding how the world works, so when they cannot explain something, they make shit up.  It’s called ‘the god of holes’.  When we  can’t explain something in terms of actual science, we make up supernatural explanations for them.  Normally, those supernatural explanations go away, once we understand how things REALLY work (like pain and nerves and so on).  But some people try to keep those superstitions alive in spite of actual science that really DOES work.

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There is another term that believers in acupuncture use, and that is ‘meridians’, and it too comes from ancient chinese tradition.  The belief goes that qi travels along these meridians to our major organs, and somehow sticking needles at specific points along those meridians will interfere with the qi in ways that result in the relief of pain, or even (according to some) curing a variety of ailments.  But scientists have NEVER been able to find evidence of the existence of meridians, let alone qi.  So most believers have come to accept that there is no such thing as qi, or meridians, but they still practice acupuncture, without any clue as to how (or I would argue IF) it works.

There has been much study of acupuncture, with some odd results.  It seems, for example, that studies that originate in China, Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, (and to a lesser extent, Russia) uniformly support acupuncture as being effective.   It’s odd though that western studies have not been quite as enthusiastic.  One would almost guess that this is a case of belief trumping reality.  But that would be absurd.  A more likely explanation is what scientists have concluded after examining those trials, that the quality of those experiments were quite poor, with poor randomization, blinding, and use of control groups.

Furthermore, recent studies have shown that if anyone, even a non-skilled acupuncturist, inserts the needles into random locations instead of ‘acupuncture points’, even totally avoiding the so-called meridians, that there is no difference in effect from using a skilled acupuncturist to apply needles using the ancient practice.  In fact, you don’t even have to insert needles at all.  there have been experiments that used wooden sticks that never pierce the skin, and those also have shown to be equally effective to acupuncture.  In other words, acupuncture is nonsense — there is something else that is going on, something clearly related to the mind and belief, something like a placebo effect.  But current studies go even further than that — all evidence shows that actual science-based medical intervention works better than both placebo AND acupuncture.  So why would anyone ever choose acupuncture over, say, an aspirin?  An aspirin, or ibuprofen, or other pain reliever is going to work better than either sugar pill OR acupuncture.  And that is the actual reality as demonstrated by experiment.

Once upon a time, when I was a kid, I complained that I had a pain in my right arm.  A friend, and probably he meant this as a joke, and not as a actual therapeutic help.  But when I told him that I had a pain in my right arm, he obligingly punched me in the left arm, and then asked me ‘Does it feel better now’?  And I answered, laughing,’well now my left arm hurts also!”  And he asked, “Yeah, but what about your right arm?”.  And I realized that, yeah, my right arm hurt less.  But I would never ever recommend trading one ordeal for another.   So next time you have a headache, forget about needles, forget about sugar pills, and forget about slamming your hand in a car door.  Take an aspirin or advil or whatever works best for you (if it’s approved by an actual MD, of course).  There is a real, objective reality.  And while belief can be powerful, trust that there is an objective reality, that trumps belief.  Some things are true, whether you believe in them or not.

Daredevil (Season 2)

I just finished watching the last episode of season 2 of “Daredevil”, available on Netflix — and, by the way, this series (like Jessica Jones) is not for kids. There’s a lot of graphic violence that you probably do not want young kids to watch.

I’m a fan of comic book movies and TV.  And I really have enjoyed what Netflix has been doing so far with its corner of the Marvel universe.  Season 1 of “Daredevil” showed that even with a low budget, that you can tell interesting stories and create compelling characters within a comic book universe.  Anyway, I’m going to try to review season 2 now, without giving away too many spoilers.  But I don’t think its possible to be COMPLETELY spoiler free, so I’m going to tell you my conclusion right now — Season 2 is at least as good as Season 1 was, and that’s a very good thing.  It wasn’t perfect, but I loved season 1.  It was far different than anything else done for television, an experiment that happened to work out incredibly well.  So if you haven’t watched “Daredevil” (at least season 1) yet, and don’t want to risk spoilers, I would now do so before continuing, and then come back and read the rest of this review later.  I still will try to keep spoilers to a minimum.  But there will be spoilers (you’ve been warned).

Season 1 Trailer:

Season 1 primarily dealt with Daredevil, his alter ego/lawyer, Matt Murdock, his buddy and law partner Foggy Nelson (played by Elden Henson), and client/future employee, Karen Page, played by “True Blood”‘s Deborah Ann Woll.  The story arc carried them all through a major conflict with Wilson Fisk (played impressively by Vincent D’Onofrio of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” fame).

Season 2 starts about a year after the events of Season 1.  Wilson Fisk is in prison, and other criminal organizations have been moving in to fill the power vacuum, keeping Daredevil quite busy.  Meanwhile, another masked vigilante has joined the stage, and unlike Daredevil, he’s not shy about shedding blood.  He’s been turning Hell’s Kitchen into a bloody war zone, and so it’s no surprise when he starts butting heads with our hero.  This new vigilante is a decorated veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, named Frank Castle (played by Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal), but he’s been dubbed ‘The Punisher’.  Bernthal is simply perfect for this role, playing a hardened killer who may be a psychopathic serial killer, but one that we can still feel sympathy for.

As the series continues, we also meet Elektra Natchios, an old girlfriend of Matt (played by relative unknown Elodie Yung), who knows all about his alter ego.  They knew each other back in college, but things didn’t work out (for reasons shown in a flashback).  She wants Matt’s help dealing with, what she claims to be ‘money issues’, but you and I know that things aren’t always what they seem.  I can’t recall seeing her act before, but Elodie is very believable in her role.

In Season 2, the story is much more complex, with a lot more moving parts.  There’s a lot of twists and turns and unpredictability to the story.  And a lot of the characters from season 1 make a return appearance. Daredevil/Matt has a lot more worries now, dealing with both old and new enemies, two potential romances, and people who he’s not sure he can trust.  Matt’s relationships with his partner Foggy, and with legal assistant Karen are tested and we don’t know how things will work out in the end.  It makes for terrific drama.

There are some really good action scenes, especially the climactic battle at the end of the last episode.  If I have any complaints, it’s with a couple of the better-lit combats (because, Daredevil mostly fights in the dark).  I’m betting it’s because of post-processing or editing, but a couple of the fights, you can see the actors pulling punches, which makes things look fake.  But mostly the fight scenes are very well done.

We also get to see more of Foggy and Karen becoming stronger people, making their own decisions, taking risks, and being brave in their adversity.  For example, there’s a great scene where Foggy has to take control of a situation where two gang-bangers are ready to shed each other’s blood in the middle of an emergency room.  It works, it’s believable, and it makes him more likable as a character.  And Karen, per usual, gets herself into trouble, but has seen enough of that that she handles herself well.

By the end of the last episode, not everything is resolved, but enough has been, that it feels quite satisfying.  We know that Netflix would love to have a third season of Daredevil, as it’s done very well for them.  So it’s no surprise that the show ends on kind of a cliffhanger with at least one big question left unanswered.  It’s pretty clear that we will see some of these characters again.

All in all, I HIGHLY recommend Daredevil Season 2.  It’s fun, it’s action-packed, it has drama, and good acting and really good writing.  Keep in mind that Netflix’ comic book series are character-driven dramas.  Yes, they have action scenes, and yes, they involve comic-book characters.  But the emphasis is on the writing and the characters themselves.   I really appreciate that, in what amounts to a 13 hour motion picture, that enough time is spent to create tension and suspense, and to build characters.  If I have one criticism is that it is less focused than Season 1, trying to juggle several more story elements than before.  But that did not stop me from thoroughly enjoying the story.

Anyway, go now.  Watch it.  Watch the whole thing.  And I also highly recommend “Jessica Jones” as well.  It’s a much more focused, more adult series that deals with adult situations that may be hard to watch.  But it does so in a sensitive, and realistic way.  Yes, it’s a superhero series.  But it’s an adult superhero series with believable characters who suffer and have real lives and have history and have suffered genuine, relatable trauma.  For me “Jessica Jones” was not easy to watch some of the time.  But it’s one of those things, like “Schindler’s List”, or “Requiem for a Dream” that you’ll be glad you did.

Season 2 Trailer Part 1:

Season 2 Trailer Part 2:

The Knife

I attended Ramapo Sr. High School in the years 1975 to 1978.  It was a school with a pretty good reputation — certainly not perfect.  We had our share of bad teachers, certainly a few troublemakers among the students.   But, for the most part, those were good years for me, particularly after the hell that was my Jr. High experience.  I had a small circle of friends who shared a love for some of the same things — science fiction, computers, board games, going to conventions.  And we were all good kids, with a decent, if not perfect, study ethic.  And we all aspired to going to a good college, maybe getting scholarship.  Keep in mind that this is back when the government actually considered it a good thing to have a well-educated citizenry.

I was in the school library, at one of these desks they had set towards the back.  I think that I was working on a paper for my history class — I have no idea what the subject was. The library was just about empty, except for the librarian, and some random student that he was helping..  I know that this has to be time distorting my memory, but when I try to envision it, the small desk I was at, working with my books was miles away from the front, where the librarian was — in my mind, the library was huge, but the front desk, where the librarian was, was so tiny because of how far away it was.

I remember there was some noise — a couple of kids who I didn’t recognize came in at the front.  I totally ignored them as I was digging through the books I had assembled at my desk.  To this day, I could not recognize them.  They’ve always been faceless in my mind, a couple of punks looking to have a good time in the library.  And I was alone in the back — they didn’t single me out because of anything in particular.  Ramapo was a big enough school that its no surprise that I didn’t know these guys.  I doubt that they knew me either.  I’m 100% sure that we travelled in different circles, probably never even shared a lunch hour, much less a class.

So there I was studying, and next thing I know, one of the guys came up from behind me with a knife.  The second punk grabbed me.  They were laughing, having a good old time.  I struggled and got my arms free.  And when I did so, I felt the knife pressed up against my throat.  I’ve heard other people describe the feeling — I’m not sure if my memory of those other stories were true, or from fiction.  But I’d heard that the steel felt cold against their skin.  I can only envision warmth.

I grabbed at the arm that held the knife, and I managed to push it away, but then the other guy grabbed me again, and I was struggling against both of them.  To this day, I’ve speculated why I didn’t feel fear — maybe it was the adrenaline.  Maybe I was hardened by the bullying I’d experienced through the entirety of my Jr. High School experience.  Maybe the reality of the situation never actually hit me.  Maybe it was a combination of all of those things.  In retrospect, I could have died.  I like to think that those kids had no intention of actually harming me, that they just thought it was fun.  But I felt like I surprised them by fighting back.

I have no idea how long the incident lasted.  Probably it was no more than 30 seconds, but it could have been as long as 5 minutes.  At some point, I decided that it would be a good idea to make some noise.  I talked back to them from the start, but I decided to be a lot louder, and eventually I heard a loud “Shush!” from the librarian.  This sudden attention scared the punks, and they rapidly made their exit.

I don’t know why I never reported the incident.  I just didn’t.  Part of it was that I couldn’t describe the guys faces.  The whole time, I was focused on that knife.  I never wondered why.  These guys were bullies, and I’d dealt with bullies before.  But they were different than the bullies I’d dealt with in Jr. High.  The bullying never previously involved an actual physical confrontation.  And somehow, the fact that it was physical made it better in my mind.  Had I been attacked in Jr.High, that actually would have been better.  Being ostracised, being made the butt of jokes, being made fun of — that was worse.  It seems weird, and certainly it’s because I never actually got hurt, and because I fought back and because I scared off my attackers… but assault with a knife was no where near as bad an experience.

Anyway, I don’t talk about this experience much.  I’ve been in therapy for years, and I think I may have mentioned it once in all those years.  It seems like it SHOULD have been more traumatic to me.  But it wasn’t.   It certainly has embedded itself in my memory.  It’s a part of who I am.  I think that’s what stands out to me the most, not that it happened, but that it never caused me much stress.  There are so many things that I can think about that illicit feelings of depression or anxiety.  This is not one of them.

Why I’m writing about it now is that I was reminded of the incident while reading a New Yorker article on trauma.  It’s a decent article, and if you’ve ever experienced trauma in your life, or if you know someone who has, you might want to read it.  In some ways, writing for me is therapy.  Writing this article in particular certainly has been.  Thank you for reading it.

The Field Trip: A True Story (Chapter 4)

That was a miserable evening.  Most people did not bring extra food (plus we all had one more night after this one, so I’d have to make due with hand-outs again, and I didn’t look forward to that).  But I did manage to piece together enough snacks and fruit to get by. There wasn’t a lot of time for my clothing or sleeping bag to dry out, so I was cold and damp myself all evening.  Consequently, I was fairly miserable.  All the while, the Professors, particularly Professor Silver, and anyone else who had purchased Tequila was having a grand old time getting drunk and laughing, and that certainly didn’t help with my mood.  I never had a chance to study for my French exam, but we still had 2 days to go.  I was taking the class pass-fail, so it wasn’t like I needed to get an A.

The next day, at least, was a day of sightseeing for most of us, and things were a lot less eventful.  We visited the site of a prehistoric mudslide — when volcanic ash mixes with water, you can have conditions that will result in the burial of lots of wildlife, so we went to this location where we tromped around looking for fossils.  I found the fossilized remains of a mollusk and its longish ‘foot’.  It was a very cool souvenir.  And later that day, we walked along a rocky coast, explored a cove that you can only enter at low-tide.  We got a lecture on the tiny animals that only live in the briny pools there.  I know there was more to it, about the fossil record, and so on. But remember, I’m trying to recall this from about 37 years later.

We got back to our camp and the other group had actually managed to set the car back on its wheels, on the roadway.  I had to beg a bit more for food, but at least my backpack was dried out by then.  We got back so late though, that it was dark, and I knew from experience that trying to study from the light of a flickering lantern is kinda tough.  I read little but not much.  I also was starting to feel a bit ill.

The next morning I was feeling a whole lot worse.  Most of that day was a blur to me.  I know we made at least one stop for sightseeing, for the benefit of the people who had missed the previous day’s explorations and lectures.   After that stop, and I don’t know what exactly had transpired, but Professor Margulis was ejected from the car with the rest of the Professors.  As I said, they didn’t get along to begin with.  She ended up being swapped for someone in our car.  One other thing that did happen was that one of Dr. Silver’s bottles of Tequila broke on the bumpy road as we headed home.  His car stank of Tequila.

I wasn’t feeling well to begin with, and Professor Margulis insistence on lecturing us during much of the trip back only made me feel worse.  As I said, it was a bit of a blur, but I imagine that Gingko Tree sperm had to be a big topic of discussion.  But I could not tell you in any detail about whether or not any more cars got stuck in the rivers as we crossed them in the other direction — whatever it was, we got through it.

Eventually, we reached Tijuana at the same time as it was getting dark.  We must have lost a bit of time, with the extra sightseeing stop, and with the traversing of the flooded areas, because I knew we had been scheduled to get back home in the early evening, and it was now early evening, and we were still in Mexico.  And as I said previously, that town was a maze of construction and detours.  We got to the long lines of cars to cross back into the U.S., and noticed that two cars were missing.  But there really wasn’t anything that we could do about that.  We figured they had gotten lost, and they would eventually find there way through.  As it turned out, they got home just fine, about an hour after we did.

The first car in the convoy was Dr.Silver’s and when they asked him if he had anything to declare, he stupidly said ‘No’.  And, of course, his car simply stunk of Tequila.  So we had to wait while the border guards searched his care thoroughly, and they found two more unopened bottles that he had bought, and he had to pay a fine.  When it came to our turn, again, they asked us if we had anything to declare, and we said no the guards just looked at us funny and said ‘you know your professors lied to us — you didn’t buy any Tequila also did you?”  “No officer, no Tequila”.  And they let us go without further ado.

I don’t remember what time we actually got back to the dorms — it probably was after midnight.  I know I was feeling incredibly ill by then.  But I also knew that I had a French exam due the next day, and there was no way I could stay up another 2 hours to take it, much less study for it.  Friends of mine who were awake and sympathetic to my situation helped me find the Professor’s home phone number.  I literally woke her up in the middle of the night to beg for mercy.  And she gave it to me.  She knew I was on a Geology field trip because I had missed Friday’s class.   She gave me an extension and told me she hoped I felt better and that was that.  I was worried over nothing.  She didn’t even complain about being woken up in the middle of the night.  But things like that, apparently happen all the time at the school, so I’m sure i was not the first student to do so.

By the next day, the stories of the trip were already legend.  Following years, when I’d meet a new student, they’d ask me if the stories were true.  Of course they were true.  I was there.  And I should know.  I’ve told bits and pieces of the story before.  But it’s been over 35 years since I’ve told about the whole thing, from beginning to end.

One thing that does come to mind though, and I didn’t know it at the time, but I found out after the fact — the rocks and fossils that some of us had collected on the trip — I did not know that we were not permitted to bring them into the country.  I have no idea what the border guards would have done, had they actually searched our car.  Is there a penalty for trying to smuggle a cheap rock across the border?  I have no idea.

The Field Trip: A True Story (Chapter 3)

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Not the actual car, but this is a MUCH newer, slightly smaller car than I remember.  It’s the closest image I’ve been able to find on-line that actually reminds me of those vehicles.

It was close to an hour before the  convoy came back for us.  I don’t know how far they had gotten, but I remember feeling my spirits being lifted up as they appeared from around the trees ahead of us.  The lead car had a mechanical winch on its front, with a metal cable and a big metal hook on the end.  None of us was going to get out of the car, so we could only hear bits and pieces of the conversation.  There was supposed to be a hook on the front of all of the cars, for just such an occasion, that they could safely hook up to, in order to drag the car out of the muddy river.  But, maybe because of the dirty water no one could see it.  At least the water was much shallower at the front end, so they could safely get right up to the front of our car.  So they were feeling around under the bumper, trying to find that mythical hook. Someone had the idea to hook the winch to the crossbar that the wheels hang off of (if you can’t tell, I’m not a car guy — I have no idea what the actual parts are called).  But it would have been problematic getting under the car to do so, plus there were some suspicions that it could render the car undrivable.  Finally, after giving up finding a more appropriate place to connect the winch, they settled  on wrapping it around the front bumper.

So the car with the winch was facing us, and they unwound enough cable to hook it up to the bumper.  The winch started to slowly eat up the slack in the cable, until it pulled taught.  Then it continued to pull.  But instead of pulling us out of the mud, it tore our front bumper off.  And apparently, there under the now loose front bumper, clear as day for everyone (not in the car) to see, was the hook. And then, once the winch was properly attached, it wasn’t too long until we were out of the mud, and out of the river.

The rest of that day went a tad better, but we still had a few incidents with other cars (not ours) getting a bit in the frequent rivers that we had to cross.  But the water was never as deep, so we never needed to use the winches again.  There was a bit of stopping and starting here and there, but we got through it alright.

Pretty soon the terrain changed.  We were in an area that had some tiny farms.  There were no more trees and no more rivers to cross.  It was getting to be late afternoon, and I knew we would be getting to our camp site pretty soon.  We were pretty exhausted, and I was  looking forward to getting some sleep.  We could see the ocean in the distance.  I remember daydreaming as I watched the car ahead of us bouncing up and down on this rocky dirt road.  The next thing I knew, that car simply flipped over on to its side.  We all stopped and got out to to check on the driver and passengers — everyone was wearing seatbelts, and no one was injured.  I saw that the road had simply collapsed under the weight of the car.  It looked like the flooding had eaten a big gap out from under the roadbed, such that the when the road collapsed, the car rolled into a ditch.

I asked the driver of the car, a fellow undergrad, ‘what the hell happened?’.  He told me, simply that he was bouncing up and down in the car as they drove, and then the car bounced up…. and didn’t come down again.  That’s how he experienced it (btw, this guy was cursed or blessed — on a different field trip for a different class, he also walked off a cliff, slipped about 60 feet down a steep hill, and survived — I don’t believe in luck or fate or any of that.  But I swear, it was the same guy).

Now remember I said that none of us was supposed to be driving?  Well, here’s where that came back to bite us.  There was a small farmhouse nearby that had a phone wire connected to it.  So, of course, we all thought ‘great, we can call for help’.  The only problem was that the professors didn’t want to get in trouble.  They thought about calling and lying about who was driving, but decided finally, that we’d try to dig the car out from the ditch ourselves.  Geologists always had shovels (not enough for everyone).  But we were resourceful, we could do it.  It didn’t require the entire class to do so, so a plan was devised where about 10 of us would work on digging out the car the next day, while the rest of us would go and do our field trip stuff, see some of the sights that we had travelled so far to see.   I can’t recall how it was decided who would be in which group, but I ended up on the non-manual labor side.

As we’re all standing around, discussing our plan of action, the neighboring farmer came by to see what was going on.  I had studied some Spanish in High School, but it was rusty, and I hadn’t used it in a while.  He was a short, skinny fellow, darkly tanned, looked like he had been working hard on his farm, when our caravan had run into trouble.  I remember him bragging to us how he owned the tiny farm himself, he wasn’t married.  He was very proud of his accomplishments.  I guess, he didn’t have a chance to meet many people, and he just wanted to be personable and asked if we needed help.  Meeting that farmer was one of the highlights of the entire trip so far.  He was incredibly charming.  We politely turned down his offers to help.  Here we were, over privileged young college students, and this poor farmer comes over to offer us help.  It’s something that I will never forget.

Anyway, we decided to make camp on this flat area overlooking the ocean, probably less than a mile from where the car had gotten stuck.  We were exhausted, and starving and it was only our first day.  I unpacked my gear and inspected it — my sleeping bag was quite damp from the river, as was the warm clothing that I had packed for the evening.  All of my food, which I had carefully packed into baggies, was also damp from the river.  Baggies, I learned on this trip, just aren’t good enough.  I’m starving now, and I realized, I didn’t have any food to eat.  There was no way that I would risk getting sick by eating food that had been drenched in the floodwaters. For the very first time in my life, I learned what it was like to beg.

 

The Field Trip: A True Story (Chapter 2)

To prepare for the field trip, I had to call back home to get a copy of my birth certificate from my parents (this was back before you needed a passport to go to Mexico).  The night before, I prepared a bunch of sandwiches, packed up my sleeping bag (I didn’t know if we’d have tents or not.  Typically on these field trips, we simply lie out under the stars.  Generally, the only time it rains is for a couple of weeks in the winter, when it rains every day.  As an east coast, Brooklyn-born guy, I had always assumed that the desert would be hot all the time.  I’m used to the humidity, where the air holds its heat. I learned the lesson quickly on my first couple of field trips that it actually can get quite cold out there. Shivering in your sleeping bag all night will do that.  So I packed some warm clothes for the evening. I also knew that I had a French exam due on Monday, but the schedule said that we’d be back early on Sunday, so I didn’t think there would be a problem.

If you don’t know much about Caltech, you may be confused by that — having an exam ‘due’. Caltech has an honor code (I’m not sure that anything has changed in that regard).  The Honor Code states, simply, that “No member of the Caltech community may take unfair advantage of any other member of the Caltech community.”  That was, literally, the only rule. That rule has a number of implications.  One of them is that exams were nearly always of the ‘take-home’ variety.  The rules for each exam would vary — if there was a time limit for the exam (and god help you if there wasn’t one, because those were the nastiest kinds of exams), you’d be on your honor to time yourself and stop at the end.  Rules might state that you could use your textbook (or not), a calculator, the CRC (Chemical Rubber Company handbook, which was this massive tome filled to the brim with almost every physical or mathematical constant, equation, tables of derivatives, etc.).  Often the only restriction was that you could not get help from anyone.

I know that I’m going off on a tangent here,  and you can just skip the next couple of paragraphs if you wish to, but there were other implications of the honor code — one of which was that the school really didn’t concern itself with anything else you did that was not against the honor code.  Back in the 1960s, while there was a great deal of unrest and problems at nearly every other university, involving protests and drugs and so on, Caltech was one of the quietest of schools.  There was one incident where students from Dabney house ‘kidnapped’ a job recruiter from Union Carbide and tried him in a mock trial for crimes against humanity, found him guilty, and then honey and Team flaked him and ran him off campus.  But, for the most part, things were quiet.

But while people were busy protesting and dropping LSD at other schools, Caltech had a hidden mushroom farm in the crawl space between two floors in one of the student houses.  Apparently, they were supplying magic mushrooms to many of the other California schools.  It wasn’t against the honor code though, so no one bothered them, until the administration got a tip of a drug raid.  And at that point, they warned the students, who promptly made that farm ‘disappear’.

Getting back to the subject… I wasn’t worried about my French exam.  I brought my textbook to study in my spare time, and I’d get back to my dorm with plenty of time to take the exam.

The morning of the exam came and we all met in a campus parking lot.  There were about a a half-dozen of these rugged off-road vehicles — each could carry up to 6 people comfortably, with room  in the back to carry our food, water, and gear.  Going to Mexico, of course, legally the driver would need to have an international drivers license, and we had enough people that could drive.   But, if you are on a school field trip to Mexico, students are NOT supposed to be driving.  Well, the teachers were not going to lower themselves to drive with students.  So, all of the teachers crowded into the lead van.  Because one of the Grad students had dones this same field trip previously and knew his way around, he drove the van I was in as the last one in our convoy.  If anyone would lose track of the van ahead of them, at least the car in the back could (theoretically) fix things.

We had a pretty uneventful time until we hit the border.  As it turned out (and this wasn’t just true for me, but for everyone else),  Mexican immigration gave me a hard time because my birth certificate was a certified copy, and not an original (my parents, not wanting to lose the original, had gotten a certified photocopy, which probably should have been accepted).  But they wanted to be tight-assed about it, so , they demanded an extra ‘fee’ because it didn’t meet their requirements.  No joke, they did not block me from entering the country — they merely charged me a bribe (they called it a fine, but we all know what it really was).

We drove into Tijuana, which at that time was a very busy town, with lots of traffic, and it seemed like every other road was having construction done.  We were warned to be careful because, with all of that construction going on, it was easy to get lost.  But we got through without incident.  The further south we went, the less people and buildings we saw.  The paved roads we were following turned to dirt roads.  We all stopped at this small convenience store along the way, where I got some snacks and drinks for the road.  Dr. Silver, and maybe a couple of the students and other professors, picked up some bottles of Tequila.  I’ve never been much of a drinker — back then, I’d have a drink or two at a party — mostly wine or maybe a white russian.  But I certainly didn’t drink straight Tequila.

The first sign we had of the effects of that winter’s harsh rainy season was when the convoy stopped in front of a wooden bridge to cross a narrow river.  More specifically, we stopped in front of small piece of the bridge.  Everyone got out to take a look.  The road sloped up to this narrow wooden piece of the bridge, and there was a similar piece across the river.  The middle of the bridge lay in one big, but damaged piece, about 30 feet downstream.

The river bank was a little bit steep on the other side, but the water looked pretty shallow, and most of the drivers agreed that we could drive through the river and up the far bank. And we did so, with only a bit of engine revving to get up the slope.  It was a surprise, but nothing serious.  I was wishing, and I bet others did to, that I had brought a camera along.   I knew I’d have a story to tell.

As we continued on, one odd thing that everyone noticed was that there were lots of these rivers that weren’t on the map.  Obviously, these rivers had been carved out of the dirt. And there were a lot of them, and not all of them were as narrow or shallow as the one at the bridge.  But we kept on going.

Now remember how I mentioned that we were the last car in the convoy, and the reason was that we had the most experienced (non-faculty) driver.  Well there we were driving south through a still partly flooded Baja.  A large river was ahead of us, and it did look pretty deep.  But all of those cars ahead of us were driving through it without incident, so of course, we just followed.  And then when we were in the middle of the river, everything just stopped.  The wheels got stuck in the mud in the deepest part of that river.  None of the cars ahead of us seemed to notice, and they just kept on going.  I looked out the back and saw that the water level was above the height of the rear of the car, and water was pouring into the car through the back, and through the side doors.  And our car was just getting no traction whatsoever.

We were stuck.  Everyone was convinced that the guys ahead of us would have to notice pretty soon that we were missing.  Our driver then had the brilliant idea that maybe he could get out of the car and try to push, while someone else pressed on the gas.  He managed to get the door open, stepped out of the car, and nearly got washed away downstream.  Thankfully, the water was flowing towards the drivers side, and he had a good grip on the door handle.  We knew that that wasn’t going to work.  There was no safe way for him to get behind the car to push.  The current was just too strong.  One thing we did realize from the experiment was that although the water was about 4 feet deep in the front and rear of the car, it must have been closer to 5 feet deep in the middle.

There was nothing we could do but wait.