There is an oft-quoted maxim generally credited to the late William F. Buckley to the effect that “Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.”  So it also appears to be the case with the corporate and academic diversity-mongers; who are all about diversity when it a matter of race, nationality, sex, sex-orientation, background and education level, but react like a bunch of screaming howler monkeys when what they have established as ‘conventional-think’ is transgressed upon or critiqued, even in a manner most thoughtful, The most current demonstration of this has been the Google-Diversity imbroglio, which was set off by a rather thoughtful memo (linked here) which ruminated on unconscious corporate assumptions, and suggested that there were other reasons than bias for a dearth of women in highly technical programming activities, and that Google’s own diversity culture was preventing discussion of effective means of remedying that lack. Oh, my … did that set off the Lords of Diversity at Google, as well as a number of female staff at Google and other tech industries … a reaction which I can only describe as ‘hysteria.’ The Google engineer who generated the memo has become the focus of one of those internet lynch mobs, thus fulfilling his own prophetic warning that there are some questions which are like the third rail in that one cannot touch them without being vaporized. Or as in his case, fired summarily. It is altogether likely that he will not be unemployed for long, or the recipient of a large settlement as the result of a suit filed for unjust termination by Google – very likely both. (More here at Ace of Spades, who thoughtfully posted the link to the infamous memo.

It is also likely that Google may feel a bit of pain from this; if not from pissed-off consumers choosing another search engine and email service, then from ideologically straight-jacketing those in-house techies thinking creatively about solving problems. If savvy thinkers know that that voicing speculative wrong-think about hard questions will impact them professionally … well, then, there will not be answers to those hard questions, and the Lords of Diversity will never know why.

Another takeaway from all of this is a powerful reinforcement of the notion that being conservative in a generally liberal workplace is a perilous professional situation – a situation that has become even more unstable since the election of Donald Trump. Yes, sensible conservative/libertarians are going to go on keeping their mouths shut and their heads down, unless among friends or in a safe space like this one. Even those of us who are self-employed, have their mortgage and cars paid for, or nearly paid for, and topped-up bank accounts are still vulnerable to a determined and malicious internet lynch mob … or even someone like the odious Lena Dunham, maliciously going to an employer, with a tattle-tale of a supposedly overheard conversation in a public place.

 

Discuss, if you can bear it.

I took it into my head to see Dunkirk in a movie theater on the opening weekend. I don’t think I have done since the early nineties (when we returned from Spain, where movies showed at the base theater six months to a year after premiering.) The last time I saw a movie in an actual theater, instead of at home on DVD or on streaming video was – if memory serves – The Kings’ Speech, in 2010, or it may have been The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in 2013. We saw the latter in an Alamo Drafthouse cinema, notable for being set up in a civilized manner to serve tasty adult beverages before and during the showing, as well as equally tasty entrees. They also have a positively Soup-Naziesque attitude about talking, texting, ringing cellphones and children disturbing the movie experience – an attitude of which I regretfully approve. One toot on yer flute, or on your cellie, and you’re oot, as the saying about the woman in the Scottish cinema with a hearing horn used to go. Adding to the charm of the experience – you can book a ticket for a specific seat and showing through their website, and pay for it online in advance. Print out your ticket on your home printer, waltz into the theater at the appointed time – and yes, this is one thing I do like about the 21st century.
Back to the movie. The necessary trailers for upcoming releases reminded me powerfully about why I have not been to a movie theater for a movie since 2010 or 2013, especially a trailer for a superhero concoction called The Justice League. No, sorry; so much my not-cuppa-tea that I wouldn’t more two feet off a rock ledge to watch it, or anything else there was a trailer for. Fortunately, the pre-feature features were few and relatively brief.
Then to the main feature, which began very quietly, with a half-dozen British squaddies wandering down a narrow street on the outskirts of Dunkirk, under a fluttering of German propaganda leaflets … which set the situation as it exists, and supplies one of the young soldiers, appropriately named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), with a supply of toilet paper. Tommy is a luckless lower-ranks Candide, foiled numerous times in his efforts to get away from Dunkirk, the first of three different yet congruent stories told by the director, Christopher Nolan. Some viewers may have difficulty in following them, as they weave and intersect with each other. I did not – although how daylight and tide conditions changed abruptly from shot to shot and episode to episode in the narrative may baffle some viewers. Tommy’s soggy epic journey (he damn near gets drowned three times by my account) alternates with two other narratives: an account of the civilian boat-owning volunteers – epitomized by Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his younger son, Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and Peter’s school chum, George (Barry Keoghan). The Admiralty, under emergency orders, has begun requisitioning civilian boats for service shifting English and French troops off the beaches held in a pocket between Dunkirk and Bray Dunes.
This is historically accurate – the main harbor of Dunkirk was composed of an inner and an outer harbor. The inner was essentially unusable through German bombing by the time of the evacuation. The outer – a long sheltering mole-and-walkway – was difficult to moor large sea-going ships against, and hideously vulnerable to German bombing and strafing attacks, both to the ships and the ranks of soldiers drawn up to board them. Mr. Dawson’s substantial motor-sail yacht is one of those requisitioned to serve – because of their relatively shallow-draft – in taking troops directly off the beach to the larger ships at anchor in deeper water. (This character and account is clearly based on the experience of Charles Lightoller.) Mr. Dawson doesn’t want to turn his yacht over to the Navy and he heads out of the English harbor, (after ditching all the civilian accoutrements and taking on a load of life-preservers) with a crew composed of a pair of teenaged schoolboys.
The third element, after land and sea, is in the air; a pair of RAF Spitfire pilots, Collins (Jack Lowden) and Farner (Tom Hardy). They start on their mission to provide air cover to the evacuation, lose their flight leader even before they even get mid-way – and thereafter Farner, with a busted fuel-gage on his fighter-plane (which was top of the line in 1940) is on a tense countdown. Make his goal, achieve his mission of providing air cover for the evacuation before he runs out of fuel…
The countdown is one of the elements which makes this movie consistently suspenseful: the countdown of Farner’s fuel tanks, the countdown of Tommy’s ability to hold his breath, the arrival of the ‘little ships’ in time to do any good, the ability of Mr. Dawson’s crew to haul drowning soldiers out of the water before the oil from a sinking ship cooks off. This is punched up in the soundtrack, which is not so much music but the effect of a clock ticking, occasionally broken by a terrifying silence which means that the German dive bombers are about to attack. The soundtrack is mostly sound design, with very little music as we usually hear it. The only conventional and hummable bits are a version of ‘Nimrod’ from Elgar’s Enigma Variations in about the last five minutes. The acting is likewise impeccable from the cast, especially Tom Hardy, who as Farner, had the challenge of spending most of the movie with his face covered by his oxygen mask and goggles.
Those are the laudable elements – now the severely critical comments based on the various books on Operation Dynamo. This is one of the historical events that I was obsessively interested in as a teenager. The movie vision of the smoke column on the horizon is lame. From all reports and photographic evidence – it was huge. Really huge – as could be seen from across the channel, covering a good quarter to half the horizon as one got closer to the French side. The crowds on the beaches were also much more substantial, if the historical record is any guide. The long tracking shot in Atonement gives, I think, something more of an idea of how chaotic, crowded, and desperate the situation in the Dunkirk-Bray Dunes pocket must have been. I was also thrown out of the story a couple of times by how many times the ‘stuck under a barrier and drowning’ trope was brought out and inflicted on key characters. Really, do this no more than once per character a movie. A lovely shot of all the ‘little boats’ coming to the rescue; they all looked so pristine. It was a fantastic touch to use some of the real surviving Dunkirk ‘little boats’, but only a few were shown, out of 250 or so known to have participated. As a matter of fact, many were towed across the Channel to the evacuation zone, most of them crewed by Naval reservists (as was shown in the initial scene with Mr. Dawson’s boat), and they bustled back and forth from the shallows, ferrying troops out to the deeper-draft ships standing off-shore, rather than make the cross-channel journey independently and loaded with troops. (The largest portion of troops rescued from Dunkirk were transported to safety on destroyers – not on the ‘little boats’.) The bit about the British Army engineers kluging up a pier by driving trucks into the sea at low-tide to create a makeshift pier to load from at high-tide – that did happen. I do wish that the incident of one particular ship-captain deliberately grounding his own ship to serve as a temporary pier and floating it off again at high-tide had been included – but that act of desperate improvisation was one of many.
On the whole, Dunkirk is well worth the time and cost to see in a theater, especially this summer. Regarding the previews of coming attractions, though, it looks like it will be another four or six years before I bother going to the theater to watch another one.

Atonement – Beach at Dunkirk (2007) from Wagner Brenner on Vimeo.

Some time ago and in another blog-post I wondered if it were possible for those with conservative and libertarian leanings to develop some kind of secret password, or handshake with which to identify themselves to new-met acquaintances who might possibly share those inclinations. We tend to be polite, do not relish open confrontation – and really, why pick unnecessary fights with neighbors, casually-met strangers, distant kin, or fellow workers? Most times, it just is not worth the hassle, or the chance of turning a casual social interaction or relationship turning toxic. Most of us do not eat, sleep, dream, live politics twenty-four-seven, anyway. But it certainly is pleasant to discover someone of like sympathies, usually after a few rounds of warily sounding them out, and assuring them that no, we will not come unglued if they confess to having voted for or liked (insert political figure or philosophy here).

But I think that I have hit upon a handy shorthand method for discerning the political sympathies of another without coming outright and asking. This insight came about through following a couple of libertarian-leaning or conservative blogs – Sarah Hoyt and Wretchard at Belmont Club being two of the more notable – and noting that the principals and many of their commenters all seemed au courant with Kipling.

Lines from “The Gods of the Copybook Headings“When ‘Omer Smote ‘is Bloomin’ Lyre”, “The Sons of Martha” “The Three-Decker” and “Dane-geld” or “The Wrath of the Awakened Saxon” and any number of other poems from the pen of the Glorious Rudyard were tossed about with abandon, along with references to various short stories and novels. Tags and lines from these poems and others were almost a currency in comment threads at these websites and blogs.
If you like Kipling … then you are likely to be some stripe of conservative, libertarian, or an original independent. I have not much of an explanation of why this should be so, other than that Kipling was an unparalleled master of storytelling, and his poems – traditional in the sense that they had a rhyme and meter – sometimes are still topical and always quotable. He has been out of fashion among the mainstream intellectuals and tastemakers for going on a century; In the place of the story-teller and poet there is a massive straw-image of him, labeled with every nasty -ism that can be applied; imperialist, racist, and so on and so forth. Die-hard fan of British imperialism – or not – he certainly was an acute observer of the institution and of his times. Perhaps it is the clear-eyed observer part of the Glorious Rudyard that appeals. Any other explanation would be welcomed, but the correlation between a liking for Kipling and conservative leanings is pretty well marked in my mind. Your thoughts?

So, I had this marvelous inspiration for an epic miniseries last night, which I am sure has probably occurred to other people – would that at least one of them might be in a position to act on this inspiration. We were watching Father Ted, and on the way to watching it, skimmed through some of the other offerings available through Amazon, Netflix, and Acorn … and I was thinking, since there are so many period series available, which offer all sorts of alternate or even just slightly-skewed versions of history, especially the versions which offer the actors the opportunity to get all vamped up in corsets and coats trimmed up in gold braid and whatever … what would be a good and popular historical novel series to make a TV miniseries out of … something with a swaggering, handsome and sexually-adventurous-hero, who romped all through the known world of the 19th century, brushing elbows with all kinds of interesting men of note and bedding women likewise, hip-deep in scandals, scoundrels and skullduggery, oh my.

Can you picture for a shining moment – what a thumping good miniseries the Flashman books would make? Yes, George McDonald Fraser’s Flashman series of books, wherein the dashing rakehell of the outwardly heroic, inwardly lily-livered Harry Flashman goes from the First Afghan War, scampering down the corridors of power all over the globe, looking over his shoulder and putting on a desperate burst of speed. Think of all the famous historical personages portrayed over five or six episodes by well-known actors doing a guest turn, consider all the supporting and reoccurring characters, whose listing on imdb would feature this role at the top of their CV. Consider all the exotic, exciting locations for Harry Flashman’s adventures … well, OK, likely Afghanistan is off the list as a real-life shooting location since history is still repeating itself there: You got England and Scotland, Germany, the Crimea, Russia, India, China, Southeast Asia, Africa, Mexico, all through the US and better than half a century of significant events, wars, campaigns and punitive expeditions across four continents. You got Abraham Lincoln, the Charge of the Light Brigade, the Empress of China, pirates in the South China Sea, mutineers in India, and Apache on the warpath.

It would be splendid. And with even more book materiel than George R. R. Martin, too. Enough to do at least ten seasons if they did all twelve books, although likely to fill in the American Civil War segment, they might have to figure out exactly how Harry Flashman managed to fight for both the Union and the Confederacy. GMF never wanted to do it up in a book; Flashman being an Englishman, the American Civil War was just one of those minor foreign scuffles to him.

And the best part – would be that nervous-nelly, eternally politically correct social justice warriors would absolutely melt down into puddles of anguished tears at it all.

27. August 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Geekery, History

A lovely animated visualization of how Pompeii was destroyed and buried –

Some ironic fun on a Friday, found through the Passive Voice website.

14. May 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic, Geekery, History

I do wish they had paused long enough to look into some of the ground-floor shops, and into the church, too – but still, this is awesome.

Oh, yes – I’m still here. Finishing up work for a client, and the launch for the Second Chronicle of Luna City.

14. April 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic, Geekery, History, Literary Good Stuff

Coming up for air, after more than a week of … well, stuff. Firstly, Blondie and I decided to bring out the sequel to Chronicles of Luna City at the end of this months, rather than try and do three books all at once at the end of the year. I have the sequel to Lone Star Sons to write, and The Golden Road to finish – those last two got set aside in the rush to finish Luna City and Sunset and Steel Rails in time for the Christmas market season. Inspiration, OK? It strikes where it will. So – finishing that sequel and going through editing and layout, and devising new pictures for the chapter heads … and right in the middle of all that, my main computer chooses to not be able to internet. Seemed to be a purely mechanical thing – as in some connection in the innards not being able to connect – and I had some handy work-arounds, which were sabotaged by the wireless router crashing shortly thereafter. And then my daughter’s computer crashed utterly and irretrievably. Sigh.

This is why we have a spare everything, in boxes in the closet. Computer, monitor, router … and also why I back up everything to a thumb drive and an external hard drive as soon as I finish writing a chapter. And a laptop, which those generous people running the Amazon Vine program offered me earlier this year. I will never forget that horrible day around Christmas 2007 when I was just about ready to sit down and write that fifth chapter for Adelsverein: The Gathering – where Carl and Magda meet cute on the bank of a river when she is desperate and he is heroic – and the then-current computer crashed, taking all four previous chapters with it. My dear late friend, Dave the Computer Genius was able to sort out the crippling virus infestation after a couple of days, retrieve all my files (including the chapters!) and revive the then-current computer unit to serve for a few years more … but prepared is to be forewarned. Hence the redundant back-ups. And I also bought into some particularly effective virus-killing programs and have used them religiously ever since. This is my livelihood, OK?

Still, it does take some time to migrate everything to the new unit/units. It’s rather like a PCS – moving into a new space. There is some time required to settle everything familiar into the new location, get comfortable with the layout, locate the new electrical switches – especially because the new units and the laptop came already pre-loaded with Windows 10 … as well as some kind of leftover function that made me sign-in repeatedly, if I walked away from the computer or didn’t move the mouse or strike a key in one minute. Took two days to sort that one out, which tends to tell on the writing time, let alone re-installing certain necessary programs, which I was foresighted enough to have on original discs. (What is with this thing about paying a monthly fee to have certain programs available – a rant for another occasion, I think.)

Anyway, now settled into the new work-space and picking up those writing projects set aside, and thinking about new ones. What to work on when I finish The Golden Road? I’ve been toying with the thought of a WWI novel, since there are characters in The Quivera Trail and Sunset and Steel Rails of an age to have been affected by it. I may still do something of the sort, but writing about how the 19th century world came to an end in bloody mass-slaughter of men and empires, not to mention a certain degree of confident optimism … at this present depressing time, I don’t need any additional depression. I’m toying more energetically with the idea of an adventure set in the American Revolution; how the original Becker paterfamilias came to America as a Hessian mercenary, and deserted at the end of the war to stay behind, marry a local girl named Katerina, and set up a prosperous farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania. That would be more to my liking – picking up the circumstances briefly mentioned in Daughter of Texas, with a young Margaret Becker fondly recalling her grandfather; the wisest, kindliest and most humorous man of her acquaintance, who made certain that she and her brothers spoke proper German.

How careful he had been in speaking the old language, ensuring that she and Rudi said words in the proper way, so that Oma Katerina laughed and laughed, saying that the children sounded as if they had a broomstick up their backsides, so prim and careful with words and sounding like proper children of Hesse. Margaret had never thought that Opa had been sad about leaving his family, and his soldier comrades. The story of Opa and Oma had a rightness about it, the comfort of a familiar fairy-tale for children; of course young Opa Heinrich should stay in America and marry the young Oma Katerina. That was the happy ending which all fairy tales had.

That will be an interesting book to write, although I shall have to stretch my research library in a whole ‘nother direction; I do have some materiel about late 18th century America and life in the colonies – but more will be required.
And I will have to find the time to get out the sewing machine and start to work on my author-garb for the upcoming year – the Edwardian-style walking suit and a towering period hat to wear with it.

(This is the background, or essential info-dump relating to the history of Luna City, Texas. This will be one of my books for this fall, as soon as I dash off another hundred pages or so, of the doings of a little town where eccentricity is on tap, day and night.)

Final Cover with LetteringLuna City is an incorporated township, located in Karnes County, Texas, at approximately 28°57′29″N 97°53′50″W, a point where Texas Rte 123 crosses the San Antonio River. The population of Luna City and environs in the 2010 Census was 2,453. The nearest large town is Karnesville, the county seat, approximately ten miles south of Luna City. Those residents of Luna City not employed in their own small businesses commute to Karnesville for work, or to nearby enterprises such as the entertainment/spa/commercial venue of Mills Farm, the Lazy W exotic game ranch, or in various oil-production ventures associated with the Eagle Ford shale oil formation. Notable people from Luna City include the prima ballerina Johanna Gonzales Garcia, international financier Collin Wyler, noted historian Douglas McAllister, Korean War jet-fighter ace Hernando “Nando” Gonzalez, and the legendary bootlegger Charles “Old Charley” Mills.

The land on which Luna City was later established was part of a 1769 Spanish land grant of a league and a labor to one Don Diego Manuel Hernando Ruiz y Gonzalez (or Gonzales), who may have been already settled in the area at the time that his grant was recorded. It is a matter of undisputed archeological record that Don Diego, members of his family or in his employ were engaged in grazing cattle, goats and sheep in the area, as an adobe structure on the northern outskirts of Luna City was extensively excavated and studied in the late 1960s. The structure apparently served as a shelter for both animals and people. Evidence of regular camping and hunting by elements of the native Tonkawa people at a fairly early date was also found in later excavations in the area. The first recorded permanent dwelling in the area was built in 1857 adjacent to an easily-forded stretch of the San Antonio River, by Herman Borgfeld, an immigrant stonemason from Bohemia, who ran a small general store, tavern and inn catering to travelers between San Antonio and the coast.

In 1867, a large portion of the tract originally part of the Gonzales or Gonzalez grant were purchased by Herbert King Wyler, formerly a captain in the Confederate Army, assigned during the hostilities to various garrisons west of the Mississippi and in Texas. Captain Wyler had been involved in various capacities with operations to move Confederate cotton to Brownsville and thence over the border to the Mexican port of Baghdad, from where it was shipped to Europe. He emerged from his wartime service with sufficient wherewithal to purchase outright what is presently the Lazy W Ranch, still run by his great-grandson, Dr. Stephen Wyler. Captain Wyler caused to be built a palatial residence, modeled after the magnificent Greek Revival-style mansion of Windsor, at Port Gibson, Mississippi, a mansion distinguished by a series of ornate columns all around the perimeter of the structure which extended from the main floor through two stories to the roofline and supported a wide veranda on the main floor, and wrap-around galleries on the second. It is thought that the local economy revived to a not inconsiderable degree, as construction of the house itself employed hundreds of local workers at a time and in a place where money was scarce. (The ranch residence and gardens are open to the public once yearly, for the term of a week in mid-September, as part of the observances of Founders’ Day, although application for private tour may be made through the website for the Wyler Game Ranch.)

Around 1884, or 1885, having made another considerable fortune in trailing herds of cattle north to Kansas, Captain Wyler became intensely interested in the possibility of establishing a town on his property, since the proposed town-site lay along a possible route proposed for the as-then-unbuilt San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway. Along with Don Antonio Gonzalez, presumed descendent of Don Diego Manuel Hernando Ruiz y Gonzalez (or Gonzales) and the second largest landowner in the district, Captain Wyler formed a corporation to build attract investors and businessmen willing to settle in a new town. Captain Wyler brought in as a partner in the project, an ambitious surveyor and engineer who dabbled in architecture, Arthur Wells ‘A.W.’ McAllister, to not only survey the site and create the city plat, but to design various public buildings, including a suitably impressive courthouse. It was confidently expected that Luna City, as Captain Wyler dubbed his project, would become the county seat. Arthur Wells McAllister in turn was so confident of success and committed to the project that he moved his family to the site, after purchasing, expanding and renovating the original Borgfeld stone house. (The house still stands amid spacious and well-maintained gardens along Rte. 123, and is lived in by his descendants.)

Alas for Captain Wyler’s ambitious plans; they were undone by love – specifically that of his daughter, Myra Elizabeth “Bessie” Wyler. Having married relatively late in life, his progeny numbered only three; two sons and Mary Elizabeth, the youngest. He doted upon them to a considerable degree, and especially on Myra Elizabeth – beautiful, indulged and impetuous. On returning from a year in a finishing school in New Orleans, which the Captain and his wife had hoped would curb Bessie’s naturally youthful high spirits, the young woman fell hopelessly in love with one Edward Standifor, some ten years her senior and employed as a locomotive engineer on the GH & SA Railway. Bessie Wyler eloped with Edward Standifor; they were married by a Justice of the Peace in Fort Worth and settled down to a life of respectable tranquility – but Captain Wyler’s fury knew no bounds. He not only disowned his daughter, but declared that his enmity against the railway – all it’s works, ways, establishments and personnel – was unremitting. The railway was, he declared in an impassioned statement to the San Antonio Express News, an open invitation to the establishment of vice and debauchery of every kind, a threat to the virtue of susceptible young women and girls everywhere … and he vehemently withdrew any support previously rendered to the establishment of a route for the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway which led through his property. From surviving correspondence, it appears that A. W. McAllister blithely assumed that this was an attempt by Captain Wyler to pressure the builders of the SA & AP into offering a higher price for the right-of-way through his property. A.W. had a basis for this belief, as Captain Wyler had a long-established reputation for driving a hard bargain, using every possible means at his disposal – including treachery and personal tragedy, as they served his immediate purpose.

Alas for the future of Luna City as a station on the SA & AP – Captain Wyler was completely in earnest. The managers of the proposed railway line shifted the proposed route to run through Karnesville – and all the investors in the Luna City project were left high and dry, including A.W. McAllister, who had sunk all of his own funds into the project and therefore had to make the best of it. Fittingly enough, he did prosper in a mild way – although not to the degree that he would have, if the whole project had come about as originally projected. Still – he was respected and honored, as the decades wore on; the man who originated the vision of Luna City, and designed nearly every one of its surviving public buildings. Architectural historians and aficionados for this kind of thing laud Luna City as a peerless and harmonic jewel of minor late Victorian and Beaux-Arts city planning.

As for Bessie Wyler Standifor, she and her husband lived to a ripe and happy old age, parents of a large and prosperous family. In the early years of the 20th century, she and whoever of her children wanted to accompany her were frequent guests of honor at Founders Day observances. It is noted, however, that her father throughout the remainder of his life eschewed railway travel, choosing to travel in a horse and buggy until the development of other means of transportation. Captain Wyler was the first recorded owner of an automobile in Karnes County in 1901 – a Columbia Electric Runabout – and the first to die in an automobile accident five years later, when – at the wheel of it and against the advice of his chauffeur – he collided with another motorized vehicle on what would become Rte. 123. There is a historical marker alongside the roadway where this occurred. Folk memory has it that the driver of the other vehicle was none other than Charley Mills, with a load of illicit whiskey.

25. August 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic, Fun and Games, Geekery

The 2015 Hugo awards were given out over last weekend, at Worldcon in Spokane, and the meltdown is ongoing. The commentary on this at the follow-up post at According to Hoyt has gone over 1,000 comments, a record that I haven’t seen on a blog since the heyday of a certain blog that is not mentioned any more (but whose name referenced small verdantly-colored prolate spheroids). I’ll admit, right from the get-go, that as a writer and blogger I have no real dog in this fight over the Hugo awards – not even the smallest of timid and depressed of puppies, but I did feel enough of an interest in it to post about it a couple of times. I merely observe with sympathy as an interested internet ‘friend’ and fan of some of those who are deeply involved, rather than a directly-involved author. I love Connie Willis’s books and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga, used to love Marion Zimmer Bradley – alas, my collection of her books is now boxed and moldering away in the garage . My science fiction and ‘con’ activity extends only as far as having an entire run of Blakes’ 7 taped on VHS from when it was broadcast on KUED in Salt Lake City in the 1990s, having gone to the Salt Lake City ‘con several times, and once to the Albuquerque ‘con’ when it happened to be on a weekend at the time I was TDY to Kirtland AFB for a senior NCO leadership class. I had a marvelous time, on all those occasions … but my personal writing concentration is on historical fiction, and to a lesser extent, socio/political blogging.

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25. June 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Geekery, Tea Time · Tags:

Take it away, guys!

21. June 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Fun and Games, Geekery · Tags: ,

So everyone thought that the last of the fallout from the Sad/Rabid Puppies and the expanded field of nominees for the Hugo award and finished falling and now it was safe to come out and gambol happily in the fields of science fiction and fantasy? The much revered semi-retired founder of Tor, Tom Doherty made a handsome and diplomatic statement, stressing the fact that in no way were the opinion of MS Irene Gallo, the creative director at Tor, as posted on her personal Facebook page early in May of this year, to be mistaken for being the opinion of the publishing firm itself. But the stuff is still falling, and it’s not rain.

MS Gallo had opined on said personal Facebook page (but a page which appeared mainly to be for publicizing Tor projects) , when someone asked about what the Sad Puppies were all about: “There are two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, misogynist and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.” When massive attention to this unequivocal statement was paid by outraged science fiction and fantasy writers and readers who were in sympathy with the Sad Puppies, many such felt themselves to be slandered and insulted. MS Gallo did post one of those mealy-mouthed “I’m sorry if you were offended” non-apologetic apologies farther down in the original comment thread which together with Tom Doherty’s statement appeared at first to tamp down some of the fury.

But the discussion of the matter of Tor continued rumbling, especially among writers who felt most particularly insulted on several levels by being smeared as neo-Nazis, racists, misogynists and homophobes. Some of them had intense and life-changing experiences; Peter Grant, for example, was a veteran of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Sarah Hoyt grew up in Portugal in interesting times, and R.K. Modena is the daughter of an anti-Marcos journalist who wound up serving as a diplomat in East Germany and Israel – just to name a few. A diverse lot, on the whole; just not in the manner favored by the establishment diversity warriors. On various Puppy-sympathetic blogs the matter continued to be chewed over by commenters. One of the points made was that MS Gallo’s remarks appeared to be symptomatic of a long-existing institutional bias at Tor towards authors who tended to be more inclined toward a traditional conservative or libertarian frame of mind. I commented on one writer blog, on how this may very well have long-term implications: “From an executive manager’s point of view, allowing this kind of openly-expressed hostility will be disastrous in the long run for Tor. How many excellent writers, potentially best-selling writers who are of an independent, libertarian or even conservative turn of mind will choose not to work with Tor, on hearing about such a work atmosphere there — and take their work to other publishers. It’s just bad management, and over time it may sink Tor entirely.”
How willing would anyone be work with employees of a corporation who personally despise you and have no inhibitions about saying so, either directly or by implication?

And what ought to be the response of those who feel deeply and personally insulted by employees of Tor, such as MS Gallo, and those who clearly stand in agreement with her ill-considered remarks? And what ought Tor to do, over what they already have done? Clean house seems to be the basic consensus; leaving the precise details up to Tor. And to effect that? Some of the offended recommend and are participating in an outright boycott. Some of them – like me – have tastes that run to other and non-Tor published authors, and haven’t bought anything from Tor in years. Others favor purchasing their favorite Tor authors second-hand, and hitting the authorial tip-jar with a donation. I still have the sense that for many of us – after having weathered numerous comments along the same line as MS Gallo’s without much complaint – this was just the final straw.

(Cross-posted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

With some apologies because this is not a matter which particularly touches me, or the books that I write, I am moved to write about this imbroglio one more time, because it seems that it didn’t end with the official Hugo awards slate of nominees being finalized – with many good and well-written published works by a diverse range of authors being put forward. The Hugo nominations appear for quite a good few years to have been dominated by one particular publisher, Tor. And it seems that the higher levels of management at Tor did not take a diminishment of their power over the Hugo nominees at all gracefully. (This post at my book blog explains the ruckus with links, for those who may be in the dark.)

A Ms. Irene Gallo, who apparently billed as a creative director at Tor, replied thusly on her Facebook page, when asked about what the Sad Puppies were: “There are two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, misogynist and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.”

Oh, yes – outraged science fiction fans had had fun with this resulting thread.
And who can blame them? Four sentences which manage to be packed full of misrepresentation and a couple of outright lies; the voicing of similar calumnies had to be walked back by no less than
Entertainment Weekly when the whole Sad Puppies thing first reached a frothing boil earlier this year. Now we see a manager of some note at Tor rubbishing a couple of their own authors, and a good stretch of the reading public and a number of book bloggers … which I confidently predict will not turn out well. I have not exhaustively researched the whole matter, but tracked it through According to Hoyt and the Mad Genius Club, where there are occasional comments about anti-Sad/Rabid Puppy vitriol flung about in various fora. I would have opined that Ms. Gallo’s pronouncement probably isn’t worst of them, but it seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, coming as it does from an employee very high up in Tor management. People of a mild-to-seriously conservative or libertarian bent, are just sick and tired of being venomously painted as – in Ms. Gallo’s words – “right-wing to neo-nazi” and as “unrepentantly racist, misogynist and homophobic,” when they are anything but that.

Discuss.

(Cross-posted at my book blog, and at chicagoboyz.net)

25. May 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic, Geekery

Well, here we have another more than normally interesting Memorial Day weekend – first for a meet-up on Saturday in Austin with several of the other contributors to the Chicagoboyz blog. This would have been the first time that we would have met face- to-face; an experience that I have had several times before but with other blogging groups. The first time was when Robin Juhl organized a meet for a handful of San Antonio bloggers, back about the time that I was still working as a corporate drone. The first few minutes were a bit painful, because Robin was the only one who knew all of our blogs. Here I go with the bright social smile, and the chirpy question, “So, what do you blog about?” The meeting eventually got quite jolly – and so did the next one, a mil-blog convention some years later. I was on a panel with five other long-time mil-bloggers, and although we had never met face to face, we all knew each other’s blogs. With this meet-up it was even more relaxed, and the only awkwardness being that none of us knew what they others really looked like, so it was a matter of looking each other over in the foyer of Gordough’s on Lamar and venturing, “Are you …?”

From then on, it all went swimmingly, although when it began to drizzle, we had to move indoors, and it was so noisy inside that the group eventually decided to move on to a coffee shop down the street. Blondie and I felt that we really did have to bail at that point. We couldn’t find a parking place, it was raining again, and we’d have an hour drive home … in the rain. Blondie decided not to go back by IH-35, but rather west and south to pick up 281 at Blanco. We had always come over from Fredericksburg to Johnson City and taken that way south to home – this way we would be coming from the other direction, which had the charm of the unusual. It would take about half an hour longer … but the skies looked pretty threatening over that way, and we happen to know that it is hell driving the 35 in heavy rain.
The clouds looked pretty mottled, when we headed off, and it was continuing to rain, but in the off-and-on way that it had been raining for much of the afternoon. It seemed to get heavier when we got to where the road we were on merged with the 281, and there were some stretches as we edged around Blanco where there was water in the low places of the road – not running water, and certainly none of the places along the road marked as low-water crossings had anything significant in them. We had already gotten two weather alert warnings on Blondie’s cell phone. Still – it was a little unnerving. But we could see cars ahead of us driving through, and it all seemed to be about rim-deep. We agreed that we would rather be driving in the rain on a relatively uncrowded 281, then sharing the 35 with all those 18-wheelers, which tend to splash up blinding splashes of rain.

But the rain got heavier and heavier – the worst of it coming at about the turn-off for Kendalia, in sheets against the windshield. Blondie sensibly slowed to about thirty miles an hour and put on the flashing hazard lights, saying cheerfully that being able to see through the front windshield was very overrated. I believe that the handful of other vehicles on the road out on their hazards too, but it was almost impossible to tell for certain – but they all were going slowly as well. I think we were skirting the edge of the worst, to judge by the areas that flooded out on Saturday, and in the even more ferocious storm that hit in mid-evening. After Bulverde the rain eased up to scattered showers. Blondie kept saying that we’d get home, and find that it hadn’t rained at all and our neighborhood would be as dry as a bone.

Well, it wasn’t quite that dry – it had rained ferociously, but for only for about an hour, so the neighbors told us. And as we drove in, we could see one particularly dense black cloud drifting off on a north-east tangent. Blondie wondered if it were the kind of cloud that breeds tornadoes, as there were some oddly finger-shaped edges to it. I’ve never seen a tornado first hand, so I couldn’t really say. We got home; the sun was out, everything thoroughly wet and fresh-looking, the chickens all safe in their run and the dogs merely happy to see us.

The Blanco River - about where we think it flooded out some homes over the weekend

The Blanco River – about where we think it flooded out some homes over the weekend

About mid-evening, there was another weather alert – a possible tornado. The wind began to blow ferociously, and the rain came in sideways again. We went out to the back porch, wondering if this was the one time that lightening would strike the tall standing granite-paneled cross at St. Helena’s, across the way. We watched the lightening for a while – night-time thunderstorms are spectacular around here. The storm was moving off to the north, on the same trajectory as the afternoon storm – that is the one which sent the Blanco River overflowing, Wimberley, Blanco and Kyle, and a driver in an SUV managed to get carried away in floodwaters near Boerne. We are pretty certain that some of homes destroyed in Wimberley are along a stretch of the Blanco that I photographed a couple of years ago – beautiful stands of cypress trees all thrown down like match-sticks. There are more storms predicted for tonight, as well. Who knew that South Texas has a monsoon season, every couple of years ago?

Now, one of the most ironic parts is – we went downtown Sunday morning, the very next day – to meet up with Jonathon G. and give him a personal tour of the Alamo – and it was a beautiful and intermittently sunny day. The water in the river was pretty murky, lots of leaves and stirred-up gunk in it, which the water-taxi drivers say always happens after a heavy rain, but the downtown Riverwalk was crowded, and even the restaurants along the upper reaches looked as if they had standing room only. And that’s our Memorial Day weekend. We will do barbequed beef ribs tonight – but I think on the electric griddle. It looks like the rain will come in again tonight.

19. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic, Geekery, Old West

Yes, I’m still here – and working hard at stuff, which is why I have had to let the intertubules go for … a couple of days. A week, maybe … what am I, a public blogging utility? I had work – serious paid work to perform, either for the Tiny Publishing Bidness, or through the required paperwork to do the sales taxes due to the State of Texas for my retail activities for the past year. Which – since Blondie and I had a full schedule of sales events during the last quarter of 2014, and I had two other book events earlier in the year … I had to sit down with a calculator and the printouts from the Tax Collector of the Right Noble State of Texas, and figure out what portion of the states tax due on retail sales during the past year were due to which city, school/library/transportation district, county, et cetera … depending on where those sales events event took place. This works out to amounts from between .85 cents to 5.00 due to bodies like the Bulverde independent school district, the city of Goliad and Kendall County as-a-whole. Really, I hope that they do not fritter away my tiny contribution to their yearly budget on frivolous stuff … likely not, since this is Texas where fiscal sanity (outside of certain …ahem … rather more bluish districts) tends to rule. It is unlikely that I will ever have much of a sales presence in deeply indigo-hued locales so I can rest in the assurance that my my own microscopically small contribution to their local economies will not be frivolously squandered.

The other project – the big book project for which I cleared my work calendar so that I could work on it undistracted – is finally within sight of being done. This is the biography of the well-to-do South Texas rancher, who actually had us come down to Brownsville in October to sign the contract … and for us to get an idea of what he wanted for his book. Which finished up having way, way more pictures than originally expected … and it has turned out to be a very elaborate design project. Much more complex in lay-out than I have ever done before, what with all the pictures; many of them had to be re-touched, or scanned in, converted from color to black and white. It took me about three times longer than I expected, and I could only work on it for three or four hours at a stretch without getting twitchy. There’s a lot riding on the client’s satisfaction with the overall look of the project – but so far, he is quite pleased. And I am on schedule as far as getting the book out there, too.

I set my own writing aside in mid-November, because of this and the press of doing all those seasonal market events. I had seven solid chapters of The Golden Road completed, and visualize another fourteen or so, incorporating certain plot twists … and then I had an idea for yet another adventure. This was sparked by reading another writer blog – she does historical romances – and she posted a bit about the Harvey Girls; how the transplanted Englishman Fred Harvey had the radical notion of providing excellent food and sublime service to railroad travelers in the far West … a time and a place where up until then, the fare available pretty much covered the ground between execrable and disgusting. He also had the radical notion to staff his restaurants with female wait-staff, pay them well, and treat them otherwise generously. The Harvey chain provided many an adventurous, middle-class eastern girl with an opportunity to go west – and the more I thought on that … well, I had already ‘done’ the notion of being a school-teacher in a frontier school.

Way back when I was working on Daughter of Texas, I mentally made a note of a leading character having had another family, back in Boston … and that some day, I might have a means to work out one of his descendants coming west. Inspiration works in weird ways. The entire plot and the characters involved sprang into mind, almost fully-fledged – what might lead a respectable young lady of Boston to chuck it all and go west as a waitress in a railway station restaurant? It turned out her reasons were pretty horrific … so now I am back to working on two books simultaneously. This worked very well for me once before; when I got bored or stuck with one, I could work on the other.

Blondie was out in California in January, helping Pippy and Alex sort out Mom and Dad’s house, and getting Mom herself settled in a good assisted-living situation in a place a short distance from Pippy’s house. She’s heading back tomorrow, with Mom’s two cats, to be rehomed with us, some oddments from the house which no one else wanted. And that’s been the tale of my last two weeks. Oh, and the chapter of the newest venture is up at my book website.

We wanted a bit of a holiday, and to get away from the house and the usual jobs for a bit. My daughter wanted to hit up Herweck’s in downtown for some specialty paper for her origami projects. Herweck’s has a lovely stock of interesting papers; in large sheets, which may be cut to size for her origami art projects. I wanted to take some pictures downtown, and we both thought positively of a late lunch at Schilo’s Delicatessen and then … well, to whatever curiosity took us. We were tempted at the outset by a ere was a huge anime convention going on at the HBG convention center, which counted for the large numbers of … interestingly dressed people wandering around. As my daughter somewhat cuttingly remarked, after observing a herd of costumed anime fans, “Too many freaks, not enough circus.” Still, having acquired a taste for this sort of thing when we used to go to the science fiction convention in Salt Lake City when I was stationed in Utah, we thought we might check out the convention, if the price of entry was not too much out of budget. It was too much, as it eventually turned out, and neither of us was into anime sufficiently to properly appreciate the experience … But after walking back from Shilo’s along Market Street, we happened upon the Briscoe Western Art Museum, which was housed in what used to be – so we were assured by the young woman manning the desk – the old downtown public library building.

This was a wonderful construction of 1920s Moderne, newly spiffed up, and the foyer was marvelous. This was a two-story confection with a deeply coffered carved wood ceiling and a band of designs resembling the buffalo and Indian-head nickels around the walls just below the ceiling – all marvelous and detailed. A visit to a building like this once again reminded me of how much I detest and despise the horrid brutality of modern design for public buildings – lean and spare and square, with windows that can’t be opened, no ornamentation of any sort at all, save a stark open square with a concrete turd in a fountain in the middle of it. No, my detestation of modern architectural design of the Bauhaus steel-and-glass-box or concrete-n-glass variety remains undimmed and burns with the white-hot passion of a thousand burning suns … and as it turned out, the entry fee to the Briscoe was a relative pittance, and further reduced by a veteran discount. So – there was a far more economical use of funds and time.

The art on display is of course oriented to the west – lots of scenic vistas, longhorns, cowboys and the like, but leavened with a series of Curtis photographic portraits of Indians, some scenic vistas of border towns, and of the construction of Boulder Dam. As for big-name Western artists, the Briscoe has a small C. M. Russell bronze, and a couple of minor pieces by Frederick Remington, which to my mind is not very much at all, as far as the classic Western artists go. Most of what is there is in the way of art seems to be on loan from local donors and collectors – and it is a rather newish museum after all. Many exhibits are – not strictly speaking – art, but rather historical relics; a classic Concord stagecoach in one gallery – and a renovated chuck-wagon in another. The third-floor galleries had the most interesting items – antique saddles, including one adorned with silver rattlesnakes; once the property of Pancho Villa, and another which once belonged to the Spanish Viceroy in Mexico City. There is also a gallery dedicated to the Alamo – which is only to be expected. It is dominated by one of those elaborate models of the moment when the Alamo was overwhelmed by General Lopez de Santa Anna’s forces – about which I had a small quibble, and another item which raised more questions than the duty guard could answer. (The poor chap is probably curled up in a corner somewhere, quivering.)

This item is a Victorian hair brooch, one of those peculiarly Victorian things – a small lock of hair, made unto a piece of jewelry – usually woven into a pleasing pattern, and preserved under glass in a small setting. They were most often done in order to memorialize a deceased loved one … and this one was supposed to have been … well, the card next to it was singularly uninformative. OK, first of all – was it James Fannin’s hair? Several different alternatives; yes, his – a brooch left with a dear one, after his taking up the position of commander of the Goliad in late 1835. Likely. But his, post-mortem, after the massacre of his company and done after his body lying where it had been left for weeks and weeks? Ooooh – no, don’t think so.

Anyway, we had an interesting time discussing this with the duty guard; it’s true that docents and guards often know rather interesting things about the galleries where they are stationed, often because everyone is always asking them, and being able to give a good answer must be a kind of self-defense. Apparently, he and some of the other guards believe that the Alamo exhibit room is haunted. My daughter says that if any object in that room has the ability to haunt, it would be the gigantic iron 18th century cannon, which was supposed to have been in the Alamo, although if it had any part in the siege, no one knows. It looks like an 18-pounder, and was found buried on private property sometime in this century, so the guard says; the man whose property it was just set it up pointing at his mailbox. We speculated for a while on how it could have finished up buried in the ground, a thing which would have taken at least three ox-teams to move. At the time that the Alamo was the main Spanish presidio in Texas, it was supposed to have had the largest collection of artillery west of the Mississippi and north of the Rio Grande. After Santa Anna’s defeat at San Jacinto, likely the Mexican garrison left to hold the place bugged out with everything they could carry with them. We thought it likely that this particular cannon was dumped, either immediately or after a short distance. The information card at the exhibit offered very little detail – so we had our amusement from speculation.

And that was my bit of a summer holiday – yours?

17. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Geekery, Literary Good Stuff, Wild Blue Yonder

From the temple of Poseidon at Sunion, Greece

From the temple of Poseidon at Sunion, Greece

I see from a link from a Facebook friend that author Mary Steward has passed on to that great and ultimate publisher in the sky. (Facebook links and Twitter posts – I swear, this is how we find out news of a relatively minor nature these days.) She was well into her nineties, and the books that were her mega-popular best-sellers were all from several decades ago. (Including The Crystal Cave – the first of a five-novel retelling of the Arthurian cycle; these are the ones which most readers remember.) I, on the other hand, remember finding, reading and adoring her earlier books – the romantic-suspense-mystery ones. Yes, because they not the least bit risqué, no bad language or anything more sexually-explicit than a fond kiss or a close and comforting embrace – I recollect that I first encountered them in the library when I was middle-school age and no one burst any blood vessels over me reading them. I might even have read them first in the Mount Gleason Junior High library, at that – since the movie that Disney had made from The Moonspinners was shown in the school theater over summer. Although I was a bit disappointed when I looked up the book and read it after seeing the movie. Everything was different, just about! But for the setting and … well, the setting; I did get to appreciate the books, later on – as the memory of the movie faded. Especially those of her books with a setting in Greece; My Brother Michael, (Delphi and environs) and This Rough Magic (Corfu), especially … and then I had a soft spot for her very first book, Madam, Will You Talk? – which was set in southern France. I never did get to check out Corfu – but I did visit Athens and Delphi – and Provence, as well – motivated in large part because of the beautiful way that she had of establishing a place and the character of it.
Never mind about the romance and all … dumpy and rather plain fifteen-year-olds, cursed with glasses and metal braces – still have a wistful affection for romance. Even if the prospective hero is at first meeting grumpy and impatient – even slightly mysterious. Someday, my fifteen-year old self hoped – I would go to Greece, or the South of France, although the romance part was perhaps a little bit too much to hope for.

And I did – but that is another story. At any rate, she and Rosemary Sutcliffe were among the first writers that I came back to, over and over – because of the way that they wrote about a place; every leaf and tree and flower of it. I would like to think that I have taken some lessons from them, or at least had their very good example before me when I began to write about specific places.

09. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Critters, Fun and Games, Geekery, History

Found through Insty – had to watch it several times, giggling.

As a matter of interest as an independent author, with some affection for science fiction … (principally Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, and once upon a time for Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series, both of which explored in an interesting and readable way, a whole range of civilizational conceits and technologies with a bearing on what they produced vis-a-viz political organizations, man-woman relations, and alternate societies of the possible future … oh, where was I? Complicated parenthetical sentence again; science fiction. Right-ho, Jeeves – back on track.) … I have been following the current SFWA-bruhaha with the fascinated interest of someone squeezing past a spectacular multi-car pile-upon the Interstate. Not so much – how did this happen, and whose stupid move at high speed impelled the disaster – but how will it impact ordinary commuters in their daily journey, and will everyone walk away from it OK? So far, the answers to that are pretty much that it will only matter to those directly involved (although it will be productive of much temporary pain) and yes – pretty near everyone will walk away. Scared, scarred, P-O’d and harboring enduring grudges, but yes, they will walk away, personally and professionally. Some of these are walking away at speed and being pretty vocal about why.

The crux of the matter in this particular instance, is that the SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America – hey, what happened to the ampersand and the second F … guess the domain name was already taken or something) – got overtaken by the minions of the politically correct. The SWFA is, or was – a professional association of writers of science fiction and fantasy materiel (traditionally-published writers only, BTW), intended as a kind of support group, to lobby with publishers on behalf of wronged writers, and provide professional services, like health insurance. Sort of like the AARP … only for science fiction and fantasy writers. Alas, it seems that the minions of the politically-correct now appear to insist that to be members in good standing and to be considered for various book awards (and this is the short version) one must write glum and politically-correct bricks of sensitivity, emphasizing obedience to all kinds of shibboleths regarding race, gender, et al. Never mind about writing a cracking good story … the glum gruel of a liberal arts curricula at an expensive university is what the Social Justice Warriors at the SFWA have said we should have, and that readers deserve to get it, good and hard. Through a tube down the nasal passage, apparently, if all else fails. Naturally, being a somewhat cantankerous and creative provider of popular amusement, many of the existing membership has sad ‘no’ and not just no, but ‘no, with bells on.’ It seems from various discussion threads that many of the long-standing, better-selling and more popular creators are bailing out of SFWA, or at least, warning caution.

The organization may survive – or not. From the viewpoint of someone passing by the tangled wreckage on the Interstate, it’s of only academic interest. But I began to meditate on it all – another once-thriving and valued establishment, overtaken by the grand Gramscian march through our social and political establishments. Sure – they have taken them over, but at what cost? Yes, the politically correct, the Social Justice Warriors in every theater and establishment … they HAVE taken them over – and many others besides the SFWA, but at what cost if what they have is just a wrecked and hollow establishment?
So, this leaves me to wonder, whither SFWA? If the popular writers, with an existing or a soon-burgeoning readership leave, what then as far as the future of the organization is concerned? Indeed, what then, o wolves?

What then, of the many institutions, taken over and hollowed out by the Social Justice Warriors, or their Gramscian ilk? Most of them are bigger and more influential, then a little pool of writers perpetrating science fiction and fantasy … and yet they also appear to be ridden by factionalism, if not teetering on the edge then cratering economically. Just a few and from off the top of my head – the Episcopal Church, old-line print publications like Newsweek and Ladies’ Home Journal (and possibly very soon Time Magazine, too), and broadcast networks like CNN and MSNBC. Instapundit often points out how colleges and universities are staggering, and how more and more people who can are choosing to home-school their children. I can just barely remember the last Oscar-nominated movie that I went to see in a theater, (The King’s Speech, BTW) and the TV audience for the Oscars is plummeting also. Mainstream publishing is fragmenting, as independent writers go out on their own, cable television is also fragmenting. Just as the long march through the institutions is nearly complete … the institutions themselves crumble. They are run into the ground, as the audience, consumers, and genuinely creative flee in all directions.

There is talk of a non-ideological organization to replace the SFWA; likely the disaffected refugees from the establishments and organizations listed above (as well as many, many others) will form new associations. Creative destruction at work? I’d like to think so. Discuss.
(cross-posted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

OK – so, since we are now almost a year into giving the heave-ho to cable TV, and busily exploring the delights available through Hulu/Amazon Prime/Acorn, I took it into my head that I should like to watch the original Upstairs, Downstairs series. The very first season of this, which aired on Masterpiece Theater when it was hosted by Alistair Cooke, was seriously truncated when it showed on PBS … which was when I was in college, umpty-umph years ago. Not only did I miss seeing most of the first season, but I also missed absolutely all of the last season, through having enlisted in the Air Force and promptly been assigned overseas. That was the season which romped through the post WWI decade. Very likely I missed other episodes throughout the run of the program. Although I regretted this, I have always declined to spend however much it would cost to buy the entire series of Upstairs, Downstairs, no matter how much I wanted to watch it and no matter how much it is marked down through Amazon specials, or considered in comparison to How Much It Would Have Cost When First Made Available. (Yes, I laid out an ungodly sum of money for the VHS set of Jewel In The Crown, which I watched again and again and thoroughly enjoyed, but never again shall I spend more than I did then for a costume mini-series. So, bite me, vendors of classic TV series – I will wait and wait and wait until the ones that I want are available in slightly-used DVD editions. Or on streaming internet … yes, where was I? Oh – Upstairs, Downstairs.)

First off, my daughter says that she hopes that producers, writers and show-runners for Downton Abbey are paying a mint, or at least giving the original producers miles and miles of artistic credit and acknowledgements. Downton has re-used sooooo many characters and situations. They’re probably in public domain these days, though – so never mind.

Yes, it is screamingly obvious that the first season was produced on the cheap – and very obviously on a set; outdoor shots were at a bare, bare, bare and almost daily soap-opera minimum. My daughter even noticed the walls shivering slightly, whenever a door slams. Outdoor scenes only begin occurring in the second season, wherein Miss Lizzie’s marriage is turning to dust and ashes. There’s a lot more indoor-to-outdoor scenes at that point; obviously there’s more in the budget, and the producers pretty much established the cast below-stairs that would carry on for the next four.

But dear god – what they had to do for the female leads’ costumes. Not so much for downstairs; plain black or pastel-colored long-sleeved dresses with elaborate aprons – hard to mess up the working costumes of the female working class way back then. Their get-up was obviously uniform and practical. But for Upstairs, they obviously, went into some vast internal closet for long dresses that at a squint appeared vaguely Edwardian. A good few of Lady Marjorie’s costumes look as if the costume department had cornered a herd of wild 1960s upholstered furniture, slaughtered them whole-sale, skinned them, and made her dresses from their pelts. It’s bad. How bad? I frequently spotted my own particular bête noir when it comes to period pieces; obvious zippers up the back. No – in my admittedly less than expert study of female costume, circa 18th-19th-early 20th centuries … zippers did most emphatically not figure. They fastened in just about every other way and in every other place than a zipper up the center-back seam. Trust me, when I tell you this. Let this particular book – Nancy Bradfield’s Costume in Detail be a guide, should you wish further enlightenment. I leaned on it rather heavily, in working out Lady Isobel’s wardrobe in Quivera Trail; my own take on the perils and challenges of Upstairs and Downstairs. Otherwise – I am enjoying renewing my acquaintance with the series, and if memory serves, the latter seasons did get very much better as popularity of the series grew.

When a writers’ organization forgets that its primary goal should be to assist and support writers and starts trying to look more politically correct and then to force that image on all members or else they be publicly shamed, it has outlived its time.
(From a comment by Amanda, at the discussion thread here.) For an explanation of glittery hoo-haa, go here – and remember, you have been warned.

Now, aren’t you all glad that I have taken to writing historical fiction? Those organizations which I am interested in joining, or semi-qualified to join based upon scribbling moderately competent, interesting, and OK-selling genre fiction (Women Writing the West, or the Historical Fiction Society) are not having these nuclear-melt-down-sink-through-to-the-core-of-the-earth perturbations. Or at least, none that I know of – mostly because I am interested in writing, not organizational politics, because – what was the reason for the writers’ organization again? Oh, yeah – the care and feeding of writers, and their economic interests, not some kind of neo-Stalinist clique imposing a kind of savage Mean Girls political correctness upon the membership and exiling all those who don’t or won’t go along with it.
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It’s been a quiet week here at Chez Hayes this last week – mostly because of the latest round of global warming which swept through here on Friday and left every tree twig and leaf encased in a medium-thick shell of ice – the streets and sidewalks also. We had quite forgotten the odd rattling noise produced when the breeze blows through the branches of a tree thus treated by ice-cold rain and temperatures plunging well below 20 degrees for a good few hours overnight. We very deliberately scheduled all necessary errands for Wednesday and Thursday, not wanting to need to go anywhere at all on Friday. Walking the dogs was adventure enough, with patches of slick ice everywhere. No, I did not want to risk either of our lives or the continued good condition of either car by driving anywhere. Not only am I out of practice with regard to driving on ice and snow – I have seen south Texas drivers driving in heavy rain. No-bloody-thank-you.

The sale of the Tiny Bidness to me proceeds apace. My business partner’s niece and executor wants to see that her dearly-loved aunt winds up the business properly; all the bills paid, and whatever monies are left in the main account go to her. The business has supported my partner for a good few years, and I hope that it will do the same for Blondie and I. She had a secure base in the home that she and her husband owned, and in Social Security – which she pas paid into all of her working life. I have the military pension, and what comes in from my own books – the Tiny Bidness serves to provide the extras. The agreement is that I will pay the costs of the legal eagle who will draw up the agreement transferring the other company assets to me: the website, the care of reoccurring clients, the various files, three shelves worth of publisher copies of the various published books, whatever passes for DBA certificates, intangible things such as client good-will, the good-will and knowledge of several local providers of services … in another week or so, it will all be mine.

I am naturally restraining myself from romping, Scrooge McDuck-wise, through an Olympic-swimming-pool-sized pool of gold coins. It’s not that kind of company and likely will never be otherwise in this age of Obama, even if I had a mad wish for that to be the case. No, I will deliberately keep it small, personal, depend on personal connections and good service rendered. I may eventually have a storefront office, just for the look of things – but I think to depend otherwise on taking client meetings at a local chain’s coffee shop locations. I swear, there are probably more deals made over their tables by small niche businesses and independent salespeople than practically any other venue. As for assistance in the business, I’ll be training Blondie up in it; first assignment, to memorize the Chicago Manual of Style, and second; learn Photoshop inside and out. I also negotiated an exhibitor space at the upcoming second annual San Antonio Book Festival. Alas, they are being a trifle rigid about subsidy publishers, so an exhibitor space is about the best that I can do. None of my own books would be eligible to be nominated; they lifted their requirements from the Texas Book Festival in Austin – and that organization is also rather snotty about books published by subsidy presses, or those published by their authors. No one has explained some of the facts of the current publishing life to them – which is that there are writers taking it all very seriously and hiring editors, book designers and cover designers and marketing talent out of their own pocket and producing a book every bit as good as or better than those produced the traditional way.

I already have a good client, with promise of repeat business; a retired Army officer and amateur historian, who has a series of five books – or rather, original documents to do with the Civil War in the Hill Country, which he has pulled out from various sources, and annotated through his own research. This is just the sort of thing which the Tiny Bidness has specialized in – and he is no end chuffed that I already am familiar with the events and dramatis personae. So … to work. And to work some

Dawn and Bird of Paradise - smaller

Dawn over the Guajito with bird-of-paradise bushes, January 2010.

One would have to possess a heart of stone, to read about the grand Antarctic expedition intended to prove that the Antarctic ice was melting at an unprecedented rate… get stuck in the ice!

(Found at Samizdata)

Our Booth  After Rearrangement
That is what our booth at the Boerne Market Days contained this last weekend – the first time that we have done Boerne Market Days as a vendor and not as a strolling shopper. Saturday morning was rainy in San Antonio, and the skies were overcast all day. None of the vendors minded not having any sunshine – as long as it didn’t rain! We had a nicely-placed booth space, about midway between the bandstand at one end, and the food-trucks parked at the other. By the way, the gorditas are fab. Sometimes they make the chicken gordita with cut-up chicken chunks, instead of ground chicken meat – but still tasty, anyway. Another good thing – one of the big trash cans was right in front of us, so no need to set aside a bag for our own trash. And it was a landmark for anyone looking for us.

My daughter and I have done a lot of book events, some of them in conjunction with a craft fair, like Goliad’s Christmas on the Square, so we pretty much know the drill; bring tablecloths, plenty of stock (packed in plastic tubs with lids) plenty of change, receipt books, lots of flyers, postcards and business cards, and something to ornament the table with … and chocolate candy. Most everyone likes chocolate, although one of the most relentless book marketer I know has a cookbook with recipes incorporating lemons – she makes lemon cookies or cake, and gives away samples.

This time, we had two more improvements to our retail efforts; a folding dolly hand-truck, which can carry one of the heaviest tubs and one of the lighter ones at a time, and folds up very compactly… no, it isn’t industrial-strength, but better than schlepping the heaviest tubs of books by hand for half a block or more. $20 bucks at Sam’s Club, which might very well be the best and most useful $20 ever spent there, over the long haul. The other was a little attachment for my daughter’s cellphone, which allows us to process credit card payments to her Tiny Bidness Paypal account. We couldn’t process credit/debit accounts before, which has sometimes been a bit of a bind since … well, not too terribly many people carry around checkbooks any more, or cash, either – and going to an ATM and getting cash for a sale is sometimes a bit of an inconvenience for people.

If we keep this up – this making an appearance on the regular market circuit – there are certain things that we will just have to get, in addition to the storage tubs and the hand-truck. We rented the pop-up tent, two folding tables and a chair from the Boerne Market Days management, but eventually we will have to get our own 10 X 10 pop-up; most of the other regular vendors had them, in varying degrees of quality, with zip-up sidewalls for additional privacy, security and shelter from the elements. We will also probably invest in a pair of banners, either to clip to the front of the pop-up or to the front of the table, advertising our various enterprises.
We made back and a bit more the amount that we paid for the space, and rental of the conveniences – but not very much more. We talked to many other vendors, who were similarly disappointed. Either it’s just not close enough to Christmas to loosen the purse strings – or that everyone is looking at the current economic situation with a very tight hold on the pocket-book.

Even so, this last weekend was a learning experience – and one of them was that Boerne Market Days is very animal friendly. A lot of shoppers had dogs on leashes, and one iconoclast among the vendors eve had a pair of infant goats on display. They were such cute babies – but I am told that when they are fully-grown, they can be evil in the extreme.

From a blog Pointman’s, some interesting notes on True Believers, past and present…

The activists swallowed the dream whole. As the apparent success of National Socialism became visible with improving times, it became more reasonable to actively pursue the elements who’d caused the bad times. The denunciations in the mainstream media became gradually more vile. Suitably qualified scientists wrote erudite papers proving Aryans were a superior breed and Jews were the human equivalent to vermin. The first easy step on the road to the Final Solution is to dehumanise the opposition.

All Jewish professors were removed from universities on the flimsiest pretexts without a peep from their colleagues and shortly after the Rassenregeln or race rules legislation was passed. Soon, not only was university entrance barred to them but any position of authority or any decent profession. All they owned was confiscated, which actually meant looted. They became an extensible threat. Anyone else in a position of influence who didn’t bend the knee to the regime was deemed to have been infected by Jewish ideas and could therefore be dealt with similarly.

The pseudo science of Eugenics melded with a deliberate and perverted interpretation of Darwin’s theory of evolution and the Nazi sympathisers in academia and science, swung right behind the ideas of that bastard mutant and lent it a spurious authority for the common person. State approved scientists are always well rewarded. It was now settled science and whatever happened to the Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, disabled, mentally handicapped and other inferior races or defective types was just natural selection in action.

Children were sucked into political education organisations like the Hitler Youth, so they too could embrace the dream. They grew up to blow up half of Europe.

Every single organ of the mainstream media blasted the same message at the populace. Any dissenting journalists were soon weeded out and a lot of them fled their own country. They had lots of company in doing that, not least talented scientists who went on to work on the Manhattan Project, which they knew was always intended to deliver a nuclear bomb on Germany, their homeland.

By the end of the thirties, the nightmare subtext of national socialism had gradually split society into two factions; the true believers and everyone else.

The true believers had thrived and were in ruthless control of every organ of state, from the Reich’s chancellery right down to the local parish organisations. They just knew they were a part of something new and glorious. The young middling educated class was fatally susceptible to the dream because it provided a way out of all those slick, articulate but conflicting viewpoints by all those other clever people. It means no more sorting through which one is right, no more doubts about which side of the question they have to be on, an end to uncertainty.

Suddenly it’s been simplified. It’s all about reducing the complication, boiling it down to one thing, perhaps even a few simple phrases. Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer – one people, one empire, one leader. Shout it loud brothers and sisters, shout it proud, the more you shout it, the truer it becomes. Join us children of a higher destiny on our great crusade to bring about the thousand-year Aryan Reich. All that’s left is to get the faint hearts amongst us on our side, and we’re going to do that, whether they want it or not. Sacrifices to achieve the dream will have to be made.

(Read the whole thing – found through Classical Values.)

And I did notice certain musical trends, and many of them for the worst. Enjoy