COVID-19 And The End Of Complacency

First off, let me just say I thought COVID-19 was the name of the virus and the sickness you got was just a sickness. Apparently, I was wrong. COVID-19 is the sickness and SARS-CoV-2 is the virus. Personally, I think they need to come up with better names for both the disease and the virus. Although, to be fair, COVID-19 has done an admirable job of striking fear into the hearts of the world.

But, let’s face it, it’s only a matter of time before the first COVID-19 World Tour 2020 shirts start popping up.

As of this writing, we’re still semi-confined to our houses. I say semi-confined because essential businesses are still operating. Restaurants are doing take-out orders, grocery stores are still operating, and half of Albuquerque is at Lowe’s at any given point in time. Drive around the city and there’s still traffic, albeit less than usual. But all the fun stuff – libraries, bars, movie theaters, that Savers thrift store I love to visit, gyms, etc – are closed. Those of us still fortunate enough to have jobs are primarily working from home and school is moving to an online model of education.

The online world is filled with people saying, “When this is all over, I’m gonna…” It could be go bar hopping, or hug friends, or go to a movie, or have wild, drunken sex in a truck stop parking lot, or whatever. All the stuff we used to do without thinking about it. Pumping iron and listening music. Hitting a punching bag. Shaking someone’s hand without worrying about a slow, lingering death. Interacting with people face-to-face. Checking a book out at the library or buying used pants. Little things. The stuff of normal day-to-day life.

These are weird times. And whatever son-of-a-bitch keeps saying, “May you live in interesting times” needs to shut the hell up. But it’s important to realize this isn’t forever; it’s just an intermission. This is a chance to sit at home and wonder if all the crap we used to think was important really is all that important. Or maybe all the stuff we took for granted was really the important stuff all along.

A weird thing people do is put things off, thinking there will always be the time to do something. And then, when it’s well and truly gone for a while, we realize the right time to do that thing was always right then and there. Take that trip. Adopt that cat. Hug that friend. Write that damned book. If there’s one thing we should be taking away from this whole mess it’s that putting things off for some made-up reason isn’t doing us a damned bit of good.

We got complacent. We thought all that stuff would always be there because it’s free or cheap or sounded like it might be hard or uncomfortable or that thing would always be there.

Someday this pandemic is going to end and we’ll all be free to go back to whatever passes for normalcy. The question is how much of that normalcy was frivolous and how much of it was actually important and worth returning to?

#WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

The normal process for WATWB is to find an uplifting news story, talk it up a bit, and bring a little light to an otherwise dreary world. That’s why I usually title my posts “Your Monthly Shot Of New That Doesn’t Suck”; it’s a little jab to the nose of perceived reality. Normally, I scour the Internet – by which I mean look up Reddit’s Uplifting News section – until I find something that looks good. Then I babble about it for a while and give you a funny picture. Book it. Done.

These days, with a pandemic calling us and breathing heavily into the phone like some kind of damned degenerate, positive news is getting a bit harder to scrounge up and no one really wants to hear about the dog, squid, and spitting cobra that managed to find their way across the country to go home. Toss in a completely incompetent executive branch and a bunch of snapper-heads claiming it’s all a hoax and you’ve got a recipe for telling everyone to fuck the hell off.

But the thing is, this isn’t forever.

This morning, against my better judgment, I hopped on my bike and took a ride down the Tramway trail. 20mph headwind and going out to the end of the trail is mostly uphill. It was brutal. Fingers going numb, wind echoing so loud in my ears I couldn’t even hear my heart pounding. But I made it and let me tell you, coming back down was amazing.

In a way, everything is like that. You struggle, you fight, you get to the end and coast for a little while, then you do it all over again. Sounds miserable, but every time you conquer something, you get a little tougher.

So, yeah, being cooped up sucks. Watching my national government screw the pooch in every way possible while still managing to claim they’re doing a great job sucks. Wondering when this all going to end sucks.

But it will end because nothing is forever. Some things, like most of my comm classes in college, may feel like they’re going to last forever, but they never do. Eventually it all comes to an end and you get to move on to something different.

Except taxes. Those apparently last forever.

Anyway, tuck your chin, keep your hands up, roll with the punches, and know this will end.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our lovely and talented hosts this month are: Sylvia McGrath, Damyanti Biswas, Shilpa Garg, Dan Antion, and yours Belinda McGrath Witzenhausen.

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible. (Wow, I totally missed that mark this time around).

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To sign up, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

And now your moment of Zen.

It’s All Just Fiction, Right? Right?

A conversation popped up on Twitter not too long ago that left me thinking. Thinking isn’t a common occurrence for me, so my first worry was I have a brain aneurysm. That was followed up almost immediately by me wondering if I’d been a total dick and hadn’t realized it.

Normally I eschew political correctness. Not because I necessarily have anything against it, but because I feel it’s better to subscribe to the “Don’t Be A Dick” philosophy of living. That way when someone pulls a tweet years down the line, I can honestly say, “No, you’re the asshole! Very unfair!”

Just kidding. If someone pulls a tweet of mine years down the road and says, “Hey! This guy was being a dick!”, I can honestly say, “I’m really sorry. At the time, that wasn’t a thing, but I do apologize to anyone who I was a dick to.” And mean it. I really don’t go out of my way to be an asshole.

Anyway, I’m not going to reprint the discussion here, but I am going to reprint the tweet without a link so we can all start from the same page.

“When the walls are falling and the world is singing songs of doom and the record is skipping and everything’s about to go totally to shit, steal that kiss. Because that might be the last time you ever get the chance to.”

It was paraphrased from a short story I was working on. For the most part, people seemed unperturbed by it. There was one negative reaction, though. Fortunately, no one jumped on her for her response and everything moved along civilly. After a little back and forth, she apologized and I apologized and everyone went away happy.

The general gist of her complaint was stealing a kiss was wrong. To be honest, I can’t argue with her. Don’t go kissin’ folks that don’t want kissin’. Ain’t exactly rocket surgery. Just ask Greta Zimmer Friedman.

But it got me thinking about a couple of things. One is you can never be sure how your audience will react to your words. In communication theory we used a model called the Triangle of Reference to describe the phenomenon that different people will have different reactions to things based on past experiences. Think about this way: If you got scratched by a cat and the cut got infected and you nearly lost your arm and wound up with tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills and a hook for a hand, you’re probably going to have a negative view of cats. You also probably got treated in America.

Bottom line on that is words have meaning and it’s not always the meaning you think it is. And there is absolutely nothing you can do to control that. Even if it’s only fiction, words can have an effect you didn’t expect.

Which leads to the second thing. If we can’t control how people interpret our words, should we strive for avoiding all potentially controversial topics knowing full well we could be poking a bear? In other words, should fiction be safe? Or is it better to write with iron fists and damn the consequences?

I know what I think, but I’m interested in hearing what other think. Drop me a comment.

The Tesla Truck Is Gorgeous

One of the few popular posts I’ve made on Tumblr was from the set of Aliens, James Cameron’s epic tale of motherhood in space. Since time is short and no one has time to read a thousand babbling words of description, it was this picture:

Two lovely ladies

Aliens definitely pitted two devoted mothers against each other. It’s easy to defend Ripley – she’s a badass human, after all – but it’s more difficult to defend the alien queen. Some of that is the way the story was written. We’re expected to see the aliens as the antagonists because they run contrary to the human goal of staying the fuck away from monsters with acid blood and penchant for implanting their parasitic young in our chests through a process that’s not entirely unlike rape.

Turn that around a bit and you’ll see a young mother – the alien queen was probably less than a year old at that point – trying her damnedest to raise a family in a harsh environment and then a bunch of weirdos with guns show up and start shooting up the house she’s built for her kids. Then, in the ultimate dick move, the weirdos nuke the planet.

Jerks.

Now, all joking about motherhood in space aside, you have to admit the alien queen was remarkably good at her job. By our standards, she’s a hideous beast, but she was an efficient hideous beast. Before Prometheus and whatever the name of its sequel was came along, it was possible to see the aliens as the most recent product of their evolution. Critters that took reproduction to whole new levels. Amazingly tough, single-minded, and adept at fulfilling their biologically-programmed goal of making more of themselves. You can’t do that kind of thing and worry about how you look doing it. You just do it and if you’ve got an evolutionary advantage like acid blood or the ability to survive in the vacuum of space, you use it.

In their own way, the aliens were beautiful. The queen even more so. Not because of any fickle human concepts of beauty, but because they used their bodies to further their goal of reproduction like a bunch of drunken sorority girls with armored skin.

So, that picture was, indeed, two lovely ladies. You just had to get past the queen’s looks to see she was freakin’ beautiful.

Hold tight, here comes the segue.

Whoops. Wrong segway.

Last month Elon Musk and crew dropped the Tesla Cybertruck on an unsuspecting world. It looked like something out of the old Battlestar Gallactica, a brown, pointy thing with weird lines and not a curve to be found. Imagine if an F-117 had sex with a Lancia Stratos and the baby got the Nighthawk’s looks. Immediately, the world jumped on it. Hell, I’ll admit it, I took a few potshots at the thing’s looks, too.

But the more I look at it, the more I see the beauty of the design. It’s a truck. It’s meant to haul things. It doesn’t have to be a classic beauty. After all, who would you rather have carrying your stuff, Audrey Hepburn or Andre the Giant? Audrey may look better doing it, but I can guarantee you Andre could have carried more.

The world of trucks is the world of functionality. It’s the world where other people will judge you based on your truck’s towing capacity and ability to go off-road and save virgins from terrorists. Apparently, the Cybertruck can do all those things, although Tesla hasn’t published the results of the all-important saving virgins from terrorists test. But I’m cautiously optimistic.

Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that pickups were very much the realm of American manufacturers. The first full-sized pickups from Toyota and Nissan were originally shunned, but now they’re commonplace. I promise you, it won’t be that long before the Tesla Cybertruck starts winning people over. The lusty allure of not having to put gas in a vehicle coupled with the promised torque will be all it takes. Soon, you’ll see Cybertrucks with lift kits and Molon Labe stickers and bumper stickers that read “These colors don’t run”.

Just like with the alien queen, sometimes you’ve got to push past the initial looks to see the beauty. If Tesla can pull it off and make it do everything they say it can – tall order, I know – it won’t be long before people start looking at this thing and thinking, “Damn, this truck is freakin’ beautiful”.

The Art and Science of Selling Out

Earlier in the year, some of my Twitter writing community friends and I were trying to pull a guy back from the ledge. We’ll call him Gunther because, for some reason or another, that name popped into my mind.

Gunther, it seemed, had a problem. His prose was weighty. Dense like a collapsed star, and about as fun to read as stereo instructions. His reviews were coming back with things like “Reading this was like wading through rancid molasses” and “This was so bad, I think it gave me cancer”. Note: not actual reviews, but those were the general gist.

Now, as every writer knows, reviews can be important things. They can help drive sales, but they can also give you an indication of what’s working and what’s not working. I got one a couple of years ago about head-hopping in a story. For the uninitiated, head-hopping is the process of switching back and forth between viewpoints in narrative. It’s part of the third person omniscient style of telling a story and, done correctly, it can be a useful tool because it lets the reader get into each character’s head. The problem is, done poorly, it can be jarring and leave a reader wondering which character was thinking what at the time. That leads to confused readers and the number one rule of writing is never confuse your reader.

Guess which way I did it.

Actually, when you get down to it, that’s really the only rule of writing. You can do anything you want in a story as long as it doesn’t leave the reader scratching their head and wondering where you scored the crack before you started writing. Tell an entire story without punctuation? Sure. Charlie Huston did it in his Joe Pitt books. (Fun fact: Charlie Huston is kind of my hero). Tell a story while you’re hopped up on every drug known to man and drunk as a skunk to boot? Go check out Hunter S. Thompson. (Also my hero). Make liberal use of the word “fuck”? Guilty.

Point is: Huston and Thompson and every other successful writer out there knew how to tell a story without confusing their readers, no matter what other weird chicanery they may have pulled. Gunther lacked that skill. So, not only was his prose dense as fuck, it was confusing to boot. Think of it as a weightier version of Sean Penn’s abysmal writing without the star power to drive sales.

While a handful of us were imploring Gunther to just, you know, change his style to something that people would want to read, he was busy complaining that he couldn’t change his style. And moping about it. And whining.

That was about the part where I checked out. When you’ve got a handful of people giving you some advice, you don’t immediately discard it because “you can’t change”. Advice is like a live-action review and woe unto the person who ignores the review that says a book was so bad it gave them cancer.

Here’s the deal: any writer worth their salt is going to be able to adapt. There’s nothing wrong with adaptation. Like the U.S. Marines like to say: Improvise, adapt, and overcome.

You can call it selling out if you’d like. You can even call that a bad thing if it makes you happy, but what’s worse: Writing exactly like you want and having no one read it or adapting and still getting your words out?

My grandfather used to love to say, “A piece of information is only good if you have a use for it”. Thomas Edison’s middle name was Alva and the Battle of Hastings was in 1066? Unless you’re really into history, that’s useless information. Knowing Edison was an inventor who’s credited with a short ton of inventions is useful. Knowing he was vicious bastard who happily stole inventions from other people and called them is own (*cough Tesla cough*) can be useful. Knowing his middle name? Who cares.

Writing’s kind of like that. You can either be the bit of information out there, all alone and screaming into the void, or you can be the thing that changes the way people look at the world. Gunther, if you happen to come across this post at some point, consider at least trying to do things differently. Trust me, you can do it. You can improvise, you can adapt, and you can overcome. Or you can be Alva. Your call.

WATWB – Your Monthly Shot Of News That Doesn’t Suck

Ask any good dictator or fascist regime what the single most important facet of maintaining control is and, without a doubt, they’ll tell you regulating the flow of information. Now, these are usually thugs and low-brained idiots, so “regulating the flow of information” may be beyond their vocabulary. Some will talk about outside influences, some will shout about fake news, some will simply shoot you for asking, but the general gist will always be the same. Control information and you can control people. It’s one of the things that all dictators have in common.

And, coincidentally, the free flow of information is one of the best ways to kick fascist regimes in the balls. For a fascist regime to stay in power, it requires the few to control the many. That requires a population that won’t fight back. Because no matter how many people you have on your secret police force, no matter how brutal they are, there will always be more people than thugs and as soon as the people rise up, the thugs tend to find themselves on the wrong end of a rope.

The question, of course, is how do you get the necessary information to the people who need it when there’s a functional information blackout? Think North Korea’s traditional model of keeping all foreign influence out by keeping all foreigners out or the Great Firewall of China or simply complaining about fake news at every opportunity.

In the case of North Korea, the rest of the world will periodically do things like drop DVDs, DVD players, cell phones, papers, books, and other things into random parts of the country. Such contraband will get the holder killed, but information has a way of leeching into the soil of society. It’s a long-term process, but it will slowly erode the stone bulwarks. But it doesn’t work in semi-open societies since they already have those things. The trick there is present the other side of the news – the one not allowed by the government – and to keep the people consuming that other side safe.

Here’s a fun fact for you: If it weren’t for Phil Zimmerman, the Russian Revolution might very well have failed. Zimmerman got hold of one of the early RSA asymmetric-key encryption mechanisms. He realized just how useful a functionally unbreakable code could be to keep information safe from prying eyes. As the NSA was breaking down his door, Zimmerman released the very first instance of PGP to the world. Much to the chagrin of people who liked to paw through your email to find out when the revolution was starting. By blocking that information, you make it much harder to keep control.

Crypto maintains the free flow of information by preventing its interception. Now, the really cool thing about good crypto is it can free information by preventing its interception on a large scale. As noted before, one of the biggest problems with distributing information that governments don’t want distributed is making sure the people consuming that information don’t get their teeth knocked for consuming it.

For that, you need some way to browse information safely without worrying about who’s watching over your shoulder while you’re reading about all the atrocities being committed by your leaders. That means something like Darknet and our good buddy Tor.

While Darknet has largely become the purview of drug dealers, kiddie porn, and assorted scoundrelry, it’s also potentially a powerful weapon for information warfare. The ability to get information securely to people who need it is immensely useful. Arguably, it’s a better weapon than any bomb or gun could ever be because gunshots and explosions are isolated things. Information spreads like a virus. It’s amazingly useful for tearing down walls and the dictators that built them.

So, you can imagine how my eyes lit up when I saw BBC News was mirroring its site on Darknet. It’s brilliant. It’s a perfect way of getting information past censors and firewalls and protecting the people consuming it. Putting BBC News on Darknet is a weaponizing information and pointing it straight at the fascists who would stop it from spreading. And that is a far better use for Darknet than slinging drugs.

Check out the story here.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our lovely and talented hosts of the month are: Sylvia McGrath, Lizbeth Hartz, Shilpa Garg, Mary Giese, and Belinda Witzenhausen

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible. (Wow, I totally missed that mark this time around).

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To sign up, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

And now your moment of Zen.