Thursday, October 20, 2016

It Rained Last Night

     We had water up to the curbs in low-lying intersections when I drove home from work.  People were driving into them at speed and throwing huge roostertails.

     The rain made for pretty pictures.

     It kept on raining last night.  So far the basement is mostly dry.  Not sure how deep the puddles on the roads will be.  Rain after the leaves begin to fall can be a problem: the drain grates get plugged.


     You may wonder if I've got anything on the debate.  I don't.  Word is, they both got a little better, but neither one is a patch on famous Presidential debaters of the past.  Seriously, Leader Of The Free World, and this the applicant pool?  I've maintained for years that it's a lousy job, but really, they're best there was?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Meet Yuja Wang. Meet Tchaikovsky.

     You boys'll start listening 'cos she dresses sexy.  You stay listening 'cos she's really, really good.

     That Russian was no slouch, either.

     Bonus link: you wanna see a warm-up?  She's machine-gun quick!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Still #1 On The Amendement Chart

     The North Dakota judge hearing the state's case against Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman tossed the "engaging in a riot" the charges out on their ear

     Reporting -- even reporting from, as the local prosecutor alleged and probably is correct about, "the sole viewpoint of justifying the actions of the protestors," acts up to and including crossing fences and closing emergency valves on an oil pipeline -- is not a crime.  It's a Constitutionally-protected activity.  Even if the reporter is a jerk; even if the reporter has in the past urged denying due process to persons or groups of whom she disapproves.

     There are accounts of similar arrests targeting journalists, specifically ones with a large following and a strong slant towards the anti-pipeline side.  Hello, North Dakota, meet The Streisand Effect.  Better you should maybe listen to your judges.

V For...Something?

     Sunset last night:

     Very pretty, but if it says "IV" in the sky tomorrow night, I'm going to get a train ticket out of town.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Take A Class, Learn Some Stuff,

     ...Find out you might not be terrible at this "writing" thing.  The Indiana Writers Center, of which I am again a member (oops!  My membership had quietly expired and I had to renew) offers verious weekend classes and one that turns up every few months is "Flash Fiction," which is what I knew as "short-short stories," except now they have grown up to 750 words or less and have become High Art.

     This, for me, requires a kind of willing suspension of something, perhaps modesty or good sense, as I don't aspire to much past Competent Craft: stories people don't fall asleep or wander off during, with a healthy side of Having Not Abused Grammar Beyond Reason.  Then there's the whole Room Full Of Strangers thing, but heckers, I can out-strange eight (seven if you live in a really big or very small city) of the next ten people you meet, so--

     So I went.  The instructor was both pleasant and pleasantly competent, one of those cross-disciplinary folks who see with both eyes what most of us peer at through a monocle. In her case, a career in Art History (paintings, that is, and how nice to listen to someone who knows who Magrite was and uses a Degas painting to illustrate a story arc) coupled with an insatiable itch to write.  Not to mention enough skill at it to be published and reprinted widely.

     She spent a lot of time describing and even more time showing examples.  We read aloud.  (One student demurred.  And I think I'm shy?)  We talked about the essential images in the stories, about using and having effects without being gimmicky, and by and by it was time for the part "we rarely have enough time for."  Writing.  From prompts.

     "Prompts?"  It's a germ; more how you will tell the story than what it is about.  Nothing specific.  For example:

     A. "Describe following someone: where, when.  Describe who you are following and the process of following.  Indicate your feelings.  Last of all -- why are you following them?"  And  Leatherstocking, Sherlock, Sam Spade?  You've got a whole 750 words in which to work.   

     B. "You're taking a journey  How do you feel about it?  What do you think will happen when you arrive?  Do you arrive?  What actually happens?"  You've got to tease a whole story from this, not just a vignette.  It's got to have a beginning, a middle and a satisfying end.  You're not supposed to ditch the reader on a train unless you can convince them that's how it was supposed to happen.

     C. "Describe two people in a relationship with emotional strain between them; then describe them in earlier times, in a romantic moment."  The instructor remarked that her students never wrote from that prompt.  Oh, lady: challenge accepted.

     I had my used Surface Pro* out already; I'd been working on something else when we took a break halfway through the three-hour class.  The other writers had pen and paper; I guess I'm just not romantic.  My handwriting is either legible or fast and thoughts are only too fast, so for me, keyboard beats pen.†

     Okay, I was cheating.  I already had my people; we last met them on the Hidden Frontier, watching a meteor shower and listening to the evensong of the trap-door weasel in the outback of Kansas II.

     300 words later (call it one double-spaced typewritten page or just over), I looked up.  "It's too short."
     The instructor shook her head.  "No such thing.  Is it a complete story?"
     "I'm pretty sure."
     "Then it's long enough."
     We had fifteen minutes left.  I spent it tightening things up, replacing a too-specific reference with a generic one and catching at least half the typos.

     Come reading-aloud time, one of the other students led.  She had a nice start, but it turned out to be a "Why I can't write this assignment" piece.  Disappointing, as she clearly could have -- if she'd felt she could.  Writing is an act of immense hubris -- no, really, it is -- and sometimes you daren't look down.
     Another student had an image-rich "journey" story; I won't crib his work here but it was nicely jarring.  He hadn't quite got an ending but you could see it through the fog.
     Yet another had picked up "following," and borrowed noir tropes only to subtly subvert them.  Good stuff.  Alas, he was not sure about how to end his, either.  --Hey, you try writing narrative haiku and see how far you get. The shorter, the more difficult.
      I lucked out: I knew my people.  I knew their situation.  I wrote 'em.  When my turn came, the story was well-received.  Even the instructor had only a little (well-founded) criticism -- and she does fiction-as-art, and gets paid actual money for it, too.  Okay, the typical pittance short fiction gets,‡ but in lit'ry circles, what you usually get paid in are extra copies of the book or magazine and the occasional coup-counting scalp.  Good enough to get paid for it means when she talks, I listen.

     I'm going to polish this thing and shop it around.  Why not?  And I'll file off the serial numbers and use it as the basis for a bridge piece in the Hidden Frontier "Stardrive Engineer Bobbi" arc.  There's nothing at all science-fictional in it but I can crib from my own work and I've got nearly 450 words for world-building and miscellaneous background.
* Surfacii (Surfacea? Surfectants?) are crazy-expensive new, at least looking from my pocketbook.  Vendors on Amazon offer used ones, clean-slate and checked out, for a third or less the price.
† Which means, of course, that keyboard >> sword.  It's all fun and games until some literal-minded type lumbers by and clonks you over the head with a plowshare.

‡ A recent survey set the average writer's income from short fiction at $7500 a year.  Pretty sure Steven King responded to the survey, so unless you're him, you might want to keep your day job.  Black Mask is gone; The Saturday Evening Post is gone in all but name.  New Yorker does one short per issue, the SF mags are still around, and all of their slushpiles are immense.  Past that, you'll be getting the price of cheese sandwich or less, if you get published at all.  (You can still read Black Mask online.)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Arrest Reporters?

     Even trouble-making reporters?  Even addled ones?  Alex Jones and company like to see how close they can come; on the other hand (at least if we're charting from the French), Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman likes to start trouble.

     Trouble she's got.  Covering a confrontation between protestors and pipeline workers/security, she managed to get herself arrested and charged with "trespass" and "riot."  Trespass proving too tricky to prove, she's left having to answer to participating in a riot.

     I don't find Ms. Goodman especially wonderful; there's likely nothing we agree on and she's a real hands-on advocacy journalist, with all that entails.  But ah, there's that word: "journalist."

     We've got this thing called the First Amendment.  It protects even people we don't much like.  Larry Flint, Alex Jones...Amy Goodman.  Not just NBC, Matt Drudge, HuffPo or Breitbart; not just your local newspaper (if any) or the news department of your local radio stations (likewise).  Nope, it all starts with edge cases.  People you don't like.  Viewpoints you abhor.

     The principle is, you don't jail reporters for being on the wrong side of an issue, or for being jerks, or for being inconvenient.  If they do actually break the law, the burden of proof is quite high.  On the other hand, being reporters, they often can show proof in form of notes, or audio or video recordings -- indeed, sharing what they gather is a huge part of their job.

     So we'll see how this one plays out.  The pipeline is a huge issue, especially for those closest to it.  Who wants to freeze in the dark?  Who wants to roll the dice on an oil spill into their only water source?  Who wants ten-dollar-a-gallon gasoline?  --Nobody.  And there's probably a better way to resolve it than by yelling, throwing things, using tear gas and dogs and breaking heads.  Or valves.  So far neither side has found anything better and without reporters shoving this under the national spotlight, there's not a lot of pressure on them to do so.  The big guys at CNNBCABCBS/WaPoNYLATimes weren't paying a lot of attention until she and her ilk took an interest; it's tangled enough that you can't cover much in a minute-thirty or two column-inches and getting compelling images has a poor risk/reward ratio for them.  So we need edge cases out there.  We need agenda-driven reporters because they're the only ones willing to make the drive out to the middle of damn nowhere and send back words and pictures.

     Arresting them is kinda not so very good.

     Come Monday, we'll find out what the courts in North Dakota think.  Stay tuned -- even if you have to dig for the results.

     (You don't need to tell me what a terrible, terrible person she is in comments.  Consider that stipulated.  That's not at issue here; in fact, it had darned well better not be at issue in court, either.)

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Basic Presidenting

     One of the fundamental jobs we expect Presidents to do -- and this is why we're shocked when they don't -- is to "model adult behavior."*  The President of the United Sates is supposed to be a grown-up's grown-up.

     It doesn't always work; LBJ was infamous for working with staff from the toilet with the door open and his "explanation" to a reporter why the U.S. was waging a war n Vietnam supposedly consisted of flashing his privates.  But in general, barring the odd deep bow to a king or vomiting on foreign diplomats, Presidents are supposed to behave in public with more dignity and decorum than the rest of us slobs.  It's part of the job, unwritten but nonetheless required: set an example.

     Look at the present field of candidates.  Harshly.  Be honest with yourself, do the Big Party bombastic, vindictive, petty contenders strike you as having much knack for graceful adulting?  Are they an example for the kids?

     You will live out your old age in a world run by people who grew up with one of them as a prime example of how to act.  Are you okay with that?
* And not "behave like an Adult model."  On the other hand, I'm willing to bet a pair of randomly-chosen porn stars could do a better job of acting as if they were running for President, though people would always be expecting "bow-chicka-bow-wow" instead of "Hail To The Chief," and then wondering why.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Stopped Watch Speaks!

"What's Sauce For The Goose Is Sauce For The Gander"

     It's a remarkably honest look at leaks, leaking and journalism-as-we-know it, especially as applied to the 2016 U. S. Presidential campaigns. It was published in The Guardian, which goes to show something, possibly only that it takes the breadth of an ocean and a low stake in the outcome to get any kind of perspective.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Voting At Gunpoint?

     By gosh, you've got to hand it to the Russians: they came up with the one gambit that had me thinking (for five or ten seconds, anyway) about voting for Ms. Clinton:

     Russia promises nuclear war if Hillary Clinton is elected.  And that's from NBC, "America's Network Of (broken) Record," so you know it must be true -- or at least as true any of Brian Williams's tales of derring-do in dire and desperate, er, derpumstances.

     Bite me, Russian government.  I decided on Gary Johnson early, when neither party had anything even close to an acceptable candidate* and that has not changed.  Point an H-bomb at me? You did that already! Naval Avionics has been in Indianapolis since before the Cold War and the Army has been writing paychecks for every soldier in this town for almost as long: I'm already a casualty of WW III.  I was born dead.  Every town I have ever lived in was a target.

     I was born on (or just after, historians squabble) the very tail end of the Baby Boom.  I grew up with this playing out inside my head.
     What you call Hell, I call home. Bring it. Vlad. Let's make the rubble bounce and we'll see which side bred the best cockroaches afterwards.  Are you so stupid that you really think we have any reason not to?

     In other news, I'm exhausted all the time and I am tired of trying to turn the gibberish that comes off my fingers into intelligible text.   The Prednisone side effects linger and so does the atypical pneumonia.  I can't keep waking up and coming up with new stuff every morning any more.  I'm going to try preloading interesting items as they occur and see if I can't buy myself some time.

     Found out yesterday I'll be working random shifts through this weekend and then getting one day off the weekend after next.  Meanwhile, the leaves continue to fall.  The overtime doesn't add up to enough to pay for yard work.
* "Acceptable:" you know, Bernie Sanders didn't look all that bad compared to the eventual nominees: Presidents have limited powers and while Democrat politicians like to talk socialism, the overwhelming majority of them are owned by mechantilist capitalists who, however mealy-mouthed they are, shudder at the thought of "feeling the Bern."  He couldn't've done all that much harm -- no more than Mr. Obama has, at least, which is plenty but the trains are not less on time than they were eight years ago -- and Congress would have spent four years wetting themselves in fear, waiting for their owner's banks and telecom companies to get nationalized by Executive fiat.†  In hindsight, that image is pretty appealing.  Seriously, him or Sec. Clinton, which one is worse?  I'm going with her.

† Not an actual power of the President.  Not that it has stopped them in the past.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Here's a Llama

     A tiny one, at that:
The dollar bill is for scale.  I'm tempted to name this gun "Sting."

     The Spanish .380 showed up at our local gun store (Indy Arms Co.) for a song.  Intrigued, I sang.  Except for the external extractor, it's more a miniature 1911 than any I have seen, right down to the grip safety and sliding trigger.

     Yes, it's a Llama, and the finish shows it.  However, the safeties work, the sights are pretty well lined up and it's been running fine.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Two Things

     First thing: the Prednisone (and not very much of it) has turned out to have had a nasty side-effect or two on me, the worst of which is that my verbal censor is down and I have had to be very careful to keep my body language muted, or I'm gesturing like a clumsy puppet.  This is far from unknown and should fade away over time.  For now, it sucks out loud.  And it sucks worse to know what's going on and still get blindsided by it.  It's one thing to say stuff as you think it; finding yourself saying it while the thought is still forming is frightening.  (On top of it all, I am still having chest pain and coughing.)

     Second thing: came across an article in Wired about cash-strapped civic governments unpaving roads to save money, gravel being a lot cheaper than asphalt. (I'd put in a link but Wired and I are having a little disagreement about my using an adblocker to read their increasinly ill-written content.) This is straight out of the eerie post-industrial heartland of Atlas Shrugged -- and is no real surprise.  In the real world, there's no John Galt; we can take some comfort that the villains are nowhere near Rand-scale, but not very much comfort.

     I'm having a little trouble with the optimism this morning.

Monday, October 10, 2016

And The Sun Rises On A New Day

     Lord help me, I looked at the debate.

     Oh, not much, furtive glances over supper, really, while I tried desperately to find something, anything worth watching that was under an hour long.

     For me, the debate was like a car wreck: you drive by, drawn but not wanting to look, certainly not so long a look that you begin see enough to sort body parts from automotive wreckage.  Yet traffic slows to a crawl, stops, and you look, look away, look again--

     If you have a major-party candidate you like or at least can vote for without agonizing mental gymnastics, I'm happy for you.  How wonderful to not feel despair!  For me, well, I didn't think much of either one of them going into the debate and what I saw did nothing to change that.  Afterwards, Mr. Trump's supporters and Ms. Clinton's supporters both declared victory and posted hasty memes to that effect on social media.

     The capper for me came this morning, when I stumbled over a hand-wringing piece on Vox (somewhere to the Left of the Left) annoyingly written in the present tense by a fellow who'd abstained from the 1968 Presidential election because at the time, he didn't see any difference between Richard M. Nixon and Hubert H. Humphrey.  He proceeds to recount the traditional litany of horrors of the Nixon Presidency, including a number of items Nixon had nothing to do with, musing all the while that it would have been better under Humphrey.  --I doubt that; he offers nothing in support of his notion past an axiomatic acceptance that Nixon was, in fact, the Devil. In 1968, things were screwed up, delicately balanced, and any touch was going to have disproportionate effects.  Humphrey probably would have made a different mess but he would have made a mess.  Bigger, smaller?  I don't know; I don't know in 2016, either.

     Go vote, you can't make matters any worse all by yourself and your neighbors are probably going to be voting at you.  Make your choice.  Refuse to regret it.  There is one person you can decide for, one person for whom you can speak, one person whose moral character is under your control: yourself.  That's all you've got.