Archive for April, 2014

Any Good Fiction Out There?

Science Fiction Wallpaper (17)I spent most of last week re-reading the last two volumes of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire with one ear cocked for a cry of distress from Inky.  Which never came, thank stars.  (He’s doing fine–but he sure does want out of that friggin’ cage).

Jo Walton, a scifi writer who has a blog on Tor.com, says that a salient quality of good fiction is its ability to make you want:  more, more more.  Martin’s work certainly has that effect on me.  This was my third trip through the series, and once again, when I finished the spectacular conclusion of A Dance With Dragons, I looked up and said “that’s it?  What now?”  Even though Inky will be in that cage for at least another three weeks, possibly five, I don’t suppose Martin will do me the favor of publishing The Winds of Winter within that span or anytime soon, for that matter.

So what do I read now in order to satisfy that I want?  I ordered a copy of Martin’s edited volume, Dangerous Women, through my local library and it arrived today.  It looks yummy.  There is short fiction by some of my favorite authors–Sharon Kay Penman, Cecelia Holland (thanks for the recommendation, Trep), and S. M. Stirling among others.  There is also a novella by Martin himself, set in the Game of Thrones universe about 100 years prior to the events recorded in ASOIAF.  It’s a big volume, and I can barely wait to get into it.

In an interview, when he was asked to name writers who worked in veins similar to his, Martin recommended authors like Tolkien, Jack Vance, Roger Zelazny, Fritz Lieber and Robert E. Howard.  But their work antedates the founding of my local library so I’ve put them on a back burner.  Plus they are all guys.  Martin also recommended some writers of historical fiction, like Thomas Costain, Sharon Kay Penman, Phillipa Gregory, and Bernard Cornwell.  Dude has good taste–but I’ve read most of those folks.

So, I’m asking for recommendations.  What fiction do you read that makes you want more?




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obama-game-of-thrones-book-dealI don’t exactly remember when I started reading George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.  Probably sometime after 1998, when I retired and no longer had to read and write for publication.  Martin published the first volume of the series–A Game of Thrones–in 1996.  I do remember picking up a paperback copy at Borders, so I know at least that my love affair with this series began back in the day when books were still sold in actual brick and mortar stores.

My journies through Westeros have been fairly solitary.  My best buds–Trep and Desert–are both still gainfully employed, and so neither has the time to take up anything as daunting as ASOIAF.   And in the rolling retirement community where I live, few people seem interested in fantasy, or rather, they don’t appear to be interested in the sort of fantasy that appears between the covers of large tomes.  My only local conversation about the series to date occurred one day when, as I was loading groceries into Big Red Prius, a passerby apparently spied my hard copy of A Dance with Dragons lying on the front seat.  “That’s a great book,” he informed me.  I agreed, and hoping for some conversation about its greatness, noted that this was my second trip through the series.  “There’s a series?” he asked.


However, the advent of the television series in 2011 enlarged the number of ASOIAF aficionados from a cult following to a mass audience.  ASOIAF is ALL OVER the net nowThere are websites galore (Westeros and Tower of the Hand are two of my favorites) where fans can try to winkle out the mysteries and complexities that pervade Martin’s plots, engage in group rereadings, and chew over each new teevee episode as it airs.  And the number of people watching the show just grows and grows–the audience for the first ep this season equaled the number who watched the finale of The Sopranos!

Readers of the books have given teevee watchers a name–unsullied–after a corps of soldiers recruited to fight the bad guys in the novels.  During the first season when one of the lead characters was killed, there was gnashing of teeth among the unsullied, who didn’t see that coming–although perhaps they should have, given that he was played by Sean Bean.  Last year the Red Wedding elicited gasps and fainting fits from viewers, and just last week fans of the show greeted another character’s death with whoops and cheers worldwide, it seems–the show aired in the middle of the night in the United Kingdom so that spoilers would not cross the ocean before American audiences had a chance to watch.

The digital artwork, tributes, parodies and memes devoted to the show are all entertaining, and some are downright hilarious.  Obama on the Iron Throne seems particularly apt, fer instance–people who sit on that throne get cuts and scratches because it was smelted from swords wielded by enemies of the crown.  Here are a few memes that caught my eye:




Funny-Game-of-Thrones-13This is Melisandre, whose watchwords are “The night is dark and full of terrors.”  You may see this parodied in places like I Can Has Cheezburger as “The night is dark and full of terriers.”












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progressives-losing-debate-shout-racismA fine example of conservatives’ skill at deflecting progressive argument.

The conversation between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jonathan Chait has generated a good deal of commentary on the left, one salutary result of which MAY be that white privilege has gained some visibility, at least in the digital media.  Over at Talking Points Memo, for example, Josh Marshall is engaging his readers in a discussion of Ron Paul’s racist writings.  And Tom Levenson contributed a thoughtful essay to the Atlantic about the historical effects of white supremacy on current sorry state of  economic opportunities for black people.  Levenson’s essay was at first posted on Coates’ blog but has since been moved to the section on politics.

I’m sure there are other examples, but even these two seem to mark a departure from typical media practice.  Of course, Marshall is a liberal, while Levenson is more clearly a progressive who understands the effects of structural racism.  Sadly, though, not every lefty is there yet.  Earlier this week for example, Rachel Maddow did a long segment on the flap in Nevada, where some cowboy cretin has been abusing federal lands for free for twenty-some years in order to line his own pockets.  He threatened gunplay when said feds tried to collect.  During her presentation Rachel asked us several times:  “why isn’t the label of ‘terrorist’ applied to guys like this?”

Although she didn’t say so, Rachel must know the answer to her question.  It is this:  in America the label “terrorist” is only applied to people of color.   I wish she had said as much, and I don’t know whether I’d hate more if she chose not so say so or if she was prevented from doing so by the network.  I wished again that she had uttered this truth out loud when I watched the regulars on Morning Joe beat down another regular, Mike Barnicle, because he insisted that the jerk in Nevada is a “domestic terrorist.”  What Barnicle did not say–but what was written clearly on his face while he was taking the abuse–is that he loves and lives in Boston, and that last year’s bombing there affected him deeply.

The two guys who bombed the Boston marathon were epitome white guys–they were, literally, Caucasians.  The media have done their best, though, to turn them into people of color–the older brother professed Islam, yadda yadda.  This equation can work because American white supremacists tend to think of non-Christians as black or brown, at least analogically.  Think, for example, of the suspicion and hatred that surround Jews;   surely American anti-Semitism can fairly be said to be a manifestation of white supremacy (see the recent Klan murders in Kansas, for example–or, if you can stomach it, check out any far-right website to see the analogy at work).

The truth is that disaffected white guys have wreaked more havoc in the last forty years than all the riots that broke out in inner cities after the murder of MLK or the acquittal of the cops who beat Rodney King.  When black folks are righteously pissed off they go after the most obvious and near-to-hand manifestations of capitalism:  property.  Not so white guys:  they kill people, using the most and biggest bad-ass guns around (and an airplane in one case).

Progressives have to hope that the poster above will some day soon be seen by most white Americans for what it is:  a sick joke made at the expense of most of the country’s citizens.

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Jonathan_ChaitThis here is Jonathan Chait, who writes for the New York magazine.   As you can see, he is a White Guy.  For the last few weeks he has been exchanging columns with Ta-Nehisi Coates, who writes for the Atlantic.  That ziff has helpfully been charted for us by Tommy Christopher, who writes for the Daily Banter:

Christopher, who is also a white guy, nonetheless has some pithy things to say about Chait in the column from which I copied this list (http://thedailybanter.com/2014/04/jonathan-chait-reveals-terrifying-power-of-racism/).

The Coates/Chait ziff concerned white peoples’ casual conflation of the phrase “culture of poverty” with “black culture.”  (Of course, it is I who have made Chait to represent “white people” in the preceding sentence).  I think Coates pretty much pwned Chait in their conversation, but you can decide for yourself if you like.

I’m writing about this because Chait has now produced an even dumber piece on race (http://nymag.com/news/features/obama-presidency-race-2014-4/?mid=twitter_nymag).  Here he makes the case (I’m interpreting freely here) that the importance “race” has assumed in our current political dialogue will go away once a white president is elected in 2016.  IOW, “race” is merely an argument being had at the moment between (white) Dems and Rethugs, and it will go away once the presidency is safely in the hands of Hilary or Joe or Jeb or whoever.

Gasp.  As if this weren’t embarrassing enough, Chait appeared on national teevee this morning to defend this thesis.  His host was Melissa Harris Perry, who, you may imagine, was not in sympathy with Chait’s position.  Nonetheless, teacher that she is, Harris Perry did her best to outline Chait’s argument and to give some background on why it might not fly with black people.  I thought she did a pretty good job.  But when Chait appeared on-screen, he immediately complained that he had been criticized by a show host before he even showed up–a distinct departure, to his mind, from regular teevee etiquette.

IOW, he heard Harris Perry’s setup as critique rather than background.  Now those hurt feelings–the sense of unfair play Chait expressed–might be more due to the “guy” part of his makeup, rather than the “white” part.  Aggrieved entitlement, to identify Chait’s bristle as an instance of a concept forwarded in Michael Kimmel’s book Angry White Men.

That aside, what is missing in all of Chait’s work, of course, is any sense at all of black Americans’ experience or beliefs.  Chait blithely assumes that he speaks for everyone, when, of course, he speaks only for a very small portion of Americans:  white guys.  Privileged white guys, at that.

Forgive me, but at this point I simply must cite a long passage from James Baldwin’s essay entitled “White Guilt”:

“I have often wondered, and it is not a pleasant wonder, just what white Americans talk about with one another.

I wonder this because they do not, after all, seem to find very much to say to me, and I concluded long ago that they found the color of my skin inhibiting. This color seems to operate as a most disagreeable mirror, and a great deal of one’s energy is expended in reassuring white Americans that they do not see what they see.

This is utterly futile, of course, since they do see what they see. And what they see is an appallingly oppressive and bloody history known all over the world. What they see is a disastrous, continuing, present condition which menaces them, and for which they bear an inescapable responsibility. But since in the main they seem to lack the energy to change this condition they would rather not be reminded of it. Does this mean that in their conversation with one another, they merely make reassuring sounds? It scarcely seems possible, and yet, on the other hand, it seems all too likely. In any case, whatever they bring to one another, it is certainly not freedom from guilt. The guilt remains, more deeply rooted, more securely lodged, than the oldest of fears.

And to have to deal with such people can be unutterably exhausting for they, with a really dazzling ingenuity, a tireless agility, are perpetually defending themselves against charges which one, disagreeable mirror though one may be, has not really, for the moment, made. 0ne does not have to make them. The record is there for all to read. It resounds all over the world. It might as well be written in the sky. One wishes that –Americans–white Americans–would read, for their own sakes, this record and stop defending themselves against it. Only then will they be enabled to change their lives.”

White Americans have yet to take Baldwin’s advice, it would seem, if the celebrated Jonathan Chait is any sort of representative.

A personal note:  I have tried to take Baldwin’s advice, and I have read the “oppressive and bloody” history of which he speaks.  Reading that history makes me want to slit my wrists–although that way out would be too easy.  Instead, I try to listen whenever a black person speaks of the way things are, or the way they once were.  I wish all us white folks would just shut up and listen more often.

UPDATE:  Elias Esquith and Joan Walsh take on Chait over at Salon on April 12 and April 7 respectively.  Walsh sees the trouble with Chait’s argument, but Esquith frames Chait’s position as the “view from nowhere” and resorts to the old “objectivity/subjectivity” argument that plagued journalism schools back in the 1970s.  This leads the commenters into a worthless discussion of the differences between the legs of this false dichotomy and allows the more conservative among them to trot out the stale old claims that Salon is a hotbed of lefty thought–ie your ideology is not objective, while mine is.  (And as if there are any hotbeds of lefty thought remaining today outside the academy and a couple of river-running companies).

And, to repeat my own argument, the “view from nowhere” is actually the “view from privileged white guys’ perspective.”

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Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Colorado looks to clear a cool 98 million bucks this year on taxes and associated profits from legalized marijuana sales (http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/11/us-colorado-marijuana-idUSBREA3A1X720140411).   The state will use the money to maintain roads, schools, health and family programs and other good things.

How long can it be before other states get the clue?  (Ahem, Arizona–where such programs are perennially unfunded–are you watching?)   Other states that lie next to Colorado, particularly Nebraska and Wyoming, must also be wondering why they are allowing all that revenue to go to a neighboring state.








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On Asshats

assholeYou know that guy who disrupts the entire post office by jumping ahead in line?   He breaks line “just to find something out” and then conducts his business at the window anyway.  Or the guy who shouts at the top of his voice about the lousy service in this restaurant and refuses to tip or even pay his bill?   Or the one who threatens to get everyone in the place fired?  Or, at your retirement party the department chair who apologizes for your difficult relationship and then, in his last act as your boss, asks the department tech to make a copy of your hard drive?

These guys, my friends, are assholes.

Someone has at last written a much-needed book:  A Theory of Assholes.  The author is Aaron James, a professor of philosophy at Irvine, and you can read the opening pages of his book at Amazon or at Random House.  Trust me, it’s worth the clicks.  James also has a blog:  onassholes.com.  Although he doesn’t seem to post there very often, what is there is very entertaining.

James defines an asshole as someone who:  allows himself to enjoy special advantages and does so systematically;  does this out of an entrenched sense of entitlement; and is immunized by his sense of entitlement against the complaints of other people (p. 5).  Most assholes are men, he notes, but women can be assholes too (think Ann Coulter, he advises us).

Yep.  Now perhaps because James is writing in the tradition of moral philosophy, he seems to assume that assholes know what they are doing;  that is, he assumes that they are conscious of their sense of entitlement, that they are aware of their assumption that they are better than everyone else.

I’m not so sure about that.  American men, especially white men, have been so entitled for so long that they fly into rages when they are frustrated.  (Michael Kimmel has written another great book about this, entitled Angry White Men.)  Because WMs are unaware of their relative entitlement, they blame everyone under the sun for real or imaginary slights–usually women (those “feminazis” who rigged the divorce laws so they have to pay child support, for instance) but also the grocer, the baker, and the candlestick maker.

The internet has become such a warren of assholatry that assholes thereon have their own special name:  trolls.  Comments on popular blogs are worth reading as far as about five comments in.  At comment five or six an asshole will put his oar in, attempting to highjack the entire thread, just as he does the line at the post office.  If his fellow commenters or the bloghost are alert and sufficiently acerbic, of course, he will be promptly shut down.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has dealt with his share of asshole commenters in his blog at the Atlantic, and so he polices threads fairly seriously.   Here are his thoughts on cyberassholotry:

“It is not unlike what I’ve noticed here when commenters arrive and complain about the prohibition against threadjacking, the deleting, or moderation as a whole. The Internet is filled with comment spaces, most of them only barely regulated. But that is not enough. One must have the right to talk however one wants, here, specifically.

I think what we have here is a working definition of an asshole — a person who demands that all social interaction happen on their terms. Assholes fill our various worlds. But the banhammer only works in one of them.”  (March 13, 2013).

Indeed, the internet may be the only place where assholes regularly get their comeuppance, probably because the rest of us needn’t fear violence from them.


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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is Inky in his must-seem-like-forever home.

Sorry for the awful picture–I didn’t want to take his photo face on, given that his eyes are dilated by the med he is taking.  Which he loves.   The medicine is packaged in a small syringe from which I squirt the liquid into one of his cheek pouches.  After nearly a week’s experience he has learned to roll close to the edge of the cage when he sees the syringe and open his mouth.

I’m told this med is not addictive.  Hmm.  He won’t need it for much longer, though.  He got up and walked around the edge of his cage today!  I was afraid his rear legs not work, but while they are still shaky both seem to be intact.

The Deserts came over yesterday to help me boost Inky’s kennel up on concrete blocks.  This allows me to feed him and clean the kennel without getting up and down from a tile floor several times a day.  For which my fake knee and old hips are very grateful.  Thanks again, friends.  Now if I don’t succumb to black lung disease from cleaning litter out of the kennel every day, it looks like both of us may survive this.

In the evening we watched the semi-finals of the women’s basketball tournament.  Connecticut and Notre Dame won their respective games, so they play one another for the national championship on Tuesday.  I hope this doesn’t put too much strain on the Deserts’ relationship–he is a confirmed Domer, while she is, shall we say, a committed fan of the Huskies.

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