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.