Power Hypocrisy

My father worked with a man once who made a big deal out his religious conviction regarding abortion and birth control, roundly condemning both. He based this on his self-professed Catholicism.  It evidently got to the point where weekly there would be a virtual sermon at lunch time on the evils of promiscuity and the horror of contraception.  Finally, my father had had enough.

“How long have you been married, Bill?” my dad asked.

“Fourteen years,” the man responded proudly.

“How many kids do you have?”

“Three.”

“Three? Where are the other eleven?”

The point was made—publicly, in front of several co-workers—and the sermons ended.

Had anyone suggested to this man that the state should have a right to knock on his door, request records of his sexual activity, and then, warrant in hand, search his house for condoms, and upon finding them indict him for wanton disregard for life, he would have been horrified.  More than that, he would not have taken it seriously.  And yet when pronouncing on the should-haves and oughts of other peoples’ private lives, it never occurred to him that what he prescribed would necessarily include him along with some unintended consequences.

It’s never about the person doing the condemning, it’s always about Other People.  There is evidence showing that a goodly percentage of the women dutifully picketing abortion providers end up in those clinics, availing themselves of the very option they then resume trying to deny every other woman.  The mirror fails to show them the nature of their hypocrisy.  They prefer to be seen railing against something they feel is evil rather than sit down and do the hard work of looking inside and understanding that this thing has nothing to do with them—and everything to do with them.

Among people who often stridently take the position that None Of Your Damn Business is the unwritten law of personal liberty in this country, it is amazing how many of them assume this—and this alone, really—is very much their damn business, when of all the things that might be this one surely isn’t.

We’re seeing a spate of anti-choice legislation in states across the country right now.  Judging by the reaction to large numbers of Americans, these are not as popular as the legislators apparently assume they are, and will cost them.  It makes no sense really…

Unless they are actually thinking longterm and assume that it will be harder for their replacements to repeal these laws because they won’t want to appear unchristian or immoral or, gawd forbid, Progressive.  The same with the so-called religious liberty bills passing in the South.  These are traps, perhaps, cudgels in waiting to beat up on any politician with the temerity to suggest they be repealed.  If so, I think the legislators passing these monstrosities are even dumber than they seem to be.

But it’s all about appearances, isn’t it?  Things don’t get done because people are afraid to look a certain way.  In the film Kinsey about the sex taxonomist Alfred Kinsey there is a scene where Kinsey, desperate for funding, is appealing to a millionaire for support.  The millionaire is clearly in his sixties, maybe seventies, and has at his side a young wife, at most in her early thirties.  This aged and privileged sybarite refuses Kinsey’s plea because “If I do that, people will think I support sex.”

A beat. Look at the young bride. Another beat. Look at the ridiculous man afraid of what people might think. Wait another beat. Realize that “people” really would react that way, even while pursuing sex with all the ardor nature has given them, and denying that they approve the act for anyone else.

But really, it’s None Of Anyone Else’s Damn Business and it’s about time we stopped all the posing and posturing about this.  Before those ominous men with warrants start showing up at your house looking for those other eleven kids.

 

 

And Finally

A short bit here.  Donald Trump came out—finally—and said what must be in the back of the minds of most of the hard-core religious fundie contingent of the GOP, that women who get abortions ought to be punished.

It doesn’t matter that he backpedaled not four hours later and shifted it to doctors, it matters that someone at this level of politics finally said it.  Out loud.  For everyone to hear.  If you criminalize abortion, it just naturally follows that some form of punishment should be involved.  That’s logical, right?

But very quickly, two of the largest anti-abortion organizations came out in opposition to this, saying “No no no, we don’t wish to entertain any ideas about punishing women who opt for abortions.”  I listened to one on NPR this morning going through ethical contortions about victimhood, which I gather means they perceive unwanted pregnancy itself as the result of women being victims and it would not be right to further victimize them for, basically, breaking the law should they, under a criminalized regime, opt to abort their pregnancies.  Which in some ways is correct, but in so many other ways just misses the point.  She also went on about the thousands of willing volunteers standing by to help these women once they have the baby.  Which is great, I suppose, but again it misses a very large point and borders on the disingenuous.  It’s like saying, “We’ll be there for you when you see your appendicitis through, don’t worry.”

Because for many women that’s roughly the equivalence.  We’re talking about a condition they do not wish to be in.

Even more, the whole victim thing smells of a particular kind of slut shaming.  “Oh you poor thing, you gave in and had sex, didn’t you?  Well, it’s all right, you didn’t know any better, we’ll help you be a decent person now.”

But back to Trump.  He said it.  It’s been hovering out there all along.  If it’s illegal, then what are the penalties.

A few years back some people did spot interviews with picketers at clinics, asking them the same question—what kind of penalty should there be—and the question was consistently dodged.  They didn’t want to talk about that.  I wrote about it.  At the time I said it was quite obvious why.  What they want more than anything is for abortion to simply go away.  If you attach penalties, it never will.  It will be in the courts then, constantly, until one day the pendulum swings the other way and suddenly abortion will not only be legal again but we’ll have laws clearly protecting the individual right to one’s own body and full say in its uses.  Penalties will put it back in play in the courts.

And frankly they will lose.

They will lose because, to state it again, this issue is not about fetuses but about sex.  If the concern were to reduce abortions, then the concomitant campaign against contraception and comprehensive sex education makes no sense. We know how this works, we have evidence.  Abstinence only sex ed does not work.  It is a dismal failure.  We know this, it is not up to debate.  Comprehensive sex education combined with clinics and contraceptive availability shows dramatic reductions in unwanted pregnancy and, thus, abortions.  We know this, it is not rocket science.

So why won’t the so-called pro-life movement support such things?

They have excuses of course, but basically they are waging war against sex.  They can’t seem to abide the idea that women have a right to their own sexuality.  They can’t quite get past the conviction that sex is solely for procreation, even though obviously, possibly even for them, it is not.

But back to Trump again.  He said it. Put it out there.  The genie, as it were, is out of the bottle.

And it will have to be discussed.  And in so discussing it, the underlying realities of the GOP platform will be laid bare.  No hiding.

Trump may or may not be serious about these positions, who can say, but one thing is certain:  he is a berserker.  He is tearing the curtains down in the Great Hall of Oz so we can all see the man working the levers.  He has said nothing which is inconsistent with any Republican position for the last umpteen years.  They’re afraid of him because they all know they have to soft sell this stuff, because stated bluntly like this it sounds crazy.  But they can’t just dismiss him without repudiating the very policies and beliefs he has based his own rhetoric on.  In other words, now that the beast is all naked, slathering and snarling, before us, in order to get away from it they have to stop being Republicans.  At least, as the party is currently formulated.

And he backpedals just like any of them have done in the past.  Run on a hot-button issue and once in office try to do nothing about it, even reformulate the position in order to look reasonable.

We are right to be afraid of this man, not for what he is but for the slack-brained, adrenalized, shambling, violence-hungry bigots who follow him.  He has brought them out onto the streets for all to see.  They are angry and misinformed and intolerant and frightened and he has given them a stage.  We have, some of us, been trying to reason with this side of our culture for a long time, convinced that surely they cannot be as bereft of the capacity to deal with reality as they seem to be.  Now we know.

And the GOP knows it, too.  Why do you think they don’t want open carry allowed at the national convention?

 

Common Sense vs Common Crap

This will be brief.  I just saw another of those worthless “memes” comparing capitalism to socialism, this time with regards to military chest-pounding.  Why do “socialist” countries feel it necessary to “parade” their missiles down major avenues* if socialism is such a warm, cuddly, wonderful thing, while capitalism is supposed to be such a brutal, anti-human thing?

And of course, once the comments fly, the “socialist” country held up as example of this is…The Soviet Union.  Which for one thing doesn’t exist anymore, but for another is an example of how labels seem to hold sway over reason too much of the time.

The problem here is that with an avowed socialist in the presidential race, people who oppose him are reaching for any comparison that will make his proposals look horrific.  It’s a failure on the part of those who believe such memes to stop acting like rabbits and use their brains.  So we keep getting treated to these absurd talking points that suggest that under socialism we would come to be just like the former Soviet Union.

How stupid are we?

You find yourself, however, in order to refute the comparison, having to go back and reinvent fire, do the job that ought to have been done in grade school and high school in history and civics classes (oh, wait, we don’t teach civics anymore, do we?) to bring the purveyor of such nonsense up to speed with reality.

I’m not going to do that.  What I’m going to say here is that labels, for either side, explain nothing, but because they are so easy to apply and seem to explain things by association, a lot of people feel they don’t actually have to know anything about the subjects being poorly covered by them.

The former Soviet Union was first and foremost a dictatorship, or, to be a bit more precise, a totalitarian regime.  It used certain socialist ideas as tools internally, but any real analysis shows that it could not be described as a socialist state.  It was not, for one thing, a democracy, and a major aspect of socialism is based on democratic institutions, of which they had none.  Citizens were ruled, they were accountable to a small cadre of functionaries who were not conversely accountable to them.  Law was by decree and the security state held all the power.

This is not socialism.  Just as what Hitler wrought was not—functionally—socialism.  Fascism and Socialism are very different.  But of course, even back then, they understood the power of labels, so they called themselves something they were not and pushed that image and suppressed anyone who said “Wait, that’s not right.”

But even more than that, these things are systems.  They are constructs.  Capitalism is a construct.  It was a made thing, it is an artifice now.  Which means that it is a tool and ought to do as we wish.  So is socialism.  Tools.  We can set limits on both, use them, even combine them into forms that serve our purpose.

That we fail repeatedly to understand that is the largest single problem in our political reality.  And we are kept from understanding that by a crippled educational system and the repeated and deceptive use of labels that even as they purport to inform us and give us some power merely make us less likely to look past them and figure out what the reality is.

Here is the conundrum of our current age.

The benefactor of the current system, known euphemistically as The 1%, are invested in keeping that system in  place.  They do this by distorting government.  The distortion is that they have made it so the government sees them as their primary constituency.

Government therefore fails to serve the rest of us.  We consequently blame it.  Some of us correctly identify the problem and accuse government of being a tool of the 1%.

The solution is shown to be to strip government of its powers to facilitate the desires of the 1%.+

The 1% see this and by other avenues feed us the idea that government alone is the problem and in order to set things right we must take away its ability to function.

In reality, the only tool we the people have to correct the distortion is through government.  Instead of stripping of power, we should be using it in order to correct the systemic distortion.

Government is caught in the middle.  It’s a tool and can only do what it is tasked to do.  If we 99% believe it is at fault and tear it down, the 1% will have no barrier to their continued misuse of capitalist systems.  But we’ve been fed the canard that the government is entirely on their side and is the sole reason for the dysfunction.

Certain corrections to the distortion are based on socialist concepts.  But we’ve been told for decades how awful that would be.  Meanwhile, the situation continues to worsen because there is no viable solution offered, and the only avenue that appears to be viable is to weaken the one thing that might do us good. Our voice, clearly expressed through our government.

So enough with the idiotic comparison and the bullshit that we can’t use systems rather than be victim to them.

All it requires is a little common sense, less common crap, and participation.  Once again, vote. But for the sake of the country, learn something useful about things as they are and how they work.  Right now, we are very much like Thelma and Louise.  “We have to get to Mexico, but I ain’t going through Texas!”

__________________________________________________________________

  • I can’t recall the last time such a parade took place in Stockholm.  Hmm…
  • + One of the ways they do this is by funding candidates and buying elections, sending people to congress who tell us they’ll work for us then turn around and work for them.

Blue Collar Trump

Intellectuals on both sides of the political aisle are scratching their heads at the Trump phenomenon. They wonder how this guy, with all his crudity and his bluster and his fascistic diatribes, can possibly be slapping the pants off the favored sons of the GOP. Liberal, conservative, it doesn’t matter, they don’t get it.

Really?  Or do they just not want to admit they understand perfectly well?

Trump’s appeal is very simple.  He’s putting a kind of blue collar, working class rage right out in front, unadorned, just the way you might get it at any dinner table conversation in a stressed working class household where the most serious piece of reading done is either World News or Car and Driver.  Where the talking heads on Meet The Press are met with derision and complete incomprehension.  He has pitched his language, according to one recent analysis, to a sixth grade or lower level because he knows that is the functional intelligence of the people he’s channeling.

Yes, I said channeling.  He is the embodiment of a feedback machine.  He’s taking in the inarticulate anger of people who feel helpless but who intuit that they’re being shafted and projecting it right back out at them at the same intellectual level.

The thing that sets him apart from Cruz and even Rubio is not that he gets this and they don’t, but that he knows he can make more bank by expressing it without trying to couch it in pseudo-politic, semi-intellectual, quasi-philosophical terms.  He has not said one thing that the others haven’t also said over the last several years, but they do it in terms that hide the scrapyard origins of the sentiment and try to make it appeal to people who wish to believe of themselves that they have a higher grasp of these matters.  The reason so much of their tactic is now failing is that they’ve been trying to play bar band music as though it were a sonata in three parts, and it doesn’t ring true enough in comparison with a guy who knows to stick to three chords and one beat.

Trump is also feeding on a kind of mythic American tough guy attitude that sees the solution to every problem to be corporal—a smack in the jaw, a kick in the groin, a death threat.  When the mind has been taxed to its limit by arguments about refugees, globalization, currency exchange manipulations, multilateral negotiations, regressive tax structures, and ethnic diversity, the impulse is to just throw them all out, slam the door shut, and kick the shit out of anyone with more than a high school education.

And because we as a people rarely look past the surface of things, when confronted with problems that really are complex, we feel used, insulted, talked down to, and effectively sidelined by language and concepts we were never introduced to at home or in school.  We are ignorant but have been told for decades that we have some kind of national character and virtue which doesn’t require us to learn anything in order to know what to do.

But we don’t.  So we get angry and frustrated.  Then someone like Trump comes along and validates our anger and plays on our ignorance and tell us he knows what to do to make us feel better.

He’s a walking, talking symbol of the anti-intellectualism we’ve been suffering and enduring since…well, in this cycle since McCarthy showed politicians how to gain support by putting down smart people.

It should surprise no one that he is popular with that kind of crowd.  The question is, how large is that crowd?

We’d better hope they aren’t even close to a majority.

But if they are, then that says everything we need to know about how our educational system has failed this country.  And with that failure, how our economic systems are failing us.  And with that failure, how our value systems are next to worthless.

One last thing which puzzles some folks.  The question rises how evangelical christians find nothing to criticize in the man, how he can get endorsements from the likes of Billy Graham Jr. and Jerry Falwell’s son.  How, with a centerfold model for a wife, he isn’t everything repugnant to them with all their moralistic blatherings about family values.  How they can get so exercised about Michelle Obama’s elegant bare arms and say virtually nothing about the yards of skin Melania Trump has shown in a wide variety of sexual poses.

What’s hard to understand?  Trump’s wife appears to be everything these so-called fundamentalists desire in a wife.  Young, sexy, and, above all, silent.  For them “modesty” only means nobody else gets to play with the goodies or look at the yummies. Michelle Obama offends by quite clearly owning her arms as well as the rest of her person and being a vocal, thinking, independent woman.  It ain’t, in other words, the bareness of her arms that bothers them but the fact that they are hers and she does what she wants with them.  Trump’s wife looks like an Old Testament Prophet’s wet dream.

Trump is not hard to understand, nor is his apparent popularity.  We just have to see, finally, what has been wrought in this country by people who have sold us a bill of goods for decades, all in the name of Amurica.

…and now a word from the stupid

President Obama has announced his supreme court nominee.

A couple of things.  Merrick Garland is not, as claimed by the current spiel from Mitch McConnell and company, an ideologue.  There is a track record of bi-partisan endorsements dating back to the 90s to so testify.  No one who has ever worked with the man has ever called him an ideologue.  This is not open for dispute.  He is a jurist and from all the evidence a man of integrity.

Two, while they keep bringing up the Biden Rule, bear in mind the Biden Rule was a statement on what the Senate is constitutionally required to do and, further, an opinion, one which the Democratic Party has never adhered to even when it sounded like they might.  There was no vacancy to be debated at the time when then-Senator Joseph Biden made his statements.  But even if one wishes to use that as some kind of defense,  it is nevertheless a fact that the Biden Rule was never adopted as A Rule.  Republicans certainly opted to disregard it and history shows that it has never proven a hindrance or an error for a president to nominate for a vacancy during his last year in office.  Now that it appears likely Obama will choose someone who could as easily rule against the GOP agenda as for it, they bring it up and try to make it sound like there is precedent.  There is no precedent.

McConnell’s assertion that the president should allow the People a voice in such a selection is disingenuous.  The People did.  They re-elected Obama by a considerable margin.  This is simply an opportunity for him to fulfill that confidence and do the job for which he was elected.

So they have no precedent.  They have no moral ground for blocking this.  They are risking committing political suicide, in fact, which suggests that they are not listening to their constituents but to their paymasters.  There are several matters before the court this year which, had Scalia survived, might have gone in favor of the Right Wing agenda.  With Scalia gone, that certainty is no more.  They hope a Republican will be elected.

On that, though, all of them have come out against their Party frontrunner, Donald Trump.  If he becomes president, according to their recent comments, it will be a disaster.  So they won’t get what they want even if the GOP takes the White House.  They must secretly hope Hillary or Bernie wins.  But if that happens, then their nominee, certainly in the case of  Sanders, will be even farther from their ideological hopes.  Unless they intend, if Hillary wins, to mire her presidency in endless specious “hearings” about presumed “crimes.”

All of which tells anyone with half a brain that all they want is to block government from functioning at all.

Of course, if a Democrat wins in November and they retain control of the Senate and agree to advise and consent, then the problem must have been an unwillingness to work with a black man.  Ideology we can assume will not change, at least not sufficiently to matter.

On a personal note, I suspect this will get them drummed out of office.  The Robertson-Scalia court has handed down some of the most regressive decisions in the past two decades.  Just to name one, Citizens United.  I will not exercise here the problems—the moral problems—with that decision.  It is bad jurisprudence.  It is a mockery of even the thing the Right purports to defend, namely the importance of the individual.  It negated that importance by allowing a functional redefinition of what constitutes an individual.  They claim not to like Socialism, but that ruling allowed a form of aggregate personhood which elevated private aggregates to a virtually autonomous condition operationally akin to a kind of collectivism.  That it exists as a privately-held corporate entity does not change that fact that now we actually have some “persons” more equal than everybody else.

Whatever one may feel about the past seven years, in this President Obama has history, logic, and morality on his side.  It’s his job, his duty, and frankly his privilege, and it is the Senate’s job and duty to advise and consent.  History and tradition and even logic are against them, because likely they will have a harder choice of nominees this time next year.  What they are doing makes no sense at all.  It is posturing.

Which is growing very old.  They’re making the Democrats look better than perhaps they really are.

 

Under The Big Top

Chris Christie has endorsed Donald Trump.

I’ve been looking for a point of entry into the campaign thus far and this seems as good a one as any.  Like many, I’ve been watching in amazement as Donald Trump drags open the closet door on the GOP and shows everyone what’s in it.  Thus far in his campaign I haven’t heard anything he has said that, if couched in less caustic, bombastic, or otherwise reworked by spin artists to be more palatable, is not what all the rest have said or hoped for or believed for two decades.  Or more.  In other words, Trump has stripped the politically polished veneer off the GOP platform and shown us the ugly workings inside.

Added to that, on stage, during the debates,he has been shoveling at the other candidates pretty much the same kind of stuff the entire GOP machine has been flinging at Obama or any other Democrat in their sites for the last seven years. Whether it be the hyperbole of floor speeches in the House and Senate or the little email blasts full of non-facts and smears, this is what the Republican Party has dished out consistently at their perceived enemies—all in the name of “taking back the country” or “making America great again.”

The lesson for everyone is that, rather than accrue negative approval ratings, Trump is leading the pack.  The people who believe Obama is a Kenyan Muslim Communist are lapping this noise up as if it’s the Second Coming of Reagan and loving it, entirely sans the sense of irony that Ronald Reagan would be both appalled and unable to win a single caucus on his own in this climate of uber Right Wing—what was it Lindsey Graham said the other day? oh yeah—batshit crazy.

I imagine folks who love Trump now think Graham is a Lefty.  And not a bit of irony to be found among them.

Whether Trump is serious about his stated positions or is playing some very broad game of “let’s implode the Republican Party”, the take-away from this is just how desperately insane a significant segment of our population has become.  That the equivalent of a substanceless spiel worthy of an Adolf Hitler could be seen as a solution to problems which I suspect most of these folks don’t even understand points up the ruin the last three decades of Republican pillage has left of this country.

Education has been mangled in the name of programs that do the opposite of what their labels claim.

Promised jobs bills have either not appeared or have been used to bust unions or position key industries to be sold overseas, with a concomitant loss of the jobs that once anchored our middle class.

Decent politicians have been hounded out of office by demonizing them for actually doing their jobs, to be replaced by people who wouldn’t know how to manage a paper route and whose only claim to electability is how well they can make their constituency believe that someone else is at fault for their decaying situation.

The national debt has become a tool for sucking the latent wealth out of the country and into a pool of capital that “floats” globally and has no national home, a process that is not illegal because the people who might have brought it to our attention and caused legislation to be passed to prevent it have been fired, moved to other positions, or simply had their wings clipped in the name of profits.

Our standing in the world has been damaged because of a policy attitude that is based on some version of the Old West and the town marshal, with the United States willing at the drop of an insult to invade, bomb, destabilize regimes, or sell guns and bullets to terrorists as long as they claim to love capitalism.  Other nations don’t trust us because we gave up solving problems in lieu of international pillage.  (I cite KBR as a prime example of what I’m talking about.)

The middle class economy, which at one time was protected and managed in such a way that once a savings account paid interest upward of 3 to 5 %, a time now mythic in these days of a gutless Fed that won’t raised rates so the multinationals might be forced to pay some of their pilfered pelf back into the hands of those from whom they’ve stolen it.

And what is funnier is that the very people who might be able to repair all this are now fighting an uphill battle against charges that have zero substance—that they’re socialists or communists or that they simple want to raise everybody’s taxes or that they’re somehow racists.

Whatever else one might think of them, the only two presidents since 1980 who have overseen a reduction in the deficit and even a partial reduction in the debt are Clinton and Obama.

Every Republican president has presided over massive increases in both the deficit and the debt.

Large deficits and high debt are very good to a certain class of people.  It’s that simple.  Where, exactly, do you think those interest payments—your taxes—go to service that debt?

The newspeak of the current climate is perverse and, I think, brittle.  Observe the shattering going on even within the GOP by Trump, who in almost any other time would be seen as the clown he is acting.  The fabric of deceit and lies and misconceptions and misdirections which have formed the core of the GOP for the last two decades cannot hold against the weight of reality.

The danger, though, is that even more rational people have been infected by the politics of image and the legerdemain of mistrust.  The campaigns of he-said she-said built on accusations over character and presumed crimes have had their effect even on those who seem to know how they work, so that we see Hillary and Bernie being faced off in battles of gotcha that have no substantive bearing on their positions or their policies. We see people declaring that they will sit the election out if the “wrong” candidate wins the Party nomination.

Are people really that unobservant and narcissistic?  All 435 House seats up for reelection this year.    Thirty-four Senate seats are in play.  Twelve governorships.

The presidency isn’t the only thing at stake.  Staying home would be such an abandonment of duty as to amount to moral bankruptcy.

Government, it is said, no longer works.  That’s not true, obviously it does, we are not living in an anarchy.  But within the less absurd scope of what is meant by that statement, government can only work when people are chosen who know how to do it.  We have seen wave after wave of political intransigents and functional idiots sent to Washington time after time.  It should surprise no one that things are not working well.  When a conservative like Lindsey Graham stands up and declares that his party has gone batshit crazy, it would seem time to take back the controls and go to the polls in November.  Staying home would be almost criminal.

This has been a public service screed.  Thank you.

Hartwell

He was a presence in my growing understanding of the professional side of science fiction for almost 40 years. He was the first book editor whose name I knew. I collected a slew of his Timescape imprints from Pocket Books, regarding the label as a mark of excellence in a volatile field that was often untrackable in terms of what was good and what was not.  Because of David G. Hartwell, a number of authors came to my attention whose work I have continued to follow to this day.

I was fortunate to know him. A little. Somehow. We crossed paths enough times to be acquaintances and he was always—always—-gracious and, more importantly, interested.

The first time I saw him was in L.A. in 1984, at L.A.Con II, in a party shortly after the news had broken that Pocket Books had pulled the plug on Timescape.  Among the other problems, apparently, was the fact that David kept buying books that wouldn’t sell.  By sell, I mean they would not make bestseller lists.  Her had this arcane idea, apparently, that a good book ought to be published, regardless of the numbers it might (or might not) generate.  Odd notion, that, in an era dominated by the quest for the next blockbuster.  But David kept acquiring and championing books that did not have that kind of potential.  Anyway, I saw him in a hotel corridor, his hair sprayed with red and pink highlights.  (In contrast, I recall his tie was relatively tame.)  We spoke briefly.  I was just a fan and a wannabe writer at that time.  We talked a bit about the books and publishing.  A few minutes.  He said, finally, “Yes, well, the books are out there now.”  He had won one over the corporates.  The books had been published, despite the disapproval of the suits.

We said hi to each other in Atlanta in ’86 and by then I was, with some temerity, trying to write novels. We connected again in 2000, in Chicago, where we spent a couple of hours talking at the Japanese party at worldcon.  I remember that especially because it was the quietest party I’d ever attended at a worldcon—-or any con, for that matter—and David spoke knowledgeably about Japan and fandom there.  In the midst of our conversation, a number of our hosts,in kimonos, stopped at the same time, producing a variety of small cameras, and snapped pictures of us, as if by pre-arrangement.  By then Allen Steele had joined us, so they were getting pictures of two famous SF personalities and one semi-obscure one.

A few years later I was involved with the Missouri Center for the Book.  I’d just become its president and we were trying some new events, and one idea I came up with was what I called the Genre Forums.  We would do a public panel with a number of writers in a given genre, with a Q & A afterward.  The first one we did was science fiction, of course, and I had Robin Bailey come in from Kansas City, Carolyn Gilman, who lived in St. Louis then, Nisi Shawl from Seattle, and myself.  At the last minute, David called Robin.  He had seen a notice for the event.  He was coincidentally going to be in St.Louis for a family wedding that weekend and wondered if this was something he should attend.  Robin called me to see if I wanted David on the panel.  Rhetorical question.  We had a small audience, unfortunately, because it was a first-rate panel.  My partner, Donna, said it was the best panel she had ever seen, and by then we had both seen enough to judge.  His presence, his knowledge, his erudition graced our discourse with a sensibility difficult to describe, but it was wonderful.

After that he began soliciting work from me.  We never connected on a project, but we had several fine conversations afterward.  He was, I learned, a wine lover and I was able to introduce him to one.

Of course, he’s famous for the outré ties.  He possessed an antic quality that leavened his profound seriousness.  He had been instrumental in many careers.

He bridged the tail end of the Golden Age and the present. Elder statesman of the field seems a bit pompous, but in many ways it was true.  For a long time he ran the New York Review of Science Fiction—where I finally sold him a few things—and through that facilitated a high-minded, ongoing discussion of the workings, the objectives, the ongoing assessment of science fiction and, indeed, literature.

Here is the Locus obituary for more detail.

David took me seriously.  I am glad I knew him, sorry I didn’t know him better, and feel the world has lost a gentle, intelligent, wise light.

 

Competency As Test For Civil Discourse

President Obama gave his last State of the Union address this week.  I did not watch it, but I read the transcript.  To my eye, to my mind, it was as fine a way to cap his presidency as one could hope.  He spoke to the future.  Make of that what you will.  Those who do not now or never have liked him, it was all hot air, empty rhetoric, posing for posterity.  For those who believe he has been the best president since the last great one, it was inspirational, an arrow aimed at the next horizon.  For anyone with the slightest grasp of history, how politics works, of even a grasp of the last 40 years, it was a gracious and generous invitation to Do Better.

In contrast, Governor Haley’s official Republican rebuttal was a tortured exercise in finding a way to be right in the cracks of a broken legacy, made nearly irrelevant by an evident lack of understanding and, apparently, knowledge of our country’s history.

Nikki Haley, Governor of South Carolina, said in an interview after her rebuttal “we’ve never in the history of this country passed any laws or done anything based on race or religion.”

Let me pause for a breath while I ponder the utter feckless ignorance in that statement.  This is the flip side of the Right’s insistence that this country was founded on Christianity, I suppose.  More to the point, if that’s your belief, and you did not notice how stupidly wrong that statement from Governor Haley was, then you do have to ask yourself how you square the contradiction.  If she’s right, then this country was never a “christian” nation.  If it was so founded, then she’s wrong and every single law ever passed has been based on religion.

As to race, please.  Have you never heard of the One Drop Rule?  Or Loving v. Virginia?  Or Plessy v. Ferguson?  No?  What a pristine place your mind must be, then, unsullied by the grimier legacies of this country.

Saying something like that is tantamount to saying “All that stuff we did—we never really did it, it’s only stuff in books we don’t read.”  Wishful thinking and frankly insulting, because for that to pass she has to believe her listeners are stupid and uneducated and ignorant.  She has to bet on you not knowing any better.

Nikki Haley is one of the more reasonable Republicans holding office currently, but it is this kind of tone-deaf, ahistorical, reality-denying rhetoric that makes it impossible for me to take her seriously.  Or any of them, really, so synced to their Party campaign to undo everything from the 1950s (at a minimum) till today just because their constituency will vote for them if they do.  A shrinking constituency, I think.  The louder they get, the smaller their numbers.  But, my word, they are loud.

By comparison, Obama has shown far more gracious tolerance than—well, than I could possibly have shown.

We seem not to teach civics in school anymore.  We should.  We should have a course on civics combined with American history, beginning in grade school (when I got it) and continue on until 12th grade.  No let up.  Cover this stuff in greater and greater detail, ad nauseum, until it sinks in and we no longer think someone knows what he or she is talking about just because they hold high office.

What I will miss most when Obama leaves office is not being talked to like I only have a 3rd grade education by my president.  I will miss his erudition.  Yes, I will miss his humor, his sophistication, even his syntax.

I suspect the rest of the world will, too.

Of Course This Is My Opinion

At the gym this morning, listening to the news while doing treadmill, I learned that, quote, it is official, the Rams have filed to move back to L.A., unquote.

Those of you who know me will not be surprised that I am fine with this.  Go, leave.  Aside from one season and a surprise upset, allowing St. Louis to claim a superbowl win for its archives, the Rams have been…problematic.  We built them a dome.  We have suffered through the hissy-fits of their owner(s).  We have been held hostage by Rams management over the issue of building yet another dome in order to keep a team that rarely (ever?) fills the seats at the stadium they already have.  They have been a drain on the emotional (and fiscal) resources of this city and to no purpose.

Do any fans really care about seeing them in a new arena?  Other than the ones with stock options involved?

Be that as it may, I understand.  This isn’t about money.  It’s about a devotion with which I have some understanding but no connection.  And it would not bother me in the least if the only money involved were private money.

But somehow these uber-rich owners keep demanding municipalities pony up a bribe to keep these teams local, as if they have a right to expect us to pay for their profits before, during, and after, so that a minority of people can go to a handful of games that could be watched on television—in which case it really wouldn’t matter where it was played, you could green-screen any venue you wanted—and task the resources which could well be spent on something vital, like schools or poverty programs or that aquarium proposed several years ago which keeps being ignored but would actually serve a purpose, namely education.

If the powers that be in St. Louis can come together to bypass the right of the citizens to vote on an issue and allocate many millions for a purpose which, as far as I can see, is nothing but the real world equivalent of an XBox thrill, then why can’t they do the same for something that actually benefits people?

The Rams matter to me not a bit.  Stay, go, I don’t care.  But the politics around this do matter because they are indicative of skewed priorities and a mindset that finds it easier to throw bread and circuses at people rather than do anything constructive that might improve lives.  The Board of Alderman and the local courts have demonstrated an ability to act on something relatively unimportant only because money is involved.  They can damn well do their jobs and act on things that pertain to the commonwealth and stop assuming our tax dollars are well-spent on distractions and short term diversions.

Let the Rams go.  Now, can we have a serious discussion about that aquarium?

A Long Time Ago…

Yesterday, in fact.

Somehow, seeing the new Star Wars film on January 1st was the perfect thing to do. We went to the Moolah Theater on Lindell and had popcorn and sat back and became 12-year-olds for over two hours and it was…wonderful.

I have seen much back-and-forthing over this film the last few weeks, including some ill-advised and unwelcome splenetic blathering from George Lucas himself over how he disliked the direction J.J. Abrams has taken.  I have also seen for myself the new action figure set at Target which failed to include the key character in what must be considered one of the most blatant examples of denial in industry marketing since…I don’t know.  What?  You really don’t think little girls will buy these even with such a full-on kick-ass role model as Rey?  Or are you afraid they will buy them and we’ll have another round of how de-feminized the character is and how she’s a bad example for little girls who might opt out of the whole cute-girl-whose-brains-are-secondary track of socialization?

To get this out of the way right now, I think Rey is possibly the best thing about the new Star Wars.  Vertently  or otherwise, something significant has been achieved in her and I applaud it.  Take note, ye unwitting crafters of the female entity for screen and page, this is how you do it.  Simply put, she is her own self.  She does not define herself by the men in her life, she not trade herself for favors, she does not bow to fashion conventions that depend on genitalia.  She has her own concerns, her own goals, and runs her life on her own, the only constraints on any of that being the same exact constraints put on every other being in the world she inhabits.

And she is a deeply, deeply ethical and empathetic person.  One who is not afraid to act on her own judgment, consequences be damned.

And she pays for it with doubt and fear and the agon of the compassionate.

As if she were a real person.

Person.

(Why does he go on about this?  Why is he getting loud?  What’s the deal?)

The deal is, so seldom in something like this do we get to see a woman as Person First, self-consistent, competent, and heroic, who does the rescuing, fights (and wins) against the bad guy, and can remain herself as a human being.  She also has friendships.  Not lovers, there’s no suggestion of that, not even as foreshadowing. Friends.  They didn’t even try to dress her up in some form-accentuating bit of impractical gauzy revealing nonsense so we’d all see that while she’s running around kicking ass and being amazing she has cleavage and nice thigh.  She’s dressed for work, for survival, for movement, for function.  Her hair is even done practically.

By accident or intent, they did Rey right.

So how come she’s not in the action figure collection?

I have my opinions and they are not charitable.  But it may turn out to be beside the point.

As to all the other dross being spake about how it stacks up to the rest of the films…

Sure, it’s a broad retread of the very first film.  So what?  This is myth, which is cyclic, and the value is in reaffirmation and validation.  It is a Hero’s Journey and going all the way back to Gilgamesh certain forms remain constant.  There are tests and trials and the plot matters much less than the manner of challenge and the quality of its confrontation.  George Lucas forgot that when he made episodes 1, 2, and 3.  He tried to turn a quest fantasy into science fiction, he tried to interject politics, he tried to justify things in a way that didn’t so much subvert what he had done before as crack the road in front of the calabash.  J.J. Abrams, or whoever was principally responsible for the storyline here, went back to the Campbellian mythic underpinnings (Joseph not John W.) and brought back what mattered and made the first couple so compelling.  Certain mythic forms reoccur, time and again, and Joseph Campbell understood this and Lucas sort of did, we think, at least in the beginning, but it went off the rails when a certain gravitic pull to compete with Star Trek seemed to drag everything off in an inauspicious direction.  In spite of the superb craft of those later films, the genuinely well-executed action, and even the plot logic of much of it, they were curiously empty.  One thing after another, with only a few moments of transcendence that failed to rescue them from essentially tales about bureaucratic failure.  Lucas can be as snarky as he likes, but Episode VII has gone back to what made the first three films work.

And did it very well.

Episode IV and V were all about Becoming.  Episode VI was about coming to terms with what you have Become.

Episodes I, II, and III were all about breaking things.

Episode VII is about Becoming.

And Rey?  Pay attention, fellas.  This is how it’s done. This is what a human being looks like.  This is a hero.