Monday, December 11, 2017

Still Working On That Story

     Fifteen pages and some 3500 words in, I have just about got Sarah Jane Lotsenheizer where she needs to be, and the plot is thickening.  Gosh, I hope it's not just cornstarch.

     I was working on the Hidden Frontier timeline yesterday -- it runs from the Sonora Aero Club in the 1850s through the present day and perhaps beyond.
     Some years are busier than others.  I may need to expand the scale through the core years, call it 1945 though 2016.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Apparently, "Domo Arigato" Is The Wrong Response

     Three seasons in and I'm still watching Mr. Robot.  I loathe the implied politics, the economics are risible, and the whole thing plays out as if Karl Marx and Noam Chomsky had done a screenplay for Atlas Shrugged -- but then Orson Welles produced and directed it with a modern crew shooting and editing.

     The storytelling is only approximately linear and you're left to pick up flashbacks from context (of which there is plenty); the viewpoint characters are not entirely reliable.  A lot of the story is filtered though the perceptions of central character Elliot Alderson, but just how much of what we see is happening only inside his head remains an open question after three seasons.

     A (so far) minor sub-plot concerns the annexation of "The Congo" by Communist China; just why has not been explained and only a suspicious reader of recent history (or inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) is likely to recall that the Shinkolobwe mine is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.*

     That's the sort of depth and detail that makes it worth watching.  The "hacking" scenes are at least well-advised, though I suspect dramatic necessity sometimes takes over from the dull detail -- but the social engineering aspects of hacking are well-explored, and lock-picking is taken as a given (there's a lot of crossover between hackers of all shades of hat, cryptographers and amateur locksmiths).  It's a William Gibson/Ayn Rand kind of fictional universe and the "anticapitalist"† tilt is just part of the tale.   Gritty, odd and occasionally cringeworthy while maintaining (and subverting) suspension of disbelief.  I have no idea where they're going with this but it's been worth the ride.
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* The DRC has been about as beat up by history as any other place on the planet, provided the other place has had very hard times.  There are more French-speakers there than in France and over three-quarters of then are literate; the country is rich in natural resources from rubber trees to gold, diamonds and a host of other minerals and could generate enough power to transform the continent from a single hydroelectric project -- a project that seems to keep getting stalled.  Everyone from local slavers to King Leopold II of Belgium to their own government has abused the people and looted local sources of wealth, along with a succession of local wars continuing into this century; what could be one of the world's wealthiest nations is instead a country with less than a thousand miles of well-paved highway.  Of course, the show could be referring to the Republic of the Congo instead, which had a long history as a communist client state.  But there's a lot less there in the way of exploitable resources and none of it glows in the dark.

† It occurs to me, looking at the word just now, that the Federation of Concerned Spacemen, the shadowy non-government of the Far Edge, is "anticapitolist" in its implacable opposition to any governmental structure larger than the administration of a large city.  Make of that what you will -- changing a single vowel shifts the whole thing.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Umami Soup

     Last night's dinner:
     Oxtail and beef shank. Leeks, turnip, mushrooms, carrot, celery, four small fresh tomatoes, and the stock is from last night, when I made cube steak with some "fajita mix" (onion and bell peppers),fresh mushrooms, canned mild chili peppers and diced tomato, and beef stock. That left plenty of stock and vegetables, which I added to the soup after the meat was cooked and vegetables were sauteed and I'd deglazed the pan with a dash of water added to what had cooked out of the ingredients. It's wonderfully rich -- the shank had a nice, big bone full of marrow and the oxtail adds all kinds of wonderfulness as it cooks down.

Friday, December 08, 2017

The Wisdom Of The Old

     I'm reading a recently-published Ursula K. LeGuin book (No Time To Spare: Thinking About What Matters), a collection of essays from her blog.*  It's interesting reading.  She and I are poles apart on many things, but closer than either of us might think at first.  The years have left her not exactly disillusioned, but well aware of the illusory nature of things -- especially politics.  I have always admired someone who could build her personal-ideal anarcosocialist utopia (The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia) and proceed to tell a story that poked holes in all the weak points,† and she remains as willing to examine what she perceives.  Our axioms differ and our lexicons are not entirely congruent, yet I find we agree on important things, central things: the need to treat people decently, to use the planet like it's the only habitable planet we have, and to have an eye to the long term.

     We're also both quite fond of cats.

     LeGuin identifies all capitalism as "growth capitalism," and is concerned that, like cancer, it requires endless growth to survive.  By her definition, she's right.  I'd point out that government efforts to regulate it, to channel it, have resulted in many of the deleterious effects she lays at its door: corporations are actively discouraged from looking much past quarters, or single years at best -- "What's good for General Motors is good for the county" once carried the implicit assumption that GM was in it for the long haul, century after century, in the kind of way that we now call "sustainable."  It no longer does, and has not for quite some time.  Other regulations encourage rent-seeking, regulatory capture and the use of regulations to stymie new entrants and thwart competitors.  And vast defense budgets ensure many corporations have a vested interest in war.  This does not strike me as a wise long-term strategy.

     A mess like that, is that "capitalism?"  Karl Marx said it was -- but he was defining an enemy.  When I go to a hamfest, a farmer's market, an antique mall, a gun show or the Feast Of The Hunter's Moon, what is that selling of things you've got plenty of for tokens that will let you buy what you need and want, if not capitalism?  And does it not manage to achieve an equitable -- or at least mutually-acceptable -- distribution of goods and services?  To limit "capitalism" to the goons of Wall Street, to a game best played by those with money to gamble that doesn't risk their physical survival, is to ignore all those regular people, getting by selling loose cigarettes for a penny profit each, selling excess honey from their backyard hive to buy Christmas presents (or, like my Mom, simply giving the honey as gifts -- how she missed her hive when she and Dad moved to a subdivision that was shocked, shocked at the notion of a tiny home apiary, and forced her to rehome it) and a jillion small businesses and minor exchanges.

     So, sure, I've got my disagreements with LeGuin -- and that makes her more worth reading, not less.  She's not a politician; she's not scoring points in some verbal game -- she's 88, what would she win? -- she actually thinks things through.  In a time of so much shouting and so little listening and thinking, it's a rarity.  A gem, a flower.  If for no other reason than to note points of difference and ponder how they might be reconciled or buffered, it is worthwhile reading.

     We're all in this together, all stuck on this same rock, at least for now.  There's a vast universe out there but as a species, we need to stick around here if we're ever going to get there.  Some of us have been around longer than others -- and some of those elders just may have have picked up a useful notion or two.
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* A word she finds ugly but, uncharacteristically, does not know the derivation.  These odd combinations of op-ed page and public diary were once a collection of links and things one had found on the World Wide Web: a "web log."  We blog.

 † She goes after, and correctly for the purposes of story-telling, the functional weak points of Odonianism-as-practiced.  In hindsight, I think the world-building can be faulted for an excessive reliance on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, a miscasting of mercantilism as capitalism and a fundamental misreading of the idea of property -- but as an example of world-building per se, it is among the best.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Oh, Gosh

     I was going to write something about the "recognition of Jerusalem" thing, given that headline-reductionism has sucked all of the nuance out of the story and left us with the usual partisan shouting-past-one-other, but my heart's just not in it.   It doesn't matter to the rock-throwers (figurative and literal) anyway.  Search engines are your friend; this specific issue has been going on for far longer than you might think and is likely to keep on getting kicked down the road, while the State Department shops for real estate.

     Take a little time today to be nice to someone.  Be polite to everyone you meet.  As individuals, we can't fix what's wrong in Washington, or the world; we can't even agree on what is wrong.  But we can smile at people, and be friendly, and not cut people off in traffic or flip them off when they cut us off.  We can make a small difference, and small differences add up.

     (Of course, as I write this, I have an obnoxious one-sided headache that has me as crabby as anything.  Essayist, start with thyself!)

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

...And Into The Difficult Middle

     The middle part of a story is usually the tricky bit -- trying to see how the characters and events line up to take them to the big scene, figuring out what you'd better go back and foreshadow before it shows up later.  Can Sarah Jane Lotzenheiser touch-type?  If a small herd of "mopers"* slows up the truckbus our heroine is riding to the big city and she shifts in her seat to make her sidearm easier to get at, are the big animals the point, or is it her 1911?  And why isn't she carrying it in some easier-to-reach way?  Are Edgers in the mid-1970s any more advanced in how they carry than their Earthbound counterparts?

     And so on.  I know how it starts.  I know how it ends.  Middles, there's the interesting part.
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* Yeah, I heard of mopers, always moping about sad-faced....  But in this case, I refer to the animal, pilosispedes immanes macanally, a large, slow, shambling pseudo-ruminant native to Trinity's Other Continent.  The pilospedes fill most of the prey-animal niches on the O.C. and the things that hunt them, you would not want to meet.  Mopers dealt with this by becoming too big for most predators.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Woke Up With a Story Idea

     It's a kind of farmgirl noir, set on the Other Continent of the Edger planet Trinity (not First Continent, where the initial settlements where and most of the Troubles happened).  And it's got gangsters, and 1911s, and somebody shoots a few dimes right out of the air.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Off To The Dentist

     Oh, what fun.  I don't even remember what they're doing today -- some kind of filling.  I'm just grateful to have the teeth I have. 

     Later: the filling was fine but it triggered a whopper of a headache and I didn't have anything to buffer my ibuprofen with.  This led me to a hasty choice of fast-food lunch and....  Well, between that and the vitamin I, my headache stopped being a concern.  I'm going to call it a win.  Pyrrhic, perhaps, but a win nonetheless.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

"The Marvelous Who?"

    The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.  It's an Amazon TV series, set in late-1950s New York City -- or a kind of Technicolor version of it.  "Midge" Maisel has a perfect-looking life: two kids, lovely apartment, plenty of money, rising-young-executive husband who does standup comedy on the side -- until it all falls apart and she ends up behind the microphone, channeling a kind of Joan Rivers/Phyllis Diller vibe.  The whole thing is just a little bit bigger and better than life -- colors brighter, dialog snappier, issues more clearly drawn and all the characters just a bit more "there" than anyone ever is. 

     In look and feel, it's an edgier version of an old color Hollywood movie -- a good old Hollywood movie.  I keep expecting a street scene to turn into a musical number; not gonna happen, that's not where this bus is going.  Well worth watching, though language (and one short scene in the pilot) is occasionally not family-friendly.  The expectations that frame Midge's life -- family, home, marriage, success -- are very much the ones I grew up with decades later and half a continent away, cultural differences notwithstanding.  Some of the grumpier menfolk may find it a little bit too girl-power-y or overly glib; but it's worth looking at if you like pow-pow-pow sharp repartee, nicely-drawn characters and bit of escapism into a place that, for all the grit, is just a little more glittering than reality.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Breakfast: Bowl

     Sausage, eggs, seven-grain mix and a small Vidalia onion, with some Cholula sauce.
     Breakfast! Or maybe brunch.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Friday Thoughts

     I'm a little burned out.  After a week of high-profile misbehavior* and medical adventure, there's either too little or too much to say.

     Sinus surgery is still up in the air, awaiting word from my insurer.  Like most people, my health insurance has been steadily costing more and doing less for the past thirty years.  My employer, a small and conservative firm, held on to conventional health insurance for years longer than most businesses of like size (and a stellar plan it was, too), and have been scrambling from one rat-bag PPO to another over the last decade or more, putting together the best deal they can manage.  It's still not terrible...except the pre-approval process is heavily biased towards "No" and deductibles are fulfilled on a per-procedure basis rather than being a simple sum of whatever you've had to spend on doctoring in any calendar year.  So they could decide the surgery isn't covered, or simply leave me with more of a bill than I can afford once the insurance portion is paid.  I won't know until they decide, and those wheels grind very slowly, especially around the holidays.

     --Holidays!  Look, I shouldn't snicker, but as one of the technical-type people who had had to work many holidays that my desk-bound peers enjoy at home, I did take some amusement when American Airlines slipped up and gave too many pilots off time for the holidays.  It's fun to own the race house; it's fun to manage the horse and rider.  But someone had to shovel out the stable and without them, the rest of the operations will be hip-deep in fertilizer.  Ayn Rand's memory is grinning like a Halloween pumpkin. 

     Rand?  She's become a curse word to the Left -- and even some of the Right.  Apparently, she "hated the poor" and thought only the rich were deserving.  This surprises me; no, it makes me wonder if the people spouting such notions even read the Cliff Notes for Atlas Shrugged.  --Fine, Rand herself was kind of mean and loved to push back against conventional platitudes, and a good many of her followers suffer from Great Leader Is Right In All Things syndrome, even when Great Leader has a taste for cheap, romantic, adventurous pulp fiction and a messy personal life.  But the good and bad guys in Atlas Shrugged don't sort neatly by income at all, and a recurring image contrasts a clean, airy, well-lit basement cafeteria used by ordinary railroad workers against a dark penthouse pseudo-dive enjoyed by the well-to-do -- well-to-do plotting villains, no less.  Representative examples of hoi polloi, academia, Old Money and the recently-rich all show up as both bold brave heroes and loathsome baddies, with a few ditherers caught in the middle and skewered for their indecision.  I'm not qualified to tell you how the book stands as literature, and as a political tract, it's an early example of the wish-fulfillment genre, not a blueprint for change; but what it doesn't do is hate on the poor and glorify their rich oppressors.  I'm reminded of the possibly apocryphal story of someone expressing surprise at finding W. C. Fields reading the Bible, to which he snarled, "I'm looking for loopholes!"  Similarly, some readers of Rand skim though, looking for the class war they expect to find -- and long for.

     Class war?  That brings me back to where I started: in each and every one of the reported instances of harassment or abuse, the common element is misuse of an imbalance of power by the powerful.  Hey, do you know how you get seething resentment against the people with money and power?  By them acting like jerks.  And that stuff rolls downhill; when J. P. Gotrocks treats his underlings like dirt or toys, how do you suppose they treat the people they can boss around?
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* Weak, but when the behavior in question runs the gamut from a creep with a remote door lock whose reputed actions appear to my non-lawyer understanding to constitute rape to a couple of public figures on opposite ends on the political spectrum whose wandering hands may -- or may not -- be innocent, it's difficult to find a wide-enough term.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

"Creeper Culture"

     A precise label eludes me.  On the one hand, you've got TV talent with remote door locks, pervy doctors, and film directors or producers who have taken the "casting couch" cliche to boggling extremes; on the other, you have doddering, clumsy or juvenile types who sometimes put their hands where they oughtn't.

     Both are bad but surely there are different levels of badness, and different appropriate responses?  Often there is a drastic power imbalance inhibiting the right response to low-level creepering -- if your boss or a county judge pats your bottom, you're a lot less likely to give them hell (cold stare, shocked comment, a good slap) for it that you would a random guy in line at the five-and-dime; and once they've gotten away with the low-level stuff, some of  them don't stop there.

     In all the denouncing and firing, I notice a few who might've have been shoved towards proper decorum if they'd been backhanded by their chosen victims early and often; others seem, at least in hindsight, to have been utterly predatory, as set on their path as a shark. Many of the latter appear to have exercised a predator's judgment in their choice of prey, going after the weakest.

     Some kind of tipping-point has been passed; a series of high-profile arrests (Jerry Sandusky, Larry Nasser, Jared Fogle) may have been the earliest signs, followed by accusations against Bill Cosby and the UK's Jimmy Saville.  Or maybe we just passed some kind of "critical mass" of women in management -- nothing personal, guys, but I have been on the receiving end of too many "I'm sure he didn't mean it/he's just a diamond in the rough/think of the team" chats with managerial higher-ups, men who simply can't (or won't) conceive that such misbehavior was seriously meant.

     Things have changed.  It's too early to tell if this first big shift points to greater concern for such things in workplaces generally, or if it will trail off in tabloid-headline trivia.  I'd like to think the good old-fashioned withering glare, stern comment and stinging slap will stage a comeback in response to creepy comments, worrying situations and wandering hands.