Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy Independence Day, For Those who Sit Out

It's July Fourth, the day we honor the founding of our country and celebrate the myths of America. The day we lionize our "founding fathers" as larger-than-life heroes who created democracy on this new continent. It's a time to forget that the continent was only really new to Europeans, and that the men who wrote those lovely words about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were slave-owners. That Thomas Jefferson - himself an owner of slaves - removed the part of the Declaration of Independence about the slave trade because he didn't think it would be acceptable to his fellow Southerners.

As we celebrate freedom, we should have honor those who refuse to participate in the rituals of American patriotism because they don't buy into the myths behind it.

Toni Smith, a college basketball player who refused to face the American  Flag in the 2003 season.

The thirteen-year old daughter or a famous writer who told her mother, the day after Trump's election, that she chose to not pledge allegiance to a flag representing so many things inimical to her.

And, on a bigger stage, Colin Kaepernick, who refused to stand for the national anthem because of the disparate treatment of African Americans, including too many killed by police. It's a sad truth  that he gave up his career to make that statement.

I don't always stand for the anthem myself. Sometimes at a ballpark (the place I'm most likely to hear it) I'll quietly remain in my seat, filling out the names on my scorecard.

Why sit? Why look towards up to those who do?
Because ritual has meaning. You'll get no argument from me if you choose to stand and salute the flag and give honor to the ideals it is meant to stand for, even if we fall short.

You'll get even greater respect from me if you turn your head and sit out until such time as the actuality comes closer to the ideal.

You can let your silence be part of your voice.

To put in another way, earlier this year, I participated in the great American tradition of a protest march.  One of the ongoing call-and-reaponse chants was:

"Tell me what democracy looks like"
"This is what democracy looks like"

And, at one point, the word changed from democracy to America. This is what America looks like: people getting together to speak against hatred, against injustice. We were, as a group, one facet of what America looks like.

Sadly, democracy - and America - are also reflected in the election if a vulgar, willfully ignorant bully. One who was elected not in spite of his racism but because of it.

So long as that is part of what America looks like we should all give our respect to those who see the darkness in America and who will sit down until such a time as it lifts.

Listen to their silence. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thoughts on the New York Mets, the Chicago Cubs and Donald Trump on the eve of Baseball Season

It's been - for those of us who care about the nation's standing in the world, about civil rights, or simply about civility - a dark time in the world. There is a measure of joy coming around the corner in that we're nearing the eve of baseball season, with pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training just three days from this snowy Friday. So, fear not, I'm here to tarnish the pure joy of the baseball season by dragging politics and sexism into it, as we continue to understand how we elected an unrepentant sexist to the world of baseball.

Baseball and election seasons ended with an interesting statistical footnote from our friends at the 538 blog; on October 30, down three games to one, the forecasters at 538 gave the Cubs the same odds of winning the World Series as they gave Trump of winning the presidency. We all know what happened; the Cubs stunned the world with their first World Series win in over a century before Trump stunned the world again on November ninth. This isn't the part I see as interesting. What I see most interesting reflects something I said moths earlier about the New York Mets, and the ease with which we accept blatant sexism.

At the game, with girls. This is why I'll not cheer
a domestic abuser
For those who don't remember, last summer I wrote about how I booed New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes because of accusations of domestic violence against him - accusations which arguably were the direct cause of his availability to return to the team. It's a small and subtle stand, but still not an easy one to take; in the stadium with him at the bat in a big moment there was tangible excitement in the crowd, the PA system leading the "Jose, JoseJoseJose... Jose, Jose" chant from all those years back when he was a young superstar. It's an easy moment in which to get caught up, and particularly in a big moment, in extra innings, needing a run. I booed, but I was in a minority; the crowd cared more for the orange and blue within the diamond than the actions outside of it.

This brings us to another domestic abuser, Aroldis Chapman of the Chicago Cubs, he of the 105 mile-per-hour fastball. The big, strong arm brought halfway across the country from the struggling New York Yankees after they acquired him at a bargain price because he'd fired an actual gun during a domestic dispute with his girlfriend. When he stepped onto the mound the crowd cheered. Loudly, vociferously. Apparently without reservation. Midway through the season, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs on their way to the first World Series they'd see in over a century. Those of who watched saw over forty-thousand fans at Wrigley Field cheering for a man who missed the first third of the season for firing a gun at his wife. This is a thing we've taught eachother to do: to compartmentalize. To set aside our inner sense of decency and support "our team", right or wrong.

It's fandom.
It's politics.
It's patriotism.

Some of the same people who would cheer for Reyes or Chapman, for Rothlesberger, for Kobe Bryant, for so many other professional athletes who've mistreated women over the years, these are the people coming to the ballot box. Those who identify with "team elephant" saw the elephant next to Trump and went with the team, even if the man behind the symbol was imperfect.

This might not be overt sexism, but it's hard to read it as anything other than sexist. To support Trump, to cheer for Chapman or Reyes, to ignore those who have in words and deed caused harm to women is, of not hostility, indifference. Indifference may not be the same as active hostility, but it certainly does not represent support for the safety and decent treatment of women.

I've already chosen to no longer cheer for Reyes and his ilk, to speak against him. I'm hoping some of my fellow fans will join me, and my fellow Americans will learn to stop burying our decency beneath our fandom.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Actions to Take Regarding the Changeling Hunt

Following are some actions you can take in response to the Fey hunt laws, even if no fairy blood flows in your veins. While actual fey and changelings will, of course, have their own ways to fight back, they are few and we are many.  Already we see walls of iron built in the the wild places, with more planned.

  1. Plant a hedgerow. They're pretty, if nothing else. And the thin places between this world and the fey realm often look like hedgerows, so you might confuse a hunter. Besides, if you're lucky enough you might actually create a new door.
  2. Learn an instrument. Changelings are recognized for musical talent, so the more music there is in the world, the less they'll stand out. Something portable like pipes or even a harmonica is best, but anything will do. Try making yourself a home-made banjo.
  3. Let your children be wild.  Let them play loudly, let them play in public. Changelings have a reputation - earned or not - for wild behavior.  Forcing your children to be quiet isolates actual and perceived changelings. If everyone is a little wild, the truly wild will be able to hide in plain sight.
  4. Let your spaces be wild.  Aside from the aforementioned hedgerows, fey folk like wild places, untamed places. Let a corner of your lawn grow wild. Let all of it grow wild. Let moss grow, let dandelions grow. Tear dandelion leaves up with your hands, mix them into salads, brew them into wine.
  5.  Listen. This is most important. You'll hear their voices, and hear their music. You'll hear them tell you which places to set free, when to dance and when to laugh. Remember, the world is not yours alone, nor the fight.

Copy and repost this. Join the resistance. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Flash Fiction - Remembrance

I've been quiet here; the lack of a commute has made my life better overall, but really cut into my writing time. I don't need to tell you, my friends, that these are dark times in America.  I will, for today, eschew political writing for a scrap of flash fiction. 



by Leonard C Suskin

"The Rosemary is dying"

You see the little pot in your mother's hands. The spiky leaves are starting to yellow. Not all of them, but enough. This is not a strong rosemary plant.

She sets it down on the kitchen table. Her fingers walk through the branches like pages of a book, pulling each one aside to touch it, feel it, examine it. You marvel, not for the first time, at how hands as hold as hers can be this nimble, this lively. She sighs.

"I wanted to make a wreath, for the Johnsons to hang over their baby's crib. The goddess knows we can all use some protection these days."

She finds a healthy sprig, pulls it free as she continues to speak. "Do you think we should put it on the window sill? It'll get more light, might do a bit better."

Your eyes widen. The window is clearly visible from the neighbor's house. And the other neighbor. And the ones behind you. That's the hazard of living in suburbia. Everyone sees everyone. "You know.. The black laws.. What if someone sees?"

She finds a healthy branch and carefully breaks it free, her nails cutting into it a few inches up from the stem. Just as she taught you. "You know, this isn't the first time.  I remember a story my grandmother told me about a village in the old country where rosemary - and more - were outlawed. Especially rosemary."

She bundles the few healthy sprigs with string and hangs them to dry as she talks. "There was, in this village, a wisewoman, who'd treat her neighbors ills, who'd help them find love, who'd make sure their babes were born healthy and not stolen away by the fey-folk after."

You listen as she strings up the rosemary to dry - in a corner of the kitchen, far enough from the window that the neighbors wouldn't see. "The king sometimes sent riders to make sure that his edicts are being obeyed, but the people of this village were clever and proud of their wisewoman. She'd been good to them. So, they were clever. They each chose to plant rosemary in their gardens, and foxglove and lavendar and whatever else she grew. They planned to tell the kingsman that they wanted them for cooking, or for decoration, or some other silliness. The idea was, of course, that even if the kingsman didn't believe them, he couldn't raze the entire village and put them all to the torch. The wisewoman was, not for the first time, proud. And glad she'd picked this place to live."

She trails off.

"So? What happened? Did the kings man give up?"

"Do Kings Men ever give up? Lovely rosemary grew wild in the wreckage for years after. Probably still does. And those who survived remember." She set the plant at the windowsill, in the sunlight. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Wrong Heroes - Farewell to a Princess

2016 is, thank the gods, nearly over. A year that's not only taken David Bowie, Prince, and now Carrie Fisher from us while giving us an orange-skinned menace as President-Elect of the United States.

As I've said here before the Star Wars films hold a special place in my life, out of proportion with their actual actual artistic value. To me, then, Carrie Fisher, will always - in addition to everything else she was -  be Princess Leia. Thinking on both the character and the person in light of the current state of the world, there's much to see about how we think about women, how we think about
She drowned in the moonlight, strangled
by her own bra. 
men, and how we think about heroes.

The scene of Princess Leia's which resonated with me as a child was, of course, the rescue from the Death Star. Han and Luke had made their way to her cell and immediately found themselves attacked by imperial stormstroopers and on the verge of re-capture. Leia essentially took over her own rescue, grabbing a blaster from one of the men and leading them to the relative safety of the trash compactor.

Leia's place in the story was more than that, of course. She was a leader of the rebel alliance. An organizer. While Luke was living in the backwater of Tattoine and Han was eking out a living as a small time smuggler and con-man, she was doing the actual work. If one steps back and takes a long look one could ask - who is the actual hero? The one running a movement - and who goes back to running it in her older years when the men have run away - or the talented warrior/pilot with their flashier skills? Luke and Han won the day in battle, but it was arguable Leia who brought them TO that day so they could win it. She was the heart and mind, they the body.

As a mental exercise, try reimagining the story from her point of view; in place of the simple farmboy destined for greatness you have someone raised to closer to the emperor's shadow by a family who not only knew what they were doing but who consciously chose to defy the empire by hiding her. Someone who lost not only her family but her entire world, someone who has the same parent/child dynamic with Darth Vader that Luke Skywalker had. Let me repeat: Luke lost his Aunt and Uncle [who he never seemed to much like]. Leia lost literally her entire world.

We've not changed much. Decades after the first Star Wars films, JK Rowling gave us an even more egregious example of the wrong hero in the Harry Potter novels; Hermione Granger was the smartest student at Hogwarts, perhaps one of the smartest the school had ever seen. She showed bravery, initiative, creativity. Time and again, Harry succeeded because Hermione figured out the answer for him. Her strongest skills were academic - the willingness to read and study, and the ability to both remember what she learned and put what she knew into context. Harry's best skill was flying a broomstick very well and being successful at a sport. He was the lightsaber-wielding Luke Skywalker to the sharp-witted and sharp-minded princess.

And, of course, it's the laser-sword fights, the aerial combat, the wizards duels which we remember.

So, Princess Leia was a hero. Or should have been.What of Fisher herself, the person behind the character? She was smart and funny. I learned yesterday that she not only had a quiet career as a "script doctor" in Hollywood, but also fixed some of what would have been the most cringeworthy dialog in the Star Wars films. She's looked on fondly by her peers and friends.

I'm not usually one to mourn celebrities; their lives and mine are separate enough that the illusion of personal connection falters as they leave us. There are, of course, exceptions. I cried for Sir Terry Pratchett. And I cried for Carrie Fisher.I didn't know her that well, nor really follow her career the way I had some others, yet still I cried.

I cried for the years we'll never get to see; for the years ahead of her.

I cried for the bit of my childhood which is now irretrievably in the past.

I mourn for the loss of her voice, for her willingness to speak honestly and openly about her struggles with mental illness. To this day, that issue is still a taboo.

And I mourn the too-soon and pointless death. For the stories which will be left untold.

2016 was not a good year; in a way it seems almost fitting for it to end with pain.

So, we mourn.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday - After Halloween

Hello friends. I'm back.

No real Flash Fiction Friday piece this week, but I will give you a brief original poem, and a promise that in this space there will be something every week. Some weeks it will be poetry, some weeks flash fiction, perhaps sometimes something a touch more substantive.

This is pretty heavy-handedly allegorical, but I suspect that to be the headspace in which many of us find ourselves around now; at least those of us who are decent human beings shocked by the national and global moves towards hatred.

More to come.

"After Halloween"

The pumpkins away
nor the plastic witch high on the tree
nor the scarecrows.

nor the pumpkins.

 I said the pumpkin already
didn't I?

It isn't just one house; there's a malaise,
a miasma
a plague of non-pumpkin removing

To gather them is no great task
Out before dawn in a dark blue pickup truck
flying wind-tattered stars and stripes

It's easy to gather up the pumpkins,
reminder of the schoolmaster's weakness
reminder of pagan rites
goard of the devil.
The pumpkins do not belong.

It's easy to gather the scarecrows
some plastic things from the dollar store
some straw-stuffing and twine.
All fake.
There is no corn here
           there are no crows.
The scarecrows do not belong.

The witches don't belong.
No need to explain why.

These all fit in the bed of the truck
under the fluttering banners
invisible in the pre-dawn dark of standard time.

It's a short drive to the shore.

It feels good,
the cool November air on your face
the faint saltwater mist
the pleasant ache in your arm
as you fling each rotting pumpkin
each vermin-infested scarecrow
each tack plastic witch
                                  as far from the shore as your arms can launch them.

Some of them sink.
Some may float, only to be smashed against the shore
by an unforgiving current.

You drive off, your work done.

Never to know which of the pumpkins
bolstered by witches magic
fed by sodden straw
will embrace their new home
will learn to swim
and will,
from the depths

Monday, November 7, 2016

A Pixel-and-Inkstained Election Endorsement

Warning: Contains politics.

Today is the eve of the Presidential election here in the US. After a campaign which stretched literally two years, tomorrow we cast our ballots and patiently await the returns. This is not my usual space to talk politics, but this is not a usual election. In an election which has seen The Atlantic endorse a candidate for only the third time in its hundred fifty year history I think it reasonable to give thoughts here in my space. We'll return to our regular programming soon after.

Those paying attention will note that this is the second time this season I mentioned the election, the first being back in April when I took professional cartoonist Scott Adams to task for what, at the time, appeared to be vocal support for Donald Trump. My statement back then is that we in the tech industry - to which Adams is at least peripherally connected - can and should be better than that. AT the time, Trump had been waging a campaign focused on subtle and not-so-subtle appeals to racism, and that Adams' support gave at least tacit acceptance to this divisiveness. I'm very sorry to say that things have gotten worse (and that Adams has fallen completely down the rabbit-hole of apologizing for and enabling blatant racism).

This is also my chance to - perhaps long-windedly- address a question a Trump supporter asked on Facebook:
your candidate is probably going to win, and yet all I am seeing is negativity. Aren't you excited at all that Clinton is on track to win?

That is a fair question, and here is my long-form answer:

I AM excited by the prospect of a Clinton presidency for her commitment to education, to universal healthcare, to protections for working families, for women's rights. I also know these to be part of my political philosophy which is not universal; there are some very honorable people who believe in smaller government, lower taxes, and a "hands off" governing philosophy. The debate between Obama and Romney or McCain was Rawls vs Nozick, social justice vs libertarianism. It's a debate about which I feel strongly, but one in which both sides are respectable. This year is something different.

This year we've heard the following from the Republican nominee:

  • The current President of the United States was born in a foreign country - despite ALL evidence to the contrary
  • The US is "under assault" by spanish-speaking immigrants pouring across our Southern border, and that these are rapists and otherwise criminal.
  • The "inner cities" are a lawless "disaster" in which African-Americans are both criminals and victims of crime.
  • That Muslims are scary, and that no Muslims should be allowed ingress to the country - even those who are actual American citizens. 
  • That the "Central Park Five" - a group of African-American youths wrongly imprisoned for the rape of a female jogger in Central Park are - in his mind - still guilty despite evidence to the contrary. 
Along with the slogan "Make America Great Again" (my emphasis), Trump continues to run a campaign specifically focused on  exploiting the fears of white racists reacting to shifting demographics.

We now have white supremacists vocally supporting Trump for president. We literally have the KKK endorsing him. In his weird, rambling trail of pro-Trump blog posts (some of which purported to disavow him or even endorse Clinton or Johnson), the aforementioned Adams framed the election through the lens of "persuasion" and explained that he understands it because of his training as a hypnotist. I'll do something different, and look at it as a story: in a period of changing economic times and social upheaval, the traditional majority ethnic group sees their power waning. A strong-voiced leader arises to tell them that it isn't their fault, that they've been stabbed in the back by those not like them, by invaders, by those with different faiths.  This is a story we've heard before, and it didn't go well the last time.

I don't know what Trump believes, but I DO know that everything he's done and said in his campaign has made it OK to be a white nationalist, that it's OK to be openly racist, that it's OK to be openly sexist. Every vote for Trump is a vote in favor of these ideals, whether you believe in them or not.

I can hear your objection: "But what if I don't support Clinton because of [Emails/Clinton Foundation/Iraq War Vote/Benghazi/other]?" My answer: It doesn't matter. The narrative of this election IS the narrative, with or without your approval. A vote may be your voice, but it is a voice sharply constrained in what it can say or how it can say it. A win by Trump - or even a narrow loss - helps to normalize all of what he stands for. That's just how it is. To go to our historic analogy, if you voted Hitler because of his economic plans you'd still get the gas chambers.

So why do I support Clinton? Lots of reasons specific to my political beliefs.  Why should all decent people support her this election?  To tell a story to our fellow Americans and the world as a whole about who were are and what we want to be.