Monday, June 27, 2016

Thoughts on the Brexit

The Brexit frightens me.

(In the unlikely event you have no idea what "Brexit" is, it's the decision made by the United Kingdom last week to leave the European Union.)

What frightens me about the Brexit is not what it does to the stock market, or global trade, the value of the dollar compared to the pound, or the world economy in general. I admit to having little understanding of how all of that works, or how that impacts me on a daily basis. The Brexit may well be good for the UK in the long run, though I suspect it will not. But I'm no economist.

What frightens me is that it was a victory for racism and xenophobia. Much of the arguing over Brexit centered on the question of immigration. The UK has been hit over the last few years with a lot of immigrants from Poland and eastern Europe. And now, of course, there are all those Muslim trying to get in and turn the UK into the northwest corner of the caliphate. Pro-Brexiters like Nigel Farage skillfully played on the fears of UK citizens, with pro-"Leave" ads that bear a striking resemblance to Nazi propaganda (the black and white images are actual images from a Nazi film):

My apologies for displaying this vile stuff.
Much of the rhetoric from Farage's UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) was about preserving jobs for real Brits, about protecting borders, about "taking back control of the country."

Sounds a lot like what I'm hearing from a certain fur-bearing mammal on this side of the pond.

I'm not naive. Racism has always been a thing. It will always be a thing. We humans have a need to create divisions where they don't exist, and to carve  them deeper where they do exist. I've come to believe (and maybe it's because of my privileged position as a white, sort of middle class man) that it's gotten better over the years, and maybe it has. But lately? It's getting worse.

Some of it's because of the economy. Bad times lead to finger pointing, and fingers are much easier to point at people who look and act different, who speak in funny languages, who come from other places. And some of it's because of the times, which are troubled. But demonizing those people with the funny customs and clothes and accents is not the way to go. Pointing the anger and fear at one or two groups and releasing that pent up anger is a dangerous game to play, and it can all too easily end in some very bad places.

I'm hoping this is a blip, a hiccup, a momentary lapse of reason. And I hope we defeat it here.

Second image from Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Poland

Monday, June 20, 2016

Solstice (and not much else)

Happy Solstice! At least in my particular corner of the world, the sun reaches its zenith, i.e., its greatest distance from the equator, today at 6:34 p.m. In terms of daylight, we'll have 15 hours, 19 minutes, 33 seconds of it today. Woohoo!

I am once again back on submission. My manuscript is in Carrie's hands, we've crafted a pitch letter (or whatever it is that agent's call it; it's an awful lot like a query letter to me), and Carrie's got her list of publishers together. I can now fantasize about contracts, advances, cover reveals, launch parties and all that.




Wow, that was fun. Now, it's time to really settle in on The Next One.

That's all for me for today; how's things with you all?

Monday, June 13, 2016

"Not MY Son"

There was a kid on my block that used to really piss us off.

He wasn't part of our regular group. He was a couple of years younger than the youngest of us (me), presumably enough of an age difference that he just didn't quite fit. We generally avoided him and his friend, a nasty little kid who lived around the corner. But every once in a while, our paths would cross, we would try to play together...and it would just go all wrong.

How wrong? Well, on one or two occasions, we actually felt the need to tattle.

Again, I have no memory of what he ever actually did that was so wrong, but I do remember this, quite clearly: When we told his mother, she said, and I quote: "Not my Kyle. My Kyle would never do that."

That pretty much sealed it. We didn't play with him after that.

I find myself thinking of Kyle's mother (his father we almost never crossed paths with at all, though I have a vague memory of him looking like some straight-man, secondary character from a 50s/60s comedy show, like The Dick Van Dyke Show or something like that) as Facebook and social media pours hate onto the parents of Brock Turner. In the event you've been hiking the Appalachian Trail for the last year or so, Turner was just recently convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault for an attack on a young woman at Stanford University in January, 2015, and though the prosecution rather generously asked for just six years in prison (Turner could have gone for 14), the judge gave him six months in county jail.

The judge was almost certainly influenced by an outpouring of support for Turner, including the letters from Turner's mother and father, both of which have been made public. Turner's parents have come under a lot of fire for their letters, but here's one question for those blindly lashing out: What were they supposed to do?

Turner's in that hazy age where he's no longer a child, but not quite an adult. The responsibilities his parents face have shifted (and this is a stage I find myself at with my girls). The job of teaching him right from wrong is mostly over; so, too, is the job of protecting him from the preventable harms in the world (I should note, however, that as parents, we're always role models for our kids, and I don't think I'll ever stop trying to protect my kids; it's instinctive). Turner's at the age where he has to start standing on his own feet, where he has to make his own decisions, which should be planted firmly in the foundation that's been built for him by his parents. Sadly, he made a terrible decision, and so the Turners are forced to play defender.

As defenders, they both wrote letters in support of their son. They should not be vilified for doing this. The content of their letters, however, is another thing. These are the very definition of "tone deaf." Neither Turner mentions the victim. The letters focus on what Brock. In the very first paragraph of Mrs. Turner's letter, she uses what I think is a very telling phrase: "since the verdict", as in "...since the verdict, he [Brock] has not smiled." And while Mr. Turner's letter comes closer to admitting someone else was hurt, he also uses one of the most unfortunate phrases possible when he says the damage to Brock's life is "a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action...." 'Action,' of course, is a word that's been used by guys for years as a euphemism for sex. He then proceeds to pass the buck, blaming alcohol and sexual promiscuity on campuses for his son's trouble. It's perilously close to victim-blaming.

I can't blame the Turners for defending their son. He's their son; they love him. Despite the verdict of the court, despite the evidence and the testimony, despite the gut-wrenching letter the victim read to Turner in court (and this should be required reading for all, especially boys), there's almost certainly some part of their brains that can't believe their son did this. "Not my Brock; my Brock would never do that." Unfortunately for all involved, he did.

It should go without saying that I am in no way defending the rapist, Brock Turner, for his actions. He deserves far more jail time than he received, and he has to live with the consequences of the choices he made. Nor am I defending the words used by Mr. and Mrs. Turner on behalf of their son. Be angry at Brock Turner for what he did; be angry at the judge for this tap on the wrist; be angry at the Turners for what they wrote, but don't be angry at them for writing. I suspect most of us would have done the same.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Monday Musing: No Real Theme

Starting is always the hardest part. Do I ease into the post with an introductory paragraph, or dive right in?

It's supposed to be fun. Over the last few weeks I've been reading Stacy McKitrick's agonizings over the Pittsburgh Penguins' playoff fortunes. She's up! She's down! She's up! She's down! (Today, she's down) And as I read it, I think, "Wait, isn't sports supposed to be fun?" 

This year for me was one of the most frustrating years I can recall, as my Bruins started out of the gate like a house Dumpster afire (and here's something that's got me thinking: why is "a house afire" good, while a "Dumpster fire" or "tire fire" is bad? Dumpster fires may stink, but at least it's getting rid of something we don't really want), then rocketed all the way to the top of the division and looked like a lock for the playoffs before sinking into a tarpit in March. I can't recall ever being more aggravated while watching this team, and on several occasions, I found myself thinking, "I can't watch this." Yet I always went back. Glutton for punishment.

For my part, I thought that the Pengins/Sharks game 3 was the best of the lot so far, the most even game from start to finish. We'll see what happens from here. Here's hoping for great hockey!

Here's to re-reading. Last night at dinner the subject of re-reading books came up, and my wife mentioned one (and now I can't remember what it was that touched this off, or which book it was) that was one of the few books she's ever re-read. She's not big on re-reading. For me, I re-read a lot, possibly more than I should. This weekend, I finished my third re-read of Robert Penn Warren's All The King's Men--and found that it just seems to get better each time.

I read it for the first time about eight years ago--it was a new edition, released in conjunction with a new film adaptation--and liked it. Probably three or four years I read it again and liked it more. Last week, having exhausted my supply of unread books for the moment, I grabbed it. Even better.

Still have no idea how it actually works!
It's tough to play video games (particularly the puzzle-type games) over and over again. Even if you let a lot of time pass between playings, all the things that made the game challenging the first time come back fairly fast. "Oh, I remember this, I have to do this to get in the door." Maybe it's the writer's mind at work here, but re-reading this book, I'd hit an event that would trigger a bit of memory: "Oh, right, this is going to happen to that character later on." Rather than spoil it, it was insight into how a master writer did things. It was a little like getting to look at the intricate inner workings of a Swiss watch. And it's beautifully written. Now let's see if I can learn anything from it.

Vindication! (sort of) Remember back when Frozen was still a thing, and I posted this? The Hans Heel Turn never sat right with me. Apparently, someone else feels the same way, and has gotten to the bottom of the whole thing. Here's an amusing--and eye-opening--read: "You Really Have No Idea Who The Villain of Frozen Is" (and be sure to read the photo captions in that article, too). Yeah, it's from Cracked, but still--it all makes sense now!

That's about all I've got for today; how about you?

 Image credit: Mechanism, by Alex Brown, used under Creative Commons license.