So Trump Won…

December 20, 2016

Despite pleas to the Electoral College, Trump got almost all the electors pledged to him.  While 2016 was a record year for faithless electors (most on Hillary’s side, interestingly enough) it was an order of magnitude short of what would have been needed to move the needle. So we have Trump for four years. While Democrats seem convinced that our country will end up as some alt-right dystopia somewhere between Fury Road and Hunger Games, I’m trying to form a more realistic picture of what the next four years might look like.  Here are some predictions in no particular order:

  • Business cycles being what they are, we’re overdue for a recession, and it will probably hit in 2017 if it’s not here already. It will probably be on a par with 2008, and it will be blamed on Trump’s economic policy, even though by the time we’re in the midst of it he’ll have barely outlined a proposal, much less implemented anything.
  • One of the first big showdowns will be over downsizing or reorganizing some major federal agency. There will be picket lines of civil servants chanting “We Will Overcome” and the stories will claim that this is the last stand of the labor unions. It will end much like Reagan and the air traffic controllers or Walker and the teachers’ unions.
  • There will be a major scandal in the media about some Trump company and conflict of interest. It will go absolutely nowhere, but every left wing pundit will find a way to work it into into every discussion about Trump for the next four to eight years.
  • The Republicans will learn nothing, claim their own permanent majority, and screw the pooch in the midterms, losing the Senate, possibly the House, and one or two governorships.
  • Because of this, the Trump presidency will tack to the center in a mirror image replay of (Bill) Clinton’s. Another similarity is that this will coincide with an economic recovery as we exit the 2017 recession. Trump will claim credit for it.
  • Like Clinton with welfare reform, Trump will piss of his base with some grand compromise on immigration reform. It will please no one, might actually work, and effectively take the issue off the table for the next election cycle.
  • Race relations will improve, not because of any structural or policy change, but because people’s perceptions of the black-white tensions will improve. This will happen because the media will shift focus away from racism and on to immigration and the economy.

A Thought About Lovecraft

December 16, 2016

The TombIf you were to pick out who is the most “problematic” character in the SF/Fantasy canon, H.P.Lovecraft has got to be near the top of the list. He is probably one of the most influential voices in the genre, not just touching authors as diverse as Stephen King and Charles Stross, but extending his tentacles deep into popular culture; movies, comics, games, t-shirts, internet memes, music. . .  The influence is pervasive.

And that’s what makes him problematic.

Because he was also a racist and bigot of the first order. This is, in the current age, the primary unforgivable sin. And he made life particularly difficult for any apologists because he wasn’t particularly subtle about it in either his fiction or his correspondence. Not only did he make his views explicit in his letters, any reader with half a brain can look into his stories of the terrifying “other” and see the racism staring right back.

It occurs to me that this is exactly why he is such an important writer. Some others might want to, on one side, remove or minimize his pride of place among foundation authors in the genre, and on the other, minimize his “unwholesome” views to protect his legacy from being tarnished. . . I think both sides miss the point.

What Lovecraft did was take his own personal— and to modern eyes bigoted and racist— fears, and abstracted them just enough to make them universal.  The fact is, however progressive anyone tries to be, there is always “our” tribe and the “other” tribe. Some draw the lines by race, some by class, some by nationality, and some by political affiliation.  We may not like this fact of human nature, but that doesn’t change the fact that it exists.  Lovecraft looked into the darkest part of his own soul and pulled out something horrifying, and very human.

A little political truism…

December 14, 2016

In a political discourse, if someone isn’t trying to debate, they’re attempting to exercise power.  That is where a large fraction of American political life has gone off the rails. It’s there in comment threads all the time; where one person attempts to have a rational discussion, and the other screams non sequiturs, ad hominem attacks, and declares how the other guy did it so that invalidates your argument but not their own.

That’s the difference between arguing to reach consensus and a solution to a given problem, and arguing to exercise power. Things suck not because of the Internet, not because of “Fake News,” and not because of those evil Russian hackers… It sucks because political debate is not debate anymore, it’s an exercise in power and virtue signaling to one’s own tribe. When you argue your point of view for the sake of power, rather than to convince people, you do not actually convince people. Funny that.

Ask yourself if the following exemplar of the form does anything other than try and beat up the author’s enemies with a rhetorical stick: “America is Held Hostage by Flyover States“.

Those Who Would Protect Us From Art

December 7, 2016

I wrote about the morality of fiction earlier, a couple of things I’ve read recently brought me back to the question from the another side. In that post I was talking about morality of fiction in light of the inner processes of the author. But really, when most people talk about the morality of fiction, they seem to talk about morals enforced from outside, either by social pressure, or in extremis, the heavy hand of the state.  (At the risk of Godwinizing this post, such talk has always made me think of Entartete Kunst.)  Such impulses always seem to come from some misguided effort to “protect” society, or some subgroup, from “bad” ideas.

The perennial example that’s back in the news is, of course, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which, along with To Kill a Mockingbird, is being considered for removal by the Accomack County Public Schools in Virginia for “the books’ use of racial slurs.” It’s almost a cliche now to point out the deep irony of banning these books in the name of racial sensitivity.  The battle here is so well-trod that I think even die-hard advocates of free speech sort of glaze over these stories, despite the implications of erasing uncomfortable parts of history.

Perhaps more alarming is when art is censored because it illustrates uncomfortable parts of our present. Not fiction here, but the implications are chilling:

Organisers of an art exhibition celebrating freedom of expression have found themselves removing one of the exhibits after police raised concerns it was “inflammatory” and warned it would cost an extra £36,000 to secure the event.

The artwork in question was a series of tableaux entitled ‘Isis Threaten Sylvania’ that used children’s Sylvanian Families dolls to satirise the Isis terrorist group.

In the work Sylvanian Families dolls are seen enjoying a picnic or a day on the beach, while other black-clad dolls, some of them armed, one carrying a black flag, gather on the sidelines.

Consider the various elements here: A “freedom of expression” exhibit was told by police that an artwork satirizing a terrorist group was too “inflammatory.” Note that none of the typical complaints of xenophobia apply here. The work was not targeting Muslims as a group, or Islam as a religion, the scenes were all anthropomorphic animals, so no racial bigotry was on display. The only group critiqued here was, in fact, ISIS. One wonders who is being protected by hiding this work, and what are they being protected from?


CoG Update

November 30, 2016

I’m in the home stretch

Here’s an update for those of you interested in my Choice of Games project. The first draft of Welcome to Moreytown is almost complete. I am working on the final chapters now, and I plan to turn it in to them before the end of the year, assuming the Christmas holiday is more forgiving of my time than the Thanksgiving one was.

An interesting, if predictable, wrinkle is that the closer I get to the climax, the more complex the writing becomes. I don’t even know exactly how many parallel paths the PC can be on in the penultimate chapter, but there are a lot of them. Enough that this chapter alone may weigh in at around 20K words.

However, we seem to be on track to see this game available some time in 2017.

Five Reasons Hillary Lost

November 11, 2016

There are some people out there in desperate need of a reality check. Right now, progressives are certain that, somehow, the country that elected Obama twice has suddenly become a cesspit of sexism, racism and misogyny. The angst is so over-the-top that my progressive Facebook friends are sounding like all those Alex Jones types back in 2008 who were talking about FEMA detention camps and UN black helicopters.

Trump didn’t win because of some racist surge.

In fact, Trump didn’t win.

Hillary lost.

Here are five reasons why:

  1. Hillary couldn’t turn out her own base. You look at the actual numbers between 2016 and 2012, and Trump pretty much held on to Romney’s numbers across the board with some significant inroads into Black and Hispanic voters (racism natch). Hillary hemorrhaged Democratic votes. She might have a razor-thin lead in the popular vote (200,000 votes about) but she lost about six and a half million votes compared to Obama’s 2012 totals. Think about that before you bitch at us third party voters.
  2. You can’t argue misogyny when the Clinton name is on the ticket. If anyone else was running, Trump’s attitude toward women would have been a fatal blow to his campaign. Bernie or Warren could have won against that alone. But, as soon as Bill or Hillary enter the frame, people suddenly remember how organized feminism sold its soul to the Clintons in the 90’s by giving Bill a pass and how every Democrat insisted that a man’s sexual behavior had no place in evaluating his character for the presidency.
  3. The media neutered itself. How many progressives form their opinion of Hillary by evaluating what Rush Limbaugh says about her? By going wholly, unapologetically anti-Trump across the board; with NY Times editorials declaring how it was time to dump journalistic “objectivity”; with CNN passing debate questions to the Clinton campaign: with “journalists” running stories by john Podesta for approval. . . How many people do you think just decided to ignore the press completely? The press went full partisan. You never go full partisan.
  4. The electorate wanted change. Right-track/wrong-track polling shows that in spades. Hillary wasn’t change. Hillary wasn’t just status-quo, she was pre-Obama status-quo. When the peasants want to storm the palace, you don’t offer them a return to a dynasty.
  5. When someone brings up forty years of scandal and potential corruption, saying “they never proved anything” is not a really effective counter-argument. Being subject to multiple FBI investigations is pretty damning for any presidential candidate, regardless of the outcome.

Buckeye Book Fair

November 4, 2016

Tomorrow I will be at the 29th Annual Buckeye Book Fair in Wooster Ohio. The doors open at 9:30 AM on November 5, 2016 at the Fisher Auditorium located at 1680 Madison Ave, Wooster OH 44691. This is a massive event, and well worth the time for anyone in driving distance. Hope to see you there.


One of those things useful to a writer…

November 1, 2016

You might notice something about writers in general (at least it’s true about myself) that when you start talking about your life on the job, we’ll tend to be more attentive than average.  When you’re a writer, hearing an on-the-ground story of someone else’s job, weather it’s a Subway employee dealing with an oblivious manager or an EMT dealing with a weird call, it’s all gist for the mill.  We collect stories and impressions and insights, better for when we’re writing from a similar POV.  So, for us, a blog post like “Underground DSM-IV – Full Version” is a goldmine.  I know most of the terms because my day job is in Behavioral Health care, but it’s worth it for any writer just to add someone’s real-world observations to your characters.  Tidbits:

“No one is listening to me,” means “no one is agreeing with me.” This has been remarkably durable over my career.  The idea seems to be “If you were really listening to me you couldn’t possibly disagree.”  Countering with the statement “I hear what you are saying, but i don’t agree with it” can actually provoke assaultive rage.

Gazing intently slightly upward — choosing among several things to say (Lots of people do this.) The further up the gaze, the more possible responses – usually not a healthy sign. Gazing at ceiling: = Choosing among a multitude of things to say, i.e. lying.

On the morality of fiction…

October 27, 2016

I have oft written about politics and fiction (… politics in fiction … politics of fiction …) but other than a few forays into the nature of evil, I haven’t touched much on fiction and morality. This actually seems kind of odd, since much of my late work has dealt with the idea of morality and speculative religion from a number of angles.  Anyway, I came across two essays that cover the topic from two very different angles themselves.

The Taste for Magic” by Tom Simon is a great read (though if you’re of a pagan bent, you’ll need a thick skin to get through the middle and the harsh— albeit second hand— critique of occultism) that I think offers some deep insights into the moral implications of magical systems from a Catholic perspective.  And if you don’t think that’s quite relevant, you probably don’t think Tolkien or Lewis are relevant, and I can’t help you. The money shot is this graph:

There is an Old English proverb, Man deþ swa he byþ þonne he mot swa he wile: ‘A man does what he is when he can do what he wants.’ Of all the devices invented by man to make his will effective in the physical world, magic is the purest and most direct. There is no better way to show what a man is really made of than to grant his wishes. What things will he wish for? Will they be good or evil? Will he take care and forethought in his wishing, or will he be swept away on a flood of unintended consequences, like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice? And above all, what will he do when he is faced with the outcome of his desires? Having made his bed, will he lie on it, or try (in vain) to shift the responsibility? And if he has done harm to himself or to others, has he the character to clean up after himself? These questions are at the very heart of character, both in fiction and in life. In reality they are never unambiguously answered, because our means are inadequate to our ends, and most of our wishes are beyond our power to enact. But in fantasy, where wishes are horses, we can ride wherever we will. We can see the naked moral act and judge of its quality

And for something completely different, so much so that it could have come from another planet, we have, “Six Proposals for the Reform of Literature in the Age of Climate Change” by Nick Admussen. This one does not address SF/F as a genre, but its rationale is arguably sfnal on some meta level.  The vibe one gets from this article is much akin to the vibe one gets from the Mundane SF movement, which makes sense since the authors’ heads seem to be in the same place as to where our planet may be going, and what literature should do about it. If you ever saw my reaction to the Mundane SF manifesto, you’re probably guessing my reaction to Admussen’s “Proposals.”

Well, yes and no.

Certainly I will not be following these “Proposals” myself, as most of them align against my individualistic ethos, and some of them feel as if they align against the whole Western tradition of story.  However, there is a “but” here.  Even if I will not answer Admussen’s call to arms, he does an excellent service to any author who reads him, even for, maybe especially for, those who do not ascribe to his views.  By proposing these particular shifts in the structure of literature, he highlights the fact that there is a moral component to the structure of literature. And while I don’t advise anyone to start writing polemics (though more power to you if you can make that stuff entertaining)  I do think it improves anyone’s fiction to be conscious of the moral statements they’re making with their fiction, not to lecture or instruct, but simply to avoid the dissonance that happens when a story’s implicit morals and explicit moral pronouncements aren’t in sync with each other and/or the author’s own moral outlook. Knowing what your story’s structure might be saying on a moral level is a keen insight that should be worthwhile in any author’s metaphorical toolbox, whatever their own particular beliefs.


A playlist for the 2016 election…

October 24, 2016

This election is remarkable in that whoever wins will be absolutely loathed by a plurality of the populace, and distrusted by a majority. It is quite possible that on inauguration day our president elect will have underwater approval ratings. If there is any state out there that splits by less than the margin of error, we are probably going to see a reprise of 2000 and a return to “selected not elected” as a meme, with further damage to the infrastructure of our democracy. Our best case scenario at this point is for Gary Johnson to do well enough to deny anyone an electoral vote majority and kick decision to the incoming congress, something that would make the premise of Designated Survivor look like Reagan’s second term. So here are seven tunes appropriate to watching our republic burn.

  1. O Fortuna— Carl Orff: This election is the bastard stepchild of Fate and Karma, and the final line “mecum omnes plangite!” (“everyone weep with me![“) seems appropriate.
  2. Fortunate Son— Creedence Clearwater Revival: We seem on the verge of electing a Democratic administration set to continue years of unbroken military adventures, so yeah.
  3. Edge of a Revolution— Nickelback: I know what you’re saying. “Nickelback!? Everyone hates Nickelback!” But consider, if Nickelback’s doing protest songs, something is very wrong in this country.
  4. 99 Luftballons— Nena: Say what you want about the Cold War, it produced some catchy tunes. Since we’re reviving the specter of nuclear annihilation, we can at least bring back the fatalistic German pop music that went with it.
  5. Crack of Doom— The Tiger Lillies: This one is sort of self explanatory.
  6. Killing Strangers— Marylin Manson: No particular rationale, but every time I see a campaign commercial I have this running in my head accompanied by a John Wick firefight.
  7. Ticking Bomb— Aloe Blacc: Another self-explanatory one, from another action movie.