Thursday, December 01, 2016

Gershwin

I swear to God that I just heard Bob Christianson on MPR announce a piece as "Elmer Fudd sings Gershwin." It struck me as odd that anyone would have recorded such an album and that MPR Classical would play it. The piece was clearly Gershwin, but with no vocal. It turned out it was Joshua Bell plays Gershwin. I need to get my hearing checked.

County by County


From the Washington Post, the election county by county. Notice that Minnesota voted for Trump, except for the Twin Cities Metro Area, the northeast Arrowhead, which is Duluth and the Iron Range, and one southeastern country, which might be Rochester...

We might need a county by county or state by state analysis. The blue in the Dakotas is mostly reservations, I think.

The area around Madison is blue, also Milwaukee. Detroit and Flint are blue. If I am reading correctly, Toledo, Cleveland and Youngstown are blue. So cities, including the old industrial cities, are blue. What does this do to my theory that losing the Great Lakes industrial belt has hurt the Democrats? In need of more research. You can't make bricks without straw.

It's good to remember that the old industrial cities are heavily people of color...

My Uncle Lou is in his 90s. A time like this, I need a damn good pollster, but he isn't anywhere close.

I don't know what to think...

Mood

My mood has been lifting. Do I think the current situation is bad? Yes. But I can't remain anxious all the time.

I have a Lydia Duluth story coming out in Clarkesworld in December, and my crooked octopus bookkeeper will come out in F&SF in March.

Now, it's time to move on to not yet finished stories.

The Election

From facebook:
I am trying to think through the election results. What I come back to is the Great Lakes industrial belt, aka the Rust Belt. The Great Lakes used to be lined with iron mines, steel mills, car plants, tire plants, glass plants. You used to be able to predict the economy by car orders, since it was car manufacturing that drove the industries around the Great Lakes. All these plants had been unionized by the CIO in the 1930s. The workers got good wages, and for the most part -- urged by the unions -- they voted Democratic. All the Great Lakes states had rural areas, which were mostly Republican. But the plants and the workers gave the states a good chance of voting Democratic. So what happens when the Great Lakes industrial belt dies, due to outsourcing and automation? And why did the Democrats think they could do without union workers and unions?

Remember that these industrial unions were integrated, and there was large black working class in the cities around the Lakes. The black workers still had to deal with prejudice, which is why the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM) was founded in Detroit in the late 1960s or early 1970s. The history of unionism around the Lakes was a long struggle to overcome racism and form a unified working class. What has happened around the Lakes is not as simple as white racism. It's the gutting of American industry and the breaking of the industrial unions. We know from the example of Germany that it's possible for a modern western nation to preserve its industry and its unions. (Though neoliberalism has taken a toll in Germany.) American business made a decision to destroy the industrial heartland, and the New Democrats were okay with this.

The problem is more complex that I have made it. Trump did best in rural counties. Some of these voters might have been ex-industrial workers. There are -- or were -- plenty of mills and mines in rural areas. But I suspect most were not. The death of small towns, due to big box stores and industrialized agriculture was probably as important. (I'm guessing here. I just don't know.) Yes, voter supression may have been a factor. Yes, racism and sexism were a factor, as seen in the Trump rallies. The FBI intervening in the election probably hurt Clinton. So, a complex of issues. But losing the big industrial cities and the unionized working class can't have helped.(I don't mean Clinton lost the big industrial cities. She didn't. But the cities have been gutted. There is block after block of empty lots in Detroit.)

In the states where the race was close, any one element could have tipped the race.

Do I think the jobs could come back? Yes, but it will require a strong push by the government, and Trump is not likely to do it. We need lots of infrastructure repair, which can't be easily outsourced to Asia, and the government has ways to reward or pressure businesses. For example, Bernie Sanders new bill. "Sanders' legislation, the Outsourcing Prevention Act, would prevent companies sending jobs overseas from receiving federal contracts, tax breaks, or other financial assistance; claw back federal subsidies that outsourcing companies received over the past decade; impose a tax of either 35 percent of the company's profits or an amount that equals the money saved by moving jobs overseas, whichever is higher; and imposing stiff tariffs on executive bonuses like golden parachutes, stock options, and other gratuities."

Time Travel

From facebook:
I am reading Time Travel by James Gleick. According to him, the fascination with time travel is due to fear of death. This is BS. I want time travel because I want to see what living Mesozoic dinosaurs look like, and I want to see the future. I want time travel because it might be a way to visit the stars. It's interesting to think about because of the potential paradoxes and because it challenges the basic rule of cause coming before effect. All in all, it is nifty -- and modern. Gleick begins his book with the H.G. Wells story. Apparently you don't get time travel before you get the modern idea of time and change. It comes after Darwin and Marx. (No question Wells was influenced by Darwin. I have no idea if he was influenced by Marx, but The Time Machine is about class warfare as well as evolution. The Morlocks and the Eloi are certainly "the mutual ruin of the contending classes.")

Friday, November 18, 2016

Positive

I am going to try being more positive. As I wrote on facebook, I have a dim memory -- maybe from a book or movie out of WWII -- that spreading doubt and fear in a time of war is wrong.

I just sent money off to good cause organizations, especially those that protect women's and minority rights. Having worked for many nonprofits, I know how important money is.

I can't make up my mind about the safety pin emblem. Is it a good idea? Most likely, yes.

I post a lot of bird and animal photos on facebook, because they are cheering and calming, and I post some news, because people need to be informed.

Right now, I can't write fiction.

USSR

After the USSR broke down I was having lunch with two other science fiction writers. We were discussing the end of the Soviet Union, and I said, "It will happen here."

"Yes," one of the other writers said. "I give the US three years."

That was 25 years ago. So my friend was badly off in his estimation.

I woke up this morning thinking, Trump is our Yeltsin.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Dark Wave

John Oliver has a wonderful report on the Trump victory. He says -- absolutely rightly -- that realization of what has happened comes in waves. Then we get distracted by ordinary life for a while, then another wave of horror arrives.

A wave hit me this morning. I had a bad night's sleep and woke early. My defense against reality is (a) science fiction and (b) political analysis. If I try to understand, I am less frightened.

So this is my current theory about what will happen next.

(1) We may struggle through the next 2 to 4 years until the Democrats may come back into power, at least in part, and begin cleaning up the mess. But the Democrats need to change their strategy. Wall Street and identity politics is not a winning combination. We need a party that addresses the needs of the working class and lower middle class. A lot of working class is nonwhite, so we aren't neglecting PoC when we support working people.

(2) We may end up with a one party government, with the Republicans always in control. This would require voter suppression and the indifference of many Americans.

(3) We might end up with a fascist state. My bet would be something more like Italy or Spain than Germany. That's still very bad.

(4) We might end up like the Soviet Union, with the government breaking down and then the country itself breaking apart, while gangsters and party hacks stole everything not nailed down with the advice and help of American economists. Maybe Russian could send advisors over. The plus side is the USSR did not have a civil war, though parts of it have: the Ukraine, for example. The minus side is the death rate went way up and the population actually contracted. That's what happens when your country turns into a failed state overrun with predators.

I'm not even talking about nuclear war or global warming.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Dr. Strange (Spoiler Alert)

I heard that Rez had died on Saturday. I was planning to go to Dr. Strange with friends that evening and did, feeling a little numb and fragile, wanting a distraction.

The original comic began in the 60s, drawn by Steve Ditko, and the movie has very much a 60s feeling. It's a psychedelic tour de force. Dr. Strange falls into other dimensions, which are weird as hell; and there are magical fights in which building fold and twist, till you don't know what you are looking at. I didn't do drugs in the 60s, but I saw the posters and 2001. The movie looked very familiar. Mixed with all the optical hoo-haw is fake eastern mysticism, which is also very 1960s.

Doc Strange joins a magical order in Nepal, which is devoted to protecting the Earth from evil from other worlds and dimensions. The leader of the order is called the Ancient One. In the comic, he was a stereotypical Asian magician, according to one of my friends who knows comics. Marvel decided he was way out-of-date and changed the character to a white woman.

I had trouble with her. She did not seem sufficiently mystical. I wanted a tiny, elderly Asian full of canny wisdom (Yoda?)(one of my friends suggested a magic eight ball) or the kind of authority figure Ditko drew, tall and dramatic and foreign. This shows that I am influenced by stereotypes, even though I don't want to be.

But I went along with the story, which included some satisfying fights. Other people told me they were okay with a white female Ancient One.

Yesterday I encountered a comment on facebook saying no one should see the movie because of the whitewashing. I assumed the comment referred to the Ancient One, and it irritated me. I really like Marvel movies. I really like going to Marvel movies with friends. And I really needed a distraction on Saturday night. I did not want to be told I was supporting racism by seeing Dr. Strange.

Then Patrick told me the problem was Dr. Strange himself. People were angry because he was white. I checked the Marvel Universe Wiki and found this: "Born in 1930, Stephen Strange was the eldest child of Eugene and Beverly Strange, then vacationing in Philadelphia. Two years later, Stephen's sister Donna was born at the family's Nebraska farm." The Stranges sound white to me. Granted, Marvel is always changing the colors and histories of its characters. Even the species can change. Remember when Thor was a frog?

But there is an argument for showing Dr. Strange as white. Besides, Benedict Cumberbatch!

I did some searching on the Internet and then discovered that the whitewashing of the Ancient One is a huge topic online.

I suspect Marvel wanted the Ancient One to be female, because the movie is short of women. (This is a usual Marvel problem.) There is only one other woman of any importance, and she is off screen most of the movie. They said they tried making the Ancient One Asian, but she came out as a kind of Dragon Lady, another famous stereotype, slinky and dangerous and exotic. Maybe they should have tried harder. I can imagine Michelle Yeoh as the Ancient One. She would be a kick-ass ancient master, not the least bit slinky. Because she knows martial arts, her magical gestures would be awesome. And she would steal the movie from Cumberbatch.

Brigitte Lin is retired, alas. In her prime, she would have been a perfect Ancient One. She radiated dangerous power, especially as the Invincible Asia, and she specialized in androgynous or cross dressing roles, which would have been interesting.

If Marvel wanted to turn the Ancient One back into a man, they could have hired Chow Yun Fat or Jet Li. Like Yeoh, Li knows martial arts and can steal a movie. (I saw him steal Lethal Weapon 4 from Mel Gibson, who was pretty charismatic in his prime. It was no contest. Li dominated the movie.) Chow Yun Fat used to play gangsters. Then he moved to playing emperors. He could certainly be the Ancient One.

Of course (spoiler alert!) the Ancient One dies, and people of color always die in Hollywood movies. So making the character Asian would have played into another stereotype.

In any case, Marvel could have gone to Hong Kong and Mainland China and found a movie star. I don't know why they didn't. Maybe they simply wanted a good looking, youngish white woman.

On the plus side, there are six important characters in the movie: two white women, two white men (one the hero, the other the villain), one black man and one man of Chinese descent. So 33% of the important characters are non-white. The US is currently 28% non-white. So the movie matches US demographics. Of course the world in mostly people of color. But the movie was made by an American company. Marvel is trying, it seems to me. Maybe not enough.

Analysis

From facebook:
I guess this is analysis, posted while I drink English Breakfast Tea and sugar. I know I should give up the sugar, but not yet. (I do have honey.) I don't know what was more important in this election: racism or the economy. Wages have not gone up in 30+ years. Many people lost their houses in the 2008 financial crash. Kids are told they must get a college education, which saddles them with debt they can't escape through bankruptcy and which is difficult or impossible to repay. Stable jobs are hard to find, especially if you are a blue collar or clerical worker. Company pensions have disappeared. Social security is not adequate and few people have managed to put together significant retirement savings. All of this has hit white people harder, because they had more to lose -- and because they don't have a political analysis which explains any of this. PoC know racism keeps them down. White people are not sure what happened. This leaves them open to racism and sexism and so on.

Would white people give in to prejudice if their own lives were better? I don't know. But the Klan was really strong in the 1920s, which was a bad time for farmers and workers -- and also a bad time for the union movement. A guy I worked with decades ago said, "Even a horseshit union is better than no union at all." I tend to agree. The AFL unions have often been racist. The CIO unions much less so. (Though the UAW's neglect of black workers led to some really interesting black rank and file union movements in the 1960s. See Dan Georgakas's book Detroit: I Do Mind Dying.)

It doesn't hurt to help working people, because (a) it's fair and (b) a lot of PofC are working class. So if you don't like helping white working people, think of everyone else. We need a higher minimum wage, laws that make unionizing easier, enforcement of existing laws such as Sherman Anti-trust, and a large investment in infrastructure, which will provide jobs. You can't offshore repairing a road or putting up Danish-made windmills. Some of these the Dems neglected to do. Others were stopped by the Republicans.

I honestly don't know how bad racism is in the US. It's always been a dark undercurrent. The country was built on black slavery and the theft of Indian land. This is a bad start. And prejudice has always been used to turn ordinary people against each other.

Memorial Service

I went to John Remerski's memorial service yesterday, riding down with Ruth Berman. It was a close to perfect late fall day, the sky cloudless, the sun bright and pale. The leaves are almost entirely gone, and the landscape is shades of brown and tan. We passed a fair number of ponds and lakes. These were intensely blue, reflecting the sky. Mankato is about two hours south of the Twin Cities. We were running late when we reached it and took a wrong turn off the highway, getting lost and seeing a lot more of Mankato than we intended to. When we finally reached the church (Unitarian-Universalist) the service was half over. The only seats available were in the crying room in the back. We sat amid building blocks and toy trucks and listened to Rez's friends tell stories and read his poetry.

I knew only a tiny corner of Rez's life: the poetry group we both belonged to and the Lady Poetesses from Hell, who read very funny poetry at SF conventions. Most of his life was at Gustavus Adolphus College, where he was writer in resident for many years, in the local community and in the larger poetry community in Minnesota. I heard people talk about him as a teacher and mentor, a colleague, a terrific cook. He helped put on the local eisteddfod, which I knew about, but never thought about. (Eisteddfod? In Minnesota?) He was active in the local historical society and spent 30 years working on a long poem about the Minnesota River, which was finally published this year. (I will have to get a copy.) After the African American poet Haki R. Madhubuti (then Don L. Lee) read at Gustavus Adolphus many decades ago, Rez told a friend that he wanted to write poetry as direct, and Rez's poetry was direct, down-to-earth, funny...

After the service there was a church basement meal, ending with coffee and lemon bars. I got a chance to chat -- very briefly -- with Rez's wife and son. A mike was set up in the dining hall and more people told stories and read Rez's poetry. Then Ruth and I drove back tot he Cities through the bright, late autumn afternoon

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Day After the Election

This is from facebook:
I'm trying to be calmer this morning. I went to bed around 4 am planning to get up at 10. Instead, I was wide awake at 7. I feel tired and not tired at the same time. I'm not sure I made any sense with all my manifestos yesterday. Today I have several thoughts.

Decades ago, when my friend Michael Levy first moved to western Wisconsin, a local friend told him, "Folks around here are hurting. And if the Left doesn't offer them anything, they will turn Right."

We know that 10-20% of the population is doing pretty well. The rest are being pushed down into the working poor. The middle class is vanishing. Life expectancy for white Americans is going down, due to alcoholism, drug use and suicide. That's what killed the Russians after the USSR collapsed, along with dire poverty and the failure of the government to function.

Obviously there is prejudice among the Trump followers. They include Nazis, for heaven's sake.

But unions have been destroyed, with the help of governments. (See Wisconsin. See PATCO.) Trade agreements have shipped jobs overseas. When I was a kid, Congress -- remembering WWII -- made sure there were strong domestic industries. Steel mills were a priority. That's all gone. Giant corporations, which should have been taken apart by the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, have gutted small businesses and small towns. The federal government is no longer able to spend money on getting the economy going, rebuilding the infrastructure, helping ordinary Americans -- because of an insane belief that the federal budget must be balanced and the federal debt reduced. No. The US can effing print money. It does it all the time.

As the economist Dean Baker points out, the government protects the upper middle class, but not working people.

I will save identity politics for another time. I don't think they are helping, because we msut confront captialism, not one another.

The Election Aftermath

I have been writing about the election on facebook, trying to figure out what happened. I will repost some of the facebook posts here. In the meantime, remember that Clinton won the popular vote. Only the crazy Electoral College put Trump in.

My friends, who tend to be liberals, women, people of color, members of the GLBT community, are feeling really bad now. We need to defend people from the emerging thugs, who think Trump has given them to right to harass and harm. They will come after the most vulnerable first, then after all of us. We need to figure out what happened and why. We need to organize. It's going to be a hard four years.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Election Day

Today is Election Day. I've been anxious about this election for months. It ate my summer and the fall. Now I find out how it turned out.

Rez

My friend John Rezmerski died a few days ago. He was a wonderful poet, a revered teacher, a smart and interesting person, someone who -- as my friend Rebecca Korvo said -- really enjoyed life. He was 74, according to the Star-Tribune obituary, more or less my age. He'd been in poor health for some time, and my poetry group -- he was a member -- had been worried. We got an email from him recently, saying he was in the hospital. When he got out, we should hold a meeting in Mankato, where he lived, so he could attend. That sounded positive. Then we learned he had died.

Rez came from a blue collar family in a Pennsylvania paper mill town. He got an education and got out, ending as a professor at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. He met the Minnesota poet Bill Holm in graduate school, and they became friends for life. I met Bill through Rez. Bill died a number of years ago, and Rez was his literary executor. I tend to think of them together: two big, smart, charming guys who were wonderful word smiths.

I asked Bill once why Rez was not better known as a poet. Bill said he thought it was because Rez was a white man from a blue collar background, and his poetry was often funny. This did not fit the Ameican idea of what poetry should be.

He wrote about blue collar life, science fiction, ravens, the Minnesota River, the 48 Dakota Indians hanged in Mankato after the Dakota Uprising in the 19th century -- all in a solid, straight-forward, skillful style. You could hear his voice in his poetry.

For years he drove up to the Twin Cities to attend meetings of the poetry group. He was the most prolific writer among us, and we always anticipated his latest work. I am going to miss him a lot.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

October Post

Once again I am not keeping up my blog. We are having a lovely October, bright and clear. The trees are golden. The sky is autumn blue, which is a different color from summer blue or winter blue.

This is from an online discussion of writing as a career and writing as something privileged:

One thing I noticed decades ago is there is a fair amount of good poetry by working people, but not many novels. You can write poetry in your head while on the line or pushing a broom around, then take a bathroom break and write the poem down in the bathroom and put it in your jeans. Harder to do this with a novel. Though I wrote my first novel on the job -- and got fired. I am not into fish meds, so always had a day job, except when I got fired or laid off, which happened fairly often. My work career was working, full or part time, quitting or getting fired, writing full time for a while, then finding another job. About 15 years before I retired, I realized I needed to make more money in order to push up my social security payments. So I worked close to full time for 10 or 15 years. Where did privilege come into this, anyway?

(The reference to fish meds came from a comment by someone else in the discussion. He knew a writer so poor that he could not afford prescription drugs for human beings, so he took drugs that were designed for pet fish.)

I don't see writing as a sign of privilege. Well, it helps to be able to read and write, but literacy is fairly high in the US. I don't think people know what privilege means. "A right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others, a special opportunity to do something that makes you proud, the advantage that wealthy and powerful people have over other people in a society." Writing is not a right or benefit given to some and not to others, and writers are not mostly rich and powerful.

People vary in how much they can handle, how driven they are to write -- and in their objective circumstances. As many people have pointed out, it is difficult and time-consuming to be poor. I feel I could have written more and had more of a career, if I had been more disciplined and energetic. My objective circumstances were not that bad. But having to work did slow my writing down. There was a recent story about a guy in Detroit, who had a job and no car and walked to work -- two hours each way. Do that, and you may not have time to write. Even a ordinary job and access to public transit is tiring. I have written a lot of poetry on buses, but very little fiction.

Most writers I know have a day job or a spouse with a day job. (LeGuin's husband was a tenured professor.) The thing is, even if you are making a living as a writer, it tends to be an erratic living, and it may stop at any time. It helps to have a steady income in the house, and it helps to have health insurance. In addition, someone has put a quarter in me today, the people I know who are making a living are writing 2-3 books a year. The fastest I ever wrote a novel was 18 months. My big novel took me 13 years. Could I have written faster? Yeah, but I would probably have not written the novel I wanted to write.
This is from an online discussion of the money writers make:

The ability to touch people that deeply should count for something. In fact, all of us probably touch some group of people deeply. I'd take more money, if it were offered. But I mostly write to reach out, to communicate, and for self-expression and for the joy one can get from craft.