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He has withdrawn himself as host to the awards in the wake of what by all accounts has been a savage twitter attack on him and his family from, ahem, Certain Elements within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.

On The Extraction of Feet From Mouths

I’ve been thinking deeply about the recent eruption of controversy in SFWA over sexism.  Seems just about anywhere we look in the last several years there are examples of men behaving stupidly toward and about women.  While this is nothing new, where it has been cropping up seems surprising.

There have been several incidents, both online and out in the world, within the skeptical community.  The boys came out to try to tell the girls to get their own clubhouse and stop invading what for some reason these males had regarded as somehow the province of people with testicles.  Prominent women—skeptics, humanists, atheists, scientists—have been treated to high school-level chauvinism by males intent on…

On what?

It’s worth reading this article by Rebecca Watson, one of the most prominent women in the active skeptical world.  Some of what she has gone through seems totally bizarre, of the “what planet did this happen on” variety.  And yet, there it is.  The Thing We (people like me) Had Thought We Were Done With.  Males acting like schoolyard bullies toward women, especially women who claim themselves as individuals with minds, choices, and, apparently, interests that don’t include them.  The boys, that is.

Reading that, someone like me can feel pretty virtuous.  “I don’t think that way!  I don’t do that!  The people I hang with don’t, either, we’ve outgrown adolescence and never were that gauche!”  We might feel that way and some of us might even be justified.

But not all of us.

I’ve been a science fiction reader practically all my life.  I’ve been a professional SF writer since 1990, therefore a member of SFWA.  I have credited science fiction, my early exposure to it, as reason for my awareness of gender issues, my embrace of feminisim, and certainly my affiliation with skepticism, rationality, and—may I say it?—humanist morality.  The circles in which I move resonate with all this as well and over decades a kind of blanket of comforting isolation has settled around me that has buffered me from some of the kinds of bullshit that has evidently been there all along.

There’ve been several instances of sexism over the last few years within the science fiction community, some at an apparently low-level, others fairly significant, culminating in the current Matter At Hand over a series of articles in the SFWA Bulletin (as well as a cover painting for one issue) and the responses prompted concerning them.

Disclaimer:  I tend to ignore the Bulletin anymore.  A lot of the information contained therein is wonderful for beginning writers or those just starting up the ladder of their careers.  Occasionally there’s something technical in an issue worth reading.  But really, it comes because I pay my dues and I go through the Market Report.  Therefore, I had to go find the issues at the center of the storm, dig them out of the pile, and read the pieces in question.

Which means that I absorbed them somewhat in isolation.

Nevertheless, to my complete embarrassment and shame, I misread what was supposed to be the problem.  Then I compounded that failure by defending them.

Not full-faced “what the hell is wrong with you people” defend, just…

The offending articles were two in the long-running series of dialogues by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg about the history of the genre.  These are, for those of you who do not get the Bulletin and don’t know, done as conversations, two guys who’ve been around for a long time, yacking about the Old Days and who wrote what, published where, said that, or did this.  They are framed as personal reminiscence.

Which to my mind is a somewhat different context than a straightforward article about, say, copyright law or manuscript formatting or how to write a cover letter.  It’s a different kind of work and therefore has different parameters.  Like memoir, what the author (or authors) get to talk about and how they talk about it gets more leeway.  Constraints are not as tight, subject and content are more flexible.  To my mind.

So therefore when I read a couple of paragraphs in one of these about a particular editor who was evidently “drop dead gorgeous” and “looked great in a bikini” I thought nothing, or at least very little, of it.  It’s not the same as if it had been a straight up piece about how to submit a story to said editor and had included the aside, “and by the way, when submitting to her, keep in mind she’s a babe!”  Had such a sentence been in such an article, my hair would have stood on end and electric cascades would have run up and down my spine.  What the hell does that have to do with the professional relationship detailed in the article?  And it’s true, that if the article had been talking about a male editor, you would likely never see an equivalent remark “And by the way, when submitting to this guy, remember he has a hell of a package!”

Had you read such a remark, we should all know (if it needs explaining, as it apparently does) that the difference is that in the case of the man it is an irrelevancy but for the woman it is a threat.

More clarity?  While a man might view his “package” as an essential aspect of his identity, society at large does not.  The same cannot be said about a woman and her physical attributes.  Therefore, the inclusion of such a comment about a woman is automatically limiting and de facto sexist.  Because the writer has decided that this is the important fact about this woman and while he (or she) may not intend it to be limiting, there is a whole file cabinet of associated conclusions attached to such a description that gets opened once the statement is made.

Is this a bad thing, you ask?

Well.  As has been pointed out by some over this, good or bad, it is problematic.  Because the message has connotative force in the negative.  Because, unfortunately, for too many people, “looks great in a bikini” is the beginning and end of any worthwhile description.  All else becomes secondary.  Tertiary.  Immaterial.  Distracting.

Welcome to Gor.

My mistake was in not recognizing this essential fact.  That intent doesn’t matter when there is ample information that such a phrase will be taken as a threat by a great many people.*

Resnick and Malzberg also consistently qualified who they were talking about.  “Lady writers” and “lady editors.”  Again, my context filters were on.  I thought, that’s who these guys are, they’re from a generation that would consider that a polite cognomen, what’s the big deal?  Forgetting, as I read, how qualifiers play into limiting people not of the majority culture in, say, ethnicity.  The main subject of the two articles was “Women In Science Fiction”—why the continued use of a label which served only to underscore a “specialness” that is not necessarily positive in the context of professional circles?  While the substance of what they had to say was overwhelmingly laudatory (Alice Sheldon was held up to be as good as Alfred Bester and at no point did a phrase like “well, she was really good for a woman” appear) that continual qualifier became a kind of apology.  In the context of a reminiscence, it was indicative of the character of the two authors—quaint, a “cute” term—but outside that context, it is like continually using the term “black writer” in a piece about African American Writers.  We already know the people being discussed are black, the only reason to continually use the qualifier is to make a point of difference.  Do it enough, the difference becomes the only relevant factor.

I missed all this and shrugged it off.

The other article was, in fact, a How To piece, in which Barbie was held forth as a model for professional behavior.  Now, I can see how the author thought this was tongue-in-cheek, a clever, satirical way to make a point, but…

The only excuse for this is carelessness.

Well, maybe not the only excuse.  Intentional, programmatic sexism is certainly possible.

Barbie cannot be a model for any kind of self-aware, in control, self-directed person.  Other People have always determined, right down to the color of plastic used, what Barbie is, will be, or can be, and this point should have been obvious.  The use of a toy in a prescriptive article, aimed at women, can only be…well, problematic.

Two things here.  The first is, I’m disappointed.  Science fiction has been for me a font of enlightenment.  I don’t mean by that “everything I know about living I got from science fiction.”  What I mean is, that many of the foundational ideas I consider important in my life first came to me from science fiction.  I had to flesh them out later, from other sources, but something as basic as gender equality first penetrated my adolescent brain from reading science fiction.  So for this to have occurred in the field which gave me my earliest intellectual nurture is profoundly distressing.  It’s almost like hearing someway say “Oh, I just say all that shit in my novels, I don’t actually believe any of it!”

And, no, I am not saying that Resnick and Malzberg are themselves chauvinists.  I suspect they’re shocked and dismayed both by the reaction to what they wrote and hurt by the suggestion that they are sexists.  But they dropped the ball in understanding the context in which they wrote.  (They compounded it by crying fowl and bleating about censorship.  No one called for censorship.  If anything, a call was made for more awareness.)

The president of SFWA made a statement about all this which I think is worth reading.  Furthermore, the editor of the Bulletin has stepped down.

I said two things.  I put my foot in my mouth over this because I also failed to see how things have evolved and how they have played out in the last 40 years.  I imagined that we might reach a time when men and women might be able to recognize and appreciate each others’ sexuality without such recognition in any way acting as threat or limitation.  Because a woman is beautiful (or a man handsome) does not mean she is obligated to be that for the fantasy edification of people she doesn’t know or should be constrained by that fact because others can’t see past the surface.  For many people, physicality is destiny.  Or fate.  And often, when people in possession of certain physical traits act in ways that don’t fit  those fantasy preconceptions, there is a kind of breaking that occurs which is profoundly tragic in that such preconceptions should never have been put in place to begin with.  Limitation goes both ways.  If all you can see is the great bod, the perfect smile, and the lush hair, I feel sorry for you—you’re missing a whole world.

Men don’t see this as a problem, though, and that’s why it’s such a big deal.  Men have never been barred from being anything else they want to be by their looks.  At least, not as far as the larger culture is concerned.  A man is good looking, well, that’s just one more thing in the plus column, lucky bastard!

Women have different experiences with that.

Many men will still not get it.  (No doubt a lot of women, too, though for different reasons.)  What they will see is another demand that we stop enjoying women.  That we must ignore their physicality, their sexuality.  That we must turn our libidos off.  They will see this as another call that we stop being “men.”  That’s not it at all.

Treat women as People first.  Not female People.  People.  It seems so simple, that.  And yet…

Part of the problem in all this is the lack of grasp exhibited by otherwise bright people.  You have to ask yourself, what makes you think that the kind of stuff you’re likely to hear in a bar made suitable copy for a professional journal?  When you insert a sexualized comment in an article about professional people in a given field, you really aren’t talking about them, you’re talking about yourself.

Anyway, I still have a couple of toes to extract, so I’m done talking for now.

One last thing: You’re never too old to screw up, but you’re also never too old to learn from it.

 

_________________________________________________

* Threat?  What threat? I hear some think.  The threat that nothing one does matters if one doesn’t fuck.  That no matter what accomplishments a woman may have, if she’s not also someone interested in, willing, and able to get sweaty with a male who thinks it’s his right and her privilege, then she’s not worth considering.  That any female who seems to think she can be her own Self without this aspect is delusional and that self-selected male has not only the right but the obligation to “show her what she’s missing.”  Basically, we’re talking about rape, implied and actualized, because what matters is the sex.  To be sure, something of this attaches to men as well, but without the element of coercion, which renders it wholly different.  Consider for a moment the most basic difference in attitude regarding “conquests.”  Men who seem to have sex with numerous women acquire, with a few exceptions, a patina of glamor, respect, and envy, while women who engage in a similar lifestyle receive a very different designation and concomitant image and with few exceptions is generally negative.  Furthermore, for men, it is simply one more aspect of their overall image, but for women it almost wholly subsumes anything else about them.  If the boys want the women to stop pointing out their sexism, this will have to change, and the fact that it’s still the case means we have yet to achieve the kind of gender equity men like me thought we were on our way to achieving.

Bread and Sacred Cows

Anyone who knows me knows I am in general antipathetic toward sports.  I don’t watch it, I don’t follow it, and I could not care less who is winning or losing.  The sun does not rise and set on finals, March Madness, seasons, MVPs, or any of that.  I missed being infected with this particular virus as a child and have never regretted it, as I find the whole thing baffling.

Mind you, I don’t have anything at all against playing sports.  I think more kids should (if they’re allowed in by the jocks, that is).  But watching?

Regardless my feelings about sports as such, my biggest complaint is with the fetishizing of it and the profound cost of such obsession on just about everything.  So much else of considerably more value often goes begging just so a city can have a brand new stadium.  Sports, frankly, generates enough income just by being, it does not need tax payer support, and that we grant it any, never mind as much as we do, should be the subject of government hearings.

But what really gets me hot is how much education is distorted by this obsession.

Did you know that, in all likelihood, your state’s highest paid public employee is a coach?

Here’s a delightful article with a colorful chart showing this fact state by state.

Mostly football coaches.

I’m sorry, but—what the fuck is wrong with everybody?  With all that we have slipped behind so many other countries in so many academic areas, exactly how does paying the football coach the highest compensation of any other public employee in a state serve to correct the profound epidemic of DUMB that seems the chief problem facing us today?

The article reiterates the well-established fact that major athletics programs make universities no money.  They cost.

We’re seeing tenure under assault, staffs being cut, tuition rising across the board, and money being spent on something that does nothing to advance the state of learning.  And football?  A moment aside for a personal note of invective.  Traumatic brain injuries, not to mention life-long injuries in general, should place this sport in the same category with boxing.  The group-think, team-spirit lunacy embraced—not by the players but by the fans—would not be a problem if it did not come at the expense of so much else.

(It doesn’t help my attitude that I was once threatened by several members of my high school’s varsity team with being thrown bodily from a third floor window because I expressed the opinion in the school paper that just maybe some other things were perhaps more important than football.)

With all the complaining about wasteful spending we have to listen to from people hell bent on curtailing just about anything useful in education (not to mention the country in general) why do we not hear congress up in arms about this?

Let me be emphatic—when a coach makes more money than a dean of an entire university, something if very, very wrong.  Spin it any way you like, I surely do not want to pay for this kind of crap.

National Day of Idiocy

We should have a National Day of Idiocy to celebrate our rich heritage of public figures who make asinine statements.

I find it both fascinating and revolting how a certain faction reaches for the Holocaust at every opportunity in order to retain their illusion that just about everything that makes them even mildly uncomfortable is part and parcel of the horrible paradigm that led to a slaughter which some of their supporters think never even happened.

The mayor of Charlotte, N.C. declared May 2nd a Day of Reason.  It also happens to be the national Day of Prayer.  While some may see this as pure hype and opportunism, there’s common factor between the two things—both have to do with finding guidance.  I doubt the majority of people see much conflict between prayer and reason—in fact, most would likely conjoin them, if not as philosophical counterparts at least as practical allies—but there are always those who will insist on seeing Evil in everything that is not christian.

So, the Enlightenment led to the Holocaust (because of moral relativism). My my. I suppose that’s why Hitler kept burning books, because he was such an Enlightenment fan boy.

This also overlooks things like the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Spanish expulsion of Jews, the Thirty Years War, the murder of Giordano Bruno, the Albigensian Crusade…

Of course, all those things were, I suppose, in response to moral relativism?

No, this is typical ahistorical nonsense from people who can’t seem to pull their heads out of the heavenly clouds. It would be laughable if not for its scope. Lamar Smith of Texas is proposing a bill to eliminate peer review in government-funded science programs. It’s a bit more complex than that, but in essence Smith wants technology programs, not basic research, and clearly does not understand how science is conducted or even why it’s important. And he’s on the Science. Space, and Technology Committee. No, wait, he’s the chair of the committee.

Laugh, cry, or go on vacation. The only question is how these people got where they are and have the ability to disrupt so much by sheer assertive nonsense.

What might follow now, as in past posts, would be a lengthy discourse on the nature of reason and why these people are wrong, but I’m tired and really, if you already find what they’re saying and doing crack-brained then you don’t need the lesson. I applaud the mayor of Charlotte for having the chutzpah to declare a Day or Reason in a state that thinks prayer will prevent Obama from being re-elected. (I’ll give you all a minute to digest that.) I’d like to see a few more politicians stand up to the idiocy.

Maybe we should establish a national Day of Lunacy on which we all find someone steeped in misinformation—you know, people who think FOX news is actually news?—and attempt an intervention. Get them to a lecture on the scientific method. Make them watch an episode of NOVA. Take them to lunch with Neil de Grasse Tyson.

What I would very much like to see is a genuine response among enough people matter to defend reason and science and instead of it just being a cool trendy thing that gives us new toys every few years actually elevates the level of national discourse.

Yeah, I still dream occasionally.

Afterimage

I finished the first draft of the new (old) novel, a rewrite of a rather pathetic bit of crime fiction that I just could not give up on.  The chapters are being reviewed as I write this.  I’m taking some time off.  I put in some long days on this and it still isn’t ready for prime time.

Meantime, something somewhat disturbing to keep the reader wondering, “Just where did he go that weekend and who—or what—was he with?”

Alien Detective copy 2To tell you the truth, I’m not sure myself.  I woke up in my own bed, but the room looked too normal.  I stumbled to the bathroom and decided the hat had to go, but it helped, and I’m not sure I can get through what’s to come without it.  I need a shave.

There’s missing time.  Someone else is missing it, though, I remember every second of it.

I may be in the mood for some alien jazz.  On the other hand, the Fool’s March is drumming in the background and my eye is pulsing in rhythm to the slipped and syncopated beat.  Another day in Memeopolis, no body but the killer must be caught.  It should be up to me, but who’s gonna trust a face like that?  See, the hat it essential.

Whatever happens, I will be played out.  After the last coda and the ink is dry, sleep.  Not a big one, just medium-sized.  There are too many more stories to figure out.

Have a nice world.

Coming Up On…

Every writing project comes to a point when it crowds everything else into smaller and smaller spaces, mainly of time.  Right now I’m 3/4 of the way through what I’m currently working on. As a result, my reading has slowed to a crawl (I’ve been taking far too long to get through an ARC that is really good—review to come) and I’m barely keeping up with everything else.

Donna has spent the weekend in Iowa with her sister, leaving me to wallow in potential bachelor disorder.  But I’ve managed to keep the place not only clean, but straightened out a few things.  I could never get used to her being absent, but occasionally I get more done when I’m alone.

However, the last couple of months have been taken up with another project that’s been demanding as much if not more time than the novel and has me a bit on edge.  I’ve been practicing piano daily in preparation for an actual gig.

World Book Night is coming up.  On April 22, the night before the official event, Left bank Books is doing an event for it—Speakeasy —at the Mad Art Gallery in Soulard.  Come by, it’ll be fun, and…well, I’ll be playing piano, along with two other excellent musicians.  (Not that I’m an excellent musician, but…)

This was the brilliant (read: insane) idea of Jarek Steele, co-owner of Left Bank Books (and my boss…one of them…), who casually suggested that it would be cool to have a jazz combo at an event called Speakeasy and, for reasons which now escape me, I said “Yeah, that would be.  Maybe I…?”  “Well, of course,” says he, “that’s what I had in mind.  Would you?”

So I’ve been diligent at the keyboard, honing some skills that have been largely left unhoned for too many years.  Much to my surprise, the rehearsals are going okay, and, well…it will be interesting.

But my daily schedule has been torn between the demands of a novel that is swiftly heading for conclusion and needs (demands, pleads, screams for) my attention and the little guilt-gnome in the back of my skull telling me to stop fiddling with that and practice!

Leaves little time for much of anything else.  Like reading.

After the 22nd, and my day of recovery, I’ll get back to, well, Other Things.

On the other hand, who knows?  This might go so well that we three who will be doing this could decide to continue it…

Sigh.  Doubtful, but never say never, right?  So it is with some reservation that I suggest if any of you are in the area and in the least interested, check out the event.  You will want to come out in support of World Book Night anyway, which is a certifiably cool thing to do.  It will be fun.  See you then?

Wrong Is Right: Political Absurdity Incarnate

Eleven North Carolina state representatives are attempting to do something which has been illegal in this country since the ratification of the Constitution.  Namely, establish a State Religion.

Here’s what they’re trying to pass:

SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

SECTION 2. The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

This resolution flies in the face of two centuries of settled law.  Furthermore, it also takes a run at the decision which was settled by the Civil War.  I think it’s fair to say that there is more than a smidgen of secessionist sentiment and some borderline treason there.

Need I add that the eleven representatives in question are all Republicans?

If the Bill of Rights was not clear enough about the intent of what America meant by “freedom of religion” and the quite tangible rejection of such meddling of government into the arena of religious expression, the Fourteenth Amendment made clear just which set of laws held the upper hand.  (For those not paying attention, there has been a steady tremor of right wing rhetoric in the last year or several directed at repealing the Fourteenth Amendment, for exactly this sort of purpose, to return to states the sole right to dictate to their citizens how they should conduct themselves as Americans, at least in the view of a given state.)

Why this should need to be rehearsed again and again I do not understand, but it’s been obvious for some time that the advocates for religious establishment—North Carolina House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes and his ten colleagues, for instance—are not interested in embracing religious liberty.  The only purpose of establishing a state religion—and please, while I realize there is no phrase in the two clauses quoted above that expressly state that North Carolina is establishing said religion, it takes little reasoning to realize that the only utility in claiming a right to make law concerning religion is in order to do exactly that—is to (a) enforce not only public conformity but private as well and (b) deny equal rights to religions that do not meet a given criteria.  One does not, under these conditions, even have to overtly pass a proscriptive law to seriously erode the ability of non-sanctioned religions to operate.  All one needs to do is deny recognition in favor of a preferred denomination.

The hue and cry of hyper-sensitives for the last couple of decades who claim religion—their religion, specifically—is under assault and requires extraordinary protective measures is at its base disingenuous.  (I could remark that, unlike certain institutions that must put up with mobs of sign-wielding and often aggressive picketers trying to block access, there are no widespread attempts to block people from attending church.  And unlike those other institutions, if someone tried that, no one would argue much at all if the police hauled them away.)  No one has passed any laws forbidding prayer—no, there are no laws banning private prayer, only public practices in certain places, which is not the same thing— nor has anyone successfully mounted legislation to rescind the tax exempt status of religious institutions across the board.  Christianity enjoys pride of place among all other religions in this country, so much so that it is virtually impossible to be elected to public office unless one prescribes to one denomination or another.  The president publicly announces prayer breakfasts, Congress opens with a prayer, and successful attempts to block zoning advantages churches have are rare.

This is about nothing but intolerance and a desire to make laws about how people conduct their private affairs. (Conformism to religion is about as personally invasive as you can get.)  One of the manifest ironies of all this is how many of the people who think this is a good idea also claim Libertarian values and do not see the contradiction inherent in their position.

Or don’t care.

But this North Carolina proposition has gone a few steps farther and it will be interesting to see what happens if it gets out of committee and onto the floor.  If it actually passes, the federal response will be fascinating to observe.  Religion aside, this is a state claiming the right to ignore national law.

New Mars

Yeah, I was goofing off this morning, trying to find a way into a rewrite, and needing to distract myself from overthinking it.  So I redid my header (see above).  It’s the same NASA image I had up before…only different.  I did some Photoshopping and added color and such.

The framing tool for WordPress, though, forces some heavy crops, so here is the full image as reworked:

Vibrant Mars!

Vibrant Mars!

 

As cool as the original was, it was also kinda monochromatic.  So I played around, did something more…Barsoom-ish.  Anyway, having once known how to add color to an image and then forgot the method, I have now rediscovered it and will use it a bit more often.

It occurs to me, though, that in all seriousness, should we ever settle Mars and start using it, over time the surface will change.  No, I’m not talking about the future of a terraformed world, where we intentionally put liquid water back on the surface and beef up the atmosphere.  Such grandiose plans are the precinct of science fiction, although that may well happen, too.  But I’m talking about the more likely scenario, the opportunistic, done-by-the-lowest bidder exploitation of resources, which will have “unintended” effects. The release of certain gases, minerals, and so forth, the addition of others, the detritus of industrial works, all will work to give us a show that may end up producing effects somewhat like this.  We’ll get a front row seat, via telescopy, of environmental impact.  It may even be beautiful in certain ways, but it will be obvious change.

Anyway, back to fiction, now.