Victor Milán — My Friend, My Mentor, and Ace

I met Victor Milán appropriately enough in a bookstore when he was nineteen. He had just returned from hitchhiking around Europe and I was working at the bookstore earning some money before I started law school that fall. Six feet two inches tall, bright blue eyes and golden hair, he definitely caught my attention. We fell to talking and he told me he had spent time Catalonia looking for his ancestors and he wanted to write a book that drew on that rich history. Fast forward to July of 2015 and the publication date of The Dinosaur Lords which melded dinosaurs, knight errantry and that touch of Catalonia.

But between that first meeting and Vic’s final novels and stories there are a lot of wonderful memories. I had read science fiction my entire life, but had completely missed out on fandom. Vic told me about our local S.F. convention, Bubonicon, and thus I discovered my real family. I reciprocated by pulling Vic into my world of music and he became a regular performer with the Albuquerque Civic Light Opera — yes he had a beautiful lyric baritone voice in addition to drop dead good looks, and a brilliant questing mind.

We hung out all through law school and my first years in practice. I went to autographing with him and he introduced me to Roger Zelazny and Fred Saberhagen and Suzy McKee Charnas and like Victor these were the most fascinating people I had ever met. I confessed to him that I wanted to be part of his world and he said, “I bet you can write. And if you want to try I’ll help you.” And boy did he. He encouraged me and mentored me, read my first scribbles and gave me notes. For some reason we always met for these notes meetings at midnight at the Vip’s Big Boy on Fourth Street.

Which lead to more memories of Vic’s look of utter delighted amazement as a cavalcade of humanity would pass before our wondering eyes. There was one memorable night when we watched a pair of drunken shit kickers in their early twenties strive to set one another’s straw cowboy hats on fire while they were still wearing them. Vic’s boisterous laugh was wonderful to hear. And yes it drove home the other lesson that writers are the most shocking voyeurers. We’re constantly watching and eavesdropping for the one perfect character or moment or conversation we can pull into a novel.

In addition to helping me find my life’s work Vic introduced me to another fascination — pen and paper role playing games. He brought me to my first game at the home of Walter Jon Williams and another lifetime friendship was formed. We played Call of Cthulhu and Vic’s talent as an actor were on full display during those games. After a night of gaming the we had to cut short because Vic and I were heading to New York City the next day to meet our editor and agent we ended up on the airplane doing a post mortem on the game and we were babbling about how we had to blow up the tenement because it was filled with evil Cthulhu cultists and we really didn’t have a choice. I was in the middle seat. Vic had the window and he suddenly noticed our seat mate starting to look very nervous and that he was edging as far away from as the seat would allow. At which point Vic said loudly. “IN A GAME. A ROLE PLAYING GAME. ALL MAKE BELIEVE.” He then leaned in to me and whispered, “Now we find out if Federal marshals meet us when we stop in Chicago.” Fortunately that didn’t happen. Yes, it was a more innocent and less paranoid time.

There is one more thing you have to know about Vic and role playing games. Vic was the King of the Fumble. When you’re playing these games and in the GURPS system that we used if you roll a 99 or a 100 on your dice you have fumbled and terrible things will happen. The game master will roll to see what horrible thing and it can be anything from shoot self to shoot friend to fall down and lose a turn. We all knew that if it was an absolutely critical roll that would determine the outcome of a fight or supply our rescue and it was up to Vic to make that critical roll he was going to fumble.

A few years later George R.R. Martin became one of our New Mexico writers mafia and joined in our games. While George and I might be the god parents of Wild Cards Victor is probably its true father. One Christmas he gave George a game called Superworld and we all played it obsessively for a number of years. Once again Vic’s genius was on full display as he would suddenly start channeling the NPC’s that George would throw in our path — Mr. Tooth Decay Man comes to mind and the eulogy he spontaneously gave when Toad Man died had us all in tears. As I recall Walter Jon declared — “I can’t believe I’m crying over an f***ing Toad, and now I’m laughing all over again. But eventually George decreed we had to find a way to make money with this obsession and thus Wild Cards was born.

Vic and I wrote a novel together, The Runespear, that came out a one night (as in play until four a.m.) role playing game that Vic ran for several of us. He wrote a historical novel about Adah Menken, and westerns, and men’s action adventure books, and fantasy novels, and many, many Wild Card stories filled with beloved (Cap’n Trips) and terrifying (Mackie Messer) characters, and he crowned his career with his Dinosaur Lords series.
There are so many other stories I would love to tell you, about the time the Romance Writers tried to get him to be a Love Bandit and stop the train carrying writers to the conference and steal kisses…. But those will have to wait.

I miss you, Kid, but I figure you and Roger and Jack and Fred will be putting together a new anthology and you’ll probably have the angels rolling dice for a new game. Ad Astra, Vic.

Wild Cards Chatter

I wanted to let folks know that there are going to be able to find Wild Cards showing up in a lot more places and our web folks have some fun things planned. You can follow all the action here:

Also don’t forget our website for all things Wild Cards which can be found here:

Is This It?

@LivingBlueinRed: “White rural America was cool with democracy until it was faced with the possibility of becoming a minority”

@FrankConniff: “I don’t get it. Why would Trump prefer immigrants from Norway over immigrants from Haiti and African countries? What’s the one factor that makes Norwegians different? Am I missing something?”

This is one of those days where I wonder “is this it? Is this the bridge too far that will finally make Republican lawmakers place the defense of our form of government over ideology, policy agendas to gut the safety net, party affiliation and just pure tribalism?” And then Paul Ryan comes out and says that the president’s shithole comment is “very unfortunate and unhelpful” and I despair.

And then I think back on pussy grabbing and saying that white supremacists and neo-Nazi’s had some very fine people and I begin to think this grand experiment in representative government is over.

The dream and hope of America was never about racial or ethnic or religious identity. It had been about a shared belief in certain unalienable rights and the values enshrined in the Constitution and none of those are dependent upon your race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or national origin. When a person comes here they agree to live by those precepts and the members of Congress swear an oath to defend that Constitution that enumerates those rights and obligations. It’s about time those Republican lawmakers remembered that.

Political Musings on a Monday Morning

Here are my thoughts on the probable outcome of tomorrow’s special election in Alabama. Roy Moore is probably going to win. I’d like to hope it will be a squeaker, but I fear that whatever the margin it will be a win for the sexual predator.

And inevitably Democrats and liberals and independents and progressives are going to get depressed. Don’t. The fact we will have come close to sending a Democrat to Congress from a fire engine red state is pretty remarkable.

Remember that the Republicans are snake bit in the butt and gonna die either way. Either a moderate Democrat comes to the Senate while at the same time voters won’t forget that they were all in on Roy Moore, or the GOP is going to have to deal with having a serial molester of underage and teenage girls who places his batshit religious views over the Constitution, thinks that America was great back in the 1840’s even with that whole slavery thing, is homophobic and Islamophobic, supports a religious test to serve in government, and feels that women voting has caused a lot of problems serving in the Senate.

And how are they going to deal with that? An ethics investigation that can last several years and then they take no action? How do you keep Moore from spouting off his batshit crazy views? On what committees is he seated? They have to know the press is going to be all over this guy waiting for his next insane mouth eruption. All of this while they are going into 2018 having passed nothing except (probably) a deeply unpopular tax bill.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Let me repeat that — No good deed goes unpunished. Sadly that may come to pass as one major political party becomes ever more unmoored from basic decency and ethics and determined to place the retention of power over the retention and protection of our Constitution, our institutions, and our very democracy. Meanwhile the other tries to maintain standards, to “Go high” in the words of our previous First Lady and is rewarded for this by seeing itself losing the ability to protect those very institutions because the Democrats are bringing nerf balls to a fight where the Republican’s have machetes.

I was going to write up my thoughts about sexual harassment and sexual assault and my concern that if everything is the same then nothing matters but now my thoughts on that matter have to be folded into the events surrounding Senator Franken’s retirement from the Senate.

First, let’s set some basic ground rules. Not every offense is the same. There has to be agreement that there is a scale, a range of behaviors that cannot and should not be treated exactly the same. Otherwise we risk a tremendous backlash at a time when we finally have a chance to change this age old gender dynamic in the workplace.

At the top of that scale is a Roy Moore who has been credibly accused of the predation of underaged girls or a Harvey Weinstein who has been accused of grotesque behavior up to and including rape. Obviously these men have engaged in criminal acts that could have been prosecuted if they had been brought to light at the time of the malefaction.

That’s the top of our range. So how do we react to lesser offenses? Should mansplaining cost someone their job? How about telling a dirty joke? Making suggestive remark? Now we are starting to get into situations that can make a woman in the workplace deeply uncomfortable. Add to that the surroundings. I was forced to attend meetings alone with my boss at nine at night after everyone else had left the office and there I was the recipient his salacious remarks. The isolation and vulnerability made the remarks even harder to endure.

Next step — the unwanted and unsolicited touch. I’m a hugger, always have been. Now I wonder am I sending a signal that could be misconstrued? How much more difficult for a co-worker to parse that decision, or an underlying to refuse the embrace from a boss. Should a boss never embrace an employee? I don’t know the answer to that, but my instinct now is to say no, no more hugs.

But there are touches that go beyond the hug. There is a man touching a woman’s butt. I’ve had men say, what’s the big deal? I can’t explain why, but it is a very big deal. It feels more like possession than friendly affection. It’s just not the same when a man does that to a woman than when a bunch of male football players pat each others rear ends. My new rule is keep your hands where they can be seen.

The kiss. There are layers to this too. The air kiss, the continental peck on each cheek, a very affectionate kiss on the cheek. How about on the lips? In some cultures that’s accepted. When does the kiss become predatory? When you feel like you can’t refuse it. That’s when.

And then there is the man who currently occupies the White House. He has admitted on tape that he has not only forced kisses upon women without their consent he has forcibly groped their genitals because his position of power allowed him to treat those around him as objects. Nineteen women have accused Trump of various levels of sexual harassment and assault. (Personally I’m beginning to think this is the initiation ritual to join the League of Extraordinary Creeps since it happened to me. And yeah, you want to feel violated and humiliated that will sure as hell do it.) But back to Trump. He has denied the allegations, called the women liars and threatened to sue them — and he’s still President.

The pièce de résistance is Roy Moore. A man who was banned from a mall, from the YMCA, where police officers at high school games were warned to keep him away from the cheerleaders. A man who approached a fourteen year old girl at her mother’s custody hearing, and lured her to his home where he undressed and forced her to fondle him. Despite overwhelming corroborating evidence Moore, taking a leaf from Trump, has chosen to deny and vilify his accusers. And he’s probably going to end up in the United States Senate where his Republican colleagues will tut tut and do absolutely nothing to have him removed.

Contrast that with the Democrats who have demanded the resignation of Senator Al Franken for admittedly gross and immature conduct. Franken admitted his bad behavior and taken responsibility, and for that he has been vilified from the White House podium as a creep while the far more offensive predator in the Oval Office skates because he denies everything.

In the House the Democrats demanded that Congressman Conyers resign over his harassment of staff and he complied. Meanwhile Blake Farenthold continues to serve after using tax payer money to pay off an accuser. A woman whose life has been ruined by his assault. There has been no call from Republicans for Farenthold to resign.

More importantly there has been no promise that Moore will be removed from the Senate or calls for the president to face consequences for his sexual assaults and harassment.

So what’s the take away from all this? Deny and skate I guess.
Look I’m disgusted with Franken’s behavior just as I was disgusted and infuriated by Bill Clinton’s debasement of the Oval Office. (Yes, she was of age, and yes it was consensual — sort of. When you have a profound power difference — President/Intern — it’s a little hard to see how a person says no.)

However — I’m very much afraid that in this modern day Washington Game of Thrones that the Democrats are Ned Stark and they and by extension our institutions and our very democracy are going to end up on pikes along Pennsylvania Avenue.

I get it that the Democrats are trying to show a clear distinction between themselves and the Grand Old Pedophile party, and it may make all of us feel warm and virtuous, but if the party leadership thinks it’s going to shame Republican leadership or bring over a percentage of the cult – like Trump voters…. well I have a bridge to sell them. We go high and all we get is a shiv in the kidneys.

I never though I would say this, but maybe it’s time for us, the majority of this country, to fight as dirty as the other side. Which is a sad commentary on how depressed and despairing I have become. I want to believe in the American experiment, but as we slid ever closer to authoritarianism I find my hope dimming. I’m going to hope that 2018 turns back the tide. That people who value decency, and a society and economy that work for all regardless of race, religion, national origin, gender or whom they love will triumph.

So let’s all work for that, and allow me to end thusly: If anybody votes for a Republican going forward… well, they can go straight to Hell.

Is This Where the Brownshirts Show Up?

I can’t believe I’m typing this, but I’m worried we are now entering the Sturmabteilung (brownshirt) phase of the Trump presidency.  There were t shirts worn and sold at Trump rallies that said — Rope, Tree, Journalist, Some Assembly Required.    And now we have what occurred in Montana.  A candidate for congress assaulted a journalist for merely asking a question.  That was appalling but even more appalling and worrisome  is the fact that some on the right are trying to excuse this assault.  Worse the republican controlled House of Representatives will seat this man thus giving tacit approval to an act of violence.
In Putin’s Russia they just kill journalists who investigate the massive corruption of Putin’s oligarchy.  When the president of the United States calls our free press the enemy of the people we mustn’t delude ourselves that it couldn’t happen here.  At least we still have in place legal and judicial norms that would result in the arrest and prosecution of that person, but we are on a dangerous path.
And this isn’t limited to just the rightwing. When a professor was sent to the hospital with a concussion after she and Charles Murray, author of the  Bell Curve were attacked at Middlebury College (and trust me, I’m not advocating for the very dubious conclusions drawn in the gentleman’s book)  Bell Curve Author Attacked  everybody — democrat, republican, independent, libertarian, socialist need to step back and say — no.  Not in America.  Not in the country that enshrined only one profession in its founding document — the press.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Without a free press to inform a citizenry we are all operating in the dark.  And democracy dies in the dark.

I’m for Debating Anything

Stephen Hopkins: “Well, in all my years I ain’t never heard, seen nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn’t be talked about. Hell yeah! I’m for debating anything. Rhode Island says yea!”  1776 Musical.

This line from the musical 1776 came back to me as I’ve been reading about the uproar over the appearance of Ann Coulter at Berkley and the subsequent cancellation of her speech over outrage from some parties and security concerns on the part of the university.

Look, I despise Ann Coulter.  I think she’s a grifter making money off outraging liberals and delighting conservatives.  Yes, much of what she says is hateful, but I’m with Hopkins on this one.  Hell yeah, let her speak, let her be condemned by her own vile words.  Debate her passionately.  Offer a better alternative.  Bring in a speaker to counter her.  Try to educate people and change their minds.  Demonstrate that her positions are wrong and dangerous in a civil society.  All this has accomplished is to make her a martyr and make liberals seem intolerant instead of the woman who is truly intolerant as evidenced by her statements about immigrants, liberals, environmentalists, feminists, etc.

The general public thinks that the First Amendment applies to all speech.  It doesn’t.  It’s designed to prevent the government from curtailing speech. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (Emphasis added.)

And of course the right is not absolute even if the government isn’t involved.  Everyone has heard the old “you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater”, and this is probably the rational for worries over Coulter’s talk — that her appearance would lead to violence.  And those are real and valid concerns, but it’s a hard line to draw.  When does unpleasant speech tip over into hate speech? Is this another instance as with pornography where Justice Stewart wrote in Jacobellis v. Ohio, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it,” The problem is that people’s sensitivities vary based on their life experiences.  What might merely anger me might be devastating to another individual and vice versa, but law is about setting societal standards not guaranteeing that no one is ever offended or made to feel uncomfortable.

We also have the added dilemma of fake news or alternative facts with which to contend.  It’s hard for truth to be heard when the air is filled with the dust and chaff of untruths.   A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.  But I guess I’m an eternal optimist and I want to think that Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes was right when he wrote in his dissent in Abrams v. United States —

“But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.

That, at any rate, is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment. Every year, if not every day, we have to wager our salvation upon some prophecy based upon imperfect knowledge. While that experiment is part of our system, I think that we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.”

Are the Ann Coulters and Milo Yiannopouloses and Alex Joneses an imminent threat to country?  That’s what we have to decide.  Overall I think it’s better that we allow them to show their faces, rip away the mask, turn over the rocks to reveal the neo-Nazis and racists that inhabit our country.  I’d rather have them out in the open where I can keep an eye on them, and counter their dangerous beliefs then have them plotting in secret and manipulating behind the scenes.

So let’s bring the gentleman from Rhodes Island another rum (you’ll understand if you’ve seen the play), get one for ourselves and be ready to defend our beliefs and values.

The Whore Syndrome

Or to put it another way — Women-are-just-so-alluring-that-men-can’t-control-themselves-so-the-women-have-to-be-denied-opportunites-so-men-don’t-lose-control.  Which is insulting as hell to men and puts women in a symbolic burqa.

Why am I writing this?  Because I just read an article about how Mike Pence will not dine alone with a woman.  Nor go to an event where there will be alcohol unless his wife is along.  Seems quaint, right?  It’s also deeply pernicious in terms of a woman’s ability to advance in her career.  Here’s why.  If your male boss takes that stance you as a woman can’t be mentored by him.  You can’t travel with him to meetings, conferences, etc.  If you are an executive it’s tough to make that big sale or merger if you can’t meet alone with a potential client because sometimes you need to have that one-0n-one conversation.

I have a young woman friend whose boss is a powerful Hollywood producer.  He made her his personal assistant and she was at his side for every meeting, at the Cannes and Toronto Film festivals, sat with him as he pondered which projects to green light.  In other words she learned the business from the ground up from a man at the top of his game.  She she holds a senior position in the industry.  In Mike Pence world she would never have had that opportunity.

The boys club is pernicious in other ways.  In Hollywood a lot of business is conducted on the golf course.  A friend suggested I take up golf, and how I could “play with the wives.”  I pointed out to him that playing with the wives does fuck all for me.  I need to be playing with the men, but of course I’d never be asked to join a round of golf with the boys.

Another venue for networking was a weekly poker game frequented by studio and network execs, writer/producers, writer/directors.  No women.  Once again the levers of power are out of reach.

When it comes to business we’ve got to stop seeing color and we’ve got to stop seeing gender.  We’ve got to start seeing humans.

A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds

“A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”  Basil Caesarea. 

Why am I quoting a Saint?  (I was going to use Galatians  6: 7-9 but that particular quote seemed more ominous than encouraging so I went with Basil.)  But back to the question — why a quote about good deeds?  Because they really do come back and reward you and I have a living, breathing example.  Tuesday afternoon I attended George’s announcement of his latest undertaking that only came to be because of all the good George has done for our city and the state.  But first a little backstory. 

There was a brilliant, philanthropic resident of Santa Fe named David Weininger.  Weininger was a scientist, entrepreneur, inventor.    He was a science fiction fan, and in fact he bought the Santa Fe home formerly owned by Roger Zelazny.  He was a musician and a test pilot, a star gazer.   Mr. Weininger had watched George’s efforts on behalf of Santa Fe — Meow Wolf,  Cocteau Theater, screenwriting prizes, etc., and when he learned he was dying he gifted to George the office building that had housed Weininger’s company, Daylight Chemical Information Systems.  All Weininger asked was that George “do something good with it.”

And George has done just that.  On Tuesday with Santa Fe’s charismatic mayor Javier Gonzales and people from the various film festivals, managers of studios, rag tag writers hanging around 😉 , etc. gathered George announced the formation of The Stagecoach Foundation.  The building will be used to house film and television productions at a very nominal fee to encourage those productions to come to Santa Fe in particular and New Mexico in general.  The first production to utilize the offices will be the Coen Brothers for a new film they will be filming in the area.

In addition to providing office space for production staffs the foundation will provide help to the young people of Santa Fe who might want to pursue a career in film.  It’s going to be a resource that will bring investment to the area and provide young people with an opportunity to work here rather than scattering to Los Angeles or New York.

Here is the logo for the new foundation created by the very talented Raya Golden.

If It Quacks Like an Anti-Semite….

I hate to even link to this Tweet.  The man is vile on every level, but you have to see the genesis of what came out of Trump’s mouth today.  So a few days ago David Duke, former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and all around racist, anti-Semite, neo-Nazi tweeted the following.

President Trump, do you think it might be the Jews themselves making these calls to get sympathy to push their ethnic agenda?

 (I removed the link.  I refuse to link to this dumpster fire of a human being.)  Point being that today the President of the United States made the same comment to an assemblage of State Attorneys General that the rise in bomb threats to Jewish community centers and the attacks on Jewish cemeteries was a “false flag” operation.  Trump, False Flag.  It has already been established that while he was a candidate the now president retweeted vile and racist Tweets from known white supremacist sites so it’s not surprising that he might have imbibed this heady evil brew directly from the fetid swamp that is the mind and soul of David Duke.  We know that Bannon who is Trump’s closest advisor is an avowed white nationalist.  We know that the Holocaust remembrance day message provided by the State Department referenced the Jewish people and that the White House removed that mention.  White House scrapped State Dept. Statement.  I don’t care that his son-in-law is Jewish and his daughter converted.   That is a fig leaf on a dangerous and potentially deadly trend.
The feeble excuse that “lots of people suffered in the Holocaust” is not sufficient.  The Nuremberg Laws directly targeted the Jewish citizens of Germany.  At the Wansee Conference the sole purpose was to discuss the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”.  I toured the house which is now a museum when I was shooting a TV pilot in Germany.  It is chilling and leaves you sickened.
We have children and infants being rushed out of Jewish community centers in response to bomb threats.  We have Hispanic families being torn apart by an emboldened ICE.  We have had four mosques burned in the past seven weeks.  Mosques Burned.  Don’t kid yourself that it can’t happen here.  Right now the courts and the press are working to protect vulnerable minorities in our country.  Let’s help them by donating to the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, subscribing to actual news outlets.
And let us Never Forget.

The Marketplace of Ideas

Last night the campus of Berkley was roiled with protests that turned violent, led to objects being thrown, fires being set, and ultimately the cancellation of a speech by noted alt-right gadfly and baby Nazi Milo Yiannopoulos.  This is not a productive way to resist, people.  Let us not fall into the trap of the anti-war protestors during Vietnam who turned a complacent middle class against them, led their, perhaps, persuadable parents to vote for and support Richard Nixon in a backlash against the violence.  I wrote a story for an upcoming Wild Cards book dealing with the chaos at the Democratic convention in 1968.  I did a lot of research and what became horribly clear was that the violent clashes between police and protestors help put Nixon in the White House.

Now before everybody starts yelling at me —  I’m not saying don’t protest.  By all means protest, but protest smart.  Follow the example set by the gigantic marches the day after the inauguration — not a single arrest while millions took to the streets around the world.  (I was at the giant Women’s March in L.A.  It was a joyous, uplifting and empowering experience.)  Be pro-active.  Schedule a speaker opposite Yiannopoulos who will counter the loathsome bile being spewed by Yiannopoulos and his ilk.  Since the illegitimate president has made crowds such an issue see who draws the bigger one and make sure the press covers it.  Make that the story.  By causing chaos we take attention away from a dark and divisive message that will shock most decent people.  Instead of isolating Yiannopoulos and revealing to the world what he and the alt-right stand for the protests have become the story and the white supremacist gets to play the victim.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are bedrock foundations for this country, and while, as a nation, we sometimes stumble and take a few steps back we have so far managed to move forward because we allow for vigorous debate and the hateful, violent, evil ideas lose when measured against truth and justice and American ideals.

Let them talk.  Let them reveal their crabbed and shriveled souls.  If they call out an individual by name then be prepared to help that person with the cost of hiring a lawyer and going after them.  That’s how the Southern Poverty Law Center brought down a number of branches of the Ku Klux Klan.  Not by throwing things and setting fires, but by taking them into court and destroying them with the rule of law.

Justice Holmes in his brilliant dissent in Abrams v.United States wrote:  “The ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.”  

This standard was based on the writings of English poet John Milton “And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”

What’s An American?

A friend of mine just posted a long and very moving post about his father who managed to get to America out of the ashes of the Holocaust.  It got me thinking about these white nationalists and the angry Trump voters who want America for the Americans and would shout out the Nazi tainted slogan “America First”.  You want to measure who gets to be here.  How about this?

My father’s ancestors came to New York (what was then called New Amsterdam) around 1690. Dad thought that distant Snodgrass was probably fleeing a charge of horse stealing. I found a reference in a book in Edinburgh to a Snodgrass in that period being prosecuted for the crime of dueling so maybe it was more interesting than being a horse thief. Clearly he was one of those “bad dudes” the President was Tweeting about today.
Whatever the circumstance my family has been here a long time. I had a relative who fought with the Swamp Fox in the Revolutionary War and my Great-grandfather was a Yankee cavalry officer who fought in the Civil War. You can’t get much more DAR then this.  On my mother’s side my grandfather was half Cherokee.  I would point out the irony, but many on the Right seem to be irony impaired.  Perhaps this will help them grasp the concept.
So to these people who think they are more American then everybody else and are slamming the door on desperate refugees — bite me! I’m pretty sure my American credentials are just as good if not better then yours, and more to the point I trying to live up to our American ideals starting with the Constitution you all profess to love that explicitly rejected religious tests, and the laws of this country that banned the pernicious use of national origin to block immigrants.  If you don’t recall who we profess to be —  let me remind you.

You Want to Take Action?

So January 20th looms and for many people it’s a terrifying prospect.  People don’t know how to stand for the things we support and cherish in this republic.  So here’s a suggestion.  Join the ACLU. Here is but a sample of the litigation and advocacy they have undertaken:
The Scopes trial – the right to teach evolution in public science classrooms
Supreme Court Cases:
Korematsu — challenging Japanese American internment
Miranda — the right to remain silent
Griswold — the right to contraception
Loving — the right of interracial couples to marry
Gideon — the right to a court-appointed attorney if you can’t afford one
Windsor — striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act
Obergefell — the right of same sex couples to marry.
This is but a small sample and with thanks to the organization for the full page ad they ran in the New York Times on November 11, 2016 detailing these cases.
To quote President Andrew Shepard from The American President — “For the record, yes, I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU, but the more important question is: ‘Why aren’t you, Bob?’ Now this is an organization whose sole purpose is to defend the Bill of Rights, so it naturally begs the question, ‘Why would a Senator, his party’s most powerful spokesman and a candidate for President, choose to reject upholding the Constitution?”…
‘You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.’ You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest.”
And for the record I am also a card carrying member of the ACLU.  Because our Constitution as brilliant and wonderful as it might be is in the final analysis only paper.  What we do as citizens is the only way to see its promises made manifest and move us toward that more perfect union.

Reflections on H.L. Mencken in the Age of Trump

Last night I finished reading a terrific short story by my friend Connie Willis.  She is a wonderful writer, and also a terrific human being.  I’m not generally a reader of short fiction.  I love novels where I can wallow and spend a lot of time with the characters, but Connie is one of the masters of the short form.  Right now I’m reading a collection called The Best of Connie Willis, and I hit the story “Inside Job”.  It’s about a skeptic writer dealing with a “channeler”  and H.L. Mencken figures large in the story.

Which made me realize that we really need Mencken now.  Yes, there are clever people sounding the alarm and pointing out the absurd on numerous platforms, but in this age of scattered news it’s hard to have that one defining voice shouting at us not to be imbeciles and listen to “infernal gabble”.  But here we are where a president elect can stand on a stage uttering falsehood after falsehood.  Where idiotic conspiracy theories take hold — Jade Helm, where the governor of a state actually took seriously the idea that a military exercise was an attempt to conquer Texas, as if Texas wasn’t already part of the United States.  And Pizzagate that led to a moron ending up in a pizza parlor in Washington D.C. brandishing a gun because “think of the children”.  Or birtherism that pernicious, racist theory that the president of the United States was born in Kenya.

Mencken had a quick wit and a vicious tongue that could flay an opponent.  Not like the exchange of profane laced insults that one sees thrown about on social media.  He pointed up the absurd with laser-like precision that left his opponents bloodied and humiliated.  He is quoted frequently.  Here’s one that is especially relevant today:

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

And this, which I think is going to become the new signature tag on my emails.  I had been quoting Craig Ferguson musing about Dr. Who, but I think this works better for the indefinite future.

“In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for.  As for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican.”


A Not So Gentle Reminder

If you visit my website and come to my blog and post a comment, and it attacks my friends — one in particular — you know who I am talking about so pay attention trolls.  I will file your comment in a round file called trash.  You do again and I’ll block you.  I moderate all comments so you aren’t going to have an opportunity to spread your nastiness on my site.  Because it’s my site.  My rules.  My friend.  My best friend.

So take your entitled little self off someplace else to bitch and moan and pretend you’re clever, and you can brag to your troll friends “how you really told him”, but deep down inside you’ll know you’re just pathetic and nobody ever saw your post.