A small sampling of photos (and photo manipulations) I took this year but otherwise did not post on Whatever. If you like these, there is a slightly larger collection here. Enjoy.
A small sampling of photos (and photo manipulations) I took this year but otherwise did not post on Whatever. If you like these, there is a slightly larger collection here. Enjoy.
I think most people are aware that I’ll spend much of 2020 writing things — it’s kind of my gig, so it’s no surprise that in my work life that’s most of what I’ll be doing. But outside of writing, what are my hopes and plans for the next year? In no particular order:
1. Structure my time better. This is a perennial, and one I’ve already talked about a bit the last post. I’ve already got some strategies ready for that; the key as always will be implementation.
2. Spend less time on social media. It’s my default “I’m not doing anything, so let’s do this” activity. I have no plans to remove myself from social media entirely, but being smarter about when I log on and when I log off would not be a bad thing. I strongly suspect no one would really notice if, for example, instead of spending four hours a day glassily staring into Twitter, I spent two.
3. Read more books. I read a lot for blurbing and other work-related purposes these days, less so for actual enjoyment, so I’m going to try to do better on that front, perhaps with one or two of the extra hours I gain from not staring into Twitter.
4. Play more music. This I already have a head start on since I am already playing the drum set I just got. However, I also have other instruments. Maybe this is the year I actually improve my guitar playing. It could happen!
5. See friends. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of seeing friends over the last couple of years, so this is just making a commitment to continue doing that.
6. Keep exercising. As it happens, if I keep playing drums, I can do this and point 4 at the same time.
And… that’s kind of it. Not massive goals (well, the first one could be), but ones that are achievable and I think will make my life better. Which is what you want out of a new year.
It was an interesting year, and on paper, a good and useful one. I wrote or at least assembled two books in 2019, one of which was published (A Very Scalzi Christmas, which is doing well (thank you!), although naturally I expect the sales to dip soon) and the other of which, The Last Emperox, will come out in April. Also, in March, Love Death & Robots debuted, with three episodes based on my work, including “Three Robots,” which became one of the most popular segments of the show. LD&R has been renewed for another season, so that’s nice. Head On, one of my two novels released in 2018, was nominated for an Audie Award in 2019, which was also nice (it lost to Douglas Adams, which, you know, fair). Three of my standalone novels were repackaged and re-released, which was a nice show of confidence on the part of Tor. I traveled to London, Budapest, Dublin and Australia and lots of places in the US, to make appearances and participate in events. And various film/TV projects kept chugging along. So, yes, not a bad year at all.
But in a number of ways it was also not a great year for me, professionally. The trash fires of the year once again pulled my focus — or more accurately, as we must be honest about these things, I allowed my focus to be pulled once again by the trash fires of the year, and as a result I fell behind on more than one project, some of which I must now carry over to 2020. It wasn’t writer’s block, it was writer’s crawl, and it made me not especially happy, and it made me feel like I was not being as productive as I could have been.
I do realize that from the outside saying that I wrote two books in 2019 and then complaining I was not as productive as I could have been is inviting a performance from the world’s smallest violin. But from the inside, I see a line up of projects that I must do, would like to do, or dream of having time for. Almost all of them are now just a little bit further away than I want them to be, because I didn’t use my time as well as I could have this year. I’m 50 now, which is not old, but does mean I’m aware that my time is no longer functionally infinite. The more years I have like 2019, the less time I have to do all the things I want to do, and commensurately, the less stuff everyone else will see from me.
Last year around this time, I made the decision that I wanted to get in better shape and lose some weight, and started taking steps toward that goal, even though the process of doing so was annoying and not a whole lot of fun for me. It worked, and I’m 30 pounds lighter and generally happier with the state of my physical being than I was this time last year. For 2020, my life project is going to have to be working on that focus, so that my professional time is more productively organized and spent. This is something I’ve talked about a lot previously and have already instituted some steps toward (software to block social media while I’m supposed to be working being the best example of this), but there’s more to be done here, and I’ll be doing it.
(Please note that this is not your cue to offer suggestions — I already have plans on this score, and also, bluntly, your suggestions will not be helpful because you only see the public face of my professional life, not the private one where the work actually gets done. I appreciate the thought, but, again: Don’t. Thanks.)
The flip side of this is that 2020 is packed with stuff for me to do and write; whatever else I might say about 2020 on a professional level when it’s all done, it’s unlikely that I’ll say I was bored. And hopefully you won’t be bored with what comes from that work I do in 2020. But regardless, the one thing I want professionally for 2020 is what I didn’t manage in 2019 — going into the year after it with the decks cleared. It’s a reasonable wish. I’m working on making it happen.
Many of them taken around Christmas, because apparently that’s when I take pictures of my wife (I mean, aside from all the other times). In mostly chronological order, starting with Christmas 2010.
Yes, she can take a good photo. Also, I love her a whole lot. But you all knew that. The fact is I take so many pictures of her because I just like looking at her, and I feel giddy every time I do. It’s a nice feeling. I don’t see it changing anytime soon.
This is it: The final stack of new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound in 2019. As the year ends, is there anything here that you would be happy to take into 2020? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Photos of my daughter in the last decade, in roughly chronological order, starting and ending with birthday photos from 2010 and 2019, respectively.
It’s been a privilege to be here as she’s grown up. I wouldn’t have missed a moment of it for all the treasures of the world. I can’t wait to see where her next decade takes her.
It’s been a fairly momentous decade for Whatever — it had some of its highest trafficked years in 2012 and 2013, and while direct daily visitorship to the site has declined as people migrated to Facebook and Twitter as those two sites took over the Internet, Whatever still manages to make a splash when I link to it from one of those two sites. I’m personally curious what will happen when those sites inevitably decline; while I’m not exactly waiting for the “blogosphere” to come back in any meaningful way, I hold out the hope that personal sites might nevertheless get a general second wind as people begin to entertain the idea that there’s more to the online experience than just what Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey think they should see.
Over the course of the last decade, several pieces I wrote gained traction on the Internet at large and/or were some of the best things I’ve written in that timeframe, and/or represented the moment in which they were written in a particularly memorable way. Below, you’ll find links to these pieces. I’ve limited the list to twenty because I don’t want to tax anyone’s patience, and also because I think that’s enough to get a taste of how this decade was here on the site. Enjoy the retrospective as the 10s come to a close. Barring catastrophe, I’ll be writing here through the 20s as well. I’m looking forward to seeing how the recap of that decade might vary from this one. Come back in ten years and see.
For all of you who have stuck with this site over the last decade: Thank you for reading, and commenting, and linking in. Let’s keep at it.
A year ago today, weighing nearly 200 pounds and feeling physically run down, and also feeling somewhat depressed about those facts, I hauled my carcass up on the treadmill we have in our basement and started walking on it. I did about 20 minutes worth of walking that day — not a lot, just enough to elevate my heart rate — and was grumpy about it the entire time. At the same time I also instituted the habit of counting my calories, with the goal of eating fewer calories in a day than I was burning. My goal was to eventually be at 170 pounds, more or less.
A year later, I’m still exercising, still watching my calories, and on most days I’m somewhere between 165 and 170 pounds (currently I’m just over 170, due to holiday eating, which I’m fine with, because holidays). What is my thinking about a year of exercise and calorie counting? Well:
1. People told me that the first few weeks of exercising would be the hardest, and after that point all the endorphins would kick in (or whatever) and then I would really start to enjoy that. Well, that was a lie — at no point in my year of exercising has it been much other than an annoying thing that I’ve had to do in order to achieve a particular goal, and then maintain at a particular level. Or more accurately, it’s probably not a lie; some people probably really do get an endorphin rush (or whatever) from exercise, I’m just not one of them. Which is fine, I’m not doing the exercise for itself, I’m doing it for the benefit I accrue from it. But it would have been nice to get a little buzz from it rather than just crankily hauling myself down to the treadmill (or outside when the weather got nicer) on a regular basis.
2. It turns out that in actual practice, I don’t exercise to lose weight, I exercise so that I can eat more calories and still lose weight. With regard to calorie counting, I initially set my calorie goals to lose about a pound a week, which meant I was supposed to eat about 500 fewer calories than I burned on a daily basis. When I didn’t exercise that meant eating a number of calories that made me feel generally unhappy — just few enough that I felt hungry and annoyed. But if I exercised for a half hour or forty-five minutes, aside from any other cardiovascular or metabolic benefit, it also meant I could have another 250 to 350 calories a day and still hit my calorie goal, which meant I could eat enough that I didn’t feel hungry and unhappy. Once I understood that the point of exercising was to be a calorie bank — points I could redeem for pizza — it made regular exercising more bearable.
3. It also meant that honestly speaking the real key to losing weight was the calorie counting, not the exercising. Which makes sense, because physics. It’s not to say that the exercise wasn’t important, because it was: as mentioned above, it was a calorie bank, but also and more importantly, it offered other physical benefits, which in turn offered a number of psychological benefits. I feel better, and feel better about myself, because I exercise, even if I find the act of exercising itself sort of annoying. But at the end of the day, me being who I am and the laws of nature being what they are, logging food and making sure I kept to a general caloric intake was what lost the weight. Exercise was important but complementary to that activity. Commensurately, even though right now I’m not actively trying to lose any more weight, I’m still logging what I eat because as it turns out it’s really easy for me to jam a lot of calories into my body if I’m not paying attention.
4. Also key for me was understanding that the exercise and calorie counting was going to be a permanent thing now, and not just something I was going to do until I hit a goal. I’m 50 now and my body isn’t my friend on this score any more — basically my body now wants to go Full Santa, and will unless I keep on it. This is what it is, and there’s little point in complaining about it; age has its benefits but effortless health isn’t one of them. I’ve done exercise and calorie counting before and stopped when I hit a goal (or just didn’t want to do it anymore), and experienced the see-saw thing. So when I started again a year ago, I started with the idea that this was now the new normal. Again, that helped a lot.
5. I felt better when I started exercising, and I feel better now than I did a year ago, both physically and mentally. But it’s important to note that exercising and bringing my body closer to something that corresponded to my own internal self-image of myself did not, in fact, solve all my problems. 2019 was in some ways a difficult year for me (I’ll probably speak of that in another post), and the extra energy and feeling of well-being that I got from exercise didn’t change that. I have a sense that 2019 might have been even more difficult without me working on myself physically but of course there’s no way to prove that. I should say that I wasn’t expecting exercise to be some sort of panacea, either for the world’s woes or my own; I’m well aware that no matter where you go, there you are. But I guess I was expecting the knock-off benefits in other areas of my life to be more substantial. As it turns out: Nope, or at least, not in 2019.
6. Exercising and counting calories worked for me and if you are someone who is looking to shed a bit of weight and work on your body, it’s something I can generally recommend to you as well. I do think it’s important to be aware that you’re signing on for a process as well as a goal, however — and that this process will take a while and will be work no matter who you are, and when the goal is hit, you’ll still have a process you keep with. It took me eight months to drop 30 pounds, and the additional four months has been maintenance of that. One year in, what I’ve really done is establish a new baseline for anything else I do from here on out, whether it is to keep things more or less the same, or decide on a new goal, with a different process. For me, the awareness that this is as much process as goal has made a difference in how I feel about it on a day-to-day basis, and how I engage with it in a larger frame. It’s made it easier to stick with. For me, that’s a real thing.
Hope it’s been lovely. Mine was.
And here we are again on Christmas Eve, which is my time to take a look back on what I’ve written on Whatever over the year, and pick out the pieces I think have some special merit — whether because of the writing, or because they characterize events, or because they note some (usually goofy) aspect of my life. This year we have pieces ranging from serious thoughts on the president’s impeachment all the way to a piece about putting gummy worms into burritos. Yup, that’s 2019, all right. It had range.
In any event, if you missed them the first time, or just simply want to read them again, over and over, obsessively, because it’s just been that kind of year, hasn’t it: My picks for the Best of Whatever in 2019, in alphabetical order.
Not a bad year for Whatever posts. Thanks for reading them, and me, for another year.
The more formal 21st birthday portrait. Also, my kid continues to be pretty great. Thank you, that is all.
Athena wishes to let you know that today she is twenty one years old!
But Krissy does not approve of Athena’s manner of celebrating her birthday!
There, that’s better.
A very happy birthday to my daughter, who is one of my favorite humans, ever.
(This review will be spoiler-free, but the comment thread will be allowed to have spoilers. If you’ve not seen the movie yet, tread lightly there.)
In the digital era of music, there have been complaints about something called “Dynamic Range Compression” — a production tactic that levels out the sound in the a recording so, on one hand, you don’t have to suddenly jab at the volume knob when an incredibly quiet passage is followed by an unbelievably loud musical phrase, but on the other hand, you no longer have the highest highs and the lowest lows. The music all gets stuffed into the same middlin’ band, volume-wise, and after a while, consciously or not, all that middlin’ gets noticeable.
Which is where we are with The Rise of Skywalker, and indeed the Disney era of the Star Wars saga.
To be clear: I was perfectly entertained by Skywalker, and I’m not in the least surprised that I was. Disney, bless its infinitely black heart, knows how to entertain; these days one rarely goes to a film from one of the studios that forms Disney’s sprawling cinematic archipelago (Pixar, Marvel, Walt Disney Animation, Lucasfilm) with the fear that one’s about to see an eyebleeding clusterfuck — this is not the studio that’s going to make CATS, for better or for worse. Disney has entertainment down to a science, and you will get your money’s worth: a little song, a little dance, a little Force tug down the pants.
And indeed, over the five Star Wars films that Disney has made since it bought Lucasfilm, it has done something no one else managed with the universe: It’s made it reliably consistent, and consistently entertaining. The first Star Wars trilogy was all over the place in terms of consistency, including within the same film — even The Empire Strikes Back, the best and most consistent of the lot, struggled with this. The prequel trilogy was consistent, but it was consistently bad, an artifact of George Lucas’ own disengagement with the concept of entertaining people other than himself. Disney doesn’t have Lucas’ ambivalence on that score; it gets that when you lay down your money for a Star Wars movie, you want to go somewhere a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, and enjoy it, for a couple of hours at a time. So even the least of the Disney Star Wars films (that would be Solo) is entertaining as heck.
But that comes with a price. That price is, for lack of a better term, Cinematic Dynamic Range Compression. The grand operatic scope and feel of the Star Wars saga, which even the prequels had in abundance (heck, there was even an actual opera scene in the third prequel film) has been squashed down and routed into something like a bus tour of various planets, each with its single big tourist spot, which one enjoys for a bit and gets a selfie at before one is placed back into the bus for the next destination and the next big event. The Disney trilogy is forever hustling us along; we’re on a schedule, folks, keep moving, sorry.
Nowhere is this more evident than The Rise of Skywalker, which, incidentally, actually has its characters visit a tourist event, just to be hustled away on bus. Director JJ Abrams has a checklist of places he needs to get to and people he needs you to see (the fanservice aspect of this film is very very very obvious), and he’s gonna hit them on time, because apparently he gets paid for checking things off the list, rather than for letting his story have a moment to breathe. Breathe on your own time! We’re walking! There is enough plot for three films here, possibly because Abrams and his various screenwriters are wrapping up not just one trilogy but three. There’s no time for time.
Which is a shame. There are a lot of moments in Skywalker that, while affecting, could have been even more so if they hadn’t been so gosh darn rushed. The prequel trilogy had excellent actors who weren’t utilized fully because as a director Lucas didn’t know what to do with people; the Disney trilogy has excellent actors who aren’t utilized fully because they simply don’t have the time to process, onscreen, the overwhelming emotions they’re supposed to be having. Abrams the director steps on several of those moments because apparently he’s got another plot point he’s gonna cram in. It’s deeply rare, especially these days, that I say a film should be longer — Jesus, they really don’t need to be any longer — but Skywalker genuinely could have benefited from an extra ten or fifteen minutes, just to let its actors do their jobs.
But I don’t think that’s what you hire JJ Abrams for. Abrams has six films to his credit; five of them are parts of franchises — Mission Impossible, Star Trek and now Star Wars — and the sixth could best be described as the bastard child of ET and Close Encounters. Abrams isn’t bad with actors, and has a light touch with humorous moments that I very much appreciate. But he was hired to shepherd a very expensive film with many moving parts saddled with an almost impossible set of cultural and financial expectations, because he’s shown that he’s actually good at it (poor Colin Trevorrow). The craft of acting might understandably take a back seat to those off-screen realities, even if ultimately it doesn’t do the movie itself any favors as its own thing.
Looking back, I realize that my observations about Skywalker are very much of a piece with my observations on Avengers: Endgame, another Disney film this year which was tasked with wrapping up not just a trilogy of films (well, a quadrilogy in the case of Endgame), but an entire universe to that point — down to the allusions to a tour and the phrase “we’re on a schedule, here.” Both Skywalker and Endgame are films that can’t and don’t exist for their own sake — if you came to either without being steeped heavily in their respective universe’s lore you would be hopelessly, hilariously, lost — and to that end the miracle is that they work to any significant degree. Both of these films are ungainly and in some ways existentially sad cinematic beasts, never to be appreciated out of a context that will now recede further and further into time. “The thing about a dancing pig is not that it dances well, but that it dances at all.” Disney has given us two dancing pigs in the same year.
And they both… dance well enough! I enjoyed my last swing through the Skywalker saga, and with these characters, and would happily watch it again, even as I acknowledge that it’s rushed and haphazard, and dynamically compressed in that familiar and safe way Disney entertainments are and will almost certainly will continue to be, for Disney is too big at this point to mess with its own formula in any significant way (maybe they’ll let 20th Century Fox be the place where they say “fuck it, let’s throw this against a wall and see if it sticks,” but I seriously doubt it). I was entertained, and having now seen eleven Star Wars films between the ages of 8 and 50 years old, I appreciate when a Star Wars film is consistently entertaining, because enough of them weren’t. And if this is indeed the end of the Skywalker family as a central focus of the Star Wars universe, it ends well enough.
But I would have been okay with some more dynamic range, Disney. “Ending well enough” isn’t the same as “the best it could have been.” The Rise of Skywalker could have been better, if you would have just let it breathe.
So, in high school I was in a band called DRDF, which was short for Dead Rats Don’t Fly, which was formed because our friend Tommy Kim wanted to record some songs he’d written in order to send a cassette of them out with his college applications (spoiler: It worked in at least one case). I played drums and contributed lyrics, most notably to a song called “It’s a New Reality.” The EP of songs was recorded and placed on about 10 cassettes total (one each for the band members; one each for the college applications), and since this was all 33 years ago now, they were all promptly lost to history.
Or so I thought! Turns out one band member had kept his cassette, and very recently he ripped the music on it into digital form and — importantly for this piece — sent the MP3 of our EP to me. And now, because it amuses me to do so, I’m sharing one of those songs with you, the aforementioned “It’s a New Reality.”
How does it sound? Well, pretty much as you would expect a band of 17-year-old boys in 1987, recorded onto C-90 tapes, to sound like: Terrible! But also, I have to say, awesome. Awesomely terrible. Terribly awesome. You get the idea.
I am positively delighted to be able to listen to this song again, and the other ones, which I will at some point get around to posting as well (or at least, putting online). In the meantime, enjoy 17-year-old me, whacking away at the drums.
It’s the last stack of new books and ARCs before Christmas (and this year, also Hanukkah). She anything here you’d be happy to unwrap? Share in the comments — and happy holidays!
Archived here for posterity.
1. Recent events have prompted some folks to ask me to assure them that I will never be problematic, so they can continue to read my work with a clear conscience. Folks, I have some real bad news for you: I can’t promise that, and here’s a thread on why. Ready? Let’s begin.
2. To begin, I can’t promise that because I have already been problematic at various points in my past — I’ve shown my ass in a number of ways. I try to listen to friends/others when I do show my ass, and do better, but it has happened before, and will probably happen again.
3. I can’t promise because there are gaps in my personal knowledge and experience, and sometimes I will do/say something problematic because I didn’t know, and also, I didn’t know I didn’t know. What one does from there is important, but I’ll still trip over lines I didn’t see.
4. I can’t promise because what’s problematic is a moving target, with different people, different audiences and different groups. What might be fine with one group (and a group close to me) might not with others. I try not to do harm but I also accept the view on that differs.
5. And I can’t promise because sometimes it may be that what I believe to be moral and correct may be different or even in direct opposition to what you believe is moral and correct, and we might not be able to bridge that gap (or want to). When that happens we can talk…
6. … and perhaps through discussion come to a better understanding. But sometimes we might not, or one or both of us might decide that discussion is futile in any event, so why bother. In which case: Hi, I’m problematic, and that’s where we are.
7. As an example, there are a fair number of people on the US political right who won’t touch my work because they see my personal political and social positions and are all “yeah, no,” and I’m fine with that because I’m comfortable with my positions and their response to them.
8. (There’s also some on the left! Although not as many, but even so I’m a pretty damn corporate straight white dude, and that’s a thing.)
9. Now, here’s a thing: I do try to learn and try to grow and to be decent to people. I’ve accepted I’ll be wrong, and I work to mitigate when I am. But I can’t promise I won’t fuck up, and when I do, I can’t promise you’ll always be happy with how I work to be better.
10. When and if that happens, and you decide you can’t hang with me or my work anymore, then take your leave of me. There’s a wide world of creators out there. Find the ones that speak to you. I understand that will happen, and that you may criticize me as you go. That’s fair.
11. In sum: I can’t promise I won’t ever be problematic, for whatever set of criteria you use to determine that. What I can promise is that I’ll always be aware I’m not perfect, and will continue to work on myself. It’s up to you to decide, as we go along, if that’s sufficient.
12. And this is the end of this particular tweet thread. To show my appreciation for your attention, please accept this picture of a cat. Thank you.
For the record, my thoughts on the president being impeached, because, oh, my, he certainly was:
* It was inevitable, not (just) because the Democrats were gunning for the president, but because Donald Trump is a crook and was one even before he came into office. Also he’s incompetent, and also he’s disdainful of any check to what he feels are his prerogatives as the president, whether or not they are legal or constitutional. When you have someone as president who treats the law as an inconvenient impediment to get around when it’s in the way of what he wants, and you have the House in the hands of the opposing political party, then yes, impeachment was never not going to happen.
* And yes, absolutely, the House Democrats were gunning for the president — because, let’s recap, he’s a crook, and an incompetent, and disdainful of the law. He’s a bad president, the worst since I’ve been alive, which takes some measure of doing, but more than that, he’s a malign president, and shitty human being, who never had any business in the White House in the first place. The question isn’t why the Democrats are gunning for him, but why removing a malign incompetent crook from the Presidency of the United States was not, in fact, a bipartisan effort.
* The answer to that, aside from mere partisanship, is that the GOP is in a dark place at the moment, politically and morally. It’s easy to say it’s in thrall to Trump and his shitty version of politics, but Trump is the symptom, not the disease. The disease is a heedless caucasian authoritarianism in thrall to the wealthy. Its initial vectors of the current infection were Lee Atwater and Newt Gingrich and folks like them, the ones who, when confronted with the chance to make even simple moral and political decisions in a manner that suggested comity and a concern for the general commonweal, asked “what if we… didn’t do that?” and proceeded from there. Trump is the culmination of decades of GOP planning to… well, evidently, to see what would happen if one of the major political parties of the United States simply decided that everyone who was making less than $250,000 a year could just go fuck themselves (that the majority of GOP supporters make far less than that is an irony that I’m sure the GOP quite enjoys).
Trump arrived on the scene too early for the grand GOP experiment — it would have preferred someone smoother and more tractable — but they’ve worked with what they have and here we are. The chance the GOP would interrupt their plans at this point to have a moment of moral clarity or concern about the national welfare was always pretty slim. If those are the facts on the ground, then of course it fell to the Democrats to handle the problem. One may argue, if one wishes, that they are imperfect messengers for this issue. But it’s not the Democrats’ fault that the GOP doesn’t want to hear the message at all.
* There’s no possible way Trump is actually removed from office by the Senate — Senate leader Mitch McConnell has already let it be known the fix is in and that the Senate Republicans will essentially run a sham trial in their chamber once it gets to them. But even if McConnell hadn’t already been so openly disdainful of the impeachment process, the idea that there would be 67 votes to remove even a malign incompetent crook like Trump in a chamber where the majority is held by the modern GOP is a fantasy. The GOP is fine with Trump as he is, doing what he’s doing. They know he’s a crook, but he’s a useful crook, and anyway it’s more important for them to stuff the Democrats than it is to remove the manifestly worst person in living memory to hold the office of president. How this is a surprise to anyone at this point is beyond me.
Which is a shame. It would be nice to live in a world where there was, in fact, bipartisan support for ridding our country of an awful president, who is also a criminal and has done criminal things. But that’s not where we are at the moment, and it’s not where the GOP has any plans to be anytime soon, and like the GOP we have to work with what we have. This may be why, mind you, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is allegedly not in a rush to send the articles of impeachment over to the Senate; no point in getting stuffed early when there’s more work to do, and advantages to be gained.
* Nor do I expect anyone in the tank for Trump to be swayed by the impeachment process, because why would they? Once again, it’s not like Trump supporters didn’t know who their man was when they voted for him. They knew just fine, and were either willing to work with it or actually wanted those things about him. Moreover, there’s a certain tranche of people who are perfectly willing to accept, nay, celebrate, that their team lies and cheats as long as the wins pile up; it happens in sports and it happens in politics. There are a lot of Trump supporters who just like wins, and simply antagonizing people who dislike Trump counts as a “win.”
Likewise, Trump supporters (and GOP supporters generally) have been well-trained for years to distrust anyone, and any informational source, outside of particular approved sources, and the approved sources are — strangely enough! — spinning a very interesting alternate theory of the impeachment process. There is irony that those who rail the most about “fake news” are the ones who consume it the most frequently and uncritically. But, again, here we are in 2019 and we work with what we have.
As it happens, recent polls have seen an uptick in Trump’s approval ratings, and among other things, I suspect that has to do with some unengaged Trump supporters re-engaging because their boy is being attacked and their approved media sources are losing their minds about it. “Uptick” here is relative — in aggregate, the man is still nowhere near 50% approval, nor has he been at any point in his presidency — but it’s not ignorable either. Anyone who thought that the president being impeached would suddenly mean his approval rating dropping through the floor should think again. Trump supporters won’t be having any of that, and if you think they will, check in on your own biases and news sources.
* Of course, this is just going to make Trump more, well, Trump. The man has never understood why people wouldn’t just let him be king, and narcissists never react well to blows to the ego. If you think he’s lost his shit and been completely unreasonable before, just you wait. Things are going to get worse, much worse, especially if, in fact, Speaker Pelosi frustrates McConnell’s plan for a rubber-stamp acquittal in the Senate. And while there is some schadenfreude to be had with Trump spinning in tight, angry circles about this, at the end of the day he’s still president, he’s still a petty, vindictive little shit of a human, and he has enablers. Expect bad news from this dude. More than usual, I mean, and including directives and policies and proclamations that will energize his most bigoted and violent supporters.
* Now to dispose of some whining: “They’re trying to overturn the election!” = “I either don’t understand the Constitution of the United States, or I do and I’m hoping you don’t”; “The President did nothing wrong” = “I don’t understand the law, or I do and I’m hoping you don’t”; “Presidential harassment!” = “I don’t understand the concept of co-equal branches of government, or I do and I’m hoping you don’t”; “Biden and/or Clinton!” = “I want to distract you from the fact the sitting President of the United States is actively performing criminal acts.” There are more of these but you get the running thread: either the person saying them doesn’t understand how things work, or does, perfectly well, and hopes that you don’t and on the basis of that can be convinced of the lie they are actively telling you. Oh and also they want to distract you from the sitting president’s bad actions.
* President Trump has been impeached, deserved to be impeached, and if we lived in a world that was just, would be removed from office. With that said, I’m not happy we’re at this point. In a better world, Trump wouldn’t have been elected or even have been the GOP candidate, but he was and he was, so the next best thing would have been that Trump, who was never going to be a good president, could have at least respected the office and its particular set of powers. There was little in his policies that he couldn’t have achieved without stepping outside the confines of the law, and he wouldn’t be in the position he’s in today, being only the third president to be impeached.
He did this to himself, and he didn’t have to, and he didn’t have to inflict it on all the rest of us. We’re where we are because of him, and because he just couldn’t be bothered to know the law, and his job. And you know what should happen to people who can’t be bothered to know their job, or to do it well. They shouldn’t have it any more.
When cultures meet, is there always a “clash” — or is there a way for disparate peoples to not only get along but thrive? This was a line of inquiry that Matthew Hughes is interested in, and pursues in his new novel What the Wind Brings.
Back in 1971, when I was an English major at Simon Fraser University, I happened across a footnote in a book about cross-cultural contacts. The author was making the point that castaways arriving on foreign shores – like Japanese fishermen washed up on the coast of what was to become British Columbia – usually fared poorly. But the footnote mentioned an exceptional case: shipwrecked African slaves on the jungle coast of sixteenth-century Ecuador who allied themselves with the local indigenous people to form a mixed society – the “Zambo state” – who survived and prevailed against attempts by Spanish conquistadors to re-enslave them.
I thought: that would make a great historical novel. But it turned out to be difficult to research, because most scholarship was in Spanish-language academic journals. Still, I kept it in mind as the decades rolled by and I eventually became a novelist. So, when the teens of this century arrived and North American scholars began writing about the Zambos, I could do the research and write the book.
Over my fiction-writing career, two themes dominated: I tended to write about outliers struggling to thrive in social environments not made for their kind; and the societies I created were often diverse, full of odd people energetically pursuing odd goals.
Writing about oddballs comes naturally to me, because I am one. Writing without judgements about diverse cultures came from observing how diversity gives a society strength and resilience. So when I came to write What the Wind Brings, it made sense to me that the Africans, many of them survivors of wars among well organized West African states, would combine with Ecuador’s Nigua people, who had spent generations fending off attempts by the expanding Inca empire to come subjugate them.
Military skills combined with an intimate knowledge of a challenging landscape offered an advantage. But the marriage of African and Nigua was not made in heaven. The Africans, as I envisioned them, came from a patriarchal culture; the Nigua, like many indigenous peoples of the Americas, I assumed to be matriarchal. Both groups had customs and ingrained habits that required rough edges to be rubbed smooth. And so they were, by mutual agreement.
The resulting mixed society outfought and out-thought the Spaniards, until finally the latter agreed to leave them alone. The Zambos endured for generations, and today their descendants are a distinct, thriving culture within the Ecuadorean social mix.
My own cultural background was originally working-class British, a typical Liverpool mongrel of English, Irish, Welsh strains, with a little Manx. I came to Canada as an immigrant child in 1954, and I was lucky we came then because Canadian immigration policies in those years discriminated strongly in favor of WASPs – even men like my father, a 40-year-old unskilled and uneducated laborer with a wife and five children.
Then, in the 1960s, those policies gave way to new thinking. Canada began to welcome newcomers from all over the world, including people who were formerly legally discriminated against, like Canadian-born Asians who had long been barred from becoming pharmacists or architects under provincial laws governing the professions.
The official Canadian term for such people, according to the census, was “visible minorities.” In 1961, when I was twelve, less than one percent of Canadians fit that bureaucratic category, some of them the descendants of American slaves who were brought to Nova Scotia after the Revolution, others the children of Chinese railroad builders who never went back to China (though they were harshly encouraged to do so).
By 1981, under the new immigration rules, the percentage had increased to 4.7, and by 1991 it had reached 9.4. By the time of the 2016 census, the number had risen to 22.3 per cent, and that did not include the more than four per cent of my fellow citizens who are aboriginal people and are not, for arcane bureaucratic reasons, classified as “visible minorities.”
By 2031, visible minorities, almost all of them first- or second-generation immigrants, will account for a third of Canadians.
But at the same time we have been taking in people of all colors and cultures, we have not imposed a “melting pot” ethos on the newcomers. We are a multicultural society. We follow Rodney King’s advice: we all just get along.
Well, not quite all. We have our racists and reactionaries, most of them in rural settings where visible minority immigrants don’t tend to settle. And our record regarding aboriginal peoples leaves a lot to be desired, though we’re now finally making real efforts toward reconciliation.
But here’s the thing: there is no established political party in Canada that opposes immigration and multiculturalism. Recently, a Conservative Member of Parliament left his party and tried to start one. His “People’s Party” ran candidates in October’s federal election – and was roundly rejected by the people, attracting a paltry 1.6 percent of the nation’s votes. Their defector/leader lost his seat.
So, in my lifetime, since washing up on Canada’s shores, I have seen my country evolve from whites-only to all-are-welcome. We have grown no ghettos; yes, first-generation immigrants tend to settle in neighborhoods where the neighbors look like them, but their children spread out and live among the rest of us. Intermarriage is too common to be remarked upon. There is no National Front in Canada, no Know-Nothing Party. No Stephen Miller would ever rise to a position of power here.
That is the one of the big lessons of my life, and it’s the idea I have sought to express in What the Wind Brings. Without beating a drum or ladling in infodumps, I wanted the reader to come away with an understanding that diversity is strength, that we succeed by finding ways to all get along and by looking out for each other.
These days, it’s a timely lesson.
And my very last business trip of the year. Downtown NYC is very vertical. I’m here meeting with Tor about The Last Emperox, which comes out in a few months. We have plans. Then back home tomorrow, for the rest of 2019.
What was I listening to during the 10s? Here’s a 40-song playlist on Spotify, alphabetical by artist.
For this playlist, I used the following rules:
1. Every song was put out in 2010 or later.
2. One song per artist; generally speaking, my favorite song from that artist during the 10s.
3. I actually had to have the song in my intentional music rotation, i.e., no putting stuff on that list just because it has cultural cache, even if the artist is otherwise a favorite of mine. So, for example, no David Bowie because I only gave his 10s albums a casual listen.
4. Conversely, no excluding songs that other people might find hopefully corny or unhip, because, well, sometimes one is corny and unhip.
6. No covers of songs, because those songs technically are all from another decade.
This is what we have:
What do we learn from this playlist? One, that I listened to a reasonable slice of new music in the 10s rather than just merely retreating into old dudeness; two, that while my personal listening is fairly well balanced in terms of men and women, it’s still pretty overwhelmingly white; three, my primary mode of new music in the 10s appears to have been pop and dance, with nods to rock and R&B; four, that my musical tastes are not exactly obscure, although there are some pockets of weirdness in there.
If I had to pick my personal Artists of the Decade, i.e., the ones with work from this decade that I intentionally listened to the most, the titles would go to The Naked and Famous and to Kyla La Grange, which is an excuse to toss in another song from each here, in the form of YouTube videos:
I’m aware that this playlist is deeply at odds with the critical consensus of the most important albums/songs of the decade, but, meh. I’m not here to be impressing anyone; I’m here to tell you what new music I was listening to in this decade.
What new music were you listening to during the 2010s? Share some of your favorites in the comments, if you like.