Archive for July, 2022

The Author Doesn’t Get It

Over the years, I’ve intermittently received comments along the lines of “you don’t get/understand [fill in subject].”

What this usually means is “you can’t possibly understand.”

Occasionally, the commenter is correct. Very few people living – possibly only those with a near-death experience – can understand death from the first person personal view. Or being incinerated in a by a huge fireball. For everyone else, including authors, trying to portray such circumstances requires research, extrapolation, and imagination… and you still might not be accurate, which is why I don’t stray too far from what I’ve experienced and seen. I haven’t actually crashed an aircraft, but I have lost the only engine I had and survived the autorotation into a field, and I’ve rescued survivors of a crash moments after it happened and seen the bodies of those who didn’t make it.

And most times, though, this author does understand; I just might not “understand” it in the way the commenter feels or sees it. That’s only natural. We’re all different, the difference ranging from attitudes and feelings we share and understand about others to total emotional incomprehension.

I’ve given my best advice, both personally and professionally, and seen people disregard it… and then lose their careers and futures. I’ve also taken my own advice… and failed miserably on more than one occasion.

I doubt that I’ll ever feel the seemingly blind love and joy others take in personal weapons of mass destruction or feel the undoubting self-righteousness of a true believer, possibly because I’ve always had a lot of doubts. But that’s why I only portray such individuals from the outside. And most times, at least for me, that’s the best way, because people usually react to what they see and experience from others’ behavior.

Also… perspective matters – enormously. The man or woman who kills someone shooting up others is likely to feel a lot less guilt than someone who murders their boss over something trivial [but then, maybe not, given some bosses].

And, sometimes, the author doesn’t get it, but with good writers, that doesn’t happen as much as the critics think, if more than the author would like to believe.

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time, a young teenager operated a lawn-mowing business with his younger brother. This was long before powered string-trimmers. I was that teenager, and I did a lot of hand-trimming [hand-powered clippers] and edging [muscle-powered half-mower], although the main mower was Briggs & Stratton powered. It was hard work, and when I got old enough to drive I left the lawn-mowing business behind and became a lifeguard.

Even though I was one of the better competitive swimmers in the region, I still had to be Red Cross Water Safety Certified and pass a rigorous test against a number of other candidates. Getting a lifeguard job in Denver back then wasn’t all that easy.

Fast-forward to the present.

Because I know what drudgery lawn-mowing is, when I became successful enough, and when my children were long out of college, my first personal luxury was hiring a lawn service, and it definitely wasn’t cheap, but I was tired of mowing the lawn.

For a time, that was fine, but then that lawn service just vanished, literally overnight. I found another lawn service, but over the past several years the quality of mowing and trimming has diminished. My neighbors, with other lawn services, have noted the same problem. Then last Friday, the lawn-mowing team arrived, spent twenty minutes, and vanished, leaving the lawn two-thirds unmowed and totally untrimmed. I haven’t yet had a response to my inquiries.

On a related note, several weeks ago, I ran across a syndicated news story about how quite a number of public swimming pools across the United States were closed or unable to open because of a shortage of lifeguards.

I definitely have to wonder.

Literary Racism?

The other day I came across a comment to the effect that authors who portrayed society where the majority of power wielders and decision-makers were white were in effect supporting racism. That’s a rather broad brush. If you’re writing historical fiction, fantasy or not, that’s the way the culture was. If you’re writing present-day or near-future fiction of any sort, that’s the way most cultures are and will be for at least a generation. Accurate portrayal isn’t racist, although glorifying or rationalizing existing racism certainly is.

In writing Isolate (and it’s forthcoming sequel, Councilor), I changed the “color” palate. Those of the aristocracy and older commercial wealth tend to have darker skins, whereas farm workers and lower-class manual workers have lighter skins. While I believe that would be the outcome in that society, it’s still “racist,” in a reverse way, but every culture in human history has had a way of “discriminating” against some group. Even animals do on occasion.

As I’ve noted before, the Roman Empire was far less race-conscious than American culture is today, but they discriminated, nonetheless, mainly by economic status. Slaves came in every color and so did people of wealth and power, especially outside of Rome, and even a number of emperors were not of Roman birth.

A similar problem exists for a writer with regard to gender. Like it or not (and I don’t), in the U.S., men, as a group, still tend to minimize women and attempt to keep them out of positions of power and to restrict their rights, and in the near future, for a number of reasons, it can’t and won’t change [even if the Supreme Court were to be drastically re-structured overnight and equal rights and pay legislation became law tomorrow].

That should be changed, and, in time, I’m hopeful that it will be, but to declare that fiction that doesn’t represent racial or gender “equality” as racist or gender-biased is unrealistic, because all societies “discriminate” in some fashion. Depicting a racist or gender-discriminating society isn’t by itself racism or discrimination, but endorsing or glorifying such a society is.

Lying As Power Grab

A recent article in Salon [“Republican Voters don’t actually “believe” the Big Lie about January 6 — they’re in on the con”] makes the point that, historically, authoritarian movements such as the Nazis and fascists have espoused lying as a repudiation of the “enlightenment values” of truth and feel that any strategy that will gain them power is acceptable. The Salon article goes on to illustrate how those involved in the January 6th riots and attempted coup, as well as others in the U.S. far right movement, fall into that pattern of behavior.

The use of lies is accepted and exalted by authoritarians because lying is not only an expression of power, but expresses dominance over accepted truths because authoritarians believe those espousing democratic ideals are slaves to their words and truths. For example, white supremacists lie and seek power because they reject the idea that “all men are created equal” and refuse to accept that premise.

What’s especially dangerous about this behavior is that the “great American experiment” in democracy is based in large part on an underlying respect for truth and a belief in the idea that someone is innocent until proven guilty, while the far right believes that the left was guilty of stealing the election without either evidence or truth.

The January 6th insurrection was based on a proven falsehood because those behind it believe that any means to power is justified since the other side is so “evil.” Of course, they don’t seem to understand or acknowledge that using any means possible to gain power is a greater evil than the policies they oppose.

When power itself is the goal, almost any means to achieve it can be rationalized, and the Republican support of the “big lie” fully illustrates how they place the desire for power above the desire for a true democratic republic, which they seem intent on destroying in order to save it.

Make the Connection…

Today, the biggest concern of most voters is inflation, but two years ago, the big issues were COVID and economic stagnation and lack of income. So… in response to those concerns, the federal government, under both Republican and Democrat Presidents, pumped billions of dollars into business and personal pockets, which gave people funds when they didn’t have work or had less work, and funneled cash to businesses who could document that they would otherwise lay off employees. But because of the damage to the supply chain caused by COVID, all that money chasing too few goods triggered inflation… and now everyone’s blaming the current administration for the inflation caused by two administrations doing what people wanted.

The United States has more firearms in private hands than all the firearms in the rest of the world in private hands. Is it any wonder that we also have the greatest number of civilian deaths from firearms?

Year after year, the United States has effectively dumbed down education by requiring teaching to the test, exerting less classroom control, and by allowing rampant grade inflation. We’ve insisted that college is THE answer, and we’ve also passed on more of the cost of college to students. Now we have twice as many young people graduating from college as there are jobs requiring college education and a massive student debt load that all too many graduates struggle (and often fail) to repay. We also have a shortage of skilled workers in fields not requiring a college education.

Still only about sixty percent of Americans are vaccinated against Covid… and we have case numbers again rising with the advent of yet another new variant.

Other countries massively subsidize new facilities to build sophisticated electronic microchips. The U.S. doesn’t. Now we don’t have any significant microchip manufacturing facilities, even though every sophisticated military weapons system requires such chips, and China leads the world in such capacity.

Too many American students don’t like and/or don’t have the educational background in hard sciences, which leads to a lack of top-notch scientific talent. At the same time, we’re turning away brilliant technical types who want to immigrate.

Today more and more wealthy Americans and their accountants have become more “creative” in calculating their taxes, but the IRS is weeks, if not months, behind in processing tax forms. Although audits of questionable tax returns are at an all-time low, and the government is running massive deficits, Congress keeps trying to cut funding to the IRS, while pushing for more tax cuts and more spending

There’s a lot more, but that’s enough to consider for now.


The other day, a reader called my attention to what might be called a relatively polite rant, i.e., an op-ed in The New York Times by someone called Tim Krieder, whom I’d never heard of. According to the op-ed, he defines himself as a Millennial who’s disgusted with the entire structure of work and sickened and angry with the excessive greed of the corporate moguls, who work at underpaying their employees and squeezing every last dollar from them. And what’s worse, so much worse, according to Kreider, is that so much work is meaningless.

Kreider begins by saying, “A new generation has grown to adulthood that’s never known capitalism as a functioning economic system.” That’s somewhere between hyperbole and utter bullshit. American capitalism works. In fact, that’s the problem. It works far too well at making money for the capitalists and not nearly well enough for those they employ – except for a handful of those at the very top.

Kreider goes on to excoriate the cults of “busyness” and “hard work is necessary for success,” then declares that people are enervated not just by pointlessness of their individual labors but also by the fact that they’re working in and for a society in which they have neither faith nor investment. This isn’t exactly new.

What Krieder – and apparently much of the millennial generation – doesn’t seem to get is that jobs are work, often work that seems meaningless to many workers who aren’t involved in manual tasks or those where the results can’t be immediately perceived. The Millennials want “meaning,” and what they mean is work that they feel is meaningful. Anything else apparently doesn’t count.

I can guarantee that all those jobs and busywork that Kreider deplores are “meaningful” to someone, or those greedy capitalists at the top of the pyramid wouldn’t be paying for them. The capitalists certainly have been more and more effective at reducing staff and while maintaining output, and they aren’t going to pay for work they think is “meaningless.”

While I certainly agree with his points about mind-numbing and exhausting work that seems meaningless, that’s been true for a good century, if not longer.

My first job after I left the Navy was as a statistical analyst for a manufacturer of compressed air filters, lubricators, and valves, trying to determine sales patterns and project future trends, using a series of formulae developed by the former head of market research. Being somewhat of an iconoclast, I kept two sets of projections, those predicted by the various formulae and those I wrote down based on my gut feel. After a year, two things became clear. My gut figures [which I kept private] were more accurate, and that I wasn’t suited to that kind of mental drudgery. Today, of course, all that would be done by computers, but this was at a time when desk-top electronic calculators had just become available. After my departure, my position was filled by someone much more enamored of that sort of work. I also noted, about ten years ago, the retirement of my immediate superior at that company, who clearly had spent fifty years dealing with marginally meaningful numbers.

From the compressed air position, I then went on to other pursuits, some where I failed miserably, before getting into politics as essentially a combination of analyst, researcher, and composer of all sorts of political analyses, correspondence, testimony, and speeches, none of which survives except in long-filed archives, if there. And all of that would be meaningless, by Mr. Kreider’s standards, but it did enable me to survive mostly comfortably, to raise a family, and to write F&SF on the side until I was successful enough to become a full-time writer.

I’m far from being that much different from millions of others over the past five decades who struggled between trying to find meaning and supporting themselves and others.

What Mr. Kreider says is, for all his protests that the current American “work culture” is meaningless and carries that meaninglessness to extremes, is nothing that hasn’t been said before, and said with far less self-pity and self-righteousness.

And the answer doesn’t lie in protesting the lack of meaning, in dropping out of the workforce, or in working as little as possible, as Mr. Kreider seems to advocate, but in political and legal action to change the corporate culture from one that continues to over-reward the capitalists to one that grants economically a greater share to those who create the goods, services, and products.

Your Way or the Highway

Many years ago, when my wife and I moved to southwestern Utah, we encountered a number of, shall we say, “cultural” practices based on the prevailing religion. Some of them were understandable, if somewhat restrictive, such as the de facto practice of not scheduling university concerts, performances, or recitals on Sundays, even if that was an imposition of a religious belief on a public institution. Some were less acceptable to a public academic institution, such as the insistence that no performances, lectures, classes, or other activities be scheduled on Monday evenings, because the prevailing religion had declared Monday evenings as “family home” evenings.

Those who protested were often told that, if they didn’t like it, they should move, which non-members of the prevailing faith called “My Way or the Highway.”

Over the years, the more onerous attempts to impose religious cultural standards on the university have diminished, but not totally vanished. From what I’ve seen, this sort of local/religious parochialism that restricts the rights of non-believers exists in far more places than southwestern Utah, as does the attitude that “if you don’t like it, then leave.”

The first problem with this attitude is that the United States is a nation, not a confederation. The Founding Fathers tried the confederation approach and discovered it didn’t work. Even “accommodating” slavery in the South didn’t work, because the ramifications of doing so adversely impacted the North and the West.

Segregation didn’t work all that well either, and its legal abolition, particularly in the South, resulted in economic and social improvements in the areas that practiced it.

As a matter of equality, why should individuals face a situation where they must choose between a job for which they’re qualified or having their rights circumscribed because of the religious/social tenets of the area in which the job is located. This isn’t a theoretical question; it’s one that exists in many parts of the United States.

Abortion is just the most obvious example. In the case of abortion, current state laws: (1) create unequal rights for women based on geography; (2) discriminate against poorer women; (3) close off or limit economic opportunity for women unless they are willing to accept fewer rights.

Making abortion legal throughout the nation and where the choice is up to the woman (along a structure similar to Roe v. Wade) does not deprive those who are opposed to abortion of their rights. Criminalizing abortion does deprive women, as well as health care professionals, of rights.

That means, effectively, that the United States, as a nation, must agree on what constitutes basic human rights, on a secular basis, based on known fact, not upon belief, no matter how fervent, and in the case of those rights, the majority needs to prevail. Obviously, there are always instances where the situation may not fit within the legal structure, but to define basic legal rights in different ways in different states is not only setting a precedent with effects similar to other forms of legal discrimination, but also creating a possible recipe for legal and civil chaos, violent unrest, and civil war.

True Believers

The biggest problem with true believers isn’t what tenets they hold to be sacred; it’s that they want to force those tenets and what goes with them on people who don’t share them.

For example, in the United States, if a true believer doesn’t want to have an abortion, no non-believer is going to force her to have one. But if a non-believer wants or needs a medically safe abortion of a non-viable fetus, the true believers pass laws that not only restrict her freedom, but endanger her life. Their action endangers the non-believer… and there’s no cost to the true believers.

True believers have opposed restrictions on corporate political statements and contributions because they outlawed certain corporate practices. This ignores the fact, as events have recently demonstrated, that unlimited corporate “freedom of speech” effectively restricts individual freedom of speech not only because money drowns out individual viewpoints, but also because only wealthy individuals can afford to dispute the corporate view and because no individual in the corporation can be held legally responsible for falsehoods, misstatements, or lies. So, effectively, the corporation gets preferred treatment under the law.

Same-sex marriage doesn’t harm true believers. There’s no requirement for them to marry someone of the same sex, and, in fact, same-sex marriage is more likely to benefit the true believers because it creates more stable bonds and less societal disruption. But true believers oppose it because it doesn’t fit their beliefs.

True believers cannot recognize or accept facts contrary to their own beliefs, which is why so many still believe that lying, thieving, hypocritical Donald Trump won the 2020 election.

The true believers are the ones causing disruption because they and their political allies are passing laws and overturning others that are against the wishes of the majority of the people. In effect, they’re imposing minority rule, while failing to acknowledge it, and in fact hypocritically claiming the opposite.