General

Well Worth a Read

I don’t normally link to editorials, particularly ones about politics, but this one is amazingly insightful and gives a historical context to all the crazy that currently surrounds us.

Benghazi, Joe McCarthy and the Witch Trials

 

 

My Day In The Mountains

I had a plan for the day.  I had worked very hard in the morning on breaking a script I’m going to write, and had a lot of success.  Just a couple of scenes to add to act four and I think it’s cooked.  I had promised myself a day up in the Santa Fe National Forest looking at aspens.

My plan was to get there at 2:00, hike and then come back down to town and go see Crimson Peak at 4:00.  Well, that didn’t happen because a business thing kept me from reaching the mountains until 3:30.  I decided that the movie would be there tomorrow, but the aspens not might be.  And indeed a number of them had already gone to winter bare, but it was still magnificent.  Here’s what I saw when I reached Big Tesuque Trail.

 

I first took the trail beside the stream, but the amount of moisture had left it very muddy and it was tough going, especially since I’d forgotten my walking stick.  I have missed my aspen walk the past couple of years, and before that the stream was almost dry from the drought.  Not this time the water chuckled and murmured, there was a light breeze that set the aspens to quaking and golden leaves floated down into the water to be swept away.

I returned to the parking area and took the left hand trail which was in much better condition, but it’s a steep climb especially when you’re at 9000 feet.  here’s a sample of the trail.

As I hiked I found one last, lone holdover of summer.  Poor little flower is doomed to die.  Most likely tonight.  After exploring part of Tesuque I drove up to Aspen View.

I hiked up the road.  People were snapping photos, dogs and children were playing.  People were smiling and talking to each other whether they were acquainted or not.  Partway up I found a structure that the rangers often build out of fallen aspens.  I wanted to have a campfire and stay, but I feared it wouldn’t keep off the impending rain.

It was a good day.

I Guess They’re Scared

I’ve been pondering and honestly trying to understand the rightwing freak out over the marriage equality ruling.  What is it that is so alarming, unnatural, perverse about two people who love each other being married?  They’re always talking about god’s law as revealed in nature — well there are gay animals too so obviously if their god is omniscient then gay critters and people are all in the plan, right?

Then I remembered a conversation I had a few years back with my mother-in-law and I realized that while science fiction may not be 100% predictive it actually does a pretty good job of at least exploring potential advances and changes to technology and how the culture will be affected by those changes.  What had caused my mom-in-law’s distress was Dolly the Sheep.  She asked me in breathless tones “What do you think about this cloning thing?”  And my response was a blasé “What took so long?”  Because I had been reading about clones for years before Dolly came baaaaing onto the scene.

It’s the same thing with the idea of gay couples being fully equal under the law.  We’ve been talking about that in science fiction for decades.  And the new media — video games is equally accepting.  In the games that lean more toward role playing you can be straight, gay, lesbian, you can sleep with aliens or you can just shoot things if romance doesn’t appeal.

I actually wonder if one reason young people are so accepting of marriage equality is because science fiction won.  We are popular entertainment on every level and by and large our field presents an accepting view of how societies should behave toward it’s citizens — gay, straight, trans and maybe someday even aliens.

Bravo Mercedes And Thank You

One month ago my workhorse of a vehicle, my Mercedes diesel GL SUV up and died in the middle of Yale Blvd. down in Albuquerque.  I had just dropped off friends at the airport (thank heaven it didn’t happen on I25 or during my drive back from L.A. with my cats on board.)  I called Triple A and got towed to the Mercedes dealership.  The provided me with a loaner and I headed home thinking this would be simple.

It was anything but.  For three weeks the techs were baffled.  They kept hooking the car up to the computer which told them the car was fine except the car wouldn’t start.  (Apparently there are no longer mechanics just guys who read computer printouts.)  Eventually they called Germany and found the answer.  The fuel pressure pump had blown apart.  Of course it’s a modular unit and has to be replaced and it was expensive.  I say okay because this is a diesel and they should be good for 300,000 miles.

A week later another call.  When the pump blew apart it sprayed metal shavings into all six fuel injectors and wrecked them too.  Now the cost of the repair had doubled to $10,000.  At this point it was time to think about a new car.

But I was bummed and annoyed.  This was the second Mercedes vehicle that had fallen apart at 100,000 miles.  I made a Tweet to that effect and got a Tweet back from Mercedes national headquarters saying to call them.  I did and they opened a file about my vehicle.  With the wonders of computers they could see that I had done ever scheduled maintenance and all of them at dealerships.

Long story short they discounted the repair by %50 so I could get the car fixed and wasn’t faced with buying a new car right now.  I also want to point out that sticking with the dealership for your repairs and doing the scheduled maintenance can pay off in the long run.  I should also mention that Mercedes traded the loaner sedan for a loaner SUV because I needed to take my trash to the dump.  Also great customer service.

I just want to say — Thank you Mercedes.  This is how customer relations are supposed to work, and I’m very grateful.

Have They No Shame?

Forgive me. I try to keep things fun and talk mostly about writing or horses or games or cool science stuff, but what happened at the Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina has left me shaken. The killings themselves are a sadly familiar story.  Black churches have been targeted before.  In 1963 four little girls were killed when a black church was bombed. As Larry Wilmore pointed out Larry Wilmore The Nightly Show nobody back then tried to claim this was about religious liberty, or that the bombers were architectural critics who thought the building was an eye sore, or some other bogus claim. Everyone knew why that church was bombed. It was done to terrorize African-American citizens in this country as they demanded their equal rights.

It was racism that killed those children.

The spectacle yesterday of a supposed news network twisting themselves into knots as they attempted to cast these murders as something other than racism was disgusting. There are presidential candidates who have taken up this same line of “reasoning” rather then face the fact that racism still runs like a toxic infection through the body of our nation.  I feel sorrow over the senseless deaths.  I feel rage over the actions of a certain segment or our punditry and politicians that refuses to acknowledge the legacy of America’s original sin.

Even if these so called journalists and national leaders didn’t want to grapple with these difficult issues couldn’t they have at least accepted the facts as presented by the killer himself?  Dylann Roof has confessed that he murdered these people because they were black.  Because he wanted to start a race war.  This had nothing to do with religion.  I expect the next move to avoid having to look in the mirror is to talk about mental illness.  No, Dylann Roof isn’t crazy.  He’s a racist.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has written far more eloquently and with greater knowledge then I of the history of oppression in America. Google him, read the articles. You’ll come away with a much deeper understanding of how much of our nation’s wealth was created on the backs of enslaved people.  John Stewart in a powerful monologue pointed out that not only does the confederate flag, a symbol of a rebellion launched in an effort to own human beings, still flies at the state capitol of South Carolina, that African-American citizens drive on roads named for confederate generals.  The Daily Show.

If mapping the human genome has taught us anything it’s that race is meaningless.  At the most fundamental level, in out DNA we are all the same.  We’re human beings.  Maybe someday we’ll come to accept that fact.  But not until cowards stop trying to change the subject.

And The Mad Bullet Beat Goes On

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the horrific shooting in South Carolina. As most of you know I’m not religious, but there is something particularly repugnant about a killer entering a church or a mosque or a temple to kill peaceful worshipers. And suggestions on Fox news that pastors/priests/ imams ought to be armed just shows how mad this entire discussion of guns and their place in our society has become.

Here is a portion of the President’s remarks. “At some point as a country, we have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries,”

This is a hate crime driven by racism. It had nothing to do with Christianity or religious people. This young man was targeting African-Americans. So let’s dispense with that ridiculous fig leaf.

Another interesting question has been raised by several news outlets — is South Carolina going to fly the Confederate flag that still flies over the state house at half-mast? The very thought is sickening. It’s also cognitive dissonance of the highest magnitude.

Pavlov Meet App

My technology is training me into a conditioned response.  I downloaded this pedometer app for my IPhone, and now that I’m home in NM where it is beautiful and I’m not breathing exhaust when I go outside I have been taking a lot of long, brisk walks.  Since I don’t have a gym here I’m using free weights at home and these walks as a way to stay in shape.  I generally average around 8500 steps each day or about four miles.

But yesterday I hit 10,000 steps in one day and my phone had a party.  Suddenly there were fireworks and showers of green and gold petals falling across the screen and a message YOU DID IT!

I was suddenly filled with a sense of enormous accomplishment.  I felt good and special.  And now I have to do it again so my phone will throw another party for me.  I resented the fact I had to go to Albuquerque today for appointments and a board meeting because it meant I could only walk my usual four miles and not get the fireworks.

I welcome our robot overlords and I’m happy to know mine loves me when I walk 10,000 steps in one day.

Razor Shortage?

Okay, the stubble thing is starting to bug me.  Oliver Queen in Arrow, Mr. Reese in Person of Interest, Grant Ward and all the other pretty boys in Agents of SHIELD.

I also notice that elegant villains get to shave — Loki, Harrison Wells in The Flash,  Hannibal in Hannibal.  Most of the leaders of Hydra.  Scruffy seems to indicate you’re a low rent villain, a drug dealer or a terrorist.

Then there’s a class of good guys who get to shave.  Mr Finch in Person of Interest, Phil Coulson in AofS, Barry Allen in the Flash, Gordon and Alfred in Gotham, Captain America.

So what determines the stubble thing?  Hunks don’t shave?  Stubble = virility?  And do they make a special razor that leaves you with just the right amount of stubble?  Is it named for Yasser Arafat?

(This is where your brain goes after you’ve written six pages in one day.)

It’s About The Constitution, Stupid

This morning I was doing my usual scroll through various news sites to see what was going on in the world, and I ran across Mike Huckabee opining on how he could have gay people as friends — big of him.  I gather this was him moderating his position that the states had the right to ignore a Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage.  An issue that was settled by a little event called the Civil War.

Then I read this statement:

“And as a biblical issue, unless I get a new version of the scriptures, it’s really not my place to say, ‘Okay, I’m just going to evolve.’”

“It’s like asking somebody who’s Jewish to start serving bacon-wrapped shrimp in their deli. We don’t want to do that,” Huckabee continued. “Or asking a Muslim to serve up something that is offensive to him or to have dogs in his backyard.”

No, it’s not.  Because a particular religion’s holy book is not the law of the land in a secular pluralistic nation.  The issue will be decided on two cardinal principles of American jurisprudence and the Constitution (which conservatives swear they venerate though that adoration only seems to apply to the second amendment).  Those foundational precepts are Due Process, established in the Fifth and the Fourteenth Amendments, and Equal Protection found in the Fourteenth Amendment.

Huckabee’s entire argument is nonsense.  One’s choice of food, or a person’s choice to keep a pet has no impact on the lives of other American citizens.  The right to marry, the right to have that marriage recognized across state lines (another little concept from the Constitution called full faith and credit) that has an impact on people both financially and socially, in terms of health decisions, establishing parental rights, etc. etc.  These are not trivial matters and comparing them to shrimp and bacon and dogs does just that.

What Constitutes a “Spoiler”?

As I’ve mentioned here and on Facebook — I don’t mind spoilers.  In fact they add to my enjoyment of a movie or book because it enables to examine the structure and pacing as the writer moves toward the climax.  In fact there was a study that indicated spoilers actually added to people’s enjoyment.  You can read about the research here in an article in Wired magazine — Spoilers Don’t Spoil Anything.

I also think there is a point where accusing a person of spoilers is absurd and unfair.  The Harry Potter books have been out for years and there have been movies.  If someone doesn’t know that Dumbledore dies they have been living in a closet or under a rock.  In the case of GONE GIRL the novel was published in the summer of 2012.  It was a New York Times best seller.  The details of the book have been available for two years  and millions of people have read the book.

The situation is obviously different if the book has just been published or a movie that has an original screenplay has just been released.  In those cases you stay silent for some period of time so that others can get caught up.  The question is what is an appropriate time period that has to pass before you can discuss a book or a film?  A month?  Six months?  I think by the time a year has elapsed it’s open season on discussing a literary or cinematic work.

It’s also very difficult in this age of instant communication to avoid hearing about a piece of popular culture, and the more popular the event the more conversation it will generate.  Bottom line, I think everybody ought to take a deep breath, read the article and stop Spoiler Shaming their friends and relatives.

Cultural Relativism

I’ve been watching the fight that has erupted between Sam Harris and Bill Maher and various pundits who consider their remarks on Islam to be bigotry.  I can see points on both sides.  To arbitrarily damn all members of a faith for what is written in their particular holy book is unfair.  On the other hand there is an awful lot of very ugly stuff that’s written in virtually every holy book whether it be The Bible or The Koran.  The question is whether the people who subscribe to a particular faith follow all of these vicious recommendations laid down by our ancient ancestors or whether they wink and ignore the problematic verses.

The problem in this spat is that it has devolved down to just religion.  As if it is religion alone that is causing these horrific behaviors.  But there are culture pressures at work as well.  As a liberal I have this knee jerk reaction to not judge other cultures because we’re all supposed to display cultural sensitivity.  We’re never supposed to say one culture is superior to another, and I agree with that in the broad outline, but I do think it’s important for us to comment and criticize individual practices whether those practices are dictated by religion or not.

I remember one night a number of years ago listening to a couple of friends of mine engage in an argument over female circumcision.  Ironically the man was saying it was a hideous and barbaric practice and the woman (who had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa) state that his position was cultural imperialism, and an implicit argument that Western attitudes toward the practice were being posited as superior to the culture and customs of societies that engaged in genital mutilation.  I found myself in the camp saying, “Yeah, a culture that doesn’t mutilate young girls is superior — at least in this one area.  There are other practices that should also be condemned.  Honor killing, not allowing girls to attend school, child brides (I’m seeing a rather sad pattern here that so many of these practices are visited on women and girls).  Not that men don’t come in for brutal treatment as well.

Let’s consider the actions of General Sir Charles James Napier, the Commander-in-Chief in India (1859-1861).  In 1829 the British Raj banned the practice of suttee in India which was certainly interfering with a cultural practice.  When he was petitioned to allow suttee to begin anew he responded  “Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation also has a custom. When men burn women alive, we hang them and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”

The statement is undoubtably condescending, and made by a person who had unmatched power over this particular nation by virtue of conquest, but isn’t it a good thing that widows are no longer burned?  The problem is how these judgments are delivered.  As our experiences over the past twelve years has indicated the power provided by the barrel of a gun probably isn’t the best approach.  Education, conversation, and economic pressures may offer a solution though these methods aren’t quick.   As I indicated in an another post it took the west 800 years to develop representative democracy.  Let us hope on this day when a very brave young woman, Malala Yousafzai, just won the Nobel Peace Prize that it doesn’t take centuries before girls can attend school without being shot in the head, or have acid thrown in their faces.

Bottom line, I think the point Maher was trying in-artfully to make was that if we support liberal values we have to be willing to speak out against illiberal practices and not give such practices as pass in an effort to show sensitivity. The trick is doing that in a way that doesn’t tar an entire people, culture, religion, etc., and always to be careful to be aware of the mote in our own eye, and be willing to remove said mote.

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

A couple of weeks ago my dear friend George R.R. Martin underwent the Ice Bucket Challenge to combat ALS also know as Lou Gerig’s Disease.  I lost my half brother John to this horrible disease when he was only 60.  It attached his throat first so he was soon unable to eat, but he refused all extreme measures and faced death with a dignity that I hope I can emulate when my time comes.  One of the hallmarks of the Ice Bucket Challenge is that you challenge others to take the cold dunk themselves.  George challenged me, and I was happy to accept.  So on Saturday while we’re having a barbecue at my house in New Mexico George will wield the bucket, and I will get drenched.

I have made my donation in memory of my half-brother.  If any one else interested you can donate here.  ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

My Trip From Hell

Yesterday I flew home from Britain, and it was not an experience I want to repeat anytime soon.  The day before — Monday — I had gotten soaked in the rain, but didn’t think much of it.  On Tuesday I got to the airport in plenty of time, got on my flight, ate my dinner.  I set to work on my Edge 3 edit.  Then not quite four hours into a ten and half hour flight I became desperately, vilely ill.  The first thing I discovered is there were no air sickness bags in the bathrooms in business class.  I guess they think business travelers don’t get sick.  I asked the stewardess and they brought me one.  Eventually I had them running all over the plane bringing me many air sickness bags.  I went through five or six before it was all over.  Then I got hit with violent chills.  The cabin crew was lovely.  They made me a hot water bottle and got me an extra blanket.  Unfortunately this began just as we were nosing out of Scotland heading for Iceland.  There was no possibility of setting down.  At one point I really wished they could just open a hatch and throw me out.  Death seemed preferable.

I almost asked them to land in Newfoundland where my doctor/writer/editor/painter buddies live and have them check me into a hospital in St. John’s.  Still I endured until we reached Los Angeles.  I was so weak, and we landed at a remote location that seemed to be in San Diego County.  The top stewardess said it was a bus ride followed by a really long walk to customs and then standing in line at customs and she recommended a wheelchair.  I have never done anything like this before in my life, but I said yes.  I honestly didn’t think I could walk, and I certainly couldn’t have lifted or dragged the suitcase.

The wheelchair guy was just lovely, and I will say — when you are in a wheelchair customs is a breeze.  He recovered my case, and got a porter to take the case.  They took me outside onto the sidewalk, and I tried to contact Lyft.  Only to discover that they won’t come to the airport now.  You have to meet them somewhere else.  That was not going to happen so I hung up and tried to figure out what to do.  When you are weak, sick and dehydrated your brain doesn’t work very well.  I talked to Super Shuttle about getting a private car.  I think the guy could see I was in bad shape.  He said they couldn’t get anybody to the airport for at least 20 to 30 minutes and that it was going to cost as much as a cab.  So I took a cab to Woodland Hills.

This is one of those times when I’m so grateful that I have done okay financially.  I didn’t need to take a van and endure six or seven stops before I got home.  I could just go home.  I don’t want money for money’s sake.  I don’t want to affect other people’s lives.  I mean, not in a bad way like the Koch brothers trying to buy Congress.  I just want to make my life easier, and that’s what happened yesterday.  I got home, sipped on a Coke and went to bed at 8:00 p.m and slept until 8:00 this morning.  I’ve since had another long nap, and I’m starting to think that a saltine cracker or two might not be amiss.

All in all I can not say enough good about the crew on American Airlines flight 135.  They were kind and as helpful as they could be since they weren’t doctors.

London: The Horse Side of History

After the War Rooms I found myself at an impressive building that housed the Horse Guards.  I’d never visited that museum so I rushed in and spent another hour studying the history of the Horse Guards.  They were founded basically in a reaction to the Civil War and the beheading of Charles I.  The rooms were filled with uniforms and mirror bright cuirasses, sabers, elaborate gold and silver helmets.   And tack.  The horses wear doubly bridles for their parade duties, and the curbs have very long shanks which would put a lot of pressure on a horse’s mouth.  Given the size of the horses and the fact they have to cope with bands and flags and cheering crowds I suppose you’d want that much control.

There was a mock up of the stables with boots and helmets and jackets for kids to try on.  The boots extend well over the knee.  I’d thought that just the lower portion of the boot would be stiff, but they are stiff all the way up.  They must be incredibly uncomfortable to wear much less walk in them.  I thought my Konig’s were stiff — they feel like velvet next to the Horse Guard boots.

The members of the guard spend ten hours a day carrying for their kit and their tack.  I do wish I knew the secret to getting that mirror bright shine on their boots.  I need to buy some black shoe polish and a brush when I get home and apply a little elbow grease.  Maybe that’s all it would take.

There was a large display of actual armor and weapons from Waterloo including the tail of the bay mare that belonged to the man who captured the French Eagle.  I was shouted to learn that Britain lost more men at Waterloo then in WWI.   This small country has certainly endured more than it’s fair share of deadly battles.

After the Horse Guards museum I walked to Trafalgar Square in search of lunch.  I went past the big iron gates that now guard 10 Downing Street.  The last time I was in London you could still walk past the Prime Minister residence.  This is what the “War on Terror” has brought us.  Maybe it is prudent, but it’s depressing and a bad trend when leaders are more an more separate from the people they govern.

After a bite to eat I walked back through the park to Buckingham Palace, bore left and went in search of the Royal Mews.  There I saw the royal carriages — the great gold State Carriage that is over 250 years old and only used for Coronations was amazing.  They have a nice indoor arena.  It’s not as impressive as the one at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, but I think Vento and I would look pretty spiffy in that arched windowed space.

They had a few horses actually in stalls.  Two of the Windsor Greys, but you had to stay well back from them, and two of the Cleveland Bays.  They were older horses.  Concord was a 17 year old gelding and he was cranky as could be.  He kept nipping at his next door neighbor a 21 year old mare named Mary Tudor.  Concord even tried to bite his groom when he went in to clean the stall.

I had a nice conversation with the young woman guard/guide/docent (I’m not sure what to call her).  She actually knew nothing about horses so I was explaining to her horse ear, nose and tail language.  I had a bit of a visit with the groom, and we laughed about Concord being such a crabby bastard.  By then it was four thirty and I decided to head back to the hotel.  I’m not sure how far I’ve walked today — a long way, but at least I got a horse fix that should hold me until Wednesday when I can finally hug my kids.

London and The Weight of History: The War Rooms

I set forth on my wanders at 10:30 this morning, and got back to the hotel at almost 5:00.  All of this was done on foot, I might add.  After consulting a map I struck off in the general direction of the Imperial War Museum, and shortly came upon St. James’s Park.  There are so many impressive buildings, but instinct or luck led me to the War Museum.  I hadn’t ever seen Churchill’s War Rooms so that was the first order of business.  I ended up spending almost two hours in the underground bunkers.  First off, the Brits do things right.  It was a steep fee to enter, but you are given audio guides for free, and the flow of the museum is brilliant.  In addition to the actual War rooms and map rooms there is a large exhibit about Churchill.  I was particularly taken with an interactive screen that had some of his more memorable, humorous and cutting quotes.

There was an eerie sense of having stepped back in time as there were recordings of old radio and news show that had been playing during the Blitz and then the sirens would start, and I felt my heart stutter.  Child of the fifties I remember the drills, my father told me stories of Pearl Harbor Day, and an air raid siren has the power to set my nerves to quivering.  Then an actual recording of Churchill during the Blitz.

Many of the rooms had simply been left in August 1945.  The soldiers and typists and telephone operators just stoop up from their desks, locked up and walked away.  Which meant some of the rooms were time capsules — amber beads buried beneath the streets of London and filled with memories and fears, grief and determination that seemed to cling to the chairs, desks, typewriters, beds, etc.

One of the more touching things for me was an envelop that had three precious sugar cubes inside.  Some young officer had hoarded his sugar ration, and tucked it away in a drawer.  It was still there when the room were reopened decades later.  I wondered who he had been?  Whoever he was I hope he had lots of sugar in the years that would follow.

There was a picture in one room of St. Paul’s surrounded by smoke and flames its dome defiant against a burning sky and it made me think of my friend Connie, and her evocation of that time and the bravery of the Fire Watch.  At LonCon Connie talked about the people who saved the cathedral — they were vergers, and men too old to fight, and choir members, and shop girls who volunteered to sit on the roof night after night and beat back the flames.  It wasn’t just the RAF that stopped Hitler — it was ordinary people refusing to bed under the onslaught.

I found myself with throat aching, and tears blurring my eyes as I contemplated that time and those people, and I wondered if we could rally today?  If we could put aside our resentments to resist a great evil?  I’d like to hope so.

I bought a mug and a t-shirt for myself with the iconic Keep Calm and Carry On slogan.  I think it’s pretty good advice whether you’re facing down fascism or in our time rallying to fight global climate change & murderous fundamentalism of all stripes.

Appearances

  • Boskone — Boston February 17th-19th
  • Helsinki Worldcon Agust 9th - 13th
  • Bubonicon August 25th-27th, Albuquerque, NM

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