Archive for Miscellaneous Musings

Surefire Indication of a Wave Election

front page of 11/5/2008 Washington Post, laminated, for sale at Rainbow Gifts for $8/copy, now discounted to $5/copy

front page of 11/5/2008 Washington Post, laminated, for sale at Rainbow Gifts for $8/copy, now discounted to $5/copy

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I voted yesterday, then promptly “forgot” an election was going on. I didn’t bother to listen to the results last night and did not tune in to the radio or Internet on my ride into work. So I didn’t know who had won in Virginia, or if the Democrats had held the Senate, or if the Republicans had taken the Senate, or if they had, by how many seats.

Beneath my office suite, underground on the main retail level of my building, is a sundries and gift shop called Rainbow Gifts. As long as I have been eating lunch at a table next to their entrance, the “featured item” nearest the door has been a laminated Washington Post front page from November 5, 2008 with the giant headline, “Obama Makes History.” Taped to the laminated page is a hand-written note that says, “Do you need a copy? If so, please speak to the cashier. $8”

Out of curiosity, I took a peek first thing this morning before heading upstairs to my cubicle. The laminated front page is still hanging where it had always been hanging. It still has a hand-written note taped to it. Only the note now reads:

“Do you need a copy? If so, please speak to the cashier. $5”

That $3 discount represents a decrease of 37.5% — a very husky overnight reduction. Even the price of gas hasn’t been going down that fast.

I guess this means “Obama Makes History” in a different way: biggest losses to a sitting president’s party in a mid-term election???

Theodore Sturgeon’s Law for October 31, 2014

ted04c

Happy Halloween! Something about the day and the morning’s train ride to work got me thinking about Sturgeon’s Law, which can be paraphrased as, “Sure, 90% of science fiction is crap, but then 90% of everything is crap.”

This is, quite possibly, the most famous quote to ever emerge from the universe of science fiction. So famous that not a day goes by without the quote appearing in a news article.

That notion got me curious. In what news articles would Sturgeon’s Law be quoted or referred to on Halloween, 2014?

Google makes life easy for those embarking on such absurd quests. I found a grand total of 26 news articles that fit my criteria. I selected a sample of four.

One, “Artists expected to toe the official line,” is about the travails of Irish artists who dare to criticize their local art scene. Another, “I like most films I watch. Am I a sucker?” is about a desire by a film critic to watch and enjoy bad films. The third, “Tuba instructor works hard to fight musical stereotypes,” is about a song a tuba instructor composed in order to fight prejudice against tuba players (really). And the fourth, “Tim Cook Makes Waves, Creates Ripple Effect,” is about the CEO of Apple coming out as gay. Richard Adhikari, the author of the last article, writes for TechNewsWorld, E-Commerce Times, and LinuxInsider.com and mentions Sturgeon’s Law in his byline self-description block, so Theodore Sturgeon is mentioned (indirectly and parenthetically) in every single article he writes.

This is a fun little game. If I get enough positive feedback, I may make this a recurring feature of FantasticalAndrewFox.com. What say you?

The New Immortality of Authors and Books

Headstone with flowers

I’d like to pose (and attempt to answer) four related questions. When is a relationship dead? When is a writer dead? When is an author dead? When is a book dead?

When is a relationship dead? When one of the two parties who formerly made up the relationship refuses to continue to relate. One party may continue to try. But with only one party making an effort, the relationship is dead.

I’m thinking about this very frequently nowadays. My relationships with my mother and my step-father are dead. They refuse to talk with me. When I was in the hospital for six days, they made no attempt to contact me, nor did they send a get-well card. They were not ignorant; my brother and sister filled them in regarding my distress and situation.

I recently received the news, through my sister, that my step-father is ailing. I asked my oldest son, Levi, if he would like to send his grandfather a get-well card, even though his grandfather no longer sends him letters, cards, or gifts. He said he wanted to send a get-well card, anyway, so I went out and bought one for him, put stamps on it, addressed it for him, and let him fill in the inside with a personal message. I also added a brief message of my own, very simple — “Dad, I hope you feel better soon. Love, Andy.”

By servicing the dead, one services the living. I was servicing the dead, and I was teaching my son to do the same. When we visit a gravestone and place flowers by it (or small pebbles from home, as is a common Jewish custom), we are servicing the dead, but in truth, we are servicing the living — ourselves. We are preserving a sense of connection with the departed and remembering the loving times we spent together. My step-father is dead to me. But by sending him a card with a brief message, I am recalling the years of love we shared, before he decided to cut off our relationship. I am also teaching my son that sometimes it is good and proper to take the effort to send someone something of yourself, even if you cannot expect any response in return.

A writer is no more than a person who writes. The only relationship necessary for writership is that between a writer and his or her work. When is a writer dead? A writer is dead when the person who writes dies.

An author is a writer who has an audience other than him or herself; the audience can be as small as one other person. Authorship is a type of relationship, a three-way relationship: the relationship between the author and his work; the relationship between the author and his reader(s); and the relationship between the author’s work and the reader(s). When is an author dead? An author is dead when all three of those relationships are severed, and they may be severed when only one party in the relationship is failing to maintain the relationship. In the relationship between the author and his work, the author can renounce his work and stop writing. In the relationship between the author and his reader(s), either party can stop sustaining a relationship which has been built. In the relationship between an author’s work and its audience, either the work can go out of print and be discarded from all lending libraries (the work severs the relationship), or the audience can stop reading the work.

When is a book dead? Either when the book is no longer available to persons who might otherwise be its audience, or its existing and potential audiences stop reading it.

The new hybrid forms of writer-publisher and author-publisher means that fewer writers, authors, and books will die. The assurance of publication means a writer will likely continue to write and continue to have a relationship with his work. The availability of social media, blogs, and websites means that an author’s direct relationship with readers need not cease until the author’s death. And the invention of ebooks, which need never go out of print, mean that very few books of lasting worth will ever die, for they will always be available to the readers who are willing to search them out.

I used to be an author; I was a writer with an audience. Now, having lost the majority of my audience, I am once again a writer. But by starting my own small press and publishing my books as both ebooks and physical books, I am taking steps to achieve life after death for me as an author and for my books.

Washington, DC Must Be Doing All Right

BMW x5 purple
…during this supposed nationwide economic downturn. This morning, while walking from my Virginia Railway Express station at L’Enfant Station to my office, an eight-block walk away, I saw two BMW x5 sport utility vehicles turn onto Avenue D simultaneously, a silver one in one turn lane and a purple one in the other turn lane. Right next to each other. I realize this isn’t as extraordinary as seeing, say, two Ferraris driving side by side. Still, what are the chances of seeing two such luxury sport utility vehicles side by side, apart from at a BMW dealership (or maybe Beverly Hills)? And mind you, I’m talking Southwest Washington, DC, a quadrant of governmental agency headquarters, not an enclave of multi-millionaire movie stars. Hey, I’m not cashing in during this Gold Rush. When I’m not riding the train, I’m driving a Kia Rondo.

Super-Sized Showa Era Sadness (the Way the Future Once Looked)

These retro-futuristic images from Japanese magazines struck a chord in me. They raised emotions in my breast (bemused sadness and nostalgic longing) which are probably the precise opposite of the emotions their artists, either in the halcyon days of pre-WW 2 Japan or in the wildly optimistic and forward-looking Japan of the early 1960s, intended to inspire when they originally created these images (I imagine the artists, if they had any goal at all aside from cashing a paycheck, wanted to elicit feelings of awe and happy anticipation at the marvels the future would bring).

I think the reason these images inspire bemused sadness and nostalgic longing in me is that they were originally published, not in the pages of Japanese science fiction magazines, but in the Japanese equivalent of our American magazine Popular Mechanics, which meant that these gigantic, awe-inspiring machines were fanciful or fantastical versions of machines which were thought to be (someday) practical and buildable. Suffice to say, Japan never saw propeller driven trains like these envisioned in 1936 (this one’s my favorite in this little selection; just take a gander at those fabulous passengers you can see through the windows!):

Japanese propeller trains from 1936

Or a super ocean liner which, when in distress, could launch self-contained life boat cruisers from a sea-level launching platform (I wonder whether or not the artist had any notion that just a few years after he would pen this drawing, the U.S. submarine fleet would be sending the majority of the Japanese merchant fleet to the bottom of the Pacific; probably not):

Japanese futuristic ocean liner launching life boats in 1936

Or an Arctic exploration vehicle which carries its own biplane (and all with US markings, too, a rather remarkable detail from a drawing published in a late 1930s Japanese popular magazine):

Japanese pre-war US Arctic exploration vehicle

Or this pre-war era car riding on super-sized tires or these boats floating on similarly giant-sized water-propulsion treads:

Japanse futuristic vehicles from 1936

Or these bicycle-like human-powered aircraft from 1965:

Japanese human-powered aircraft from 1965

On the other hand, Japan has witnessed magnetic levitation trains, perhaps not quite as outrageous as this one from 1964, though:

Japanese mag-lev train from 1964 Shonen Magazine

What flittered through my brain as I looked at these images (brought to us by those good folks at the Dark Roasted Blend website, which specializes in daily sharings of retro-futuristic images from around the world) is that the artists who drew them with such optimistic hopes in their souls have either been dead and buried for years or now reside in Japanese nursing homes, and the futuristic vehicles with which they graced the covers and interiors of popular Japanese mechanics magazines either never came to fruition or (like the magnetic levitation train) ended up being super-expensive disappointments.

Oh, well… they’re still marvelous to look at, aren’t they?

Rethinking the Relationship Between Drinking, Writing, and Depression

glass-of-whiskey-bottle-and-opened-book-on-home-table

This month, a major book on the connection between writing and drinking is set to appear in the United States: The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink.

Here is an excerpt:

“(M)odern American literature is strewn with examples of alcoholic excess: Poe, Hemingway, Faulkner (‘I usually write at night. I always keep my whiskey within reach’), Hart Crane, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Dorothy Parker (‘I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy’), Ring Lardner, Raymond Chandler, O Henry, Jack London, Delmore Schwartz, F. Scott Fitzgerald, (‘Too much champagne is just right’), John Berryman, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, Anne Sexton, Patricia Highsmith – the list is long even without including those, such as Hunter S Thompson, more renowned for their experiments with other substances…”

Back in June, 2013, The Guardian newspaper included this in their review of the British edition:

“Why is it that some of the greatest works of literature have been produced by writers in the grip of alcoholism, an addiction that cost them personal happiness and caused harm to those who loved them? In The Trip to Echo Spring, Olivia Laing examines the link between creativity and alcohol through the work and lives of six extraordinary men: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever and Raymond Carver.”

American literary author William Styron has written perhaps the best known account of depression in a writer’s life:

(The following is excerpted from Darkness Visible (1990), which was expanded from a 1989 Vanity Fair article)

“… (A)rtistic types (especially poets) are particularly vulnerable to the disorder—which in its graver, clinical manifestation takes upward of 20 percent of its victims by way of suicide. Just a few of these fallen artists, all modern, make up a sad but scintillant roll call: Hart Crane, Vincent Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Arshile Gorky, Cesare Pavese, Romain Gary, Sylvia Plath, Mark Rothko, John Berryman, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Diane Arbus, Tadeusz Borowski, Paul Celan, Anne Sexton, Sergei Esenin, Vladimir Mayakovsky—the list goes on. …”

“The depression that engulfed me was not of the manic type—the one accompanied by euphoric highs—which would have most probably presented itself earlier in my life. I was sixty when the illness struck for the first time … The storm which swept me into a hospital in December of 1985 began as a cloud no bigger than a wine goblet the previous June. And the cloud—the manifest crisis—involved alcohol, a substance I had been abusing for forty years. Like a great many American writers, whose sometimes lethal addiction to alcohol has become so legendary as to provide in itself a stream of studies and books, I used alcohol as the magical conduit to fantasy and euphoria, and to the enhancement of the imagination. … Alcohol was an invaluable senior partner of my intellect, besides being a friend whose ministrations I sought daily—sought also, I now see, as a means to calm the anxiety and incipient dread that I had hidden away for so long somewhere in the dungeons of my spirit.

“The trouble was, at the beginning of this particular summer, that I was betrayed. It struck me quite suddenly, almost overnight: I could no longer drink. It was as if my body had risen up in protest, along with my mind, and had conspired to reject this daily mood bath which it had so long welcomed and, who knows, perhaps even come to need. …

“Neither by will nor by choice had I become an abstainer; the situation was puzzling to me, but it was also traumatic, and I date the onset of my depressive mood from the beginning of this deprivation.”

I believe the popular notion of the causal connection between alcohol or drug use, depression, and writing generally falls into one or another line of causality (often portrayed in dramatic films about the decline of famous writers into alcoholism):

Drinking/drugging => Creativity => Writing => Isolation/Failure => Depression => More drinking/drugging/mental breakdown/suicide

Or:

Creativity => Drinking/drugging => Writing => Isolation/Failure => Depression => More drinking/drugging/mental breakdown/suicide

I have long held a different theory. My personal theory was recently borne out in real-life, when I spent six days in a psychiatric hospital following an emotional breakdown caused by my oldest son’s violent autistic fits, learning of his mistreatment due to those fits at the hands of his teachers and administrators at his public elementary school, and a longstanding estrangement with two of my three parents.

In the psychiatric hospital, I was required to attend group therapy sessions between three and four times each day. I generally shared the room with about a dozen other patients. These patients were divided between convicts remanded from the penal system for treatment of drug or alcohol abuse; alcoholics or drug overdosers who had been sent there from another hospital; and people, such as myself, who were suffering from severe depression, anxiety attacks, or bipolar disorder. I was one of the few individuals who had decided to have myself committed, rather than being committed by an institution of the state or a panel of physicians.

One early group therapy session asked us to use a few words to identify ourselves. Among my words was the label, “writer.” I was surprised to find that, among this random assortment of a dozen alcoholics, drug abusers, convicts, ex-cons, and victims of mental disorders, two other people also freely identified themselves as “writers.” Both were alcoholics and drug abusers. I was unique in that I was not; I had committed myself solely due to depression and panic attacks, not substance abuse of any sort.

This encounter helped support my longtime theory of the actual casual relationships between depression, drinking or drug abuse, and writing. In my theory, the relationships are parallel, not sequential, and are not necessarily shared among all sufferers of depression.

Andy Fox’s Theory:

(1) Depression => Drinking/drugging as self-medication/self-soothing => relief of symptoms (most often temporary)

AND (possibly shared by the same individuals as above, but not necessarily so)

(2) Depression => Writing as self-medication/self-soothing => relief of symptoms (most often temporary)

Thus, in my theory, the experiencing of depression is the root cause of both drinking/drugging and/or writing. Writing and drinking/drugging are parallel attempts by an individual at self-medicating. So writing and drinking are not causal of one another but rather are associated through their common cause of the experience of depression and the need for an individual to self-soothe. I have been very fortunate, I believe, to have been a participant in (2) but not a participant in (1), whereas the two young women I shared my group therapy sessions with were participants in both (1) and (2).

My insight or theory is shared by other persons who have reflected on this subject:

Blogger Ian Ferguson:

“Writing is a physical act, an act that must be performed, for without that act of writing, a melancholy descends like a fine black shroud, a depression of sorts, one that can only be broken by breaking the inertia of non-writing. The ink of the pen is the serotonin for the writer and when the drug is administered, the writer is happy and healthy again …”

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, “Why Do Writers Write?”

“I wonder what a writer’s brain looks like on writing? … (S)cientists should lock 50 contestants in a room and hook them up to brain scanners and blood monitors to better understand what’s happening underneath their cranial hoods. Maybe they’d discover the very act of writing – of being creative – causes the brain to release a flood of euphoria-inducing chemicals.”

I also greatly wonder what a writer’s brain looks like “on writing.” I strongly suspect that the patterns of brain activity which focuses on the creation of fictional worlds, fictional people, and the relationships between those fictional people and their fictional worlds, if charted on a brain scanning machine, would mimic those produced by a runner’s high (or by serotonin uptake inhibitors). The writer’s mind produces temporary effects most similar to the effects produced by anti-depressant drugs.

I first went on an antidepressant back in late 1997, following my divorce from my first wife. I’d had some form of depression since childhood. A few years later I went off it, had some more bad times, then went back on. I’ve stayed on a fairly low dosage between 2004 and 2013, when I suffered my emotional breakdown and had my dosage of Prozac tripled. I recall fearing when I first went onto Prozac back in 1997 that my fiction writing would suffer. Actually, my fiction writing went into high overdrive, and I completed my most successful novel to date, comic horror novel Fat White Vampire Blues, entirely under the influence of my first prescription of Prozac. Even since my dosage has been tripled, my writing quantity and quality have not suffered in the least. Rather, my daily acts of writing, of ordering fictional worlds and people in my head, seem to strengthen the anti-depressive effects of the drug.

Neuroscientists have begun to perform actual research into my insight/theory and are proving it to be right on the mark:

“What scientists have come to realize in the last few years is that narratives activate many other parts of our brains as well, suggesting why the experience of reading can feel so alive. Words like ‘lavender,’ ‘cinnamon’ and ‘soap,’ for example, elicit a response not only from the language-processing areas of our brains, but also those devoted to dealing with smells.

“In a 2006 study published in the journal NeuroImage, researchers in Spain asked participants to read words with strong odor associations, along with neutral words, while their brains were being scanned by a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. When subjects looked at the Spanish words for ‘perfume’ and ‘coffee,’ their primary olfactory cortex lit up; when they saw the words that mean ‘chair’ and ‘key,’ this region remained dark. The way the brain handles metaphors has also received extensive study; some scientists have contended that figures of speech like ‘a rough day’ are so familiar that they are treated simply as words and no more. Last month, however, a team of researchers from Emory University reported in Brain & Language that when subjects in their laboratory read a metaphor involving texture, the sensory cortex, responsible for perceiving texture through touch, became active. Metaphors like ‘The singer had a velvet voice’ and ‘He had leathery hands’ roused the sensory cortex, while phrases matched for meaning, like ‘The singer had a pleasing voice’ and ‘He had strong hands,’ did not. …

“The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.”

Horrified by Obamacare? Take a Prescription from These 13 Evil Doctors and Nurses

Today is Halloween, America’s horror holiday. Health care is all over the news, with millions of Americans HORRIFIED by cancelled health insurance policies, skyrocketing insurance rates, and a government-run website which devours one’s hours and exposes one’s personal info to all the world’s Internet scammers. We could all use a distraction. So what could be a better prescription for Halloween distraction than a Top Thirteen List of Pop Culture’s Most Evil Doctors and Nurses?

Notice – this is a list of the most evil, not the most famous. So I’m not including the most famous mad doctor of them all, Dr. Victor Frankenstein (or, in the movie version, Dr. Henry Frankenstein). I’m leaving out the good Dr. Frankenstein because he really is the good Dr. Frankenstein – he embarks upon his experiments with the purest of intentions, wanting only to further the cause of Science and advance mankind’s knowledge. He doesn’t intend to unleash a homicidal monster on the world. (Unlike, perhaps, the drafters of the 1100 page Obamacare law.)

So here’s my list of a baker’s dozen Evil Doctors and Nurses, going from Least Evil to Most Evil.

(13) Zombie Nurse from Dawn of the Dead (1978)
zombie nurse Dawn of the Dead

Okay, technically, Zombie Nurse isn’t really evil… she’s just misguided, and really, really hungry. But she’s one of the bit players from George A. Romero’s horror classic who never fades from your mind. Because isn’t the notion of a nurse who wants to devour your flesh just a wee bit disturbing?

(12) Dr. Genessier from Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Eyes Without a Face

Climbing the evil scale just a bit, we come to Dr. Genessier, protagonist of Georges Franju’s atmospheric Franco-Italian co-production. Yes, he’s a murderer, but he has the best interests of his daughter, Christiane, at heart. Don’t take that at face value, however; Dr. Genessier’s game is to acquire a fresh face for Christiane, who has been horribly disfigured in a fire. His pursuit of Christiane’s happiness involves multiple heterograft surgeries, the removals of entire faces from healthy young women. Unfortunately, Christiane’s body rejects them, one after one. What’s a daddy to do, when his daughter is so unpleasable?

(11) Dr. Bill Cortner from The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1959)
Brain That Wouldn't Die

Dr. Cortner faces a similar dilemma to that of Dr. Genessier. In this case, it’s his fiancée, Jan, who desperately requires his medical skills. Poor Jan was decapitated in a car wreck, but clever Dr. Cortner finds a way to keep her head alive… sort of. Of course, being mounted on a liquid-filled tray isn’t much of a life, so the good doctor goes in search of a donor of a body from the neck down. Not too many of those get advertised on Craig’s List, unfortunately…

(10) Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
nurseratched

Nurse Ratched may be the most subtle evil practitioner of medicine on this list. She doesn’t do anything overtly bad to any of the patients at the Oregon State Hospital; any accrediting auditor who would follow her around to observe quality of care would probably give her high marks for professionalism. Still, she drives one patient to suicide, maneuvers another into a lobotomy, and destroys the self-esteem of the whole lot. A career-making (and career-destroying) performance by Louise Fletcher, who won an Academy Award for Best Actress and became so associated with Nurse Ratched that she was never offered another role a tenth as good.

(9) Master George Sims from Bedlam (1946)
karloff-bedlam

I had to get Boris Karloff on this list somehow. He played an entire platoon of mad doctors over his lengthy career, including a descendant of Dr. Victor Frankenstein in Frankenstein 1970. But I do believe the most evil doctor he portrayed was Master George Sims, who was based upon the real-life Dr. John Monro, chief physician of the infamous Bethlem Royal Hospital. Sims takes a sadistic delight in showing off the the peculiarities of his mental patients to any curious observers, and he is more than willing to abuse his legal powers and commit any critics of his practices to his asylum. Perhaps Nurse Ratched is a descendant?

(8) Dr. Caligari from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

In this masterpiece of German Expressionist cinema, Dr. Caligari cruelly exploits a zombie-like somnambulist, Cesare, both to earn him an income as a carnival attraction and to murder the doctor’s enemies. The film’s twist ending (one of cinema’s first) deflates Caligari’s evil considerably; but for the first nine-tenths of the film, Werner Krauss’s mad hypnotist provides a lurid archetype for all the hundreds of mad doctors to follow.

(7) Dr. Robert Suzuki from The Manster (1959)
manster_japan

This Japanese-American co-production, an early example of tokusatsu (Japanese film or TV which relies heavily on special effects), probably shows up on nobody’s list of horror classics. But its mad doctor, Dr. Robert Suzuki, appears on this list at #7 because he is such a conniving manipulator and sneak. He pulls an awful stunt on American news correspondent Larry Stanford, who only means to do the doctor a favor by writing a puff piece on him; Dr. Suzuki slips him a mickey, knocks him out, and injects him in the neck with an experimental serum meant to chemically induce evolutionary change. Oh, but that isn’t all – once poor Larry wakes up, completely unaware his veins are full of monster-making juice, Dr. Suzuki butters him up, convincing him to stay in Japan longer than he’d planned (so the good doctor can observe the results of his work). He hooks Larry up with a voluptuous assistant, Tara, and wines and dines him after taking him to some swanky nightclubs and massage baths. Meanwhile, Larry is growing a second head on the side of his neck. Hope the sushi was worth it, Larry!

(6) Dr. Innes and Dr. Morris from Seconds (1966)
secondshudson

Talk about your bait-and-switch (and how appropriate, since we’re also talking Obamacare). All middle-aged sad-sack Arthur Hamilton wants is a chance at a new life. The doctor-entrepreneurs of The Company offer him just that: a brand-new life as Rock Hudson, following a few days’ worth of plastic surgery. What the poor shmuck doesn’t realize is how badly he’ll come to miss his old life. But once he’s signed on the dotted line, there’s no going back. As soon as he voices his displeasure too strongly, the docs and their orderlies put the hurt on him and disassemble him into fresh parts for new clients. Old Arthur didn’t read the small print at the bottom of that HIPAA release form…

(5) Dr. Christian Szell from Marathon Man (1976)
Marathon Man

We need at least one Nazi dentist on this list, and Dr. Szell is it. Nobody who sees this movie will ever forget what Laurence Olivier’s Nazi war criminal dentist does inside Dustin Hoffman’s mouth. This film has probably been responsible for more dental care procrastination than any other movie in the history of cinema.

(4) Dr. William Michaels from The M.D.: A Horror Story (1992)
The MD A Horror Story

This horror novel by the extraordinarily gifted writer Thomas M. Disch hasn’t yet been adapted into a film, but it should be. Dr. Michaels is the possessor of a magical caduceus, a talisman he has owned since childhood. The caduceus is capable of miraculous feats of healing. But in order to do so, it must first be “charged” with the energies stemming from monstrous acts of evil. Dr. Michaels learns he enjoys using the caduceus for evil every bit as much as he does using it for healing. Perhaps even more…

(3) Dr. Moreau from Island of Lost Souls (1932)
Island-Of-Lost-Souls

In this first film adaptation of H. G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), Charles Laughton’s Dr. Moreau has no redeeming qualities. Unlike Dr. Frankenstein, he does not seek to aid mankind. Unlike Doctors Genessier and Cortner, he isn’t trying to do a solid for a daughter or fiancée. His goal, it seems, is to bring more human beings into the world; but any twelve-year-old who has gone through a sex education class could tell him there are easier ways to do this than to vivisect hundreds of innocent, helpless animals. This is a man who would gladly cut up Bambi and Rin-Tin-Tin. That’s just evil.

(2) Dr. Elliot Mantle/Dr. Beverly Mantle from Dead Ringers (1988)
Dead Ringers

I am not easily creeped out by a movie. But this David Cronenberg flick about twin brother gynecologists did it for me. I nearly crawled out of my skin watching this. Couldn’t make it through to the end. They might not be the most evil doctors on this list, but the Doctors Mantle, with their eager application of medieval torture device gynecological instruments to Genevieve Bujold’s mutant lady-parts, are certainly the most unsettling of the bunch.

(1) Dr. Josef Mengele from The Boys from Brazil (1978)
boysfrombrazil01

And coming in at #1 is history’s most nefarious and infamous evil doctor, utilized by best-selling author Ira Levin as the villain of his 1976 science fiction thriller, made into a popular film two years later. In book and movie, Dr. Mengele wants to recreate his beloved Fuhrer through cloning, certainly evil enough to get him to the top of this list. My only misgiving about Mengele’s depiction here is the very odd casting of Gregory Peck. I mean, come on, who can believe that Atticus Finch is history’s greatest monster doctor? Laurence Olivier was in this one, too, but as a Nazi-hunter, this time. Maybe after his star-turn as evil dentist Dr. Szell two years earlier, he figured he’d done his quota of Nazi roles. Too bad.

So, there’s our list! Keep an eye out for these particular doctors and nurses. Obamacare promises to vastly increase the demand for medical care, but does nothing to increase the supply. So these thirteen paragons of mercy and healing may be called out of retirement… to staff an Obamacare clinic near you!

Enviro-Irony: Fisker Karma Planet-Savers Resurrected as 638-HP Carbon-Spewing Monsters

"Luke, it is your Destino!"

“Luke, it is your Destino!”

Gaia worshippers, before you crawl into bed with government enablers and crony capitalists, be aware that the offspring of such intercourse, although cute and Earth-friendly when little, may grow up to be rebellious, Corvette engine-powered, supercharged enemies of the biosphere:

“VL Automotive, a Detroit venture backed by former General Motors’ vice chairman Bob Lutz, is moving ahead with plans to convert Fisker Karmas from hybrid power to Corvette power. … The converted Karma, to be called the Destino, has a more conservative grille and a few other minor cosmetic tweaks. VL Engineers are removing the Chevrolet Volt-like gasoline-electric powertrain and replacing it with the engine and transmission used in the Chevrolet Corvette. Two versions will be available, a base 450-hp direct-injected V-8 and an optional 638-hp supercharged V-8.”

This, on the heels of this disheartening news for the American taxpayer:

“An investor group led by Hong Kong tycoon Richard Li is the likely winner of a government loan owed by Fisker Automotive, the now-dormant maker of plug-in hybrid sports cars … The U.S. Department of Energy picked Li’s group after an auction held Friday to sell the green-energy loan. … Fisker does not have enough money to pay its outstanding bills and has not built a car in about 15 months. Fisker laid off most of its employees in April to save cash. The DOE said last month that it planned the auction after ‘exhausting any realistic possibility’ that it could recoup the entire amount still owed by Fisker. The exact value of Li’s bid was not immediately clear, but bidders had to offer at least $30 million to participate in the Fisker loan auction, sources have said. …

“In 2009, Fisker won a $529 million DOE loan under a U.S. program to promote green vehicles.”

I stumbled across the Fisker-DOE boondoggle one lunch hour in October, 2011 when the head honchos of Fisker and the Department of Energy did a press rollout of their new $108,900 hybrid gas-electric luxury performance sedan in front of a deluxe hotel across the street from my office building. My curiosity captured by a row of gorgeous 4-door Corvettes (what the Karmas looked like, and what they now will actually become), I wandered over to the event. I wasn’t at all happy to learn that my tax dollars were being “invested” in a start-up manufacturer of four-wheeled toys for the .0001% — particularly since such toys, advertised as planet-savers, burned high-octane gasoline at a rate of 20mpg after the first twenty miles following a charge-up. Here’s my take from back then, which I presciently called, “Fisker Karma: Solyndra on Wheels?” (turns out the question mark wasn’t necessary).

So now, two years later, the wheels have come off Fisker Automotive’s eco-friendly dream. Twenty-five of the cars Fisker managed to build before going under will have their batteries and hybrid powertrains ripped out in favor of two of the meanest, un-greenist V-8 powerplants ever unleashed onto the tarmac. Hundreds more of the mutant Karmas/Destinos will be built using spare body shells and interiors left over from the now-dismembered manufacturing firm. Meanwhile, the American taxpayer takes it on the chin, yet again, as the crony capitalists get their bail-outs.

One more tantalizing tidbit from that Automotive News article:

“VL is further planning to offer current Karma owners the option to convert their cars to Corvette power for about $100,000, provided the Karma is in pristine condition. Fisker sold about 1,800 Karmas before production stopped in November of last year when the company ran out of money.”

Al and Leo: not so charged up on their Karmas anymore

Al and Leo: not so charged up on their Karmas anymore

If memory serves, Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio both bought Fisker Karmas back in the company’s pre-bankruptcy salad days of 2011. Might these two eco-titans consider ditching their girly-man cars’ underwhelming hybrid powertrains for a heaping helping of hairy-chested, old-fashioned American V-8 muscle?

As Darth V-8der might say…

Come over to the dark side. Join me, and together, we can rule the American Road as father and son! Luke, it is your Destino!

Burn the Witch! Swarm Cyber-Shaming in Science Fiction

I have a tremendous amount of fondness for the science fiction community, both professionals and fans. The SF community was boundless in their generosity and support for me and my family in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and Dara, the boys, and I have all benefitted from the friendships we’ve formed at dozens of conventions and bookstore events over the past decade.

But I feel compelled to point out, or at least suggest, that a vocal and very cyber-visible portion of the SF pro and fan community have not been covering themselves in glory recently. In fact, they have been acting like a mob. A cyber-mob. And a mob is an ugly thing.

Unfortunately, the worst harm to the target of criticism comes not from individual critiques (which vary greatly in their quality of argument; many critiques that I’ve come across do not rely upon any familiarity with the source documents of the controversy at all, merely upon commentary derived from those documents and unsubstantiated assumptions about authorial intent). Individual critiques at least come from individuals, persons who can be responded to and perhaps even persuaded that the critique target’s intentions were not so malign/evil after all. Rather, the worst harm comes from the aggregated mass of such critiques, which tends to snowball, and which unfortunately has snowballed, from the members-only online discussion forums of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America to hundreds, if not thousands, of personal blog posts, Facebook posts, and Twitter tweets, and finally to such mainstream publications as Britain’s Guardian newspaper and Slate, the online magazine, which are read by millions who most likely otherwise would have no notion whatsoever of flaring controversies inside the insular subculture of science fiction writers and fans. Once such critiques reach a critical mass and begin snowballing in this way, they become a creature out of the control of any individual actor. This is how reputations are irreparably damaged and careers are thrown off the rails, if not destroyed.

Did the original criticizers want this to happen? In an attempt to be charitable and fair, I will assume that many, if not most, did not. They wanted to make their displeasure known; some wanted to provoke changes which they felt needed to be made in SFWA and its management of the SFWA Bulletin. Some of the criticizers, however, caught up in the adrenaline rush provided by participation in a large group expression of shared moral outrage, are undoubtedly pleased at whatever lasting harm might be done to Barry N. Malzberg and Mike Resnick, the authors of the articles which prompted the online firestorm, and Jean Rabe, the former editor of the Bulletin who commissioned the articles (and who has since resigned her position under pressure).

A bit of self-disclosure: I’ve met Mike Resnick on a couple of occasions at conventions (and I bought some magazines once from him on eBay, too). During our brief conversations, he was cordial, sensible, and seemed to be paying attention to what I had to say (which was either about the writing biz or our shared friendship with Barry). Barry Malzberg, on the other hand, has been a close friend of mine for the past ten years. He has been tremendously gracious and generous during our long correspondence. I have visited him and his wife at their home in New Jersey. Most striking to me have been the reactions of other SF professionals when I’ve mentioned my friendship with Barry. A number of them have shared accounts with me of how Barry reached out to them during low points in their writing or editing careers or personal lives, and how his encouragement, support, and assistance had made a great, positive difference for them. Barry has never discussed any of this with me. But it seems as though if the field of science fiction has a secret saint, that person is Barry Malzberg.

I came late to this particular controversy. This storm has been gathering strength for the past seven months, since the distribution in November, 2012 of issue 200 of the SFWA Bulletin to about 2,000 SFWA members, subscribers, and a thousand or so readers who purchase their copies from a newsstand or bookstore. But the brouhaha truly began blowing up online in late May of this year, after distribution of issue 202 of the Bulletin. I’ve been a SFWA member for the past ten years, so I receive the Bulletin every three months as a perk of my membership. Mike and Barry have been contributing a regular column to the magazine, the Resnick/Malzberg Dialogues, since 1998. The column generally consists of the two of them, both old science fiction pro writers whose careers in the field date back to the late 1960s (Barry won the first ever John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 1973, and Mike was the Guest of Honor at the most recent WorldCon, Chicon 7), bantering back and forth on issues of current import to the publishing world or its science fiction and fantasy corner (such as the emergence of small presses or self-publishing), matters of writerly advice (how to best find an agent or decipher a publishing contract), or surveys of various aspects of the history of the science fiction field (such as the history of women science fiction and fantasy authors and women editors and publishers in the SF field… the stealth minefield onto which they blithely trod in issues 199 and 200 of the SFWA Bulletin). I usually make it a habit to read the newest Resnick/Malzberg Dialogue as soon as I receive my copy of the Bulletin. But starting with issue 199 (the Fall, 2012 issue), my copies of the Bulletin began accumulating on my nightstand, waiting to be read, pushed down on my reading list by big, thick Russian novels and various research books.

It wasn’t until this week that I glanced at the Locus Online website to catch up on SF news and book reviews (I’d also been neglecting both the print and online versions of Locus) and saw a link to the Guardian Online article that I reference above, entitled “Science fiction authors attack sexism in row over SFWA magazine”. Reading it, I learned that Mike and Barry were at the center of an online controversy over alleged sexism in SFWA, which focused both on several of their recent columns and the cover to issue 200 of the Bulletin, which featured an iconic image of a barbarian woman warrior/goddess in a chainmail bikini, brandishing her bloody sword over the corpse of a Frost Giant. The article provided a link to an online roundup of commentary from dozens of science fiction professionals, would-be professionals, and fans. Perusing this long selection of snippets, seventy-six of them at last count, I noted the following epithets being applied to Mike and Barry or to their words: unprofessional (the kindest of the lot), wankers, regressive, outdated, condescending, sources of “sexist douchebaggery,” “misogynistic, irrelevant dinosaurs,” “old men yelling at clouds,” “majority men in power,” “hideous, backwards, and strangely atavistic,” “blithering nincompoops,” antiquated, “deeply offensive,” “at best stupid and at worst censorious,” “sexist dippery,” gross, “never ending stream of sexism,” shitty, prehistoric, and, perhaps most colorful, “giant space dicks.” Also linked to on this list was a charming blog post entitled, “Dear Barry Malzberg and Mike Resnick: Fuck You. Signed, Rachael Acks” (which, incidentally, is the #3 search result of 187,000 results when you type in the words Barry Malzberg into Google’s search bar).

Holy bejezzus, I thought to myself as I read through this list. What did Mike and Barry do? Had they gone all Westboro Baptist Church in one of their recent columns?

I went home that night and dug my most recent four issues, all previously unread, of the Bulletin out of my “to be read” pile. And I read all four Resnick/Malzberg Dialogues in order (the Dialogue from issue 201 plays no part in the brouhaha).

Never in my forty-eight years have I witnessed such an immense chasm yawning between an inciting incident and the level of vitriol it inspired.

Let me provide a bit of background. In their fifteen years of writing Dialogues together (I’ve read about three-quarters of their columns), Mike and Barry have developed a comfortable, familiar, semi-comedic shtick, complete with complementary personas (Mike is the can-do, look-on-the-bright-side face of the duo, whereas Barry typically luxuriates in his role as the Eeyore of science fiction). Both gentlemen are in their seventies and have been around the block many, many times, so quite a few of their columns, particularly the retrospective, survey-of-the-field entries, have a “those were the days” sensibility to them. They strive to share with their readers a feel for what it might’ve been like to belly up to the bar at the 1975 WorldCon and eavesdrop on the shop talk and gossip of some of the “old pros.” I readily admit that I eat this kind of stuff up; I’m a buff for any in-depth history of the field, replete as it is with such colorful personalities and their exploits, and I’ve happily devoured Barry’s, Fred Pohl’s, Jack Williamson’s, and Damon Knight’s memoirs over the years. Mike’s and Barry’s sensibilities in their columns cannot be fully appreciated unless one understands that they were both fans before they ever became professionals. They love science fiction and its traditions, and they are passionate about it. Having both been active in the field, either as aficionados or as pros (frequently as both), for going on fifty-five years, they have a wealth of personally experienced or second-hand anecdotes to share, and they delight in doing so. When writing their surveys of the field, whether they are focusing on writers, editors, publishers, agents, or artists from the Golden Age of SF to the present day, they try to insert some colorful anecdotes about each notable they discuss, in order to flesh out the personalities of oftentimes obscure, forgotten, and/or long-dead figures. Barry, in particular, has dedicated a large chunk of his career to attempts to rescue beloved predecessors from the darkness of obscurity (see the essays in his The Engines of the Night, Breakfast in the Ruins, The End of Summer: Science Fiction of the Fifties, The Science Fiction of Kris Neville, The Science Fiction of Mark Clifton, and Neglected Visions). Both men enjoy gossip, the sort of stories which used to be (and maybe still are) traded back and forth at convention bars, and given the tangled, intertwined personal histories of many major figures in the field (multiple tomes have been written about the love lives and swapped spouses of the Futurians, just to cite one example), there is a lot of old gossip to share. (And in case you consider this a strike against them, please ponder the high percentage of even the highest-toned literary biography which is composed of what is actually well-sourced gossip.)

The editor of the Bulletin, Jean Rabe, asked Barry and Mike to write a column or two on the history of women in science fiction. This request resulted in two columns, published in issues 199 and 200, entitled “Literary Ladies: Part One” (focusing on writers) and “Literary Ladies: Part Two” (focusing on editors and publishers). One of the pair (I suspect it is Mike) has a longstanding weakness for alliteration; thus, the “LL” of “Literary Ladies.” In accordance with the titles of the articles, Mike and Barry frequently (but by no means exclusively) refer to their subjects as “lady writers,” “lady editors,” or “lady publishers” (there are a few “lady agents” mentioned, too).

This use of “lady” as a modifying adjective is one of the primary complaints the legions of critics online have hurled at Mike and Barry, a main plank in their contention that the pair are “reactionary, shitty, prehistoric, misogynistic, giant space dicks” (to mash up just a few of the pejoratives I’ve quoted in the list above). Now, maybe it’s just me, but I have never encountered the use of the word “lady” as a pejorative or even as having a negative connotation. At least when I was growing up, it was a compliment, a label for those of the female gender to aspire to. Is the word a bit old-fashioned? Sure. Does it have a bit of a musty smell about it? A case could certainly be made. Is it mean-spirited? Hell, no.

And that’s before we even get to the actual content of these two articles. Barry and Mike praise their pantheons of women writers, editors, and publishers to the skies! They idolize many of them. Far from giving them condescending pats on the head, they fully recognize the daunting social handicaps these women faced in the professional world of publishing prior to the 1980s and cite them as enterprising, talented, and incredibly driven pioneers. There are no snide put-downs in these articles; there are no put-downs at all. These articles were labors of love. Mike and Barry knew that some of the women they’d be discussing would be familiar to the Bulletin readership, but that many would not be (particularly the women editors of such magazines as Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, and Fantastic from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s). Even I, a pretty well-read amateur historian of the field, found myself encountering personalities of whom I had no prior knowledge. Mike and Barry did a service for both their readership and for many otherwise forgotten notables in our field, women who they state had as big an impact on the evolution of science fiction and fantasy in America as John W. Campbell, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Robert Heinlein did. (And, as has been said about Ginger Rogers when comparing her skills to those of her partner Fred Astaire, they did it dancing backwards.)

The other sin laid upon the heads of Mike and Barry regarding their “Literary Ladies” articles is that they mentioned the physical attractiveness of some of their subjects. In sharing an second-hand anecdote about how one of the few women editors of the 1950s had prompted many women to join a previously all-male Cincinnati, Ohio fan organization, Mike mentioned the editor, briefly the only female participant in the club, had looked quite beautiful in a bikini at the hotel pool of a local convention – causing the wives of the male fans to join the club in order to keep an eye on their husbands! The original teller of the anecdote was the wife of one of those male fans, who told Mike that the editor, later a close friend, had earned the wife’s everlasting gratitude for sucking her into fandom. Reading it, I’m sure Mike intended it to be an amusing and endearing anecdote, a window into the world of SF fandom (and the larger society) of the 1950s. For many readers, apparently, it didn’t come off that way. But I’m judging the man on what I reason his intentions to have been, and I firmly believe intentions must be given weight in situations such as this one, which come down to one subjective experience versus another.

In another instance, Barry comments on the physical beauty of a woman editor from the 1920s and 1930s, a woman he only knows from her photographs and from the body of work she left behind. Again, I see his comments as an attempt to add a third dimension (I could say “flesh out” or “add skin and sinew to the bones,” but I would risk being misinterpreted, wouldn’t I?) to an otherwise dry recitation of the woman’s accomplishments in the early SF field. I have shared Barry’s experience in having surprising beauty leap out at me from a vintage photograph, beauty which could not be cloaked by the alien or frumpy (to me) clothing, makeup, and hairstyles of the era. Some people are exceptionally beautiful, and it is noteworthy, even when writing about writers (or editors). Nearly all accounts of Jack Kerouac’s career dwell upon his magnetic, athletic handsomeness as a young man, and how iconic photographs of him have helped to build his enduring mystique. Somewhat similarly, Franz Kafka’s striking appearance and demeanor, preserved in a handful of photographs and reminiscences of his contemporaries, have been grist for the mills of dozens of biographers. Kafka’s last lover, the Czech writer, editor, and social activist Milena Jesenka’, was a beautiful woman; her biographer and friend, Margarete Buber-Neumann, wrote extensively about Milena’s beauty and the effect it had upon the people (men and women) around her, and how she suffered from her beauty’s degradation in the German concentration camp where she perished.

The last set of complaints about Mike and Barry have to do with their column from issue 202 of the Bulletin, entitled “Talk Radio Redux.” This column was a response, an obviously emotional one, to the sorts of criticism (see my summary above) which had begun filtering back to them regarding their two columns on “Literary Ladies,” criticism with which revulsion of the woman warrior cover to issue 200 had gotten conflated. This set of complaints focuses on Mike’s using the words “censorship” or “attempted censorship” when referring to the feedback and actions of some of the readership and to Barry’s use of the term “liberal fascist.”

“Liberal fascist” is a term that has its origin in (or at least can trace its popularization to) Jonah Goldberg’s 2009 book, Liberal Fascism: the Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Change. The book is an account of the influence that certain aspects of Woodrow Wilson-era Progressivism (the ancestor of today’s Progressive movement), such as promotion of eugenics, an emphasis on the growth of state power and control of the state over key industries during times of state-declared emergency, and proto-environmentalism/nature worship, had on the various flavors of European fascism which developed and flourished during the 1920s and 1930s. The book also makes note that, in contrast with the commonly held belief that fascism was a rightwing movement, Benito Mussolini and the German and Austrian founders of the National Socialist Workers’ Party saw themselves as men of the Left, emerging from and expanding upon the Socialist tradition in a way separate from (and opposed to) Communism.

Personally, I think Barry was a little off in his use of the term “liberal fascist,” although I understand the emotion behind his use of the words. Fascists are defined in part by their intentions and efforts to use the powers of the state to silence opposing viewpoints. None of Barry’s and Mike’s critics have tried to do that (although perhaps some may fantasize about it). Similarly, Mike was imprecise when he used the word “censorship.” Censorship implies either the use of state power to silence an individual or the actions of an entity with economic power over an individual (such as the individual’s publisher) to block or change that individual’s expressions, under threat of economic penalty. Again, none of Mike’s and Barry’s critics are in a position to be censors. What they have been doing, however, does have its roots in an authoritarian tradition separate from, although related to, fascism. Mike and Barry have been mau-maued. Mau-mauing (a term popularized by Tom Wolfe in his 1970 account of the New Left of the 1960s, Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers) is a form of intimidation through widespread social shaming, ostracism, confrontation, and (either implied or explicit) threats. Although it is associated with the New Left, it has its origins in the standard operating procedures of the Old Left, when Communist parties in the Soviet Union and throughout the West utilized self-criticism and group criticism sessions to enforce groupthink and to stamp out nonconforming ideas and ideologies. (Many former American Communists of the 1930s listed the 180 degree turn from “Hitler is our mortal enemy” to “Hitler is our ally” following the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and their horror at the reeducation sessions which ensued as crucial to their break with the Party.) Saul Alinsky, in his Rules for Radicals, listed as Rule #12, “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it,” an endorsement of the technique of mau-mauing. Numerous American universities, both public and private, now staffed by professors and administrators who often have ties to or have been influenced by the New Left, have instituted speech codes which explicitly define certain forms of student speech and expression as being outside the bounds of permissible activity on campus, subjecting offenders to administrative penalties up to expulsion (a move to institutionalize and bureaucratize mau-mauing, pushing it towards what could be formally defined as censorship). Coincidentally, the same years which have witnessed the emergency of speech codes on many campuses have also witnessed an accelerated symbiosis between the pro SF community and academia (in that greater numbers of SF/fantasy writers have as day jobs teaching at the post-high school level, and SF literature and film has become an increasingly respectable and popular subject of university courses).

Given the prevalence of academic jargon from Cultural Studies or other Studies departments in their comments, I imagine a goodly number of the criticizers on the SWFA discussion boards and the broader Internet are either university instructors or possessors of an advanced degree from one of those programs. For many individuals under the age of forty who have been through the university system, mau-mauing may seem normative, or at least unremarkable. They have seen it at work through divestment campaigns of various kinds (divestment from Israeli companies or U.S. companies which provide goods to Israel which might be used in security operations against Palestinians, or from companies involved in fossil fuel production, or from companies connected to certain figures active on the Right, such as the Koch brothers) and through shout-downs and other disruptions of speakers invited to campus whose backgrounds or viewpoints are contrary to those favored by student activists.

Many of the criticizers may not consciously realize that they are mau-mauing Mike and Barry, but mau-mauing is what they are engaged in. Some commentators have pointed out the criticism is not censorship. True; but in this instance, rather irrelevant. Other commentators have stated that freedom of speech does not imply a right to a paid platform (such as that enjoyed until now by Barry and Mike with their quarterly columns for the Bulletin). Again – true, but irrelevant. For what the protesters either seek to do or end up abetting is not censorship, but what can be called shunning and shaming, an application of a radioactive aura to these two men which will make not only the future editors of the Bulletin but also editors at other periodicals and publishing houses, organizers of conventions, literary prize juries, and media outlets shy away from wanting any connection with these two and their works. Remember, this story has now broken out into mainstream outlets such as Salon and the Guardian; people who previously had never heard of Mike Resnick or Barry Malzberg or any of their books will now have their initial (and most likely only) impression of them branded with a scarlet “S” for “Sexist,” as detrimental a negative label in our time as “Adulterer” was in the time of the Puritans. As Barry himself stated in the column “Talk Radio Redux,” the most potent form of censorship is self-censorship, the type that occurs in a writer’s head before he or she sets fingers to keyboard. The mau-mauers, consciously or not, are using Mike and Barry as cautionary examples – “Look what we’ve been able to do to the reputations of a WorldCon Guest of Honor and to a man who has written close to a hundred novels and over 250 short stories, several nominated for Hugo or Nebula Awards. If we could do this to them, what do you think we could do to you if you commit ThoughtCrime?”

The virtually thoughtless piling on is perhaps the most appalling. So many of the criticizers whose comments I have come across admit they haven’t even read the columns in question. Once the ball of shunning and shaming got rolling, hundreds of onlookers, alerted by social media, jumped on the bandwagon, attracted by the enticing glow of participating in shared moral outrage. Moral preening is on overload; industry professionals and would-be professionals frantically signal to each other that they are right-thinkers. According to the mau-mauers, Mike and Barry did not merely misspeak (miswrite?); they did not have decent-enough intentions which were ruined by Paleolithic habits and blinkered upbringings; they are morally suspect, malign and vicious and evil. It’s burn the witch! all over again, but this time on a pyre of blog posts and Tweets.

I mentioned before that I completely understand the vehemence of Barry’s reaction to all this. One sadly ironic aspect of this brouhaha is that Barry is a lifelong man of the Left. He was staunchly antiwar during the Vietnam era (see early stories such as “Final War”), and his dream president was (and remains) Eugene McCarthy. I fully believe, based on his writings about Alice Sheldon and Judith Merril, that Barry considers himself a feminist, and an avid one. Condemnation from one’s “own side” always burns hotter in one’s craw than condemnation from “the other guys,” which can be easily rationalized away; just as criticism (especially when viewed as unfair) from one’s own family hurts much worse than criticism from relative strangers. Forty years ago (and in all the years since), Barry was a fierce advocate of the New Wave in science fiction, whose practitioners (with the sole exception of R. A. Lafferty) were all politically aligned with the Left, as opposed to old-timers such as John W. Campbell and Robert Heinlein. Now Barry must feel as though the children of the Revolution are eating their elders (as so frequently happens, it seems).

You still don’t think swarm cyber-shaming is a genuine phenomenon? Here’s a statistic for you. As of this afternoon (June 19, 2013), typing in the three words, Barry Malzberg sexist, into the Google search bar produces 807,000 results (oddly enough, far more than the 187,000 results you get in you only type in two words, Barry Malzberg). In contrast, typing in the author’s name and the title of his best known novel, Beyond Apollo, winner of the first John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, produces 41,000 results.

Folks, this is insane.

I do not believe there was any conspiracy to do this to Barry and Mike. I believe this smear started on a small scale and then grew like mutant kudzu in the echo chambers of the web. Now the smear has metastasized into a Frankenstein’s monster which has escaped the control of any individual or organization; with that much mud out there, no amount of counter-narrative will ever wash it away.

One of the cruelest knives shoved into Barry’s back was the alteration of his Wikipedia entry. Now, thanks to an anonymous interloper with a baleful lack of perspective, more text is given over to this current incident (a full paragraph) than is devoted to Barry’s considerable and award-nominated nonfiction work (no mention at all). Whoever performed this small act of vandalism (also done to Mike’s entry) is a lout and a bully.

Unfortunately, this is not the first instance of swarm cyber-shaming in the science fiction community, and I fear it will not be the last (what produces results tends to get repeated). The first eruption was that which surrounded Orson Scott Card when he publicly affirmed tenets of his religion, Mormonism, concerning homosexuality. Recently, his swarmers attempted to shame/pressure DC Comics into never hiring Card again, after he did a work-for-hire story for a DC Comics anthology. “RaceFail” was the tag applied to a 2009 online dustup regarding various professionals’ comments on, and then comments on the comments, and then comments on the comments on the comments about the handling of racial issues and identity in science fiction. In 2010, we had WisCon, the renowned feminist science fiction convention, disinvite award-winning author Elizabeth Moon as their Guest of Honor due to comments she made on her blog about the surprising forbearance non-Muslim Americans have shown their Muslim fellow residents in the years since September 11, 2001 (as opposed to the myth of a rising tide of Islamophobia in the U.S.). And now we have this… Old FogeyFail? I was very disappointed to see on the list of Barry’s and Mike’s most vocal condemners a very prominent editor for a very big imprint who complained bitterly in 2009 about his unfair treatment at the hands of fans and fellow pros after he made some comments about the RaceFail affair; his wife (another prominent SF pro) got on various message boards to scold the scolds for going after her husband and contributing to his depression. Now, obviously a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, this same editor seeks to reestablish his bona fides with the mau-mauers by doing unto Barry and Mike what was done unto him. Shame on you, sir.

From the website Judaism 101:

A Chasidic tale vividly illustrates the danger of improper speech: A man went about the community telling malicious lies about the rabbi. Later, he realized the wrong he had done, and began to feel remorse. He went to the rabbi and begged his forgiveness, saying he would do anything he could to make amends. The rabbi told the man, “Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the winds.” The man thought this was a strange request, but it was a simple enough task, and he did it gladly. When he returned to tell the rabbi that he had done it, the rabbi said, “Now, go and gather the feathers. Because you can no more make amends for the damage your words have done than you can recollect the feathers.”

I’ve warned my fellow writers and creators about too blithely plunging into online controversies, dropping their pants on social media, and wearing their political affiliations as neon tattoos. Why risk alienating half your potential audience? I also said that one must pick one’s battles carefully; issues and situations may arise which outweigh one’s potential financial/career interests, and which one can avoid engaging in only at the risk of one’s self-worth.

For me, this is such an issue. Barry Malzberg is a friend; more than that, he is a profoundly decent and kind human being. I cannot stand idle while this good man’s reputation is unjustly tarnished. The old saying is that bad speech can only be combatted with good speech. As I wrote above, I fear that in this Internet Age, the mud gets replicated so fast and so incessantly that it can never be washed away. I’ve gone on much longer than I originally intended, wanting to wash away as much mud as I can. My washcloth is small, unfortunately. But it won’t go unused.

Update on June 22, 2013: Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link, which brought in so many new readers. I apologize that I haven’t been able to respond to each of the comments. My main computer is in the shop, and the boys are begging me to take them swimming. If you’d like to support Barry, his most recent book of essays, Breakfast in the Ruins, is excellent, a fantastic read for anyone with an interest in the science fiction or mystery fields. Also, Mike and Barry have collected many of their Dialogue columns into a book called The Business of Science Fiction.

Update #2 on June 24, 2013: The Los Angeles Review of Books features this very detailed, incisive review of The Very Best of Barry N. Malzberg, which has just been released… a compendium of what Barry considers the best of his more than 350 short stories. Along with Breakfast in the Ruins and The Passage of the Light: the Recursive Science Fiction of Barry N. Malzberg, this new collection is an essential introduction to Barry’s huge body of work.

Facebook is SO Yesterday; What Comes Tomorrow?

I admit to being a Facebook Grinch.

Perusing my Facebook home page and the posts the service highlights for me has become an every-other-day chore, like separating out the recycling. I joined Facebook because everyone who had anything to say about the modern, marketing-focused reality faced by writers insisted I must; and my wife told me I should, which carried more weight. I’ll admit that the service has been occasionally useful to me, helping me to follow important happenings in the lives of family members, friends, and important acquaintances. I’ve also used it from time to time as a gramophone to announce a recent blog post or convention appearance I felt I should flack (all the while glumly wishing I had more in the way of actual publications to convince people to risk their dollars upon).

But, on the whole, I have found Facebook mostly dreary and oftentimes frustrating (comments that fail to post; occasional flakiness when trying to link to blog posts; etc.). I have stuck with it out of a sense of grudging but stubborn duty. So it was with no small sense of pleasure I read an article on the website of The Washington Examiner called “Bye, Bye, Facebook.” (Hat tip: Instapundit.) It announces that “a new Pew Research Center poll finds that a huge group of users, 61 percent, are taking breaks from Facebook up to ‘several weeks’ long, and that virtually all age groups are decreasing their time on the social media site that recently flopped in its initial public offering of publicly traded stock.”

So it seems that Facebook is rapidly becoming passé. When it joins such predecessors as Pet Rocks, Cabbage Patch Kids, and Hula Hoops in the dusty pantheon of crazes only remembered by nostalgia nuts and cultural anthropologists, I don’t anticipate the formation of any great lump in my throat.

So what comes next? What will take Facebook’s place? Isn’t that the question burning in the mind of anyone who reads the Pew Research Center poll results?

Will Twitter become the new king of social media? (Isn’t Twitter already the king?) Putting on my Faith Popcorn hat, I predict Twitter will suffer the same fate as Facebook, only faster. Twitter will rapidly fall victim to the very same attention-abbreviating trend it helped accelerate. Not long from now, more and more devotees of social media will complain that reading a 140-character Tweet seems like slogging through Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

So what comes after Twitter?

Allow me to propose… Dingleberry.

Here’s how it would work. Postings would be limited to three characters. All users would be required to have a thin-film LED panel surgically implanted beneath the skin of their forehead, deep enough that the panel would be undetectable when inactivated, but shallow enough that activated letters (the panel would be capable of displaying any combination of three characters) would shine brightly through the skin. When a user’s post achieves 10,000 “likes,” the system would signal the LED panel on the user’s forehead to display the post.

Three characters are more than adequate to express the thoughts of the majority of social media users. The brevity assures a wide range of potential interpretations and opens a path to virtually unlimited readings.

Take, for example, the following post:

SEX

This may be taken to mean any of the following:

1) An abbreviation for SEXY (“I am sexy”).
2) A status posting (“I have recently had, or will soon be having, sex”).
3) A political statement, apropos to whatever is in the news (“Sexual harassment is bad,” or “Keep your legislation out of my sex” or “Keep your sex out of my legislation”).
4) An injunction (“Have more sex” or “Go sex yourself”).

The above listing is not exhaustive, by any means.

On the other hand, should a user’s post achieve 10,000 “dislikes,” the system would set a subsidiary routine into motion. One of the following persons would be required to offer alternative posts; either the user’s

1) ex-spouse;
2) ex-best friend;
3) estranged son or daughter;
4) high school cheerleading squad captain; or
5) middle school bully

in the order of preference stated above (as applicable), would offer three alternative three-character posts for vote by the user’s followers. Once 10,000 followers have cast their votes, the system would transmit the winning post to the user’s forehead-mounted LED strip.

I think Dingleberry would take off like a Saturn V rocket. “Dingle” would become a new verb, as in, “You’ve been dingled.”

I offer this proposal to any techies or venture capitalists who would like to run with it. I’d pull it all together myself, except I have more important things to do (like posting short essays to this blog now and then). I ask only one thing: once you’ve made your first billion from the initial public offering, please ship me a box of chocolate-covered strawberries. And one for my wife, too, please.

Oh, and that’s strawberries, not dingleberries.

Watching the Sausage Get Made

“Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.”

–Otto von Bismarck

Based on some of my and my wife Dara’s recent experiences, I would add two more items to Bismarck’s list: journalism and voting procedures.

Most of us regularly consume the end products of both journalism and elections and give very little thought to how these end products are made. We assume (both out of convenience and a desire to coddle our mental health) that these products, like sausages, are made in a hygienic, properly regulated fashion by well-trained technicians who take care not to allow germs or foreign matter to get in the mix.

We shouldn’t assume such things.

For years now, I’ve read and heard complaints that the bulk of mainstream print and broadcast news media (CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, to name the major players) slant their coverage to provide support for liberal/left/progressive causes, political candidates, and points of view. For a consumer of media news, most often very distant from the events and persons being covered, it can be very difficult to judge the validity of such complaints. One can try to “balance” one’s news consumption by making a point of paying attention to reports from media which represent themselves as being on the more conservative side of the political spectrum (Fox News, conservative talk radio, various conservative or libertarian blogs), but then one is faced with another, symmetrical problem, that of potential (or explicit) bias coming from the opposite pole. One can’t simply assume that the “truth” lies at the midpoint between the left-leaning, mainstream news media and the right-leaning alternative news media. Just as a broken clock is right twice each day, so the possibility exists that one or the other of the “wings” of the news media has gotten a story right, despite the journalist’s or commentator’s biases.

One is on somewhat firmer ground in attempting to ascertain the validity of claims of bias in news reporting when it comes to observing which stories receive any coverage at all. For deciding which events “deserve” coverage is just as powerful (if not more powerful) a tool as deciding how to report on an event, if one’s goal is influencing public knowledge and public opinion to bend in a preferred direction. Ignorance of an event or development can be just as much a controlling factor in establishing a baseline of public opinion as slanted reportage of an event. For a consumer of news reportage, an outside observer, this form of bias is easier to spot. Did one “wing” of the news media cover a particular event and the other “wing” ignore or mostly ignore it? An outside observer can ascertain this without much difficulty. Did the story or event which one “wing” failed to cover have objective newsworthiness? Would a reasonable person decide that the story or event could have a significant impact on the safety, economic well-being, or social or political interests of members of the public? If the answer is yes, and yet the story or event was ignored by one “wing” of the news media, then an observer is on solid ground in wondering why the story was ignored. Whose interests are being served? (For an instructive case history of this phenomenon in action, Google “Benghazi” “embassy” “terrorists” for the period October 26, 2012 through October 29, 2012 and see which news sources pop up… and which do not.)

But one is on the firmest ground of all in detecting media bias when one finds oneself (or one’s close confidents) in the middle of a newsworthy event. Then one is no longer an outsider observer trying to peer through the sausage factory’s tinted windows… being inside the factory itself, one enjoys the dubious pleasure of watching the sausage get made.

My wife, Dara L. Fox, served as a volunteer poll watcher for the Republican Party at a voting location in Woodbridge, Virginia, part of Prince William County in Northern Virginia, on November 6, 2012. She personally witnessed numerous incidents of either explicit or likely voter fraud during the fourteen hours she spent at the polling location; all of these incidents were overlooked, excused, or in some cases abetted by the paid poll workers. (I provide Dara’s own detailed account of these incidents later on in this article.) Under the rules by which she was required to operate as a volunteer poll watcher, she was forbidden to speak to any of the voters who engaged in questionable activities. She made numerous calls to the Romney campaign’s lawyers, but by the time those lawyers arrived at her location, the individuals she had called about had departed, and the overcrowding and barely-controlled chaos of the polling place precluded the lawyers from doing much questioning or observing themselves.

Dara arrived home greatly upset by what she had witnessed. I encouraged her to write it all down, sticking only to what she personally saw. I suggested that she mail and email her observations to the state’s Attorney General and the State Board of Elections, as well as to local media. The Attorney General’s office responded that Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli had no jurisdiction in the matter and suggested that she send her complaint to the State Board of Elections. The State Board of Elections responded that they could take no action unless they received a request from the Prince William County Board of Elections; so Dara then emailed her statement to that local body. Meanwhile, the hosts of WMAL-FM’s morning show invited her to phone in as a guest. Several weeks passed with no response received from the Prince William County Board of Elections, until, just today, following more coverage of potential voting fraud in Virginia on WMAL-FM, a representative from the county board emailed Dara, claimed that the board’s email system had been experiencing “troubles,” and asked her to resend her statement to a different address. The county board also invited her to speak at an upcoming meeting.

Between Dara’s interview on WMAL a few days after the election and now, other poll watchers have come forward to report their own experiences witnessing questionable activities and potential incidents of fraud at Virginia voting stations. To their credit, the hosts of WMAL’s morning show have stayed on top of the story. Recently, they invited Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to appear as a guest, and they read to him on-air the incidents of alleged voter fraud which their listeners had emailed to them. Cuccinelli, who is running on the Republican ticket for governor, expressed his own frustration that his office lacks standing to investigate complaints of voting fraud.

Have any representatives of the prominent mainstream news media touched this story? Yes, they have. Thus far, editors, reporters, or bloggers employed by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Huffington Post have reported on this story. Did these renowned purveyors of investigative journalism bother to, you know, investigate the numerous allegations of widespread voter fraud in Virginia, the sources of said allegations all being readily identifiable due to their having spoken on WMAL? No, not as of this date, they haven’t. So, if they haven’t attempted to verify the truth of the fraud allegations, which elements of this story have they exclusively focused on? What else is more newsworthy?

Wait for it…

The fact that WMAL has dared to cover allegations of voter fraud, thus joining what The New York Times refers to as “the voter fraud fringe,” is the story according to these three mainstream news outlets. That, and the possibility that Ken Cuccinelli may agree with one of WMAL’s morning show’s hosts that voter fraud in Virginia helped get President Obama reelected.

From Andrew Rosenthal, editor of The New York Times’ Editorial Pages, comes a blog post dated 11/27/12 entitled “Life on the Voter Fraud Fringe.” Here’s a taste:

The only “problems on election day which need to be addressed” are the broken machines, inadequate polling stations and outrageously long lines. …

In this election, like in the elections before it, there is absolutely no evidence that people were trying to vote when they had no right to. …

This all goes without saying that Mr. Obama trounced Mitt Romney in the electoral college and won the popular vote. His victory had nothing to do with voter ID requirements, except perhaps that in some places he might have done better if the Republicans had not managed to put in place ID requirements that were designed to suppress minority votes and, therefore, Democratic votes.

Uh, Andrew… before you so unequivocally state “there is absolutely no evidence that people were trying to vote when they had no right to,” might I suggest that you direct some of your coworkers, those individuals colorfully described as “investigative reporters,” to spend fifteen minutes speaking with my wife?

And what about The Washington Post, the major newspaper in whose backyard these incidents of voter fraud allegedly took place? Aren’t they famed worldwide for having tenaciously dug into a little matter from back about 1973-74 called Watergate? Don’t they have a deserved reputation for excellence in investigative journalism? What was Virginia Politics reporter Laura Vozzella’s take on the story? Here’s a clue: her article is entitled “Cuccinelli Seems to Agree Voter Fraud Helped Obama.” Published the same day as Andrew Rosenthal’s opinion piece, it essentially mirrors Rosenthal’s view, while providing a bit more in the way of background on the exchange between WMAL’s morning show hosts and Ken Cuccinelli:

The exchange, first reported by the Virginian-Pilot, prompted the state Democratic Party to accuse Cuccinelli of spreading “voter fraud conspiracy theories.” …

Brian J. Gottstein, Cuccinelli’s communications director, said Cuccinelli was not suggesting that the election had been stolen, but merely echoing the hosts’ frustrations with his inability to launch voter fraud investigations. Gottstein called controversy over the comments — they were picked up by news outlets ranging from The Huffington Post and a New York Times blog — “made-up news.” …

“Reading these emails, you just get furious about what happened on Election Day in some precincts,” [WMAL morning show host Brian] Wilson said. “Look, something went on in some precincts that wasn’t copacetic. It wasn’t right. And it’s frustrating to hear you, the top law enforcement officer the commonwealth of Virginia, to say, ‘I’m sorry, my hands are tied.’”

Cuccinelli: “And they are.”

Gottstein said Cuccinelli was only responding to the hosts’ frustrations about his inability to launch election fraud cases on his own.

“The two WMAL radio hosts brought up example after example of alleged voter fraud issues surrounding election day and, frustrated, asked the attorney general over and over again why he couldn’t conduct investigations into many of them,” Gottstein said via email. “After six minutes of listening to these examples, the attorney general said, ‘Your tone suggests you’re a little upset with me. You’re preaching to the choir. I’m with you completely.’ When you listen to the whole eight-minute interview and not just a 20-second clip of it, it’s obvious he was referring to his frustration and the hosts’ frustration that his hands were tied in most of the incidences because Virginia law doesn’t allow him to open investigations into election irregularities on his own. The full context of the interview shows it’s clear he was referring to the bevy of irregularities the hosts cited, NOT just to Ms. Jacobus’s one claim about the president, which is what the media has focused on today.”

Paige Lavender of The Huffington Post, getting to the story the day following Rosenthal’s and Vozzella’s pieces, echoes their earlier takes, sexing it up a bit with the title, “Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia Attorney General, Agrees With Conspiracy Theory On Obama Win.”

And thus, for those news consumers who haven’t listened to Dara’s interview on WMAL or that station’s subsequent follow-up stories interviewing other witnesses to potential voter fraud, the story in Northern Virginia becomes, not that widespread voting fraud may exist in Virginia and may have influenced the recent elections (and may influence future elections), but that right-wing talk show hosts are encouraging a “voter fraud fringe” made up of “voter fraud truthers” and that Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli may be pushing a conspiracy theory (rather than bemoaning the fact that his office has no jurisdiction over voting fraud).

Hey, editors and reporters at respected, widely-read or viewed news outlets (particularly those of you at The Washington Post, who, I shouldn’t have to remind you, cover news and politics in Northern Virginia)? I realize that you all are seriously overworked, what with staff cutbacks and whatnot. So I’m going to make things as easy as possible for you. Below is my wife’s statement of what she saw at the Woodbridge, Virginia polling station on November 6, 2012. Read it. You may have questions. Feel free to address those questions to her directly. You may contact her through the links I provide on my Contact Me page. She is more than happy to speak out about what she saw.

To Whom It May Concern:

I served as a volunteer poll watcher for the Romney campaign under the Project ORCA operation on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. As a poll watcher, I saw many suspicious things that led me to believe that voter fraud was rampant and went unstopped during the day, causing Gov. Romney and the Republican candidates to lose the election. I served along with three other Project ORCA volunteers and two Democrat poll watchers at the Elks Lodge at 14602 Minnieville Rd., Woodbridge, VA 22193. One of the other Project ORCA poll watchers was named Laura Lovelace, and she and I discussed many of these observations throughout the day; and I believe she would confirm that what I saw was also what she saw. I would be willing to testify under oath and in any legitimate forum on what I saw and believe to have happened.

I arrived at the polling place at approximately 5:40 a.m. I went into the polling place and showed my credentials to the Chief who showed me where to sit behind the poll workers who would be checking voters in to receive a voting certificate. All of the poll workers were either African American or Hispanic, with the only Caucasians being the Project ORCA watchers. The voters waited in a long line that went outside the building at all times during the day. At one point, probably around 11:00 a.m., I noted that the line was about 300 people long. The line did not break at any time during the day, and there was no time to take a break during the entire day from 6:00 a.m. until the final person voted at close to 8:00 p.m.

Throughout the day, I took note of many irregularities besides the abnormally long lines. The poll workers who regularly work the elections said that they had never seen turnout like what was present. I believe the lead worker said about three times as many people as usual turned out that day to vote and that it is usually a quiet, slow precinct. There were three parts to the voting process. First the voter waited in line to get to the point where I was standing and watching, which was the voter check in, where ID was checked and verified and voting certificates were given out to qualified voters. After receiving a voting card, the voters then stood in line to cast their votes at one of five voting machines. After voting, the voters stood in line to turn in their voting card. Each phase of the line was long and the lines all snaked around at all times.

I was only able to observe the check in phase. As people approached the station of four poll workers who were checking voters in, the voters presented one of the required forms of ID to the poll worker. The poll worker then stated the voter’s name, found them on the database, and then asked for the voter to state his/her name and address. Many, many people were unable to state their names and addresses without assistance. Many, many people said the name was incorrect on their ID due to them getting married or divorced. Many, many people said that the address on their IDs were incorrect due to them having moved recently. Many could not state either the address on their ID or their current address. Many, many people could not speak English and could not follow the directions of “state your name and address.” On the app from which I was checking names, the voter’s name and age appeared. Many, many times, I did not believe that the voter was the age stated on the app. Many, many times, when I went to check off the voter as having voted, the voter was already checked off as having voted. Several times, I would swear that I saw the same person voting twice or heard the same name voting twice, when the app stated that only one voter in the precinct had the stated name. Many times I saw a person who looked Hispanic answer to a name that he or she could barely pronounce that was obviously representative of some other ethnicity, such as Asian or Middle Eastern.

About half of the time that a person had a name or address conflict, that person was sent to the chief to have his/her credentials validated. Each time, that person was allowed to vote, as I saw no provisional ballots recorded throughout the day. About half of the time the person was allowed to verbally correct his/her name or address and was sent to the next phase of the line without having to go to the chief to be approved. I believe a good 10 to 15% of those who voted had questionable ID and qualifications. At one point in the day, an announcement was made that a complaint had been called in to the Board of Elections that handicapped people were not being allowed into the building to vote. The chief made this announcement and stated that it was an untrue allegation. I did not see any handicapped people going through the voting line.

Additionally, about four times during the day, the line was stopped due to too many people being in the building. These people had been processed and were either waiting to vote at the machine or to turn in their tickets. All voter ID checking stopped for about 20 minutes while the line of people inside diminished some. At these times, I do not know if voters standing in line outside gave up and left, as the line was not moving. Furthermore, during the late morning from about 10:00 a.m. to about 1:00 p.m., two of the voting machines were broken and could not be used. I heard that one was spitting out voting tickets and one was not recording votes properly. These machines were both fixed at some point in the early afternoon, but I do not know how many votes may have been affected or how much longer the lines were due to these machines being down. Also, due to the long lines, people who had been processed to vote and were in line to go to the voting machines said they could not wait any longer, due to needing to go to work or having an appointment, and these voters left without voting after having been processed. I do not know how many people were processed to vote and then left without voting.

I believe that most people do not have three hours to wait in line to vote, and it is strange that all of these people with fishy IDs had hours to stand in line and vote. I found numerous blue Democrat ticket sheets showing people how to vote strewn around the polling place. With the lines being long and me not being able to talk to voters as a poll watcher, I had no recourse to accuse suspicious individuals of not being who their ID said they were. I did call to the Romney headquarters and report my suspicions several times, but I do not know what they could have done about the situation, as I could not pull suspicious people out of line.

I find it hard to believe that a fair and clean election was held at the precinct where I worked. I did feel that the precinct workers were hostile to me when I arrived. I was told that there was never a turnout like there was for this day and never the number of poll watchers as well. I think many people voted twice. I think many people voted falsely. I think voter fraud did occur. I believe that requiring photo ID would help to stop some of what I perceived as voter fraud.

Thank you for reading this, and I hope that you are able to follow through on making the next election less full of illegal votes and voters.

Sincerely,

Dara L. Fox

****************

One last word from me. Under existing state law, voting in the Commonwealth of Virginia takes place under the honor system. Voters are required to be U.S. citizens. Voters are required to be who they state they are on the identifying document they provide to a poll worker (which is not required to have a photo attached). Voters are expected, on their honor, to tell the truth in both instances.

The honor system breaks down where there is no honor. That is just as true in our news rooms as it is in our polling stations.

Oversharing Too Much?

Prolific writer and blogger Dean Wesley Smith recently published an article entitled “The New World of Publishing: Promotion.” His Rule #3 for writers snagged my attention because it had direct bearing on a pair of experiences I’d recently had in the world of social media. Here’s the passage:

“3… Never, anywhere (except with your closest friends), talk about politics or religion. Anywhere. Just will cost you a ton of readers. (Added note: Fine to write about it in your fiction. Just don’t talk about it in your social media. You want everyone to buy your book, not just people who agree with you.)

In this modern age of immediate access to a multiplicity of social media outlets (Twitter, Facebook, blogs, message boards, etc.), this can be hard advice to follow (particularly for the more garrulous among us). However, purely as career advice, I agree with it one hundred percent. (I emphasize that italicized clause because there are times that a writer may feel, with much justification, that he or she must consider matters beyond what is good for the career; I’ll speak more of this later in my article.)

Social media can be both seductive in its faux intimacy and misleading due to the invisibility of its reach. Note that in his advice above, Smith directs us to steer clear of discussions of politics or religion except with our “closest friends.” The danger of social media for writers (most of whom would number among their primary goals attracting readers and selling their works) is that sites such as Facebook are set up to lull us into the notion that we are, indeed, having a chat with our “closest friends” – when, in actuality, our chat is being “overheard” by dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of silent, invisible eavesdroppers, each of whom may feel compelled to make a judgment upon what we are (oftentimes casually) saying that can impact their decision to buy or not to buy our work.

Before I ever set words to paper, I was a reader. Reading remains my primary hobby and one of my chief pleasures. I’m writing this post from the perspective of a reader, not a writer. In enticing me as a reader, writers make a unique request – they invite me to come share their mind-space for a period of anywhere from a half-hour (a short story) to multiple hours over a period of many weeks (a long novel). That’s a pretty intimate setup. If I’m going to crawl inside someone’s head for any length of time, I want to have positive feelings about that person. I want to like them; otherwise, the experience of crawling inside their head will be icky and off-putting. So, as a reader, I have a strong incentive to maintain a positive outlook on any writer whose works I wish to read (at least those works I intend to read for pleasure, rather than for utilitarian reasons like gathering information).

My wife talked me into getting on Facebook a little over a year ago, about the same time I started blogging. She sold me on the notion it was a tool I could use for two purposes: easily keeping up with what my friends and extended family are up to, and giving gentle “pushes” to my writing projects and signings or convention appearances. I’d say that close to fifty percent of my Facebook friends are fellow writers or editors. Many of them are active on Facebook for the same two reasons I am. Some of them enjoy passing along jokes or funny Photoshop screenshots they’ve come across. Lots of them like to gossip or talk politics; oftentimes, these two latter activities go hand-in-hand. I say that because I believe most objective observers would have to conclude that the great majority of political exchanges on Facebook and Twitter are gossip, rather than attempts at reasoned discourse or persuasion.

Gossip has a scurrilous reputation. But it is an almost universally engaged in activity because it fulfills an important social function – it bonds gossip partners together, and it often helps to define group boundaries, the ins and the outs. Because it is a bonding activity, gossip is fun; this is mortifying, but understandable. Many writers, being engaged in typically solitary work, eagerly grasp whatever opportunities they have to be social with one another. The professional writers’ version of office gossip around the water cooler is huddling together at the hotel bar during a literary convention. Or, at least it used to be. Now, writers can replicate a convention hotel bar anytime they want to, simply by turning on their computer and logging onto Facebook. Their writer and fan buddies are accessible with a few clicks of the mouse.

So far, so good. However, whereas discretion at the office water cooler or the convention hotel bar can be reasonably assured through a toning down of one’s voice, discretion on Facebook (or other social media) requires more planning and technical savvy. Also, Facebook lulls a user into thinking he or she is chatting with a handful of friends – the electronic equivalent of the small, chummy group at the hotel bar – when in actuality the “hotel bar” is in the middle of a stadium stage wired for sound, with a silent, invisible audience numbering anywhere from the dozens to the thousands. Facebook is a public space which masquerades as a private space.

So here I am, your reader or your would-be reader. I have every motivation to like you and to maintain a good opinion of you; perhaps I have already invested a good bit of money in your books and plan to invest time in reading them. I really would prefer not to “overhear” much of what you and your intimates talk about around the “hotel bar.” But in perusing my Facebook feed, seeking interesting or meaningful updates from family and friends, I can’t help but stumble across your gossip sessions. Sometimes they are ugly or offensive. And sometimes, even though I want to think only the best of you, I find myself dismayed.

To illustrate, I’ll share a couple of recent examples (not naming any names).

A friendly acquaintance of mine, a writer of high reputation with whom I’d shared breakfast at one of the major conventions, posted a screen shot of the newspaper and Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer on Facebook. He did so in order to comment on Krauthammer’s pinched, arguably ghoulish countenance, likening it to that of several horror movie actors; apparently, he’d come across Krauthammer for the first time and, repulsed by his politics, found himself equally repulsed by the man’s appearance. A number of other commenters jumped onto the thread, eagerly adding their own derogatory opinions on Krauthammer’s appearance and competing with each other to come up with the most “hilarious” likenesses for him (Count Chocula being one that sticks out in my memory). I was familiar with a number of the commenters; some of them were respected, highly awarded “gray heads” in the science fiction community, writers in their fifties or sixties – certainly not callow teenagers.

This set my nose out of whack. Not so much because I enjoy many of Krauthammer’s columns, but because I knew he was severely physically handicapped – either paralyzed or a victim of multiple sclerosis, I wasn’t sure which.

I briefly debated what to do. I hoped that my friendly acquaintance and his correspondents were unaware of Krauthammer’s disability. I wanted to think the best of the writer who’d posted the screen shot and started the thread, if for no other reason than I’d just invested in him – only a week before, I’d purchased two of his books, and currently I was shopping for a third, and I had more of his books on my shelves waiting to be read. I didn’t want to be a buttinski or a nosy Miss Manners; but I also didn’t want to think this writer was a jerk. Because if I decided he was a jerk, I wasn’t about to invest dozens of hours in reading his books, and the only thing I could then do with the books I’d already purchased would be to trade them in at my local Second and Charles store for pennies on the dollar.

So, for partially selfish, self-defending reasons, I posted as gentle a rebuke as I could manage: “Folks, you may not be aware of this, but you are poking fun at the appearance of a severely physically disabled person. Just saying…”

The next day, out of curiosity, I checked back on that Facebook thread. What I discovered was illustrative of the seductive power of gossip. The thread’s initiator had “Liked” my comment. He’d gone on to say he’d been unaware of Krauthammer’s disability and had considered taking down the post… but given Krauthammer’s views, it simply felt too good to take shots at him – it was too much fun — so he was letting the thread continue. And the commenters continued merrily along as they had before, some saying that, since Krauthammer had helped intellectually define the Reagan Doctrine of foreign policy back in the mid-1980s, he deserved whatever physical malady he was suffering from.

I looked up the cause of Krauthammer’s disability. Then I posted a message to this effect: “Charles Krauthammer is paralyzed from the neck down due to a diving accident he suffered at the age of twenty. Please feel free to disagree with Krauthammer’s writings or opinions, vehemently, if you wish; I understand that Krauthammer enjoys a feisty policy argument. But to make fun of the man’s stiff facial expressions and physical appearance when this is due to his paralysis… if you persist in this, you should be ashamed.”

To my acquaintance’s credit, he then took down the thread and sent me a private message explaining he had done so. He apologized and said he hadn’t been aware of the severity of Krauthammer’s condition. I told him he was a mensch and that I was relieved he’d done the right thing, because I had a stack of his books sitting in my home waiting to be read.

I inserted myself because I knew this writer personally and thus had dual motivations in maintaining him in my esteem. Another social media mishap didn’t end so well. I didn’t bother pursuing it the way I’d pursued the Krauthammer incident because, for one thing, I had no personal acquaintance with the writer who’d posted offensive material, and for another, what he’d posted had so profoundly offended me that I had no desire to communicate with him and ask if he might redeem himself in some fashion.

This other writer reposted the electronic version of a chain letter. This Photoshopped chain letter called for the outlawing of the practice of circumcision, whether performed for religious or physical hygiene reasons. He did not write any additional commentary, nothing to explain his support of the posting’s urging that an ancient, venerated to some, and widely practiced procedure be not merely discouraged, but outlawed. He simply threw it up on Facebook with the casualness of someone tossing a cigarette butt onto my lawn.

Far more so than disparaging comments about Charles Krauthammer’s appearance, this hit me where I live. Under the supervision of a Jewish physician who was a family friend, I had personally circumcised three of my sons, performing the rite of brit milah with my own hands the same way (okay, using anesthetic cream and a scalpel rather than a stone knife) the progenitor of the Jewish people, Abraham, had circumcised Isaac. In terms of ritual, these three acts were the most meaningfully Jewish acts I had ever engaged in; I truly felt bonded with the entire thread of Jewish experience, with thousands of years of history and millions of lives.

I have no idea of the depth of the re-poster’s attachment to the anti-circumcision movement, nor his reasons for supporting it. It probably took him all of thirty seconds to copy that screen shot and to put it up on Facebook. But those were a costly thirty seconds for him. I’m basically this writer’s ideal reader – we have numerous interests in common, I gravitate towards the sub-genre he writes in, I have lots of discretionary income to spend on new books, and I’m very vocal about championing books I particularly like. Taking all this into account, the writer may have surrendered a couple of hundred dollars of lifetime income by posting what he did, when one factors in the numbers of people I might otherwise have recommended his books to. Casually or not, he offended me so viscerally that it will not matter to me if this person wins the Hugo and Nebula awards every year for the next thirty years running – I simply will not spend a penny on anything he does.

I hope it was worth it to him.

I understand that people want to speak out about matters they are passionate about. In rare circumstances, one’s status as a citizen and/or as a human being may make it imperative to speak out regarding a particular issue; otherwise, one could not peacefully sleep. But, if you are a professional writer or someone who is striving to be a professional writer – a person who derives income from their writing – you need to be fully aware that there are costs involved. If you judge the benefits (to your mental or moral health or the welfare of humanity) to be greater than the potential costs, then, by all means, trumpet your political and religious views from the rooftops, from Facebook and Twitter and what-have-you.

But put some thought into it. Make a reasoned and persuasive argument. Add something new and valuable to the discussion. Don’t just re-post some Photoshop quip (which most likely originated in a teenager’s basement) because it seems righteous or you want to give the giggles to your buddies “around the bar.” You never know who’s paying attention. And you’ll never know the good will you have lost.

A Counterproductive Image to Spread to the World

No matter one’s feelings about the amateurishly made film Innocence of the Muslims and the violence and turmoil in the Middle East which this film may have helped ignite (or provided a pretext for), this image, a photo of Egyptian-American Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the likely true identity of filmmaker Sam Bacile, being taken into law enforcement custody is perhaps the most counterproductive image the United States could share with the more radical elements of the Muslim world.

It is counterproductive for national security, because behavior which is rewarded tends to be repeated again and again — and those predisposed to hate the United States will not pay attention to the extenuating details behind this image (Nakoula was not being arrested but was voluntarily accompanying law enforcement officers for questioning; Nakoula has a prior conviction for financial fraud involving the Internet and may have violated the terms of his parole by producing and promoting the film utilizing the Internet), but will merely see an American being arrested for what the rioters consider the crime of blasphemy against Islam. In the eyes of the rioters, this must be counted a major success. This image is equally counterproductive and corrosive to one of America’s key freedoms, the freedom of speech; seeing Nakoula hauled off in this fashion, who knows how many writers and filmmakers will self-censor their own speech, not wanting to get on the wrong side of the Department of Homeland Security or the FBI?

I’m a writer. A science fiction writer. A good part of the job description of a science fiction writer is someone who takes an idea and stretches it to the breaking point, imagining all possible extrapolations and following those extrapolations wherever the dictates of logic, satire, or social and political critique may take them. Nearly all classic works of science fiction involve this process of extrapolation, which may lead the writer into dangerous waters, probing areas of enormous sensitivity to various sectors of the population (and writers of fantasy and fables often use the same tools). Think 1984 with its warning of totalitarianism spreading to the Western democracies or Animal Farm with its devastating portrait of the moral rot of Communism, or The Humanoids with its statement that relegating all formerly human labor to robots would render humanity less than fully human, or The Handmaid’s Tale with its cry against the influence of conservative Christianity on the administration of the state.

I am not comparing the artistry or the level of thought and imagination that went into Innocence of the Muslims with that of the works I just cited. But the quality of the film is beside the point. Until and unless it is determined that Naloula Basseley Nakoula was acting as an agent of a hostile foreign power, seeking to incite harm against the United States (a possibility which would not shock me in the least), the speech that he engaged clearly falls within the realm of Constitutionally protected speech.

In fact, Nakoula seems to fit to a tee the sort of individual championed by the American Civil Liberties Union — a person engaging in highly unpopular, obnoxious, and potentially inflammatory speech. Noncontroversial speech needs no protection. Assuming, again, that he was not acting as the agent of a hostile foreign power, how is Nakoula’s speech any less worthy of protection under the First Amendment than the parading of American Nazis in full Nazi regalia through the Jewish neighborhood of Skokie, Illinois, a community inhabited by numerous survivors of the Holocaust? Wasn’t the purpose of the marching Nazis to inflict emotional pain and a sense of fear on those survivors and their families? Didn’t the ACLU defend the legal rights of those despicable persons, and weren’t those rights upheld in court and enforced?

I personally consider Nakoula to be equally despicable. When first contacted by the media, he claimed a false identity clearly chosen to throw gasoline onto an already raging conflagration — he said he was a Jewish Israeli-American who had raised five million dollars in funding for The Innocence of the Muslims from wealthy Jewish donors. In actuality (and details continue to emerge), Nakoula is a Coptic Christian of Egyptian background who raised the money needed for his film from family back in Egypt. In all likelihood, he is a man who equally resents and hates Egyptian Muslims and Israeli Jews and who connived his way into harming or seeking to harm both groups. Based on what is known now, I consider him a worm, a moral microbe, a blot on any group he chooses to consort with.

And yet his rights under the First Amendment must be defended. There is good reason that much of the world’s most enduring and significant works of science fiction have been written in the United States and Great Britain. Science fiction is merely one of many fields, certainly not the most significant, to have benefited from the First Amendment. Our First Amendment, grounded in traditions and freedoms with their roots in English jurisprudence, allows for the full extrapolation of ideas — often unpopular, alarming, or even obnoxious ideas — free from fear of governmental interference or censorship. This is one of our great strengths. This is one of America’s most powerful comparative advantages over its rivals, one of the key reasons why many of the world’s most talented innovators have sought to come here and become Americans. It is one of the reasons I consider myself and my family to be blessed to be Americans.

It is a freedom, one of many we possess, which is worth dying for. Allowing a “heckler’s veto” to speech critical of Islam chips away at that freedom. I sincerely hope our law enforcement agencies take this into consideration in their dealings with Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. More images of the type reproduced at the top of this page will merely stoke the triumphalism of Islamic radicals and invite more incidents of the type we viewed with such sadness and disgust this past week. Such images are unworthy of us as a nation.

Passed the 100,000 Page Views Mark

Okay, okay, I'll shut up already...

Well, it took me almost a full year (I started blogging on this site on July 1, 2011), but this morning, I eased past the 100,000 page views mark. I have no idea how this rate of views compares with that of similar websites (similar, I suppose, meaning personal websites of quirky science fiction/fantasy/horror writers who are less well-published than they would like to be), but I cannot say I am unsatisfied with the results of my first year’s efforts.

Since I’m fond of statistics, I’ve listed my “Top Ten Greatest Hits” posts to date. Numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 8 were linked to by Glenn Reynold’s megablog Instapundit, so that explains their high ranking in terms of page views. The others? They just happened to stumble into an appreciative audience somehow, offering information on a subject a decent number of folks have happened to be searching for. Most surprising to me? The ongoing popularity of my “Voices From the Planet of the Apes” post. There are a whole lot of General Ursus, Zira, and Lucius fans out there, apparently, and I managed to scratch their itch.

1) Fisker Karma: Solyndra on Wheels? (10,290 views)

2) Friday Fun Links: It’s J. G. Ballard’s World, We Just Live in It (7,269 views)

3) Why Not a Real Munster for the Reboot of The Munsters? (6,638 views)

4) Wild-Ass Rumor of the Day: Sinead O’Connor Angling for Role in “Fat White Vampire” Movie (5,110 views)

5) Friday Fun Links: Science Fiction Movements and Manifestos! (4,442 views)

6) The Absence of 9-11 from Science Fiction (3,608 views)

7) Voices from the Planet of the Apes (2,369 views)

8 ) What Kind of Literary Ecosystem Do We Want to Build? (2,250 views)

9) The Passover-Easter Discussion in a Jewish Geek Household (1,585 views)

10) Miyazaki’s Steampunk Battleships (1,449 views)

Here’s hoping for a Year #2 that is at least as successful (and fun)!

Another Ex-Celebrity Fall From Grace Story… That Isn’t One

I don’t generally go in for the commonplace Schadenfreude of lapping up accounts of celebrities’ falls from grace, either into alcoholism, drug abuse, crime, poverty, or gross obesity (well, okay, you’ve got me on that last one… I simply can’t pass up a good National Enquirer spread on the spreading middles, thighs, and bottoms of the formerly stick-thin celebrity class; but that’s just one of my little things, as any reader of Fat White Vampire Blues would recognize). I’ve mostly avoided following the saga of Charlie Sheen’s meltdowns, and the Winona Ryders (shoplifting), Hugh Grants (hookers), Mel Gibsons (alcoholism, girlfriend abuse, anti-Semitism), and Mackenzie Phillipses (the kitchen sink) of the world don’t tend to grab my interest (unless they get fat).

However, a couple of days ago, one such story of a former celebrity’s descent from the heights to a supposed hell did catch my eye (and it had nothing to do with significant weight gain). The New York Post’s somewhat infamous Page Six picked up on a National Enquirer story about one of the stars of the hit 1970s and 1980s sitcom Happy Days:

“These are not ‘Happy Days’ for Joanie Cunningham actress Erin Moran.

“She’s broke, living in an Indiana trailer park and looking haggard well beyond her 51 years, according to the National Enquirer.

“Moran and husband Steve Fleischmann, 45, are reportedly living hand-to-mouth at the Berkshire Pointe Mobile Home Park in New Salisbury, Ind., where they’re said to be caring for his ailing mom.

“It’s a long fall for the actress, best known as Ron Howard’s wisecracking little sister on one of America’s most beloved sitcoms.

“She appeared in 236 episodes of Happy Days between 1974 and 1984 before doing her short-lived spin-off Joanie Loves Chachi.” …

The reason this story caught my eye was that I once knew the mother of one of Erin Moran’s costars on Happy Days. Lynda Goodfriend played Lori Beth Allen, Richie Cunningham’s girlfriend and later his wife on the show. Lynda’s mother, Mrs. Goodfriend, was the school librarian at Thomas Jefferson Junior High, where I attended seventh through ninth grades from 1976 through 1979. Being a book lover (and wanting to stay as far away as possible from members of the school’s large community of thugs and bullies), I spent a lot of time in the library and got to talk with Mrs. Goodfriend quite a bit. Her daughter joined the cast of Happy Days in 1977, when I was in eighth grade. Mrs. Goodfriend spoke with enormous pride about her daughter, not so much because she had joined the cast of TV’s most popular sitcom, but because she had managed to beat the odds – she was making a living from the arts, a field where so many thousands strived but so few earned any money at all. I’ll always be grateful to Mrs. Goodfriend, who lived up to her name for me and provided a safe haven at a school where I felt hunted and harassed.

So that’s why I bothered clicking on the link to the story about Erin Moran. But there was more to the story than the typical “actress gets older, falls from favor, can’t find work, loses home in foreclosure, ends up living in a trailer park” narrative. There was this:

“Despite these tough times, pals admire Moran’s dedication to her sick mother-in-law.

“’She and Steve moved in with his ailing mother at the trailer park a few weeks back. Erin is like an angel to her mother-in-law. She cooks and cleans for her and takes care of her personal hygiene,’ the family pal observed.”

The story goes on, in tabloid fashion, to obsess on Erin Moran’s prematurely aged appearance and the great gap in her lifestyles between her pinnacle as the young star of a hit TV sitcom and her supposed nadir in the trailer park. It doesn’t quote a word from Erin Moran herself.

And that made me wonder: what if Erin Moran is happy doing what she’s doing now? What if she finds caring for her ailing mother-in-law rewarding? Perhaps the writer didn’t obtain any quotes from Erin herself because what she would have said would have ruined the story’s conventional narrative?

I worked fifteen years for the Louisiana Office of Public Health. One of the administrative assistants in my office was an older woman named Mary. She had worked for the State of Louisiana for more than thirty-five years. When I met her, she was in her fifties, but she looked a good fifteen to twenty years older. She was gruff and initially off-putting, but she had a wicked sense of humor, and she got to be one of my favorite coworkers (she was very popular in the office, always helpful and cheerful). After having worked with her for a few years, she shared a little bit about her personal life with me. She had lost her husband a number of years before, and virtually all of her time at home was taken up with caring for her son, who was both mentally retarded and profoundly handicapped, confined to either bed or a wheelchair. She never complained about this; the stories she chose to share were about the laughs she shared with her son and the ways he found to show his love for her.

I remember, as a young guy in my mid-twenties, feeling sorry for her. Her life seemed to me to be a cage that she couldn’t escape. I thought she’d been dealt a truly devastating hand of cards. I admired her toughness, though, and wondered if I’d ever be able to show the same strength and resilience in a similar situation.

From the perspective of an older, more experienced person, now I can see that Mary had a choice of how to view herself, and I suspect her choice made all the difference for her. She could have chosen to see herself as a victim of fate and circumstances. Had she done so, she would have been a much different woman than the one I and my other coworkers knew; she probably would have become an alcoholic or perhaps a suicide. However, Mary was a religious woman, a Catholic. I believe she chose to see herself as a vessel of God’s loving-kindness, and she chose to focus on whatever evidence she could see of God’s design in the relationship between herself and her son. Yes, her life was hard; one look at the wrinkles on her face told you that. But she plumbed meaning from her life’s hardships and treasured the smallest glints of joy her son could provide. That sustained her.

Our culture used to routinely celebrate people like Mary and the quotidian sacrifices they made. Now I’m afraid we tend to view them more as unfortunates, as victims, as people to be pitied and perhaps assisted through expansions of government programs.

I wonder whether Erin Moran, former TV star, is a woman like my old coworker Mary. If she is, there is a far, far richer story there for a journalist to tell than the “rise and fall” celebrity narrative we’ve come to know so well.

But I suppose that kind of a story wouldn’t be appropriate for Page Six.

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