Firing Congress

In 1995, Congress and the White House deadlocked over a budget issue and allowed the government to shut down. In 1996, I voted for my only write-in candidate for president and against my Congressman. Why?

If you count the vice president, that made 537 people who were derelict of their Constitutionally mandated duties. Supporters of either side would say, “Well, they have to make a point.” To me, there is no point that important to make. We didn’t live in a country torn by civil war. We were in the middle of an economic boom. The only point to be made was ideological. And in a democracy, ideological points are never ever that important. In fact, they seldom have anything to do with reality.

So rather than choose between the sitting president and one of 100 sitting senators, I wrote in the man who lost the Reform Party nomination to Ross Perot. I’d painted Perot, perhaps unfairly, with the same brush. I suppose if I had to do it over again, I’d have cast a vote for that mad little Ferengi.

So in October of 2013, the government shuts down again, and over even more dubious reasons than in1995. And once again, I will not be voting for my Congressman. Nor will I vote for Republican Senator Rob Portman in 2016, either for Senate or for president. Nor will I give Democrat Sherrod Brown my vote in 2018. It’s too bad on the Congressman. Brad Wenstrup finally kicked that vapid harpie Jean Schmidt to the curb in 2012. And despite the Tea Party rhetoric, he’s always been a reasonable sort of guy.

But Wenstrup, Portman, and Brown were in Congress the day the government shut down. And there are have to be consequences. And the consequences are that I don’t vote for them. Never again.  So I’ll be voting for some guy I’ve never heard of. Come 2016, the Republicans have a chance to court my vote (Slim, maybe) as long as their nominee was not a sitting member of Congress in October, 2013. Likewise, the Democrats. As long as they do not nominate one of that useless body or Vice President Biden, I’ll listen. So what if it’s Biden vs., say, Rand Paul? Well, the Libertarians, Greens, and Modern Whigs usually get a presidential candidate on the ballot in Ohio.

Or maybe I can write in Ross Perot. I kinda feel like I owe the guy.

There are few unforgivable sins in politics. Shutting down the government needs to be one of them.

Friday Reviews: In The Electric Mist With Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke

In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead

James Lee Burke

Full disclosure: This book was recommended to me by Alafair Burke when I asked which of her father’s books I should read. I’m sure it has nothing to do with protagonist Dave Robicheaux’s teenage daughter Alafair. (Just kidding, Alafair!)

Actually, it was a really good pick. It begins with Robicheaux, a deputy in a bayou parish in Louisiana, delicately letting actor Elrod Sykes off of a drunk driving charge. Robicheaux knows a few things about drunks, having been one in the old days. Something’s spooked Sykes. He claims to have found a body in the bayou while working on a movie. Robicheaux realizes it’s the victim of a murder he witnessed as a young man of 19. He takes up the case which puts him in the crosshairs of local mafioso Julie Balboni, who fancies himself a movie producer. The problem is that he also needs to investigate the brutal murder of a young woman that looks like a serial killer. So much so that the FBI sends Rosie Gomez to work the case.

Both murders pose a problem for Balboni, whose ego is more dangerous than any of his thugs. He proceeds to gaslight Robicheaux, even spiking his drink with LSD to convince others that he’s gone back to drinking. It doesn’t help that sobriety never really curtailed his temper where brutal criminals are concerned. Even Robicheaux begins questioning his sanity when he’s given advice by the ghost of Confederate General John Bell Hood.

Burke’s bayou is a different world. It’s not New Orleans or Texas or any of a dozen other Southern locales that show up in crime novels. The Old South is very much alive here and at odds with the modern South. But it’s Balboni’s arrogance that drives this story. He has a history with Robicheaux going back to high school. Robicheaux himself is arrogant, slashing Balboni’s tires and having the car towed at one point before nearly putting one of the gangster’s entourage in the hospital. But the difference is Balboni is all about Balboni. Robicheaux is about other’s. He wants justice for the black man he saw murdered and for the girl found carved up near the movie set. He also takes an interest in getting Elrod Sykes clean and sober, sometimes against his wife’s advice.

The Short Challenge

Boxer briefs

CC 2008 Luis2402

A few weeks back, I announced my plans to offer a new short story monthly and to release a quarterly magazine called Winter’s Quarterly. All the while doing this, I’m writing novellas leading into the SF novel and writing short stories to send to science fiction markets, all under the name I refer to here as “Dick.” I’ve also been asked to revise Holland Bay and need to plan its follow-up. A lot of work on top of a day job and college, right?

Already, I devote my early mornings to writing original material. Get 500 words written, and I’m off to work. But Winter’s Quarterly and the page Get Into Jim’s Shorts will need material, too. So I issued myself a challenge.

Last time I sketched out potential shorts to write, I came up with three potential crime stories for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The challenge? Start one story each weekend and finish the first draft in that weekend. When those three are written, come up with three more stories. And so on. And so on.

Part of this will be to come up with original material for the first few Winter’s Quarterly. The stories, including “Trick or Treat” that was finished this past weekend, are timed for the season, so I’d rather they be held back until next fall when they’ll be more timely. So the first Winter’s Quarterly in January will be have mostly new material never before published.

There’s another component to this. As I do more and more around writing, I have to be able to keep up the pace of creating new material. It’s a frequent complaint among writers I know that it’s hard to move on after the first draft of a novel is finished. “What do I do next?” they complain. One publishing maven whom I was friendly with for several years said she would come down with some sort of bug every time she finished. Plus, I’m being two writers: Jim and Dick, who will have his coming out very soon. So I need to be in a mode where I can shift gears from short to long work, from crime to science fiction, from Jim to Dick. The challenge of writing every weekend will make this easier to manage. If I stockpile enough stories, I can devote more time to long work without worrying about an empty pipeline.

Perfect? Nothing is perfect. Anyone who says there’s a perfect way is lying or in for a shock.

Mind you, it took me a long time to reach this point. Just as writing a novel is a learned skill, so is writing a high amount of material and writing it well. That second part of equation is very important. Because you don’t shoot for quality, there’s no point to quantity.

You Are Not Victims. Get Over It.

There’s a growing debate in social media these days about geek culture and whether or not it is under siege. It’s risen to new heights of hysteria as one gaming critic received death threats and had to leave her home temporarily for the safety of her family. What’s going on?

Well, for a certain subset of geek culture, the move to the mainstream threatens their very identity. And therein lies the flaw. The culture itself is not under threat. If anything, it’s growing, changing, becoming more interesting and more relevant. ComicCon is covered the way rock concerts and fashion shows were once on MTV. It’s hip to be seen with Chris Pine or Peter Dinklage or Hugh Jackman. It’s cool to dress up as your favorite Game of Thrones character or Batman at a large gathering. Suddenly, the public gets the whole Halloween all year vibe of geek culture. Cosplay is in. Video games are in. Scifi/fantasy/horror are in. Wil Wheaton, who spent years taking flack for playing one of the least liked characters on a Star Trek series is rapidly becoming the next Jon Stewart. Welcome to the new age, my friends.

So why the hate?

When I first got into IT back in the nineties, computers were becoming mainstream, and there was a certain degree of this sort of angst around it by people who hunkered down and did arcane things with the pre-Netscape Internet, with distant Unix boxes, and with cryptic command-line operating systems. Now PC’s and even Linux boxes started to look like Macs. “Oh, noze,” they cried. “Everyone can do this now. We’re not special anymore!”

Since I got into the technology realm in the mid-1990’s, I had no stake in the “old ways.” If someone told me to quit using a mouse and use the DOS prompt on a PC, I looked at them like they were stupid. They certainly were telling me stupid things. But the mouse represented change, and not the cool kind of change like big hard drives and high-speed Internet brought. Those icky muggles now knew how to do magic. Ew!

Eventually, that went away, and to some degree, the novelty for the non-technically inclined went away as well. I used to have a rule that, if you graduated high school after me, you had damn well better know where the Start button was, what it could do, and, oh, you also forfeited the right to complain when I said “Reboot” sometime around the Y2K changeover. The old guard looked at these things as secrets of a mystic art. I looked at it (admittedly being an arrogant ass in the process) as a benchmark one needs to function in the modern era. We got more than three channels on the TV, Corky. Better master that remote or no HBO for you.

So it is with geekdom. One columnist complained that too many hot chicks were wearing costumes at conventions without earning their geek cred. Said columnist got his ass handed to him by John Scalzi, whose initiation into geekery happened roughly at the same time as mine did (even though John is younger.) As creator of the Old Man’s War series, a noted expert on all things scifi, a Heinlein scholar, creative consultant for one of the Stargate series, and probably the most popular SF author today, Scalzi made two declarations that, I’m sorry, but are not open for debate: 1.) Anyone who wants to be a geek is a geek. No exceptions; 2.) there is no king of the geeks (though Wil Wheaton could make a case) nor any rules for initiation. It is not a closed society. It is not a mystic cult.

And therein is the parallel to the technology sector in the 1990’s. Long time geeks don’t like all this change!

Man up, buttercup. When you go mainstream, you have to open the gates. Otherwise, you’re no better than those idiots in pretentious literary circles sniffing their own farts and sneering at anything that doesn’t sound like Hemingway or Faulkner and whining if their work does something horrifying like sell over 10,000 copies. (I’m looking at YOU, Franzen, you self-absorbed pretentious hack!) You are no longer the outsiders. Isn’t that what you’ve been pining for? Acceptance? Respect? A little bon ami for whatever franchise it is that you love?

Well, here’s the second part I alluded to earlier. There’s a culture of victimhood in geekery. Not every geek has thought this way. I did cosplay back in the 1990’s when it was “grownups in silly costumes.” And it was fun. It let me blow off steam. It gave me (Surprise!) social skills. But there were plenty of folks in that then-smaller community that felt slighted by the mainstream. They felt hurt to be ridiculed, and much of it was carry-over from adolescence and childhood, when a love of Star Trek or Star Wars replaced the mandatory love of the NFL. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were supposed to be your gods, not Captain Kirk and Han Solo.

And I get that. I was not the most athletic child. I sucked at baseball. (A few dozen men who played Little League with me are reading this and going, “No! Really?” One star pitcher reminds me of it on my birthday every year as a joke.) I found solace in Star Trek, in the monster movies on Saturday afternoons, in repeated viewings of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back on HBO when we first had it. I loved this stuff. I wanted to make up my own.

And then, as a young adult, I fell in with the Trekkies. Often ridiculed, most of them didn’t care. We had a blast together, and it was about more than the television show. I drifted into the Klingon fan groups because, frankly, they threw better parties and were better draws for charity events. Plus, you haven’t lived until you and several of your friends barge into a Denny’s dressed as alien berserkers and growl at the manager, “We demand finger food! Bring us pudding!”

But there’s that obsessive component of which the victim mentality plays into. Fandom began to suck up all my time. The politics of the clubs started intruding on other aspects of my life. I was going broke trying to pay for all the gear it took to be a Klingon, and, alarmingly, I had little time to actually watch the show we all claimed to love. One day, I posted my farewell on a local Fidonet bulletin board, took my costume (which a few fanatics insisted I call a “uniform”), and dumped it in the Salvation Army clothing bin, latex forehead and all.

I have never taken so much flack for a decision in my life. When someone called or emailed me, hurt that I’d turned my back on the group, I said, “I’m in debt. I need to go to school and learn some skills. And I need to have time to myself that’s not devoted to a television show you guys won’t give me time to watch.”

“But that’s not fair!”

No, working sixty hours a week at three jobs for two years so I could catch up on my debts was not fair. Driving cars that were expensive rolling death traps bought for less than I now pay on my mortgage each month wasn’t fair. Having no social life beyond the group wasn’t fair. Even the most fanatical churches acknowledge you have a life beyond the sanctuary (unless it’s a cult.) All this did was bolster my decision to leave. Too many people made it central to their lives, and I, having been vetted and approved to join the sacred congregation, was a traitor.

Some of those people I still called friend afterward. One of them is an online member of my current writer’s group. But the mentality is still there across all franchises and formats, from gaming to movies to comic books and beyond. A small group of hardcore fans feels threatened that they’re suddenly not special anymore. And that victimhood of being outsiders is a huge component of that core belief.

All I have to say, having been in that world and having fond memories of most of it is…

The only threat to geek culture are the hardcore fanatics who can’t stand change. If you want to know what’s threatening your culture?

Go look in the mirror.