And So It Begins

Campaign season seems to begin earlier and earlier every time it comes around, but this time it’s starting up almost two years before?  Well, in many ways it began in 2008 and has continued almost nonstop since.

Ted Cruz has announced his candidacy.

I have two reactions to this.  The first is, perhaps predictably, “You have to be kidding.”  But the other is an unpleasant chill running through my entire nervous system.  I have come finally to embrace the maxim “Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.”  There are and will be fervent supporters for this demagogue and over the last couple of decades it has disturbed me how such thoughtless, anti-intellectual, entrenched ideologues seem to creep ever closer to the White House.  On the one hand, Romney lost because he really did not understand the mood of the nation.  On the other, those who mourn his loss have, at least in part, put enough of their kind in congress to effectively cripple national government.

I feel this would all be solved by the simple expedient of a 95% voter turnout.

No, I do not support any suggestion of mandatory voting.  Freedom does not thrive where choice is limited, and choosing not to vote is as viable a freedom as choosing to vote.

It would be less troubling if I believed that this was the case, that people were choosing not to vote.  I think for many people it’s just too much trouble, low down on the list of priorities behind shopping and yard work.  For many others, whether we wish to accept it or not, obstructions effectively dissuade voting.  And for still more, a deep pessimism that voting does no good keeps them from even knowing who the candidates are or what the issues may be.  Throw in a thick broth of lazy and there you have it.

So Ted Cruz may get and keep support from people who will find it easier to vote slogans than to actually find out something about their candidates.  He mouths the appropriate small-minded palaver about government overreach and too much regulation and the loss of American prestige.  Some people nod knowingly, as if they actually understand what he’s talking about.  If they did, they would know him for the political half-wit he seems to be.  He’s going to know how to get out the vote among those who think, when they do, in terms of feelings and disapprovals rather than by issues, so he may run a solid campaign by such metrics, but he would not know how to be a president if he won.

To wit, there may well be government overreach, but it’s not a single thing liable to a simple solution.  There is no cabal to which you can just say No and stop the problem.  And frankly, as with most things in America, one person’s overreach is another’s necessary program.  Likewise with regulation. Sure, there may well be—and assuredly are—too many inappropriate regulations imposed upon us by government.  Just as surely, my list will be different than your list, so exactly how do we come to some agreement about which should go and which should stay?  And, just to make matters worse, which government?  Municipal, county, state, or federal?  Not all regulations are from the same source.  This is why democracy, whether we like it or not, is an ongoing process, a conversation, requiring engagement by the citizenry.  It doesn’t run on its own.  We can’t just elect someone and then ignore everything afterward.

As for American prestige, that’s one of those noble-sounding but useless phrases that can mean anything.  The decline of American prestige?  In what way and for whom?  It’s not quantifiable, for one thing.  For another, it’s as personal as the other two points.  For some, having the world afraid of us is evidence of “ascendancy” and “prestige.”  Like we’re all of us school kids in the playground, throwing our machismo around to count coup.  For others, respect is what we want, and that’s something you earn by cooperation.  Working with other nations, more to help them with their problems than ours, but getting in return some help with ours, and then knowing when their problems are caused by us and being willing to do something about it.  Not sexy, but in the long run more effective.

I recall seeing one of the last big conferences Bush attended before he left office, and all these prominent leaders of other countries mounting the stage, many of them putatively allies, and it was obvious that none of them respected Bush.  He was all but snubbed.  They saw him as a rube.  A clueless tool of his handlers.  Whether that assessment was correct is immaterial, that was the perception, and let’s be honest, in politics perception is more than half the game.

That is not the case with Obama.  Again, whether you like it or not.

Or perhaps people just don’t recognize respect when they see it.  Respect is a voluntary thing, not something you can demand, and certainly not something frightened people give.

Cruz is a demagogue.  He also doesn’t seem to give a damn about anything other than his career.  His people are perhaps aware of his deficits.  He made his announcement to run for office in a packed auditorium—filled with students who were required to be there.  Many of them may well have shown up for him anyway, but not all, and it was little more than some opportunistic stage craft.

What he represents, if in fact he represents anything other than himself, is a laundry list of regressive ideas that are everything we’ve come to expect from reactionary coalitions of malcontents who don’t like the idea that America has to be shared with people they don’t like.  That he is one of the poster boys for a Tea Party that still won’t let go the idea that Obama is not a citizen is profoundly ironic.

To be clear, the charges that Cruz is ineligible to run for the presidency are as groundless as they were for Obama.  His mother was born in Wilmington, Delaware.  End of argument.  He’s a “natural born” American.

Still, that some people are throwing the charge at him already carries a small schadenfreude about it.

As far as I know, no one in recent memory who began their active campaign this early has made it through the primaries.  I could be wrong about that, but I think it’s so.  Which means he’s being poorly advised OR this is part of a larger Party strategy to set him up to take all the flack while another candidate, more moderate, more “electable” is positioned for a later announcement closer to time.  If so, I have to wonder if Cruz knows.

It’s going to be an interesting season.

Time Capsules

On Thanksgiving, we spent the day with my parents.  While there, they handed me a stack of prints and a pile of negatives I had completely forgotten about.  Most of them are crap.  They’re from 1971 for the most part and I was in the early stages of trying to learn photography.  I was shooting a LOT of film and about 99% was ultimately junk.  But this is the way I learn.  I dive in and do a great deal of whatever it is I’m trying to do, largely ignoring instructions and books, which I consult only when I’m so hopelessly lost that I admit to needing expert help.  It’s an absurd way to go about it, but when I do finally learn something it stays learned.

Anyway, among the negatives I found a couple shots my dad took of me at the keyboard.  At this time I still hadn’t made up my mind what I wanted to do or be.  Music was always a possibility, a big deal, but it turned out not to be.  However, I had aspirations.  (When you’re that young, you think you can do it all.  At one time I simultaneously wanted to be an actor, a musician, a photographer, and a writer, and saw no reason why I couldn’t.  The acting has, subsequently, faded completely from my list of ambitions.)

So, here I am being…well, I was getting my Keith Emerson on, clearly, as well as the serious composer bit.

 

Me As Emerson, 1971, b&w

Me As Composer, 1971, b&w

Seems I couldn’t read my own notation…

Local vs National?

A curious thing came out of the midterms.  The fact that a lot of GOP candidates won their races (many by a nose hair) and yet in those same districts more or less progressive referenda also won.  Legalization of marijuana and the legitimization of gay marriage being the two most prominent.  This is curious when you consider that for the last umpteen years now the GOP has made its bones by being obsessively loudmouthed social naysayers.  People seem to have been voting for them because they are opposed to all the things identified as signaling the End Times of Civilization, most of which can be lumped loosely under the rubric of “Permissiveness.”  Abortion, sex education, liberal arts education, science, critical thinking, and so forth have all come in for pulpit-drubbings by various right wing candidates.

And yet, it seems, even while in local to state races the electorate has been rewarding such rhetoric, when given the chance to actually vote on specific policies the trend would appear in the opposite direction, if only by a smidgen.

According to polls, the country has maintained more or less the same split over abortion, namely that the majority favors its legality.  On the local level, the Right have resorted to playing very narrow games of accreditation for facilities in order to shut down clinics and in some cases have enacted what may appear to the uninvolved perfectly reasonable waiting period laws, but every “personhood” amendment on the ballot across the country failed.  When it comes to the actual core issue—a woman’s right to choose—that divide doesn’t budge.  (If they keep playing games like this, though, we may discover in the next couple of election cycles that a greater majority favor legal access than we previously assessed as people get tired of the brinksmanship.)

The War on Drugs, declared under Nixon lo these many decades past, is losing its moral legitimacy with more and more people.

And finally Texas school books have been purged of anti-science rhetoric.  Now all we have to do is achieve the same in history.

So what exactly is going on?  If right wing demagogues are being elected to “represent” districts while at the same time those districts are rejecting the social programs being pushed by these demagogues, some head-scratching is in order.

It may not be as baffling as it first appears.  It just depends on what battle we think is being fought.

It occurs to me that, stepping back and trying to see it as a whole, the closest fit would be to see this as a variation on the Civil War.  Specifically, the debate between local and federal control.  It is a fact that most of the men who fought for the Confederacy were not slave owners, they had no direct stake in the Peculiar Institution (although it would be a mistake to maintain that they were totally unaffected by the question), and that there were deep pockets of abolitionist sentiment throughout the South. Of the multiple reasons they would fight so ardently, the one that makes the most sense is the “Because you’re down here” issue.  They did not think of themselves as Americans in the sense of a single national political (or even social) entity, but as a general idea expressed through regional tradition.  Culturally, it would difficult to describe a New England seaman, an Appalachian hardscrabble farmer, and a Louisiana riverman as belonging to the same social aggragate.  We are, as we like to say, a nation of immigrants, and no one abandoned their heritage when they got off the boat, even if they tried.  We are a nation of villages.

When the Civil War broke, the driving political question was where the primary power to change lives lay.  Locally?  Where most people, even in the North, naturally assumed?  Or centrally, at the federal level, with laws emerging from the minds of people most of the country did not know and did not understand and could, it would be reasonable to assume, knew nothing of “how we live here.”

This is not to say we lacked any kind of national identity.  Far from it, but for the most part the two—local, or regional, and national—had little real interaction.  You could be an American and believe you lived in a country of fellow Americans, without that ever meaning you had to do anything to accommodate the sensibilities of people living a thousand miles away.  Or even a hundred, for that matter.  It became an issue when those people came to your area and began telling you that, in fact, you did have to make such accommodation.

Again, probably for most people in any given area or era, this was not a big deal.  But we can see explosions of when it became one.  The Range Wars in the west over settlers and grazing rights is exactly this kind of dispute.  The Whiskey Rebellion, while not usually characterized this way, was one of the earliest and most prominent, an explosion coming out of the fact that the Atlantic seaboard had no idea of the conditions for survival in Western Pennsylvania.

The so-called Civil War is the largest of these and utterly transformed the relationship between states and the nation as a single entity.

It’s useful to recall the by-now well-known statement that Robert E. Lee made when refusing command of the Union Army, that he could never fight against his country.  It is perhaps simplistic to see that as his claiming that Virginia, the state, was what he regarded as “his country” and it wouldn’t be wrong, only insufficient.  Lee was not simplistic and he was a West Pointer.  “His country” may well have been both—Virginia and the United States—and his statement would then have made sense as a declaration of his unwillingness to fight in opposition to the configuration in which both existed in relation to each other.  Fighting for the Union in order to facilitate the imposition of the federal over the states would for him be as bad as treason, because that meant changing the very intent of that relationship.

David Brin has written an overview of a version of this ongoing civil war.  While I might quibble with details, it suffices to describe a sentiment which I believe is at the heart of the apparent contradiction evident in the last election.  The visceral rage evidenced by the Right since Obama’s election, something which has been building and gaining momentum since Reagan took office, seems to me perfectly explicable when viewed  in this way.  What we’ve been seeing is not so much a rejection of progressivism or even social justice—although there certainly is such rejection by certain factions—as it is a rejection of federal hegemony and centrality.  Progressive ideals and social justice become collateral damage in this fight, which may seem a weak description of the real impact of such damage, yet the lack of any kind of genuine guiding principle behind their rollbacks can be explained by the apparent larger battle.  This may be the last phase of an ongoing war over identity that has raged, to greater or lesser degree, for two centuries.

We want to be Americans but only as defined by local identity.

As I noted in the previous post, low midterm voter turnout may be an artifact of a perceived pointlessness in voting locally when one can do nothing about another district’s or state’s representative.  If, in other words, my vote won’t get that guy from Ohio or Kentucky out of office, what’s the point?  This would be a component of this identity question, expressed in ambivalence and manifest as apathy.

When you look at certain maps of electoral trends, there would appear to be a set of characteristics that are being squeezed.  As frustrating as recent politics have been, federalism seems to be gradually winning the field. America is becoming one country, finally, after all this time.

Which would explain, in part, the most recent battle over immigration.  The forces circling the wagons around the besieged identities of which I speak see rationalizing immigration policy as another attack on their primacy.  Who can say what several million newly naturalized voters might do at the polls?  Better to do all we can to keep them out and try to gain some kind of upper hand for—

Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?  If what I suggest underlies all this, then the fight is over the desire to retain independence from the very thing you put forward as a last hope for freedom.  You want to be an American but you don’t want to change yourself in order to be what that might mean.

Which makes several apparently absurd things make a kind of sense.  Opposition, for instance, to the theory of evolution.  If evolution is true—and, worse, we teach it to our kids—then that means change is natural, indeed inevitable, and, furthermore, that there is no scientific basis for exclusion.  These twin notions, when put in political context, are explosive for certain people who are also trying to assert that our Founding Fathers based our guiding documents and institutions on Biblical foundations, which they by their own admission did not.

God created Americans, whole and perfect, and these pesky scientific notions of change and mutation and inconstancy violate that conceived perfection.

Ridiculous?

How about climate change, then?  Never mind the cause, but the fact of it means we will have to change how we live in order to meet the challenge of the new environment.  We will environmentally stop being the Land of Milk and Honey, the cornucopeia we have always told ourselves we are.  If you are someone who believes the above idea about perfect creation, then this can be nothing but divine judgment (as opposed to natural evolution, which might be addressable if we would just get out of our own way), and by all that is who we wish to be that cannot be.  It must be because of—

And the litany of the excluded follows.  Gays, minorities, socialists, feminists.

As long as the larger world did not intrude upon your small patch of the landscape and you could define yourself according to standards shared by your next door neighbor without any regard for the nation or the world, everything could be fine.

Of course, it’s not, because such hermetic isolation is impossible, and ideas if nothing else seep in.  The former Soviet Union was nothing if not an almost century-long attempt to isolate an entire nation ideologically from outside ideas, and if failed miserably, resulting in its collapse when the weight of willed ignorance grew too much.

I’m not here claiming a preference so much as indicating vectors and possible causes.  The invective hurled at Obama would seem baseless and utterly without motive in any rational sense, the yowling of people who feel threatened for no apparent reason.  But if seen from this perspective, it begins to make a kind of sense.  This is, possibly, the last campaign of a civil war that has been going on for a long, long time.  This is a stand against the future.  Obama won both elections by wide margins of the popular vote, so clearly this is not a majority reaction, but a stung minority who see him as representative of a change which many of them may not themselves have clearly defined.  That the very progressive measures which one assumes are the meat and bread oppositions of the representatives recently elected passed in so many places suggest that policy is less important in this than a kind of granulated regionalism.

It’s not the kind of argument, unfortunately, that lends itself to clarity, to a clearly defined right and wrong.  Which is what makes the rhetoric so unfathomable at times.

Games, Equity, and He-Man Woman Hater Clubs

I do not play games.  I haven’t for decades.  I used to play Trivial Pursuit™ and I still enjoy a game of chess, but both these games are high on the mental acuity charts and low on the following the rules charts.  Sorry, but it’s true—to play Trivial Pursuit™, inane as some of the questions are occasionally, you actually have to know something about, you know, The World and its contents.  That’s why people who read widely and pay attention to things outside themselves do well at it.  Chess requires strategizing way outside the possibilities prescribed by the relatively simple set of rules and works the gray cells and synapses much more thoroughly than the repeatable pattern-following of many games.

Most games bore me, but more than that I am put off by the zero-sum essence of so many of them.  For me to win, someone has to lose, and while that is also true in both chess and Trivial Pursuit™, it is also true that you can play both those games without having that as the primary focus.  Chess is a problem-solving game and Trivial Pursuit™ is about its contents.  That’s my take on both and I’m sticking to it.

Even so, I rarely play either anymore.  The fundamental competitiveness of games puts me off.  I’m not particularly competitive and I have too often come face to face with the ugly side of a player who staked his entire status on winning games.  (I’ve played foosball once.  Once.  Some friends of mine and I happened to be in a bar, toying with trying the game out.  None of us had played it before.  We were approached by a guy who, in retrospect, was a regular and a true foosball fanatic, who offered to play by giving us a fourth.  Well, he was on “my side” and I was terrible.  My friends and I were laughing while trying to figure it out, but this guy damn near punched me out for being so bad.  It was far more to him than “just a game” and I never tried it again.)  For the most part, this is just me and I have no brief on others who are into playing games.  They’re having a good time, life is short, go for it.

So this is about those who make a life out of games, especially those who have chosen to invest in those games everything of value of themselves.  Obsession above and beyond the weekend warrior variety, because for these folks the game is life.

Even with that, there are many gamers for whom more is definitely merrier, they are inclusive, expansive, and social.  I’m not talking about them.

I’m talking about those who are evidently very particular about who gets invited into the clubhouse.

We come now to the ongoing farce known as GamerGate.  I say farce knowing full well that it has, for some, gone way beyond what may normally be meant by that word.  This is not harmless.  This is exemplary of just about everything negative in a certain kind of mindset.  We’re talking elitism, hypercompetitiveness, insensitivity to others, paranoia, exclusiveness in the extreme, and the abandonment of empathy that comes from a psychic insularity bordering on the pathological.

Extreme?

You do not threaten people’s lives and physical safety over a fucking game!

What’s wrong with you?  So there’s a girl who plays games as well if not better than you and she has some suggestions for making it better for more people.  So?  What’s this whole Attila the Hun thing about keeping her out and beating, raping, and maybe killing her if she doesn’t stop criticizing your fucking game?  Did you miss the part that it’s a game?  Didn’t your mother teach you that you don’t make threats to people just because they have a different opinion?

Or are you so terrified of women that you just can’t deal with them inside the clubhouse?

Yes, I’m using the simplest terms and models for this because I just cannot wrap my head around anyone older than nine reacting this way.

Unless, of course, we are dealing with a sociopathology that has somehow found a place within gaming from which to look out upon a world that is nothing less than an absolutely hostile place determined to take away all meaning from your life.

This is basic ingrown immaturity which in order to feel worthwhile at all seeks to define everyone else as in some way less in order for you to feel even nominally worthwhile.  It appears not much more complicated than that, although I will quickly point out that simple heuristics, put in play, can often result in complex manifestations.

It would be perhaps worthwhile to see a full psychological and anthropological work-up on the mentality at work in someone who is so threatened by the presence of a female in their preferred venue of escapism that they would resort to violence to not only prevent the females from entering but to tear them down to a level of complete subservience from which they might never be able to rise again.  Maybe.  But I think it reasonable to say that we’ve all encountered something like this from time to time in individuals who have so little sense of who or what they are that just about anything outside their sphere of understanding demands that they ridicule, revile, and render harmless via full-bore antagonism.  Rather than step outside and find out about something, better for them to shut it down, blow it up, kill it.  Rather than risk the hermetic seal insulating them from any recognition that there are things which they not only lack understanding but which are perhaps more important than the arrangement of furniture in their pyschic den they play a hard and fast game of total destruction on the offending truth.

Game?  Did I say game?  Indeed, because that’s all this is.  The harm comes from the sudden interface with reality that catches them completely unprepared.  The game is all, the game is the world, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world itself was the game.  Simpler, where the rules, as byzantine, myriad, and manifold as they are, could be known, memorized, mastered, and those who did not play by them could be penalized immediately, without any considerations of rights or ethics or pesky maturity.  A place where every eventuality is covered by a rule.

For young males of a certain age and mentality, females seem to conform to no rules, at least none they understand.  The presence of a female is a chaos-making event that is fraught with exactly the kind of uncertainty these males have fought hard to deny.

I say that knowing full well that any individual, of any sex or gender, who is not part of the game represents exactly that kind of potential to upend everything and render all these carefully-wrought rules…inapplicable.  Imagine trying to roll against someone who not only may not know what the die faces mean but who doesn’t care.  Imagine then the sheer terror of rolling against someone who not only knows all the rules you do but intends to change some of them to accommodate factors you joined the game in order to avoid.

The vitriol and childish, tantrum-soaked invective of the GamerGaters is precisely the reaction one should expect from someone in full reality-denial mode who doesn’t want their (artificial) paradigm fucked with.  They doubtless experience similar reactions to males who threaten the model, but it’s harder to tell the males apart.

Women are obvious purely by their appearance.

Is this sounding pathetic?

Here’s something even more so.  That some idiot can publicly threaten violence in a public space and get away with it because the powers that be are too afraid to piss off a different set of Gamers playing by another set of reality-denying rules by doing anything about it.  I’m talking about the Anita Sarkeesian event in Utah, canceled because the university refused to enforce a no-carry policy in an open carry state, and yes, I’m comparing the fanatics backing open carry to the GamerGaters, because they’re exhibiting the same pathology of establishing the parameters of a worldview inconsistent with reality or reason and excoriating anyone who suggests that maybe there are circumstances in which a reasonable alternative to walking around armed every-damn-where might be in order.

Like in the auditorium of a university where there will be a speaker appearing who has been threatened with death if she steps up to the podium.

(Pathology?  What else do you call people who see the blocking of approval of a surgeons general at a time when we may be facing a rather nasty epidemic just because he said some things you find objectionable?  I suggest that the mentality is about the same.)

Others have gone public with rebuttals and denunciations of the GamerGaters, so much of what I have to say is redundant to say the least.  But I’m saying it because I think more males need to get out there with this, that targeting women, because they are women, because you can’t handle dealing with them is pathetic, spineless, and repulsive.  I don’t care what level psionic warrior you are within the cramped confines of your game, if you don’t know how to talk to a girl like a human being and feel so threatened by females that you would rather stay in the monastery of your game than even attempt to accommodate reality, you have nothing.

And under no circumstances is it acceptable to threaten anyone, especially if all they do is suggest your game could be improved.

I realize that GamerGate is comprised of a small group within the large and diverse gaming community, but the structure of these games has the unfortunate effect of granting permissions for obscene behavior in the minds of certain poorly functioning child-men.  In this is it similar to religion, and in a world which is fully aware of the weight of ugliness layered upon women because men have decided what they are and what they may be, no one who has the least interest in something called morality or civilization can tolerate this infantile nonsense.

Admittedly, I have no profound insights here.  There’s actually, in my mind, very little depth involved.  These are people who have mistaken a game for reality and forgot—or never learned—how to behave in public.  Assholes who talk loudly in the movie theater, ruining the experience for everyone, and who ought to be escorted out.  These are the disrupters who sat in the back of the class, fouling the air for everyone else.  The inept wannabes who think it’s cool to drug a girl at a party and rape her, because who the hell wants to actually talk to a girl?  The real question is, why don’t they want to talk to you?  Well, because.

Within their games they are warriors and rulers, wizards and magicians, with many arcane powers.  Unfortunately, outside of the game they’re still ten years old and they haven’t learned how to behave.

But they aren’t ten.  Physically, they’re adults, and living with such illusions makes them just a bit dangerous.

So, guys—yeah, all you males on the sidelines who know better—time to step up and start stating up front that this is wrong, that women are people first and foremost, that venting spleen over someone just having an opinion is the mark of a very poorly developed intellect, and that threatening and abusing women is no longer acceptable.

As for the GamerGaters—I’m reminded of that foosball fanatic who was ready to take me to the parking lot and beat me up because I caused him to lose a game.  Pathetic.  Grow up.  I’ve known magic people and they didn’t get their powers from a fucking board game.  They got them by living life.

Life Sometimes Hits You In The Ass

I realize people don’t want to hear about your woes, not unless they’re amusing in some karmic way, or you have a manner of relating them that takes them up out of the pit of despond wherein the currents swirl in an effort to pull you down further.  But life is a heady mix of things, both good and bad.

Let me start with the good, just to leaven the stew.

We’re alive, the meteor missed the house, and the dog is happy.

Well, now.  On to the rest?

Last Friday I was due to be at work at two in the afternoon to prepare, with coworkers, for a Big Deal event for Left Bank Books.  We were entertaining Melissa Gilbert at Maryville.  Yes, that Melissa Gilbert, of Little House On The Prairie fame.  Half Pint?  Was that the character’s nickname?  I wouldn’t know.  I think I’ve seen three or four episodes, ever.  Not my thing.  (But to my chagrin, no one got my repeated references to Z’Ha’Dum, so maybe that evens things up.)  Anyway, I had to stop by the post office on the way and do something else (I don’t remember now) and after that I turned onto Kingshighway to head north.

As I drove along I glanced to the right and saw a woman walking down the  street, just past Ackerman Toyota, dressed in what I think of as “Dig Me” attire.  She was attractive, seemed in good shape, and was certainly an attention grabber, painted on distressed and ripped jeans, tank top, long blond hair.  I saw all this in less than an eyeblink and turned my attention back to the road.

Traffic was stopped at the light at Osceola, at the north end of the Charles Schmitt car lot.  I stopped just shy of the entrance to said lot.

A moment or two later I heard a horrible squealing of tires, looked up to see a large pick-up bearing down on me, just time enough to think “Oh, shit” and brace for impact. Bam! Rocked the car, jostled me around, ruined my afternoon.   Naturally, just as this happened, the light turned green and the vehicles ahead of me moved on.  A few seconds either way…

I got out of my vehicle.  The trunk of my car…well, have a look:  Smashed Trunk 1

The truck that hit me was a Ram 1500.  Appropriately named, I think. Two men got out, both in workmans attire (painter pants, t-shirts) and the driver had a panicked expression.

“In a hurry are you?” I asked.

“Not really,” he said.

Then I realized what had happened.  “But she was awful nice to look at, wasn’t she?” I said.

He hesitated, then gave me a goofy, embarrassed grin.  “Yeah, I admit it.”

Naturally, the young lady to whom I referred was nowhere to be seen.  Not that it really mattered.  He could have been trying to read a billboard for all it mattered, the fact was he hadn’t been paying attention to what was in front of his fairly rapidly moving vehicle.

Other Vehicle   As you can see, it didn’t do much to his truck.  Knocked the front license plate off.

His passenger called the report in on his cell phone.  We pulled onto the lot so we didn’t block traffic.  A mistake, I realized later, since it then took damn near two hours before a cop showed up to take the report.

The people at Charles Schmitt let me call my work to let them know I might be late.

At which point Kris and Jay appeared, as if by magic, to see what had happened.  My bosses.  They’d been on their way in and passed the lot and Kris said “Is that Mark?”  Jay said, “I don’t know, was he wearing a hat?”  They called Left Bank and found out about my call, turned around, and hung with me for a time until they absolutely had to go.

The event that evening was going to be awkward without me, but they assured me they’d handle it.  After the police FINALLY arrived, I walked down to Ackerman Toyota to see about leaving the car there.  We’re good customers.  We’ve bought three vehicles from them (and will likely buy more) and get all our service done there, so no problem.  I then called Donna, who was as it happened on her way home.  She picked me up at Ackerman and took me to work.

No one had actually expected me to come in, but they seemed appreciative.

Now, I had just spent almost $600.00 on that car repairing the automatic window mechanism on the driver’s side.  It’s probable that the car is now totaled, but we’ll see.

Yesterday I learn that the gentleman who hit me let his insurance lapse months ago.  Wonderful.

This is some kind of cherry on the sundae of my year.  I’ve had to replace me glasses.  There were other repairs.  My coffeemaker died.  But several weeks ago I injured my arm at work.  An annoying injury at the bicep that is taking a damnably long time to heal and when this guy hit me I apparently jammed that arm again and it now hurts about as bad as it did when I first injured it.  It’s now Tuesday, though, and I have no other mysterious aches and pains, so I seem to have dodged the whiplash bullet.  (I’m fortunate to be in as good a shape as I am, otherwise I might be more screwed up.)

The prospect of buying a new car is one of mixed emotions.  I’d love one.  But not just yet.  We’ve had a year of unexpected expenses and more stress due to other factors which I would rather not discuss here, and things are…awkward.  We were talking a couple more years before new car time for me.  We really can’t afford it, but on the other hand you do what you have to.

I had two new books come out this year, of which I am very proud and happy.  I would appreciate a bit more attention to them.  A few reviews in the appropriate places wouldn’t hurt, a few more sales, etc.  But all in all, that part is good.  But if this is some kind of karmic realignment, I think I’m glad a new novel didn’t come out this year, I’m not sure I’d survive the balance of joss payments!

One thing of which Donna and I are extremely grateful is the number of good friends we have.  They’ve been terrific, even in wholly unexpected ways.

But I would rather not have things happen that calls upon them to be as supportive as they have been.

In a few weeks I’ll be sixty.  The mind boggles.  Unrealistically, I’d thought things might be a little easier by now, and really, when I pull back from dealing with the daily nonsense, much of life is easier.  It’s just that I don’t have as much energy to deal with it all as I used to, so it seems…well, more annoying, to be sure.

I picked up my rental this morning—a rather cumbersome Kia SUV—and the insurance adjustor has already looked at my old Corolla.  I await his call to tell me what will be.  Whatever it is, we’ll deal with it.

With a little help from our friends, who have been terrific.  Thank you all.

So let me wrap this report up.  Just letting you all know what’s going on.

Have a better day.

___________________________________________________________________________________

p.s.  Well wishing and so forth are appreciated.  But I’m perfectly serious about boosting the signal on the books.  That kind of support would do some serious good anytime, but right now it would be balm to a sore psyché.

Gravity Box and Other Spaces

The Logic of Departure

Or, if you’re so inclined, give a follow on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/MWTiedemann   That would be like a kindly Thumbs Up sent across the interweebs.

Blind Mouthings

I suppose I should link to some of the news feeds about this, but I think it’s been sufficiently covered among those who give a damn that I don’t need to.

My people—what I used to think of as my people—have once more led with their chins and embarrassed the lot of us.  Recently a mini-catastrophe, relevant to the exalted standards and reputation in which certain folks would like to believe the SF community maintains, explode-a-pated all over everyone in the carnival reaction to Jonathan Ross, a person of some note on the BBC and in England, being selected to host the Hugo Awards at the next worldcon in London.  Seems Mr. Ross has a less than tarnishless reputation in popular circles as a comedic curmudgeon who likes to belittle people of various types, most notably women, and makes fun of everyone whom he considers targettable. I’m taking this on faith here as until this happened I had no clue who the man is.

He has withdrawn himself as host to the awards in the wake of what by all accounts has been a savage twitter attack on him and his family from, ahem, Certain Elements within the SFnal community.  Or maybe not.  It’s hard to tell with these things, since everyone can hide so neatly behind hashtags and handles and alternate personae.  For all anyone knows, the whole assault may have been two or three exceptionally small-concerned misanthropes in a basement somewhere with too much time, a live feed, and no clue what it means to live in a community.

Neil Gaiman has written rather well on the subject. (So, yeah, I guess I’m linking to some of it.)

A couple of things occur to me about this, one from some personal experience.  I’ve done time serving with an organization that had as part of its mandate the selection of Notables for certain public events.  I’ve been in the proverbial “back room” while such things have been deliberated.  My first reaction to this was “Didn’t the people who chose him have a clue what might happen?”  And I thought, “it’s possible for enthusiasm to overwhelm common sense in these things, the whole idea of Getting Someone Important to appear can seem so rarefied as to pump nitrous oxide into any discussion and lobotomize a committee.”  On that score, it seems to me, SF fans, even those in positions of authority, are often still just 12 years old.  Even so, when some one among them says “This is not a good idea” it is incumbent on the others to listen and at least have a damn good reason for going ahead anyway.  From what it looks like on the outside, this didn’t happen.  Someone threw what weight they had around and stamped their feet and got what they wanted…and reaped a minor whirlwind.

This is why such things take time, or should, and why we need to get over the whole Big Name Personality Syndrome that affects too many of us.  SF wants to be taken seriously, SF should grow up and take the world seriously.  None of this should ever have gotten out of that Back Room.  If Mr. Ross came with that kind of baggage, the issue should have died a quiet death long before invitations had been made and resignations proffered.  That is called professionalism.

Still, no one is psychic.  Mistakes get made.

But the second thing that occurred to me was what Neil said.  Whoever, whichever segment of My People, decided to take it upon themselves to tell Mr. Ross what they thought of him and his family—you have acted the Ass.

Before the internet, before FB and Twitter, people got exercised about this stuff, talked trash among themselves, and maybe a few would write letters.  Nasty fan mail has always been with us.  But our technology has enabled us to show our true selves faster and more publicly than ever before possible and it is, in instances like these, ugliness incarnate.

Just what difference do you think letting someone know you think he’s on your “never invite for cocktails” list makes to either him/her or to the world at large?  No, don’t overthink it, I’ll tell you.  None.  All it does is add a bit more vile to an already questionable brew. This is the snickering prankishness of chickenshit adolescents who think it’s cool to let everyone who already doesn’t know they exist know that they care very much about being ignored by making themselves even less pleasant than anyone realized before.

The ability to add your two-cents at a keystroke has enabled some of us to ramp up the ugly faster than their minds could possibly intervene with a cautionary “Maybe you should think this through before you Send.”  In this instance, they have let Mr. Ross know how much they dislike him by demonstrating how much worse they can be than he.

Or, even sadder, these are people who do this habitually, without any stake in the debate, simply because they’ve become intoxicated by the sound of their own ignorance flashed across the world.  “Oh, look!  An Issue!  Let me let let me, I can come up with a really cool insult, too!”

People who lead with their mouths and have nothing to say, who walk into any room, any party, often uninvited, with no clue how to behave or, apparently, even how to think.  There is an arcane term for them—boors.  They indulge boorishness.

It’s not just science fiction where this has been on display, its even worse in political fora.  We scratch our heads and wonder why such third-rate politicians are the only ones who run for office anymore.  It’s bad enough to be challenged by the marginally thoughtful, but to have to deal daily with sport pissers would drive anyone with any self-respect to question the value of running for office.

Finally,  though, it is the anonymity afforded by the technology that exacerbates.  The ignorant, the boorish, the cowardly can lob  this shit from the presumed comfort of no one knowing who they are.

It accomplishes nothing.

I think it’s sad what has happened to Mr. Ross.  There are ways of dealing with these sorts of things that spare feelings and have the benefit of not making everyone involved look like a fool.

I suppose we should be grateful that this is how it’s done, though.  Tarring and feathering used to be the preferred manner and it could actually kill.

Reality, Real and Fake

By now those who don’t know about Phil Robertson and the debacle at A & E are most likely among those who have no access to any kind of media.  They have no idea what the world is doing, because they have no way of knowing what to pay attention to.  How can they possibly know anything about reality without the all-important medium of…well…media?

This isn’t really about Phil or Duck Dynasty or anything directly related to the people at the center of this.  Not really.  How can it be when what we see of them and hear them is simply not real?

How’s that?  Didn’t Mr. Robertson say those thing printed in GQ that got him suspended from his on-air presence in his own reality show?

Well, he did and he didn’t.  The man playing the part of Phil Robertson, in character as the patriarch of a television show, said some thing which were printed in a high fashion magazine that normally wouldn’t touch plaid shirts, bib overalls, and pump action shotguns or the beards sported by these folks.  They aren’t ZZ Top wailing about sharp dressed men with cheap sunglasses, so to begin with, the question is why were these words in GQ in the first place?

Well, because GQ wasn’t interviewing Philip Robertson, they were interviewing Phil from Duck Dynasty, which is not the same thing.

Again, how’s that?

In the past couple of decades we have become familiarized with the so-called “reality show.”  By now, we have, depending on which ones we’ve followed, which ones we like, and which ones we hate, have acquired the necessary distance to realize that these confections are shows about a particular reality.  Which is not the same as shows that are “real.”  That kind of show we understand to be a documentary.  Or, occasionally, the news.  We know this in our bones.  There is a difference between reality and a show.  We know it’s a fabrication and that the people displayed are not actually like that in—you know—real life.

Reality shows are manufactured product, which in turn makes the characters in them manufactured.  The Phil we see on Duck Dynasty is a caricature, a sketch, and to a large extent a fictional character based on a real person, but not the real person himself.  No more than the people on Survivor actually behave like that once the show is over.  At best, they are exaggerations, but in reality (there’s that word again) they are characterizations.

Novelists do this all the time.

The difference being that novelists (and other writers of fiction that pretends to be nothing else but fiction) seek the truth through the artifice of their creations while as best I can tell the main point of “reality shows” is to impose drama through an abstraction of reality that ends up giving us no truth whatsoever, because at the end of the show we know nothing about who these people really are, only what they do in front of a bunch of cameras filming them as they follow a loose script that sets up situations they would normally never experience.  Since the script itself has no thematic point, there’s no way to elicit truth out of what become nothing but a bunch of situational reactions with exaggerated responses.

In short, a reality show does exactly the opposite of what fiction is normally all about.  There’s no truth there, not even reality (how real can it be with a director giving directions and scenes being fed the actors?) but a farce designed to make us think we’re seeing what reality would be like if we all lived on a soundstage.

So when Phil Robertson gives an interview to a high profile fashion magazine that is highlighting his presence as the principle character of his show, everyone should know that this is not reality being engaged, but two fictions colliding.

(You don’t have this problem with actual fiction on tv because everyone knows the actors are not their characters—or should know—but the primary conceit of “reality shows” is that they are their characters.)

There are YouTube videos of Phil giving speeches and saying all kinds of things that are consistent with what he said in GQ and A & E never pulled him off the air for those.  Why now?

Well, because in GQ it’s the image talking—because it’s, you know, GQ—but all those other speeches are Mr. Robertson talking.

Mr. Robertson’s First Amendment rights were not violated by the disciplinary action taken by A & E because it wasn’t him giving the interview, but a character from a tv show.  That character—and you can tell it was the character because that’s how GQ packaged it—is pretty much fictional.  Are we going to defend the rights of a manufactured image that is owned by corporations?  And I don’t mean just A & E here, but the Robertson clan.

If it sounds like a tangle, that’s because we have entered upon a bizarre new scene in which fiction and reality have been mingled in such a way that it is genuinely confusing to some people which is which.  This isn’t cognitive dissonance in the classic sense, but cognitive estrangement in the sense that people are reduced to image and the image is empowered with more substance than our next door neighbor.  It’s as if people supporting Phil are suddenly aware that they can be removed from their show.  Maybe some of them even think that without a show, no one has any rights.  Certainly we’ve entered a new phase of only recognizing reality that ends up on television.

If that were not confusing enough, more has emerged about the Robertsons and how far they seem to be from their characters.  The yuppie lifestyles, the fashion sense, the cleanshaven condo-on-the-Gulf American Dream that has opted, for the sake of advertising and a larger market share, to don the garb and attitude of swamp-dwellers who’ve barely learned what a fork is for.  Which is the real Robertson Clan and which is the “reality” clan?

The net result has been a manufactured drama of civil rights that were never at risk.  (People have gotten so incensed at how Phil’s “rights” have been trodden upon but I can’t help but wonder where their ire is when some hapless minimum wage drudge loses his or her job because of something they posted on FaceBook. )  People have gotten pissed because a favorite character might have been taken away from them just for being himself.

And while that goes on we seem not to notice how this has cheapened the rights supposedly in peril.  What has been defended is the “right” of someone to misrepresent himself and say things he may or may not actually believe and then pretend that the misrepresentation is being oppressed.

Because nothing Mr. Robertson said has been censored.  He’s not serving jail time for what he said.  In fact, he didn’t even lose any income.  The censure—and that’s what it was, or should have been, censure, which is not the same thing as censor despite their similar appearance (and this is all about similar appearances, isn’t it?)—involved nothing that even prevented him from saying the same things again afterward.  The only people affected were his fans, but nobody said anything about their rights.

The Robertsons are in the business of making and selling decoys.

Reality Shows are very expensive, long-running decoys.

The people on reality shows are merely stand-ins for themselves.

The First Amendment is there to protect our right to speak truth to power.

Phil Robertson has made a great deal of money pretending to be someone based on himself and saying things and doing things that entertain people who get off on the image of that kind of lifestyle.

Even if he said something worth hearing, how would anyone, under these circumstances, know?  You hear the sound of the decoy, you fly in to find reality, and the substanceless fakery captures you and damages your right not be manipulated.

I really hope 2014 is better than this.

Mid Life

That’s optimistic.

So recently I turned 59.  It doesn’t feel much different from 58, or that from 57, but since I often still feel 35, it occasionally jars.  I have little to complain about, save for a nagging sense of lack of time.

I’d been toying with getting an electric guitar for years.  A frivolity I could not quite talk myself into for a long time.  I have a terrific acoustic guitar which I do not play as well as I should, but which gives me a great deal of pleasure pretending to play well.

There are some things you just can’t mimic on an acoustic, though.  It’s like trying to play Deep Purple on a spinet pianola.  It lacks gravitas.

So an opportunity came my way and I threw common sense to the wind and bought a delightful Epiphone Les Paul.  Not the one I’d had my eyes on for many years, but it’s a Les Paul.  (Yeah, yeah, I hear the purists kvetching over in the corner, but it ain’t a Gibson, like that makes all that much difference.  Well, it does, by several hundred dollars.)

Which necessitated getting an amplifier.

I have a good friend in Jefferson City who is something of a musician (actually, he’s a very good musician and graces me with a willingness to jam on our infrequent visits) who knows people.  Sound people.  I told him what I’d gotten and he said “Come on out and we’ll fix you up.”

Fix me up indeed.

Me and My Axe, Oct 29, 2013

I’ve been out of the music biz too long, I didn’t even recognize the name—a Line—but it’s a gem.  50 watts, all the bells and whistles (well, at least more than I’ll master in the next several years) and by pure serendipity the color scheme matches my axe.  It came with a pedal board, too, which, for the price I paid, astonished me.

I have every intention of getting down to it and learning some songs.  I’ve been playing it almost every day since I brought it home.  It is loud.  We have installed it in my office, so I can close the door, and Donna can enjoy it through the walls and floor.  It’s more than I need.

I did not buy the Ferrari.  I’m having a much more modest midlife, er, crisis.  More a midlife ruffle, really.  Despite my complaining, I’m a reasonably happy guy.  Hell, I’m still alive, which after last year’s little contretemps is a very positive thing.

I’ve been finding online lessons.  Stumbled on a guitar player of some considerable merit who does instructional videos, although I can barely keep up.  (He tends to assume you already know the rudiments.)  So I thought I’d put one here just to show you how far out of reach my aspirations go.

Till I started surfing for this kind of thing I’d never heard of this guy.  (Told you I’ve kind of been out of it for a while.)  Turns out he did a turn with Asia.  Yeah, Heat of the Moment Asia, but an incarnation with only one original member, Geoffrey Downes.  I’m trying to imagine what they must’ve sounded like with this guy.

Anyway, I’m dipping into his how-to vids.  He reminds me a lot of Ian Anderson.

Anyway, I must now get back to the start-up of my second half-century.  Stay tuned.