Monthly Archives: May 2016

Fascism is Good for Business

Smart people are calling presumptive Republican nominee, Donald J. Drumpf, an aspiring fascist. His tendency to authoritarian government is a learned trait, if stories of his father are true. The things that make him a terrible candidate for political leadership are also traits that the business world often respect and admire. A plastic morality is ideal when the only measure of success is profit. A CEO is often only indistinguishable from a fascist dictator by the fortunate reality that getting fired from a company does not immediately mean being killed, and any torture that occurs will be psychological, not directly physical. A CEO is rewarded for treating workers like disposable cogs, called tough by the business community. A CEO is rewarded for driving down expenses even if it means workers don’t earn a living wage, or parts are imported from slave-labor facilities in miserable places of the planet.

We criticize Trump for his sexism, his rudeness, his inhumanity to man. We do not see it as a critique of the place he learned it. Inside the halls of business power, all of these traits are common and often celebrated in powerful men. People inside the company will celebrate Trump’s leadership, when the very style of leadership he utilizes is a fascist dictator state, where one man’s word rules everything, demands everything. And, more importantly, in the world of business, this kind of fascist dictator leadership is celebrated and common. Trump learned his authoritarianism from his community.

We have all been workers before at companies. We know what it is like to have to give lip-service to leadership, keep our face smiling, and be careful what we say about the things going on at the workplace. The best companies I worked for where places where the CEO was a benevolent one, quick to think about ethics and the weight of power. The very best company I worked for had a female CEO, at a very advanced age, who was as kind as a grandmother even as we knew there was no messing around with her resources or her commands. Even in the very best circumstances, and she was the very best of people to work for, a wonderful human in every way, it was clear that the employee was not the powerful one; there is no democracy in business. The owners of resources are the commanders of them, and the top of the heap in life.

In living memory, business leaders have not made good presidents. Bush II, the first president with an MBA, by any measure of a presidency, was not an effective leader of the country. Actor turned politician Ronald Reagan remains a contentious figure, but seems to be responsible for one of the greatest lies in modern economics, that cripples the powerless to this day, the idea of Trickle-Down Economics.

We talk about the problem of Trump, but we have a society that is trained to glorify authoritarians. Anyone who is a “true believer” at work, so to speak, is ripe to become the one who votes for fascism.

The unions are gone, mostly. Even the ones that remain are undermined and destroyed, and are notorious for corruption. The world of business authoritarianism is seeping into the cracks and crevices of society. It will come again, if we do not change the culture of business, even if Trump loses.

Everyone in America, nearly, must work in a company, and be a company person. How do we change the culture of leadership in companies to stop rewarding fascist dictators?

It’s a hard question, with no good answers. In the mean time, I’m looking for another benevolent dictatorship, looking around the companies I visit for signs the employee smiles aren’t genuine, and the presence of the boss isn’t simultaneous with fear.

Though I believe we will end up in a dictatorship eventually, if the system of Capitalism is not reformed towards social justice, the number of decent people who are good authoritarian figures to their employees – even the ones they don’t personally like – gives me some hope that there will be good ones as often as there are bad ones. People have lived under dictatorships for thousands of years, and most of the people were happy with it, just like most of us like our jobs.

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The Ignorant, the Innocent, the Saintly Men; or a review of Haldor Laxness’ Paradise Reclaimed

Iceland is as far away from my subtropical sweltering humidity and heat as the other side of the moon. I have been to Germany, though, and stayed there quite a while on more than one occasion. I remember in winter, around January, everything was so dark and wet and cold. The whole community huddled together over coffee, over warm food, stamping their feet in the walkways. Businesses hung drapes around the front door to keep the blast of cold from getting in whenever the customers entered. It was a makeshift entryway that worked fairly well to preserve the hot, close air in all the shops and restaurants. People wore good shoes, trekked over ice patches in them. When the sun finally broke in early spring, people would go to parks and sit for long stretches in the grass, looking up into the blue with all their friends around them.

In Laxness’ Iceland, it is the nineteenth century, and the weather is even more extreme across the country that is even farther north from where I was in temperate southern Germany. The nights in winter are long and dark and the countryside offers no amusements, no pleasures or luxuries. When the dark time comes, people rush to get everything done that is possible during the brief hours of light, then they hunker down to bed with little oil to light their lamps, and no singing or dancing or laughter. There is just darkness, and waiting for the end of darkness. There is a winter, and there is spring, and the waiting for spring in winter. The beautiful translation, I hope, of the novel of the innocents of that life, out in the country, I hope, is true to the original language of the book.

The farmer at the heart of the little novel, with his daughter, form a core of innocence that verges on foolishness. They are painted with broad strokes, and can occasionally be hard to read as they border on the inhuman. But, innocence is inhuman. It is beaten out of us all. Certainly, the poor daughter of the farmer, craftsman, and bricklayer convert to the Mormon religion, is beaten down by life for her innocence.

The novel begins with a horse too fine for Iceland, a horse worthy of kings. It is a fairy horse, believed to be descended of Selkies by the farmer’s children. This beautiful horse cannot be bought or sold. It can only be given to a visiting foreign king. Steiner, the farmer, seems to do everything with a purpose and direction of a pre-ordained to heaven out of protestant theology. He is a force of nature, whose great mistakes are tied only to his failure to recognize that other great men do not uphold his high standards of behavior. Local officials are a plague of corrupt locusts. One of them takes advantage of friendship and the absent husband to decimate the farm’s pastures in autumn with far too many horses. His daughter is probably raped, impregnated with an illegitimate child that throws her life into a mess.

He doesn’t even know. The only other man that was worthy of Steiner’s admiration for a good, long time is a Mormon Missionary and polygamist from Utah. Steiner goes to Utah, then, becomes Mormon, and a bricklayer, and presents a fascinating portrayal of early Salt Lake City, after the community established but before the federal government came for the polygamists. It is a Utopian vision, and appeals to the perfection reflected in Steiner’s gaze to the mountainous hills. It is very hard to write compelling saintly men, walking the line between ignorance and innocence, but Laxness is a master and the tale he tells is compelling and strange to me, sitting on a bench below a lemon tree, and looking up into the same blue sky that hangs over Iceland, and Utah, and all the paradises of this world.

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The Apocalypse Story is the Story of a Single Life

The genre of stories known widely as Apocalyptic, including such standouts as PARABLE OF THE SOWER and FURY ROAD, is not so much a cynical look at what will occur in the future as much as it is a story about the way we feel about the future. It is a place that will be strange and uncertain and dangerous. As we age, we will see the collapse of our known systems and ideas. THe society around us will change and become strange. Our purpose in life will shift from building the world, to merely declining slowly without pain. Sudden emergencies will come, the eventual horror of death and disease strikes us all in our circles of friends and families and in our own bodies. There is no escape from the end of times.

When we read or watch or otherwise consume post-apocalyptic stories, we are imagining a sublimated version of our own future, where regardless of politics and environment, we are guaranteed the experience of physical collapse, and death in what we hope is a clean, well-lit room, where smiling men and women come to sit with us a while and hold our hands and tell us that we are loved. Too many die alone in squalor, on the streets, in horrible, painful accidents, lingering on after the collapse, dependent on pills and hope and daytime television just to survive another moment.

The Apocalypse stories are sublimations of our own desperate attempts to push for meaning and purpose and hope. They are the heroes that keep pushing into the wasteland of decline, keep fighting, keep their structure and society going beyond the evidence of the end of the world. These heroes are our role models against our own aging selves.

Roland Deschain is an old man, after many hard years. His knees struggle. His body aches. Across the desert sands, the man in black moves, and he pursues, pursues, pursues.


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The Nebulas versus the Presidency

This will be a blog about the Nebulas female sweep. First, let me, at length, discuss the current election for American President.

The current presidential election is a compelling argument for the continued presence of sexism in the general public’s collective unconscious. Hillary Clinton is widely reported as someone requiring a clean, gaffe-free campaign to secure the Presidency. She is widely considered suspect because her husband cheated on her, and she stayed with him. She is widely considered suspect because she is ambitious. She is widely considered suspect because she had a complex e-mail thing, probably more complex than most sixty-eight-year-old women have in their lives, and it might have been a problem, possibly. She is required by the media’s constant think-pieces to have a gaffe-free, scandal-free campaign to succeed against Trump. Her scandal could lead to his victory.

Donald Trump is a rolling trash fire of scandals and gaffes. He uses gaffes strategically, it seems, to push the more serious concerns out of the media coverage. Cries about his tax returns disappeared in the wake of his time as an outspoken sockpuppet, pretending PR under various pseudonyms. The gaffe pushes the serious concern out of the news. It’s brilliant and horrifying.

Now, reserve the genders. If Clinton had faked her own PR firm back in the nineties…? If Clinton spoke of men (or women) with the sort of casual sexism that pours out of the GOP’s prime contender, would anyone even take her seriously as a person, much less a candidate? Clinton is not allowed to have any gaffes.

It’s not just Clinton. Look at other women aspiring to the highest political positions in the land on the side of the aisle. Carly Fiorina and Sara Palin are many things, but let us just say that they do not resemble an orange failed potato in their physical appearance. Could anyone imagine taking them seriously on the national stage if they did? Women can’t just be good at their job, you see. They also have to look good doing it. Men can be a failed mr. potato head with tiny sausage hands and a hairdo so ridiculous not even Hasbro’s eponymous toy could pull it off. Women have to be so much better just to get the same respect and consideration that men (like me) take for granted.

Now let’s talk about the Nebulas. Women swept the ticket. When a woman writes a book, she is less likely to be reviewed. She is more likely to receive noxious death threats. She is often described in sexist terms. Her covers will cue readers that her work is not to be taken seriously. It is harder to be an author and a woman. It is even harder to be an author and a woman and a person of color.

So, when one considers the reality that for a woman to get just as far as a man in the world, she must do a better job, gaffe-free, and look good doing it, I think it is safe to assume that the work that won the Nebulas was very good, indeed. Setting aside the sexism, for a moment, and the problems of the sexist systems that exist and punish women and should be stopped soon, the very fact that these women won should be a clear indication that their work is likely better than what a man would write with the same expectation of success.

(Remember when space whale Jesus won a major award? Or how about robot jesus?)

So, we can’t stop sexism. But, we can remember that it exists when we consider the next thing we’re going to read, and see how women and women of color – a topic I did not discuss presently, but is a topic unto itself – managed to come out on top.

Whenever I look for a doctor, I always look for a woman doctor. I do this because I want the best doctor, and I know that sexism meant at every stage of her academic and professional career, the woman doctor had to be dancing backwards in heels, as the expression goes, just to stand equal with the men in her class. It sucks. I want to change that. I have no power over the world. But, I can control who my doctor is. I can control what books and stories I read next.

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Moment Momentum

As an artist, I have faced failure. This morning I woke up and anxiously made coffee, feeling failure hanging over me like a cloud. Momentum is an underrated trait in the arts. I have stumbled over a difficult phase doing some contract teaching work and lost momentum on a couple projects that I need to rebuild energy to pursue. I also let the house go, a bit. The living room is covered in papers graded, papers that failed to return to rightful owners. The kitchen table is covered in unopened mail – junk mail, all of it. There are contractors to hire. Appointments to schedule. And, there are books to write. Each moment builds momentum for the next moment. Each day builds to the next day. If I fall behind, lose momentum, on books or on the housework or at any other large task that requires such maintenance, then I must rebuild that momentum.

There is good momentum and bad. The energy spent chasing a failed project, doomed to fail no matter what I do to try and fix it, is lost energy. Not every idea is worth pursuing. At the house, I installed magnetic strips to hold the knives up and away. It took only moments, and, at first, it seemed like such a good idea. Then, I noticed how easily knives fall off the strips, and how the cupboards open and close occasionally quite hard in that area. If they fell, where would they fall? They were just over the stove, where I would be standing below them, barefoot, with a dog at my heels after carrot scraps. The energy to fix the problem, then, grows greater. I have to get the power tools out again, take another trip to the hardware store and use a ladder and and figure out how to mount the thing to drywall. None of this is hard, but it requires energy, time, and is easily allowed to slip into the back of the day, an afterthought, a thing I will get to eventually. Moment momentum falls lost. I feel guilty, then, every time I see the thing I don’t finish hanging over my head. The knives will fall. I tell myself they will fall and hurt someone and I need to fix it. Not today, though. Today, I have other things that need to be done.

The energy I spend builds momentum. Failure is constant. Every day I choose where to put the energy I have, some other critical thing falters. Ergo, I feel terrible about myself, like a failure. The thing about momentum is that it is always lost. It always requires a messy combination of guilt, fear, anxiety, desire, and will to overcome the lost momentum, by pushing, moment-by-moment into the wall of the project that hangs over head.

When it is done, there is a momentary sense of accomplishment, truly. There is also an echo of energy, where the momentum is still pushing inside of me, but the stone is up the hill and I float a little bit higher, disoriented. The momentum evaporates. The moment feels like a hole. If I am lucky, and I did a good job, the hole will be a happy feeling, of wonder passing through like waking up from a beautiful dream.

This is a career in the arts.

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Everything Falls Apart Eventually

Some major sites are closing down in the world of literature and blogging. Bookslut, and SFSignal were nothing alike, really. The former was a brainy and peripatetic deep dive into books and ideas from an eclectic and brilliant collective. The latter was an amalgamation of so many influences and topics it was like mainlining the signal of the SF/F/H genres, directly. They are not alone. Other sites are closing down, even as I type these words.

The great lie that is told in subscription services is that the digital purchases remain forever. They do not. The exciting adventures in massive multiplayer online RPGs are only as lasting as the ability of the game to generate revenue. The bloodstream of the web is the energy of the electrons and hosting services. That energy costs something. And, it takes energy to build good things, out here. It takes time and effort and consistent pushing to develop an idea into a meaningful set of things.

I imagine someday the internet will be an amazing resource for whatever researchers come along to study it. Jenn Brissett wrote something along these lines in her brilliant debut, Elysium. Aliens tap into the code around the broken world, to learn what happened down below. Someday the code will be tapped, and so much information will pore out from the magnets and floppy discs. Whole communities will be recreated and studied based on the data from their phones, like sifting the detritus behind the archaeoligical dig site, where ancient man cast off eaten bones and trash.

We pore our whole lives into these bins of light. We type and type and type. We stay connected, always, to the data signal that follows us in a cloud.

It can go away in moments. Facebook could close tomorrow. Google could go under in a shell of bad moonshots. Hosting sites could collapse in a bad storm, taking whole sites with them. This is a temporary place. Never forget that this is a temporary place.

It only feels like an eternity because it is so fast.

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Vegan Mesquite Flour Ice Cream with Lime Vanilla and Spiced Rum

Vegan ice cream is so rich and delicious, non-vegans with bland dairy should feel a little jealous.

Having come into some locally-sourced mesquite flour, we have been experimenting. (Chocolate chip cookies with mesquite are delicious.)

I stumbled into vegan ice cream that is sublime.

Step one:

Bring 2 13.5 ounce cans of full-fat coconut milk, 1/4 cup corn syrup, 3/4 cup sugar, 2 heaping tablespoons mesquite flour, and a teaspoon of kosher salt to a boil then turn down to a simmer on the stove. Stir constantly until it all melts together. This takes about five minutes.

Talk off the heat.

Stir in the zest of two limes, one teaspoon of vanilla extract, and two tablespoons of spiced rum.

Refrigerate for four hours.

Churn in your ice cream machine for twenty minutes. Then frees overnight. (I couldn’t wait in the picture. I rushed the final set. I regret nothing. The rest will freeze just fine overnight.)

I served it with toasted pecans, toasted sunflower seeds, and a drop of spiced rum. It was divine. The mesquite lends a real nutty, toffee-like note to the final ice cream, that mingles with the lime and vanilla to remind me of flan.

It is delicious. Make this, if you can get some mesquite flour!

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The Endless Race War of the West

A forgettable gory Western, Bone Tomahawk, was guilty of some of the major horror tropes regarding race. First, the young, black stablehand is cannon fodder, whose death means nothing but the movement of plot. This is the only African-American in the film, that I could tell. Second, the Native Americans are so alien and unknowable as to be literally monsters. The main characters openly discuss the number of Indians they’ve killed. While on their journey across a standard Western landscape, two Mexicans approach the camp in the night and are summarily executed. There is a religious subtext, as well, wherein the character that survives the whole affair is constantly praying. The monstrous troglodytes emerge from the valley of starving men because some murderous bandits kicked over rocks at a site sacred to the monsters.

Let’s set aside the horror tropes and talk about cannibalism. It happened. It was part of the cultures of North America. It still happens in parts of the world remote from modern theories of germs and disease. Let us first begin by letting that concept go. The divide between what is food and what is disgusting is inextricably linked to the identification of groups and cultures. Let us begin by placing that concept aside. The actions of the tribe appear monstrous, just as Grendel appears monstrous, just as fire ants appear monstrous. But, white men came to the country and decimated native populations. Should they not fight back? Should they not defend their sacred places? Much of the drama of the film revolves around the good people caught in the crossfire of the vengeance of the sacred. The unwitting good people caught up in the fight are going to die.

This is the race war, idea, though. This is the manifest destiny at the heart of the genre of the western. The unknowable place full of savagery and terror is laid down by the gun of the good, white man. The town is protected against the wild. The railroad runs through, and will always come through whether by force of might and banditry, or by love and desire. And, in every Western I’ve seen, the different races are kept apart from each other, pushed against each other, played off as representatives of the idea of their own cultures and ways of life. Even among the best-intentioned Westerns, it’s hard to escape the specter of the larger world in the time. The white man was coming. The black man was under his heel. The Hispanic man was a foreign world, an Other, that was to be pushed away from decent Americans, or a race of ignorant children to be protected by decent Americans. The red man was a monster and was to be feared and fought and never trusted. The best of the savages could, perhaps, integrate into the town, but never keep their own way of life. The idea of the west is, at heart, a race war where a whole continent was placed under the heel of the white American, and all other cultures and ways of life are pushed down and away.

Even the best Westerns, the smartest and bravest and most interesting, walk across this face of history. The town is the place of order and civilization, and it is a place of Whiteness. The wilderness is the place of danger and the unknown. It is the place of the native Americans, who were, actually, as civilized in their way as any European-style township. The heart of the genre carries a race war. What do we do about it? What do we write about it? What do we make movies about it?

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