Continuity of Government

NOTE: This is an ongoing original fiction story that I’m currently writing. I started writing this fictional story back on October 2, 2020 and contribute ~1,000 words to it every day on this blog. I didn’t outline the story at all going into it but it’s slowly evolved into a tale about a data scientist in his mid-thirties from America who finds himself summoned to China where’s he’s been offered a job to work for the Chinese Communist Party on a project monitoring the Uyghurs in the Chinese “autonomous region” of Xinjiang. In China, the story’s protagonist, Dexter Fletcher, meets other professionals who’ve also been brought in from abroad to help consult on the project. My story takes place several decades in the future and explores human rights, privacy in an age of ever-increasing state-surveillance, and differences between competing dichotomies: democracy vs communism, eastern vs western political philosophies, and individual liberties vs collective security. If this sounds interesting and you’d like to read more, my fiction story starts here.

Chapter Eleven – Passage Two

“You’ve already done so much.  You’ve been with us since the beginning.  Every step of the way, everything we’ve done, we couldn’t have done without you help.”

Shu smiles.  “Not just another pretty face?”

“Not at all.”

Shu kisses me on the cheek. 

“That’s very sweet of you to say.  I should get going.  Or I’ll be late.”


Shu makes her way down the hallway and I head back into the hotel room where the others are waiting.  They’re all gathered around Alan’s laptop and I see that Shu’s been fully wired up– the jade pendant she’s wearing around her neck is a small camera with a small microphone.  We’ve got eyes and ears.

Coleman’s grinning widely when I walk in and… well, whatever.  I don’t care.

“You’re a real lady killer, you know?”

More than I know.

Maan Café is where Alan’s contact is supposed to meet Shu.  It’s a small but hip and stylish establishment that’s among the first to reopen after the COVID-59 outbreak.  The vaccine is finished and released now but given that it was rushed through clinical trials, the CCP has adopted a phased rollout plan.  The thinking is that while it’s supposedly safe given everything we know about it, we don’t exactly know everything about it.  But the reasoning is solid, at least to a laymen like me.

“The metric being used,” the head scientist had explained during the Chinese CDC presentation VOD, “is whether or not releasing the vaccine now will do help more than it harms.  And while we admit we don’t know everything at this present moment, the answer to that question is simple– a resounding yes.”

And so the CCP had begun rolling out the vaccine widely to the population.  As part of that effort, businesses were going to be reopened in a staggered fashion.  That way if something did go grotesquely sideways, at least you didn’t have the entirety of your population in one basket.  Redundancy in all things, after all.

“Who’s your person on the inside?” I ask Alan as we both huddle around his computer to see what Shu’s pendant is seeing.

“Someone mid-level in Governor Hu’s office.”

“Someone you can trust?”

“I guess we’re about to find out.”

On the screen, we see that Shu’s taken a seat.  The café is by appointment only but even so, it’s significantly busy and crowded.  With millions of fellow human beings dying off every day, you might think that people would be a little cavalier about moseying about.  But all available evidence I’ve gathered so far proves the contrary.  After nine months of quarantine and isolation, the young people at least, are ready to risk it all if it means they can go about their lives.  From what we see from Shu’s vantage point, everyone who is out and about are young.  Thirty at most it appears. Shu fits right into the crowd.

Shu’s gotten there a little early and several minutes later, at one o’clock, a young man is led to her table by the maître d’ and joins her.

“Ms. Mei?”


The man smiles.  “Really a lovely time of year for violet hydrangeas, wouldn’t you say?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Shu replies, repeating the passphrase that we’d rehearsed before, “I’m a much bigger fan of blues one.  Prettier, I think.”

The man looks around casually and then takes a seat.  He places an order on the touchpad that’s at each table and a coffee shortly arrives on a conveyor belt that runs by each table.  It’s like one of those sushi boat places, but for everything.

We then learn the full story.

There was an assassination attempt.  It failed.  Xi was injured but is still in charge. Supposedly. No one’s entirely sure.  During his convalescence though, party secretaries Hu and Ji and have taken the helm, consolidating princeling control.  There is a very tight rein on the information in the politburo so aside from these details, the governor’s office doesn’t currently know much else.  For the past nine months, apparently behind the scenes in Beijing, the situation had descended into chaos.

“And the virus?”

“Chinse CDC is rolling out vaccinations across the entire country.  It appears like the incident in Urumqi was not authorized by the Standing Committee at all.”

Back in the hotel room, Alan and I look at each other.  A rogue element inside the CCP?

“Good lord, this must have been what the Soviet Union was like when it fell.”  I mutter.  “No one seems to know what’s entirely going on.  Is Xi dead?  Is he alive?  Is he on the mend? Does anyone even know?”

Alan grimaces.  “They managed to end that without total nuclear annihilation.  Let’s hope we’re so lucky.”

Coleman and Deepak are sitting on the bed and they’ve been watching everything play out as well.  Deepak strokes his chin thoughtfully.

“It’s impressive, actually,” Deepak muses.  “While you’d think that China is entirely under the control of Beijing, the thirty-four individual provinces have actually been able to manage on their own with little direction from Zhongnanhai.”

“It makes sense, right?” Coleman replies.  “Just because it’s a communist regime doesn’t mean there’s no bureaucracy.  After all, it’s communism, not anarchy.  There’s a huge state apparatus.  Just because the figurehead or great leader at the top is incapacitated, it doesn’t been the entire system just falls apart.  That’s why there’s a politburo and standing committee.  There’s an entire hierarchy in place to ensure continuity of government in case of events like these.”

For day-to-day operations, it makes sense the each province possessed a fair amount of autonomy.  Not to pass laws or for self-rule, but simply for logistical reasons.  Each province is managed by two governmental figures; both (of course) appointed:  The province governor who manages the ins-and-outs of the province.  And a committee secretary who serves as the CCP liaison between the governor and the politburo.  Together, the two are expected to work in harmony to keep the great machinery of government and municipality running smoothly.

Jack’s Estate, Amanda Bao, Turtles, Here Be Dragons

NOTE: This is an ongoing original fiction story that I’m currently writing. I started writing this fictional story back on October 2, 2020 and contribute ~1,000 words to it every day on this blog. I didn’t outline the story at all going into it but it’s slowly evolved into a tale about a data scientist in his mid-thirties from America who finds himself summoned to China where’s he’s been offered a job to work for the Chinese Communist Party on a project monitoring the Uyghurs in the Chinese “autonomous region” of Xinjiang. In China, the story’s protagonist, Dexter Fletcher, meets other professionals who’ve also been brought in from abroad to help consult on the project. My story takes place several decades in the future and explores human rights, privacy in an age of ever-increasing state-surveillance, and differences between competing dichotomies: democracy vs communism, eastern vs western political philosophies, and individual liberties vs collective security. If this sounds interesting and you’d like to read more, my fiction story starts here.

Chapter Seven – Passage Three

Yet, rolling up to Jack Bao’s estate in our horse-drawn stagecoach makes me requestion all these suppositions.  For a communist country where everyone’s putatively equal, Jack Bao seems awfully more equal than everyone else I’ve seen in China thus far.

His estate is positively palatial in the most golden and gaudy way imaginable.  Everything is done up in a far-east, oriental style that must harken back to some dynastic period when China was ruled by Emperors and fire-breathing dragons.  I know nothing about Chinese history but it certainly feels like I’ve set foot in some Universal Studios theme park attraction.

The front gate itself is a deep, vermillion red with two grand columns framing the entrance.  Up top, the roof is ornate green with gold and jade embroidery of creatures from the Zodiac:  Rat, Monkey, Tiger, Horse, etc.  The whole thing basically looks like a classed up version of the entrance of San Francisco’s Chinatown.  The estate itself must at least be a dozen hectares and it surround by a 30-meter tall fence of black wrought iron.  Beyond the gates, I see rolling lawns of green, with carefully manicured bushes and hedges.  A gentle dirt path leisurely winds its way from the front entrance gate up the hill and to the estate house itself.

“How on earth is this communism?” Coleman asks, pointing at the grounds.  “I thought China was all about equality and everyone being equally poor.”

“Don’t believe everything you read on the internet,” Alan says dryly.  “It’s not the 1900s anymore.  Tremendous wealth always has a way of finding those who seek it.”

The stagecoach lets us off at the front gates and Alan pays the stagehand with weathered Chinese bills that look like they’ve been circulating for decades.  On the other side of the golden gate, a young elegantly dressed woman and her chauffer are awaiting us.  The chauffer is a broad-shouldered, barrel-chested, and dark-skinned man who’s got tree trunks for arms and legs.  He wears a severe, no-nonsense look– clearly the muscle and is dressed in a suit of black satin.  Next to him, the woman is a good 20cm shorter but still quite tall, at least 170cm, I’d guess.  She’s knockout gorgeous with shoulder-length chestnut colored hair and deep violet eyes.  Even under her flowing yellow sundress, it’s clear her figure is lithe but her bare shoulders and arms are toned, some clear signs of athleticism.  There’s something about her that feels familiar that I can’t quite put my finger on though.

The gates open and Shu bounds over and embraces the woman, giddy with delight. Some rapid-fire Chinese dialog happens between the two women that I don’t understand at all but the lightbulb suddenly clicks on for me.

“Yeah, they’re sisters,” Alan says to me, seeing my face.  “Amanda’s Jack’s wife –third wife, actually– that’s another reason we dropped by today.”

“Is she–“

“Yeah, Amanda’s a CRISPR baby too.  You might think she and Shu are twins but they’re actually a solid twelve years apart.”  Alan pauses, thinking a moment.  “Yup, Amanda’s gotta be pushing forty by now, I think.”

Forty?!”  Kristen says, dumbstruck.  I also can’t believe it.  Laughing and smiling with Shu, Amanda looks maybe early-thirties, at most.

Deepak clasps his hand on Kirsten’s shoulder, comforting her, as if she’s suffered some great personal calamity.  “Don’t worry, in the future, everyone’s gonna have CRISPR tech.  And then aging will be a thing of the past.”

Kristen’s eyes narrow but she says nothing.  There’s apparently a kind of competitive spirt that’s ubiquitous among all women, I’ve come to notice.  Or at least women of a certain segment.  A sort of constant comparing that’s always ongoing even when there is no contest.  It’s honestly bizarre to me that someone like Kristen, super-educated, professionally accomplished, and enormously capable would even entertain the faintest notion of caring about Amanda’s beauty or age.  But I dunno.  I guess she does.  I’m an idiot though and honestly don’t understand these things at all.  My only saving grace is that I know enough (now, after some hard lessons over the years) to just keep my mouth shut on these matters, whenever in the presence of women.  Just smile and nod.  And then politely transition to the next topic. It’s a mysterious land, my friend, turtles all the way down. Here be dragons.

“Da’an will take your bags,” Amanda says motioning to the mountain man.  “Let’s walk up to the house though.  Jack’s finishing up a few meetings now but he’ll be joining us for lunch in the garden.”  She speaks with a slight English lilt just like Shu does and I’m beginning to wonder if it’s some side effect of the CRISPR-process.

Da’an, who’s essentially the Chinese version of Andre the Giant, grunts and lifts our luggage rollers and duffels effortlessly and begins lumbering up towards the estate house without saying a single word.

“This way,” Amanda says smiling and she starts up the path herself.  “It’s a beautiful day!  No better time for a walk!”

Some twenty minutes later we’ve walked up the hill, through half-a-dozen topiary gardens (also filled with Zodiac creatures; I’m beginning to sense a pattern) and finally make it to the front lawn of the house.  Da’an, despite carrying all of our bags, made it there well ahead of us and has already deposited our luggage on the marble steps of the house entrance where I see a small legion of maids and manservants assembled and awaiting our arrival.  Shu and Amanda chattered nonstop the entire way up like two nonstop phonographs on endless repeat catching up after some great hiatus away from each other.  And even Alan, though a little pudgy around the middle, also appears to have made it up the hill with a surprising briskness I wouldn’t have expected.

Coleman and I have sweated clear through our polo shirts by the time we reach the house though.

“Oh my God,” I pant, my hands on my knees.  “What the hell.”

Coleman sits down on the marble steps, wheezing.  “Jesus.”

Kristen, who also arrived ahead of us, wipes her brow and drinks from a bottled water that the maids are handing out.  Her white tank top is also completely soaked through and the staff have concerned looks on their faces.  She looks at us quizzically and frowns.

“Where’s Deepak?”

“He collapsed three-quarters of the way up,” Coleman huffs, pointing behind us, back the way we came.  “Somewhere by the rabbit-shaped topiary hedges, I think.”

The air is so humid and heavy; I feel rivets of sweat running down my spine and back.  Somewhere under the white lawn canopy, Shu and Amanda are still chattering away in nonstop Chinese.

You’ve Gotta Give Them Credit

You’ve gotta give ’em credit.  This is unequivocally impressive. Terrifying on a base and primordial human level.  But impressive.

What I see on the holo-projection takes “invasion of privacy” and cranks it to eleven-thousand.

The GUI that Alan’s brought up shows rolling lists of collected data for all of the so-called ‘persons of interest’ in Ürümqi: most recent purchase transactions, educational backgrounds, work histories, call records, web-browsing activity, subway metro swipes, rental histories, music and video playlists, cabs called, everything.

On one of the tabs, I see that you can literally filter by “7-Eleven Visits.”  Jesus.  It’s all here.

“Oh, it gets even better,” Katherine says in a flat voice.  “Go ahead, show ’em.  We’re getting to the good part.”

Alan taps on a little red figurine who looks like she’s sitting in her apartment in front of what I imagine must be her computer and the entire holo-model zooms inside, into her bedroom there on the 40th-some floor of her building complex.  It’s an incredibly lifelike render and even I’m stunned for a moment.  It’s almost as if we’ve just stuck an ultra-high resolution camera into this woman’s apartment.  The render’s quality is astronomical and easily clears the uncanny valley; it’s photorealistic.

“Via thermal imaging and x-rays from the outside, the system can reconstruct what’s happening indoors too,” says Katherine.  “Now, in all fairness, some of the specificity’s interpolated.  For example, the system doesn’t actually know if this rando’s couch is that exact shade of periwinkle blue.  Once you get to that granularity, it’s just kinda guessing.”

“Good lord,” says Coleman.  “This has gotta be illegal, right?  You guys are able to just look in, on anyone, at any time?”

Chopra laughs.  “Illegal?  This is China, my man!  Are you high?”

Looking at everything, I guess I’m honestly surprised that any of this surprises me at all.  For years, we’ve known about deep fakes.  And while I don’t really pay any attention, I know youngsters and their videogames have been growing increasingly more advanced every year.  More realistic graphics, more lifelike models, constantly blurring the line between real and virtual worlds.  It was just a matter of time until someone used the technology this way.

Vanessa’s presentation is definitely slick.  Despite my moral and ethical reservations, I feel the seductive pull of the technology.  What JFL’s assembled here in this basement is next-generation stuff– an application well beyond anything I’ve seen in the States.  Not because America is behind technologically– obviously, we have 7G and fiber too.  (America invented 7G.)  But the CCP’s ability to operate with zero concern for citizen-privacy is immensely liberating and gives their technologists and scientists a much wider reign on how they can apply the same tech that everyone else also has.

Surprise, surprise, when you don’t give a chit about human rights, it turns out you can do a lot.

Continue reading “You’ve Gotta Give Them Credit”


Y’hallo!  Welcome to the Wobbleverse!  😀🤗👋

Salutations! This is my humble little corner of the web.  This blog, more than anything else, reflects my personal growth and interests over the years gone by.  It’s been a long and winding road!  Over the past decade, I’ve dabbled in data science and day-trading, but starting August 2020, this blog has most recently morphed into a container for The Alphabet Game (TAG) and a fiction story. TAG, in its present form, is a daily writing exercise where I’ve been putting ~400 words to paper each day, every single day.  I’m happy to report that for three months running now, I’ve kept up the streak! 😁

Originally, TAG started with standalone non-fiction entries and for about two months I tried to build a corpus of material for a data science project called Wobble2. The rules are simple: Write ~400 words about any topic under the sun as long as the first word of the entry corresponds with “that day’s letter”– so, for example, today’s letter (Fri, 10/30) is “Y.” Over the past few months, I’ve written about Calvin and Hobbes, great directors, GPS, The Dewey Decimal System, The Fast and Furious, spirituality, fate & destiny, and public figures whom I really appreciate and admire.

At the beginning of October though, my interests slightly shifted and I embarked on writing a novel!  I’ve tried in the past and have never made it very far but this time, things are different; I’d posted about TAG on Reddit and found a new writing friend so together we’ve been writing and posting ~400 words every single day.  (And it was following her lead that I decided to switch over from writing daily non-fiction entries to fiction passages.  Inspired! ✊🔥🚀)

This is the first time I’ve ever tried publicly writing a story like this though.  Writing and posting serial installments every single day honestly makes me feel a bit old-school, like Charles Dickens.  But a month in, I’ve gotta say:  I like it!  Having a writing friend to share daily progress with and get comments/feedback from certainly makes a difference.  But also– I’m honestly really liking WordPress and its entire system of tagging and organization.  (Tools I never had when I wrote longhand in spiral notebooks before.)

Anyway, if you’re newly arrived, welcome!  Upon alighting, good places to start for my non-fiction entries would be The Alphabetical Index or The Mind Map if you like visualizations.  And there’s also the TAG subreddit where /u/munchmallowqueen and I give each other comments and feedback.  Finally, if you’re interested in my nascent story, I’m currently in the middle of writing Chapter 4; but here’s where you’d go to start from the beginning.

Enjoy!  😊

PS.  Full disclosure, by the way:  When it comes to my non-fiction entries, in order to (try) to keep my identity a secret, I’ve changed the names of people and other minor details (like location names, geography, or dates and times) in an attempt to preserve the anonymity of all parties involved.  I write under pseudonym because sometimes I write about sensitive subjects and if I’m ever job hunting, I don’t want a potential recruiter to Google my name, find this blog, and then immediately jump to any conclusions about me based solely on my writings. That’d be muy no bueno! ☹️😦😓

Landing in Shanghai

Chapter One

Yesterday, I’d landed in Shanghai.  Even amidst the torrential downpour, Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG) was a gleaming marvel of steel and glass, nothing like the third-world, backwater Podunk travesty called LaGuardia that I’d flown out of just thirty hours prior.  Everything about PVG had struck me as excessively new and modern.  The first I thing I’d noticed when I deplaned was that since I was an American, I was actually a solid head and shoulders taller than everyone else around me.  This was nifty and quite convenient because it allowed me to navigate around more easily.

The second thing I’d quickly noticed was that I also stuck out like a sore thumb.  The moment I alighted, I was immediately intercepted by two stern, uniformed airport security officers who’d led me to an enclosed side room for a “routine health check.”  They took my temperature and scanned me multiple times with a thermal imager to ensure I didn’t have a fever or was coughing at all.  With the virus still everywhere in full swing, the Chinese were understandably weary about letting in foreigners who could be potential vectors of disease.

Luckily for me, I had my official stamped letter.  Let me tell you, waving that thing around was like some kind of magical pass.  That letter, an invitation actually, was the entire reason I was in fact half-a-world away from home, here in Shanghai.  But I’ll get to that shortly.  First, a little bit more about PVG…

Third, amazingly enough, there was not a scrap of litter anywhere.  Shanghai’s airport concourses, though bustling with throngs of people, were sparkling clean.  As I’d waited by the baggage carrousel for my luggage, I’d observed the Chinese secret:  Legions of cleaners.  Wearing nondescript grey uniforms, there were hundreds of masked men (all were young men that I observed) who appeared to be state-sponsored janitors.  I guess when you have 1.4 billion people in your country and lead an authoritarian state, you can simply hire janitors by the truckloads to keep your airports clean.

Eventually, I was able to collect my bags and make my way to the airport’s central bus hub.  Unlike LaGuardia, where there was essentially no signage of any kind and travelers were expected to either be native New Yorkers who’d grown up in the Big Apple their entire lives and thus simply expected to know how LGA was laid out, PVG actually had incredibly helpful colored arrows that were painted onto the floor’s linoleum tiles.  Like, literally:  Painted on the floor was signage that you could easily follow to get to wherever you wanted to go.  Jesus.  It was absurd how well designed Shanghai’s airport was.  You literally could not have created a diametrically more polar opposite airport than LaGuardia if your life had depended on it.

The Jewish Way

“Yes, and…” is the single most powerful vernacular I’ve learned this past decade.  When I was a younger man, still guileless and unknowledgeable about how the world worked, my default response to just about everything was “Yes, but…”  In part, it was my contrarian nature (“Thanks, Mom!”) but also, when I now reflect on those long ago, bygone days of naivete, I think there were two more components to it:  First, it made me feel smart and clever.  I genuinely enjoyed finding holes in other people’s arguments/belief systems/most cherished core values and dismantling them.  Like, it gave me a kind of (perverse?) joy that hardly anything else did.  Of course, occasionally, I’d meet someone who could hold their own (Bagel!) and then that’d be an even greater delight– being able to go “toe-to-toe” in an “epic meeting of the minds,” or at least that’s my hoity-toity narrative that I often entertained in my own imagination.

What’s interesting to me is that I never once held a shred or iota of sympathy for people (“debate counterparties,” in my mind) who I completely wrecked.  It was their own damned fault they couldn’t defend their thoughts and positions!  I was simply doing them a favor. Yes, I was just helping them see the error of their misguided ways, that’s right… it’s like Jeff Daniels’s “Mission to Civilize” in The Newsroom.  That’s what I’d always thought I was doing.

Second, and more importantly:  I always felt deeply unsettled when people seemed extremely confident or convinced about a position.  Like, it genuinely annoyed me how certain people could be about unfalsifiable claims or opinions (which by my lights) they hadn’t appeared to have really thought through.  And thus:  I always felt I was dutifully doing what was necessary by “filling in the gaps” and providing a more wholistic picture.  Again, I was helping!

Anyway, I stumbled upon the synagogue and Saturday Torah Study late in life, but the one life lesson I’ve learned from Judaism, at least as championed by my congregation and rabbi, is to simply change, “Yes, but…” to “Yes, and…”  Everything else can literally stay the same.  I kid you not– just change the “but” to an “and.”

And it’s worked!  People are now more receptive to my opinions!  They feel less threatened!  I’ve made more friends!  People think I’m less of a jerk and haughty, arrogant prick now.  Honest to God, this simple lexicon change has made all the difference.