27 Sep

A Dark Day for the Cards

So, there I was, sitting in my Louisville Cardinal pajama bottoms this morning when I saw reports that the school was preparing to fire head basketball coach Rick Pitino. Shortly thereafter, that news came to include athletic director Tom Jurich, who was presumably fired because he refused at this point to get rid of Pitino.

Sheesh.

Yes, if you read back through my full history around here, you’ll find that I am most certainly a Louisville Cardinal basketball fan. I grew up in the city and on the campus. My dad taught there, and I graduated from there. I was a freshman when we won our first National Championship. I was a massive college basketball fan in the day, and, though my interest in the sport has waned as the game has become a grind-it out, 40-minute scrum, the Cardinals are still a good enough reason to watch the sport.

LET’S START WITH THE 411
For those without the background, the basics are that an FBI investigation across the whole of college basketball has identified problems. Several assistant coaches across the country have been arrested for taking cash to funnel college players to various sports agents, but the pertinent item in Louisville’s case is that officials from Adidas, Louisville’s apparel partner, allegedly worked with a Louisville assistant coach to pay a highly touted recruit $100K to come to the school. The whole thing is happening pretty quickly, and my guess on Jurich’s firing is that it happened because he refused to fire Pitino before seeing how Pitino was actually involved.

To make this whole thing even more interesting, the revelation occurred after two major events in Louisville sports history, the first being the school’s recruiting sex scandal (which Pitino was essentially absolved of, and which was slowly losing its power), and the second was the fact that earlier this year Louisville’s athletic department signed a record apparel deal with Adidas, which has put them onto the map as the top Adidas school in the country. Since that time, the school has been prominently displayed on pretty much all Adidas commercials.

The cherry on top is that (I’m pretty sure on this timing, but admit I could be wrong) a month or two later the recruit in question came to Louisville, essentially falling out of the sky and into Pitino’s lap. “We spent zero dollars recruiting a 5-star athlete who I loved when I saw him play. In my 40 years of coaching, this is the luckiest I’ve ever been,” Pitino said at one point.

MY THINKING HERE: PITINO
You can like Rick Pitino or not, but there can be no debate about the fact that on the court itself he is a great basketball coach. Not a good coach: A great coach. He gets as much from his players as anyone I’ve ever watched, and if you give him three days to prepare he’s almost impossible to beat.

So, let me start by saying that, as a Louisville fan, this just sucks balls.

I mean. Sigh.

At the end of the day, this has nothing to do with what happens on a basketball court and everything to do with what happens around a program. Regardless of whether Pitino knew about this one or not, the school looks clearly guilty of a major NCAA infraction, and I’m no lawyer, but likely a criminal action. The FBI doesn’t jack around with simple NCAA stuff, you know?

Whoever the assistant coach was in this case was working directly with a school’s business partner to pay a player, and the school directly benefitted. There’s really no getting past that.

If Pitino knew about it directly, that’s “worse,” but it’s bad for him even if he didn’t know directly about it, because shit-fire, man, when a five-star recruit falls out of the sky for zero-freaking dollars, no self-respecting head coach in this day and age can just nod his head and go along—especially one who’s already scared up by scandal, and who has spent years discussing how there are too many runners and agents and apparel companies throwing money around as Rick Pitino has. A five-star recruit falls into your lap for free, and you’ve got to step back and ask some questions. Nothing I’ve seen so far supports Pitino in this case.

So, yeah. It’s bad.

And it’s a shame.

MY THINKING HERE: THE SCHOOL/ENVIRONMENT
I feel disjointed to have Louisville in this crap. It’s hard to see it happen here, but I’ve got enough distance to not be as distraught as I once might have been. Louisville (and four more schools so far) are caught up in some deep problems. Pitino’s may or may not be directly of his own making, but I don’t think it’s really that surgical. I think this is how college sports works today. It’s how money works. To a degree, it’s how it’s always worked but now the cash is so big that it’s worth the Feds time to get into it.

Think of it this way, too: The mere amount of the money going to the kid tells you what these players are actually worth on the market. A hundred grand is a decent chunk of change, after all. And the fact that Adidas was willing to pay it says that the kid is worth considerably more than that. Adidas is a company, after all. It’s making money off that investment.

In that light, keep in mind that these things are not one-sided. The most likely situation (in any case where a kid is getting paid) is that the kid, or his family, asked for money and Adidas gave it to him, asking in return “only” that the kid go to the company’s top school. In a capitalistic free market situation, this would just be…well…normal. But NCAA sports are not free markets, at least not where the labor is concerned, and the NCAA is working hard to keep it that way. Despite this, the kids know who the draw is. They know who is making these schools their billions. They know that top-end kids are getting shafted, so it’s not overly surprising that they, or their families, are asking for compensation. Quite honestly, they deserve it.

And then there are the apparel companies and other big-dollar advertisers themselves. Quite honestly, anyone who thinks these companies are dropping that kind of cash on schools, and not working the system to leverage that cash are living in a fantasy deeper than Westworld.

It’s going to be interesting to me to see where this goes in the end. It will be interesting to see what Pitino and Jurich do after the dust settles a little. I assume Rick Pitino and Tom Jurich know the full ins and outs of the game above the game. Pitino has been somewhat campaigning for various changes and controls in the past, and Jurich had been a magician in the AD’s seat. I can come up with lots of interesting scenarios surrounding both of them.

MY THINKING HERE: THE END GAME
But none of those things matter today. All that’s relevant now is that a representative of the school worked to get a kid paid.

So it’s a dark day for Louisville.

It makes me wonder if the school will even have a program in the future. It makes me wonder if college sports as a whole will ever come out of the fake umbrella of amateurism that it’s pretending to play under. In a way, this is a little microcosm of America in that, while a few big institutions keep getting richer and richer as the common guy shells out their $100 for a jersey with Lamar Jackson’s number on it, everyone keeps pretending and pretending that these kids are getting a fair shake or that the game isn’t being twisted by big money guys.

I mean, come on, right? We know it is, but (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) it isn’t really.

In this way, college sports had already become hollow for me, the seams were showing.

I hope, for other fans of other schools, that this is just a Louisville thing. I hope that because today’s news is annoying to me. It’s hard news because it breaks the façade and makes it impossible to pretend anymore. College sports are there to be fun, and you cheer for your guys because (like American exceptionalism itself), following a team lets you put on your personal layer of fake superiority while your guys play—your team is better than the other guys, regardless of the outcome because … sports!

So, OF COURSE, kids come to your school because they want to come to the best, and they go to your rival’s schools only because the scum bucket coaches of the other schools shell out cash they’ve laundered through the school’s programs somehow.

But something like this changes that whole fake game we let ourselves play. Something like this just says money talks, which we all know, but which we all want to pretend isn’t true.

So, yeah. I hope this is just about Louisville. I even hope it was just about a renegade of an assistant doing something atrociously bad. I hope this is true for you and for you and you, too, the big guy in the blue shirt back there in the corner. For the sake of fans of college sports everywhere, I hope it’s just Louisville (and four other assistants at other schools).

But, to be honest, that’s not what I’m expecting to discover.

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08 Sep

Ron’s Recommendation: The Memory Palace

As with most things, I’ve come upon Nate DiMeo’s Memory Palace podcast late. Technically, this is good because it means I have well over a hundred episodes I can listen to rather than waiting breathlessly for the next one to drop.

Seriously, each of these episodes are a a great way to spend ten minutes or so. The guy is absolutely brilliant. I mean, he makes me want to write.

His formula is pretty simple: take a piece of our lives or a bit of our history that we probably haven’t really looked at before, and hold it up for us to see certain obvious (but not always evident) truths they hold. He lets us think about those truths and package then in ways that make sense to us–always leading, but never quite demanding. He lets us feel what they mean. If you’re wanting to be a storyteller, there’s extra stuff in there, too—as in analytical things you can do to figure out how they work. But really…you don’t want to do that because each of his stories does something amazing.

Just plug in and listen. I’ll give you a few suggestions below, but I’m figuring you can start anywhere and they’ll all be great.

Did I mention they’re generally only about ten minutes a pop?

Awesome.

Notes On an Imagined Plaque
A Washington Monument
Promise
The Year Hank Greenberg Hit 58 Home Runs
If You Have to Be a Floor

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07 Sep

Five More Things I Like

Another day, another Trump blast. Yes, it can be more than a little exhausting keeping up with a guy who seems to wake up every day with a self-aggrandizing agenda peppered with the various “ism” of the day. That’s life though.

In the midst of the stress brought on by negativism, I wanted to take a moment to think about some things that are truly cool, or good, or otherwise excellent in some way or another. I did something like this a couple weeks ago, and that worked well enough for me that I figured I would try it again.

Here are a few things I like:

1) Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History

Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast is always highly rated, and rightly so. He’s an interesting guy with interesting ways of looking at situations. I like his ability to point to something, find its core idea, and present that core idea in a logical and generally data-based way. His series on education was fascinating in multiple dimensions. His Exploration of the social stigma associated with shooting free throws underhanded was revealing, and his episode on creativity should be required listening for any artist on the planet. Completely fascinating—and those were only a few episodes of the first season. Season two was just as good.

2) Galaxy Archives

This archive holds pretty much every issue of one of the most important magazines of the age of pulpy science fiction. 356 issues (per my search) from 1950 through 1976. Totally amazing. I don’t remember how I came about it, but now I’ve got it stored in a bookmark, and about once every week or two I’ve been opening a volume at random and scanning a story. Some of them are, of course, aged. Most of them, really. They are sometimes poorly written, or sometimes filled with people with—let’s say—the social attitudes of the time. But that’s not really the point here, because at the same time they are all those things, they also are coming from many of the pillars of the field, and as such as sometimes still absolutely brilliant.

3) Brownies:

Yeah, it’s a gimme. I get it. So what? Brownies are delicious and full of chocolaty goodness. When you bake them yourselves you get both the smooth softness of the middle pieces and the hard-edged gloriousness of the parts in the corners. They are like the gifts that keep giving.

That’s why brownies are on the list of things most excellent.

4) Remembering Ozzie Smith at Short Stop

There’s this thing about baseball in which you watch partially because you know there’s a chance you’re going to see something you’ve never seen before. Ozzie Smith was the epitome of that. He was the purest possible silk at a position that dominates baseball defense. Watching these kinds of highlights is always a blast, but having the Wizard of Oz in the 6-slot was so much more than his highlights. Still, the highlights are what folks remember.

That stop at 0:25, for example, is amazing. It’s old film, so you can’t hardly see it unless you know what’s there. But I remember it because I was watching the game that day. The ball took an odd hop, and Ozzie (in mid-dive) reached up and bare-handed the play.

Amazing. The prince of all short stops.

5) Stephen Colbert Monologues

Yes, this one borderline breaks the negativity comment above, but again, such is life. Lisa and I have taken to staying up to watch Colbert’s openings. Sometimes we hang for the guests, Maggie Gyllenhaal was interesting the other night, for example. I can’t speak for Lisa completely on this, but I think Colbert’s real-time commentary on that’s happening is the closest thing we have to a Jon Stewart these days, and the episode I linked to is about as direct as it gets.

Your mileage can vary here, of course, and I’m sure that those of a particular persuasion won’t agree with my choice. But for me, the stuff Colbert is doing is as good for the quality of its construction as it is for its content.

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06 Sep

Space Traders, DACA, and Good SF

In listening to fallout over Trump’s recent DACA decision, I’m drawn to parallels with Derrick Bell’s Space Traders, a controversial novella published in 1992 that examines what might happen if an alien race offered the US government a wondrous bounty in return for the entirety of the country’s African American population.

Outlandish, right?

I say read it, and decide for yourself. Read it and watch as the world around us seems to follow the script.

I first read Space Traders somewhere around 2012 when a flurry rose around it due to Obama’s candidacy. It seemed…valuable…I got it, anyway, but in my worldview it wasn’t really relevant to what was going on at the time. It was republished in Dark Matter two years later. My memory was jogged again a year or two ago when I saw a FSI piece Nisi Shawl wrote on the history of African-American Science Fiction. I didn’t re-read Space Traders then, but I recalled it, you know, reintroduced it into a slot in my memory of Interesting Science Fiction that Exists.

Maybe this is why, after listening to recent conversation about DACA, Space Traders came back to me. Maybe this is why I Googled it today and read it again. Maybe this is why I didn’t find the story outlandish this time. Or, well (pun intended?), yes, why I find the the story outlandish, but not for its conceit. The story explores public arguments made for and against accepting the aliens’ deal by politicians, clergy, businesses, other minority groups, and the general voting public. Its parallels to the conversation around DACA are both eerie and unnerving. Reading Space Traders today feels uncomfortably familiar.

At one point, one of the characters defines the problem for resistance as follows:

“The question is to how best to counter an offer that about one third of the voters would support even if the Space Traders offered America nothing at all. Another third may vacillate, but … that in the end … will simply not be able to pass up a good deal.”

Read that passage again. Go on. It’ll only take a moment.

Sound familiar?

This is the thing about good science fiction. Good science fiction is about what it means to be human—the good, the bad, the amazing, and the outlandish. Good science fiction does not flinch. Good science fiction can make you look at yourself differently.

Some time ago I was sharing a dinner table with a well-known African-American writer who I will not name because that’s not my point here. Eventually our conversation touched on race and gender, and partially on things like the Alt-Right Sad/Rabid Puppy wedge that’s the SF field’s contribution to right-wing bullydom. Somewhere in that conversation I said the situation seems so much sharper now than it has ever been. This is when the writer very politely asked why I thought that was true. Not as in “what are the causes of it being sharper?” but as in “how do you measure such sharpness in order to judge it one way or the other?”

To be honest I didn’t have an answer. When I think about it, our rhetoric today is probably not sharper than it’s ever been—and, as divided as we sound now, we’re probably not even close to being as violent right now as we’ve been in the past. This is America, after all. Pretend as we might, our history has been far more bloody than inclusive.

So, yes, my statement at dinner was clumsy. It was clumsy because for me it was correct—the world is sharper for me now, but that’s because I’m seeing the situation in ways I didn’t earlier. Today I focus differently, but I’m not used to that focus so I sometimes have to fight through all my gut reactions in order to let my brain lead me to it. Today I understand that even writing this statement in this blog post is, in its own way, clumsy. Not that I have a choice here, but I’m good with that. I would rather be a clumsy, well-meaning guy who stumbles my way to understanding than a person whose view is based on privilege so strong I’m blind to what it means to be human.

As far as DACA is concerned, I have opinions, of course. But they don’t matter here. I’m not some leading-edge activist. I’m just a 50-some year-old science fiction writer trying to figure out what life means, you know? And I know this post all by itself will never change anyone’s mind. This post is not Good SF, after all.

All I really want is for you to sit down and read Space Traders, then think hard about it. When the narrative makes you angry, I want you to ask yourself why. Compare that passage to arguments happening today. See how they are often so similar you can’t tell them apart.

Space Traders is about much more than DACA, of course, about much more than immigration or even race relations in general. Space Traders is about humans, power, and how we organize and manage that power, how in America that power is clearly in the hands of a culture whose foundation is to staunchly steeped in white supremacy that, even when it’s brought to the surface in its most explicit and impossible to ignore fashion, that third, vacillating part of our population can find ways to pretend it’s not there. It’s about how people use power, how we cloak it in common good, pretend that we are e pluribus unum when is in our interests, but find ways to shove that idea aside when it’s no longer as convenient. It’s about the fundamental nature of people and how the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution are aspirational more than true. It’s about those times when we’re willing to let power brokers stand certain laws of logic on their heads when we benefit from make the Declaration and Constitution bend in different ways.

Human beings are strange after all. Sometimes we’re clumsy. Sometimes we’re oblivious. Sometimes we’re selfish, greedy, or just outright cruel.

And, sometimes, for any or all those reasons, we’re just straight out wrong.

The best science fiction helps us think about these things.

That’s why I want you to go read Space Traders today.

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02 Sep

Fast Writing vs. Work >> Starborn Nears!

Books-1-5


For those patiently awaiting Starborn, book 6 of Stealing the Sun, I’m relieved to say the wait is nearly over.

I’ve gotten feedback from my beta readers (very positive, yay!), and am in the last stages of getting the manuscript ready for copy editing. I’ll wait a bit before giving a solid publication date, but it’s going to be pretty soon. Yes, I’m behind schedule, and that’s bad. I apologize to everyone who’s been waiting.

If you’re not a writer, or not interested in writer-neep, you can stop here. You’ve already read all the news that’s fit to print. But if you’re a writer interested in sparring a few rounds on what “fast” writing means, or if you’re just interested in a small peek under the hood, feel free to go along for the full ride…

My problem started because when I first “finished” Starborn (technically on schedule), I didn’t like it. Really. I just didn’t. And, no, that’s not some weird-humble “a writer is the worst judge of his own writing thing.” As I’ve said before, I write stories that matter to me and, while I may not be able to say if something I’ve done is award quality or not, I know when I’m proud of something. I know when it’s “good enough for me.”

The Starborn manuscript was about 43K words, which was about as I expected it would be. These are shortish novels (usually 50-55K words), so the length was “fine.” But the story just sat there on the page. It was wrong, and I knew it.

So I had a choice. I could push on, hit my schedule, and hope that the story was at least “good enough,” or I could go back and figure out what was wrong.

Given this post’s opening, you know what I decided to do.

To keep this brief, the biggest problem was that I was telling two stories. So step one was to come to grips with the fact that the series had a 7th book. This was harder to accept than it should have been because, to be honest, I was set on six. Once I committed to seven, I immediately felt better.

Of course, this created a totally new problem: I didn’t really know what this “new” sixth book was about.

If you’re around writers for long, the topic of writing speed will come up. I tend to be a proponent of “fast” writing—which, as I’ll show here, really simplifies down to “spend a lot of time creating words and eventually you get a lot coming out of the pipeline.”

This is certainly true for me most of the time, and, in general you can see it in the rate that I manage to create my various series in (and still get mostly solid reviews—I mean, you can’t please 100% of the people 100% of the time, but my numbers are in general pretty good). Of course, there are times where problems arise, and this past spring/summer, for me, was one of those times.

Also among writers there’s this feeling that everyone else just sits down and starts to type, and then 4,000 words or 6,000 words later a story is done, or 80,000 words later a novel pops out fresh and clean and ready for TOR to give you a big check and an advance for two more just like it. Oh, sure, we know in our brains this isn’t true, but especially when the art isn’t going particularly well for us, our hearts see the high-quality output of some people and it tears us up inside.

But I’m here today to whisper to you writers who confuse “fast writing” with “super talent.”

Change that worldview. For the vast majority of us, fast writing is really just diligence (here is where I note that I’m not a blazer in the words/hour category, say 500-1,000 on average). “Fast writing” means only this: “Go to work every day.”

Today’s example: barring oddities, Starborn will weigh in at about 66K words, about 20K more than I originally thought it would, and about 35K more than the story-span originally took in its first draft. But here’s another truth: I came to work every day for the last three or four months, and I wrote literally hundreds of thousands of words that never made the page.

Yes, terribly inefficient.

And it’s an unusual thing for me. I mean, I throw away a lot of words but not usually (let’s say) 300K in “trash” for a 66K story.

This is probably the most inefficient I’ve ever been, and I’ll be honest: this churn messed with my brain at times. There were moments where I just said “screw it,” I’m done! Only to go back to the keyboard and throw down more crappy words.

For weeks Lisa and I had this dialog every day:

Ron: I’ll be done tomorrow.
Lisa: Really?
Ron: [Hesitating] Yeah, I think so.
Lisa: [The Next Day] So, is it tomorrow?
Ron: [Scowling] No.

It was funny for a little while, but after a bit it just became unnerving for us both, so I stopped projecting and Lisa stopped asking. Yes, she’s that good.

To put this in context, at my usual rate I would probably have created at least a novel and a half with that 300K words, and maybe more. There are some folks who would look at me and get upset–that’s two books you could be pushing now! they would say. And, that’s true. But my point here is that, finished product or not, by coming to work every day, I created probably three novels worth of words. It just so happened that this time those words only resulted in one finished product.

Of course, I should note that I finished three short stories and a novelette that I owed people during this period, too. That’s all good, too. I’m proud of them all.

Looking back on it, my self-diagnosis is that the real issue was that I thought I knew what the story meant to me. I mean, I had known what I was trying to do with the whole thing, so I must have understood the partial, right?

Yes, I’m that stupid.

The result is that I spent a solid two months really just churning on things until, yes, things finally came together for what the book was.

And yes, now that the book is finished I think it’s good. But that’s for everyone else to say. All I can really report is that I’m totally proud of this book now. I’ll be able to look people in the eye when they say they bought it, and in the delightful case where they say they liked it, I’ll know the time was worth it.

So, yeah. Write a lot, and be sure to stop when you’re done. But know that it’s okay to take a breath and go back in. If you come to work every day, you’ll be fine.

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31 Aug

Five Reasons to See Logan Lucky

Lisa and I took a break yesterday and saw Logan Lucky. Afterward, we read reviews and talked about the film.

On the whole, I’ll say it was worth seeing, though I didn’t like it as much as I wanted to like it. I think it has some specific flaws, and I don’t think it really ever quite decides what it wants to be. I mean, sure, it’s Oceans 7/11, but … well … for me, it didn’t quite reach the pedals there. It was closer to Oceans (Double Knot) 7, but I digress.

If I let myself get unwound I can build up a healthy argument for how it could have been better/different (yes, I’m a writer, why do you ask?).

Still, I think you should see it. Why is that, you ask?

Well, here you go:

Reason 1) Daniel Craig: Yeah, he’s clearly having fun here, and it’s rare to see an actor who is really having fun.
Reason 2) Silliness: Yeah, the plot is stupid. And yeah, the people are stupid, too…at least the males are (I mean, essentially even the “smart” guys here are a few watts short of a full charge, but it works okay). But on the whole the film is entertaining scene-to-scene. A perfectly fine way to spend a couple hours even if you might forget it in a few months (except for Craig, anyway).
Reason 3) Channing Tatum’s Heist Model: Talk about your on-the-cheap planning tool. Humorous. Ultimately, the movie has several chuckles to it.
Reason 4) The Indie Track: Steven Soderbergh essentially made this himself. It’s a good enough effort and, being an indie publisher, I like supporting indie kinds of things.
Reason 5) Daniel Craig: Okay, I know he was #1, but I labeled this as Five Reasons, and really there’s only four. But Craig is so fun that it’s worth giving him a second slot. Craig is to Logan Lucky as Clooney is to Oceans. He’s fully committed to the character, and plays it as much with a wink to himself as anything else. He integrates into the seams of the film and manages to be the pulse of the thing. He’s super competent in the one place he needs to be competent, and (unlike most of the characters), he pulls off a rough hillbilly “cool under pressure” in the moments where he’s out of his water.

So, yeah, if you’re debating, I say go ahead. If nothing else, it goes great with popcorn.

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28 Aug

“Just Business” Appears in Crimes, Capers, and Rule-Breakers!

C-C-RB

Yeah, I’m a little behind in my news-ing, so that’s where we’ll be the next day or two…

First up, let me say that I’m terribly excited to report that my short story “Just Business” is now available in the Crimes, Capers, and Rule-Breakers bundle! It’s a collection of 20 short stories with a great lineup of stories by a fabulous collection of writers.

buy-now2Like all BundleRabbit sets, you can get it direct from BR (where you can DL individual stories, and wherein we authors get a deeper cut), or you can get them from Amazon, B&N, Kobo, or IBooks. Either way you go, $3.99 is a pretty good deal.

Here’s a little background bit on “Just Business” …


JustBusiness
Mick is a loyal kinda guy. A few weeks after his longtime friend Frankie Morena takes over “the business,” he asks Mick to do him a favor. Then things get weird. Can Mick figure out what’s got “The Man” spooked? If he doesn’t, it might cost him more than a job.

This is a story that first appeared in Analog, and was pretty well received. It also appeared in my collection Picasso’s Cat & Other Stories, in which I wrote the following introduction:

On “Just Business”

I originally wrote a couple hundred words of “Just Business” as a trial draft of a story I had agreed to write with Mike Resnick. I decided I didn’t like it much, and shelved it at the time in favor of another story—”STAN” that appeared in an anthology titled Mob Magic.

Years later I was in a dry moment and searching for something I was interested in deeply enough that I could get up the energy to write it, when I came upon this opening again. I decided I couldn’t help but like Mick, and realized that I had screwed up the original opening. When I fixed that, the rest just kind of happened.

This means that “Just Business” is a gangster story that died and later came back to life. This is, I guess, only appropriate given its content.

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25 Aug

Five Things I like:

Amid all this negativity, I wanted to focus on something good, something positive. So, in no particular order, here are five things off the top of my head that I like a lot.

1) The Catalina Mountains

When we moved to Arizona, we had no real idea what we were getting. We made the decision because my mom and dad live here, and we wanted to be with them for their later years. It’s been a fantastic move in that light. We didn’t expect the mountains, though. They are amazing to watch. Different every day. Red. Blue. Purple. Dappled in sun. Crossed by rainbows. It’s a beautiful thing to see, you know?

Here’s a great little shot that, of course, won’t do it justice…but what the heck:

mountain-rainbow

2) Three Musketeers bars

Okay, this is a gimme. I mean, who doesn’t like a big slab of whipped nougat covered in sugary chocolate? My like goes a little beyond the norm. It can make me happy just walking past a display of those silvery packages. Every time I see one, I remember walking through the neighborhood with Brigid on Halloween, taking my service fee out of her bag in the form of those delightful little mouthfuls. Thanks, Three Musketeers. (Extra points if you remembered that they used to come only in white packages)

3) That Orphan Black Exists:

Orphan Black is, in my mind, an absolutely perfect example of both science fiction and artistic craftwork in about every direction you can look. High end science turned on its head, a pulsing storyline with several layers of social commentary, smart writing, amazing application of technology merely to produce the product, and, of course, the acting, which begins with Tatiana Maslany, but does not end there. It’s a fantastic show, and the world is a better place for it.

4) Cats:

Yes, cats. Cute, sleek, smart, funny, beautiful cats. Those indispensable creatures who the powers put on earth to make sure no one thinks they are particularly hot shit. I’ve grown up around cats, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sophie-sleeping

5) My Traeger grill:

We needed a new grill here in Arizona, and when my dad and I went out to get one, it so happened that the local sales guy for Traeger was at the store. I talked to him a bit, thinking I would just move along to the normal propane jobbies. But he get further into his pitch and I started thinking about it, and I said “you know what, Ron, he’s right. Cooking on wood is just better.” So I bought it. It was pricey, but what the hell. The kicker, of course, is that my dad got one, too. The scream of joy from the salesman was audible for three counties.

Anyway, the food is great, and the overall easy of grilling is fantastic, too. No heavy LP tanks, now concern about running out of gas in the middle of a job, and a nice taste to the stuff we put on it. When we’re in or normal swing of things, we use it nearly every day.

(And, yeah, I kinda like my dad, too, so there’s a freebie #6 for you).

R&&-Grilling

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17 Aug

Many Sides of Violence

There’s this thing people have about violence, people who say violence is never the answer. They say it with such conviction, and yet, it’s so clearly not really right. I admit it would be fantastic if we lived in a society where violence or its threat would never be needed. That would be great. The Wild West would have been totally different in that world. World War II would never have been necessary. A lot of Native American families would still be in existence if we lived in that world.

Another thing that would be great about living in that world is that you would never have to make any hard calls on the ethics of cause and effect. Knowing who was “at fault” in any interaction would be totally simple. I mean, if you came into a room to find your kids tussling, and both of them were whining that the other kid started it, you would just look for the one with the bloody nose and know the other one was responsible.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.

We live in a world where events slide into each other over long distances of time, where those collisions create a huge ocean of cause and effect, and where violence can and often does settles things—at least for a while. Of course, that violence doesn’t always wind up working the way you think it will when you use it. Martin Luther King’s approach with the Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, for example, found ways to use an opponent’s violence to expose fault in Bull Connor’s position. In Dr. King’s case, he lost the day in Birmingham—Connor and his cops turned the hoses and dogs on the protestors, and arrested thousands. But the violence King’s plans incited resulted in change. Of course, the Bull Connor started the violence, but MLK and his council started the conflict…except, of course, the plan was a reaction to the violence made over years of the US not actually living up to its Constitution and to people like Bull Conner being in charge, so Bull Connor and his ilk started it…or you can follow the chain of events back as far as you want.

In the end, though, non-violent tactic or not, the Dr. King’s Crusaders were on the “right” side even if you want to blame him for creating the violence he triggered in Connor. It’s all very complex, you see? Violence is not where things begin.

The use of non-violence is helpful in these moments, though, because it makes it much easier to see who was in the wrong and who was in the right.

Still, Dr. King’s approach was not the only approach on the table. There were violent people on his side, too—call them Malcolm X followers for simple white-guy shorthand (I am, of course, a simple white guy, so this works for me…but, yes, I know it’s complex). Malcolm X’s follower were claiming their rights “by any means necessary,” and were people whose presence scared the average citizen (specifically meaning white guy, but spreading further, too). Their approach was less successful in getting the result they wanted, and it drew unwanted attention from law enforcement—especially since law enforcement was the direct representative of a government that was, to them, the oppressor. But they wanted the same thing that Dr. King wanted. Their approach was different, but they were incited by the same oppressors and had the same goals. Both of them were on the “right” side of a hundred (plus) year old argument. One approach defended himself, the other did not, but both were on the right side of the fundamental argument that was going on across the nation at that time and both were blamed by some for inciting violence at the time.

While Dr. King’s non-violent approach was more effective in driving change in the 1960s, I don’t blame “the violent left” for lashing out while being on the receiving end of a systemic history of aggression that set everything on a hairline trigger, and then became incited by whatever single fateful moment happens. There is no carte blanche, of course, every situation has to be looked at properly. But violence against power that’s there to dehumanize has an inner logic to it that I can “support” in the right times. I understand that violence. Just as I understand the violence, or at least the preparation for such, of groups who rise up to meet members of the Ku Klux Klan and other Heil-Trumping Nazis who were advocating ethnic cleansing of the country this past weekend.

I wish that such preparation wasn’t so necessary. Of course I do.

I wish that the demonstrators who came “to protect the Robert E. Lee” monument had actually gathered peacefully and chanted “Save Robert E. Lee!” rather than carrying torches and chanting “Blood and Soil!” and “White Lives Matter!” and “Jews Will Not Replace Us!” I wish they had not driven home their KKK ideology, had not flown the flag and used the words of a race-based ideology that exterminated 6 million people of Jewish descent and started a six-year World War that took millions and millions of military and civilian lives. That would have been great. I wish these ralliers did not actually believe that only white people deserved to be in this country and that their group’s openly stated purpose wasn’t to aggressively reclaim the country for the white male. I wish they had not brought a militia. I wish they had actually gone to Charlottesville and been orderly, and they would have gathered around the monument and had their speeches and chanted “Robert E. Lee is the Guy for Me!” or whatever.

Alas, that was not to be. Nary a “Save Lee” chant is to be heard on any tape I’ve seen or is included in any conversation from a KKK/White Nationalist I’ve seen or heard any comment about the monument. Go figure.

And I wish it weren’t predictable that a Nazi/KKK guy would kill someone. I wish that leaders and planners of the event hadn’t expected people would be killed and that they weren’t fine with that. I wish that the history of these Alt-Right demonstrations did not have a very long trail of bloodshed. I wish the organizers of the event would express immediate sorrow and remorse for the loss of a life, and the injuring of so many others.

Yes, I wish all of that.

And I wish that all sane people—white, black, white, right, white, left, Asian, moderate, white, agnostic, white, Christian, black, Jewish, white, Hindu, and what-the-hell-ever—would immediately side against this collective ideology that is foreign to American views of equality for all, banding together to say “we’re not falling for your free speech crap…we may not know or agree on much, but we know evil when we see it and we’ve got family buried in France and Germany and all across the Pacific because of you assholes…” I wish this would happen because there is this higher good that needs to be maintained in this country, and because if that aggressive alignment of all American people of all types were to happen there would be a much smaller chance of counter-violence from an anti-protest group to ever be necessary.

But that’s not the world we live in.

We live in world where when real fascists rise up—I mean, real live flag-carrying, “Blood and Soil,” “Get out of my country, we are the master race,” NAZI/KKKers—and I think it’s fair that people defending the ideas of equality for all are allowed to, and be expected to, come to a counter-protest prepared to defend themselves.

We live in a world where “Blood and Soil” in the form it was used is not the free speech of ideological sharing. In our world, “Blood and Soil” chanted as it was is a direct threat. Last I saw no one was arresting a KKK folks for saying anything, anyway, so this isn’t about free speech. In this situation, “Jews Will Not Replace Us,” was not about free speech. In this situation, this kind of behavior is about intimidation, and that is what the reaction is about. The open display of the expectation of the use of force is group bullying at its worst. The alternative for the true protester here (not that the opposite side in this conversation were not counter-protesters, they were protesters against the ralliers) is to suffer the fate of Martin Luther King’s people, to take your beating as a defenseless person, or allow yourself to be run over by a car. That kind of response takes an amazing amount of fortitude and courage that should be honored and admired when it exists, but never required in order to prove one’s fundamental position is correct.

So, of course whenever Nazis demonstrate there will be people on the counter-protest side who are ready for violence. Violence is not preferred. It is not acceptable as a first reaction. But violence will always be on the table as a tool against this kind of overt display of intimidation. This game started decades ago, after all. Therefore, violence should always be expected from these confrontations. It was almost guaranteed to happen, and in my opinion it was guaranteed to happen somewhere from the minute Donald Trump won the election. The only question was where.

Given this guarantee, trying to figure out who threw the first punch is missing the forest for the trees. It doesn’t matter. In this situation, in this fight, the first punches were thrown a lot of years ago, so trying to decide who is at fault based on the existence of violence is a false shell game.

In other words, I don’t need to see whose nose is bleeding in this situation to know that Nazis are wrong.

There is no wiggle room when it comes to Nazi/KKK/Alt-Right demonstrations. If a Nazi group wants to protest the removal of a monument, fine. If they want to chant “I loved Robert E. Lee,” great. But the moment “Blood and Soil” gets spun up and the Nazi regalia gets to flying, the game changes and the leash gets really short. The Nazi/KKK/Alt-Right ideology is counter to the very idea of what America is.

If you stand in a group as they chant about ethnic cleansing, you are part of their group. You are also wrong, and not a “very fine person.”

If you defend Nazis in this situation, you are wrong.

If Nazis are chanting “Blood and Soil” and “Jews Will Not Replace Us!” and you say they might have a point somewhere in there, you are wrong.

Which brings me to the cartoon villain that is our duly elected president, a guy who is a mixture of Lex Luthor, Archie Bunker, and Heath Ledger’s Joker. He may not be a card-carrying Nazi, but he is the chief enabler, an obvious sympathizer, and an embarrassment to any society that considers itself civilized. Watching him operate on a daily basis is like splashing down in the middle of a Philip K. Dick novel written when the guy was on his “Full-Blown Drugged-Out Paranoia” mode.

Trump is wrong. He is the wrong person for this job. That fact has been evident for some time, but is now impossible to miss.

The only real questions that remain are how long congress will stand beside a Nazi sympathizer as he chants his “Many Sides” chant, or whether we will still have an America that we can recognize by the time it falls to the people and the ballot box to do what must be done.

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